Casey O’Neill cultivates cannabis, vegetables, and fruit in Mendocino County. We will be publishing his weekly newsletter regarding growing cannabis and produce sustainably.
December has come, though the days have still been warm and sunny for the most part. We’re working on those projects that never quite make the list during the growing season and we’re gearing into heavy thinking about next year. The old adage of a failure to plan is a plan to fail rings in my head as we tick through the minutiae of crop planning.
Farming, like most things in life, is as much about being able to communicate as it is about having the skills to do the work. The more that we are able to make ourselves understood when we speak and to hear and comprehend what others say to us, the more effective we are as humans and farmers.
Our farm struggles with clear communication around workplan, in part because we don’t always have a sense of what we’re doing until the day begins and some urgent demand sidetracks us from what we thought we were going to do. By taking the time to do comprehensive planning, and by budgeting time for unexpected contingencies, we are hoping to make our farm and our lives more smooth in the year to come. It’s hard to find time for planning during the year but it’s easy to check-in and refine a pre-arranged process.
We’re learning a project-management program for farm planning. We started it last year but the season was already underway and we weren’t able to follow through with it because of the massive frontload of data that it requires. Like so many other things in life, our work will be easier and more efficient once this process is done, but the work often takes precedence.
It’s the 4-quadrant theory in which we spend so much time working on the things that are both important and urgent (or urgent but not important) that we don’t make the time to work on the things that are important but not urgent. As Stephen Covey would say, you’ve got to make space to sharpen the blade.
The planning software allows us to enter in all of our spaces for cultivation and then enter all of the crops we want to grow. We build out the plan for seed starting and bed prep through the tasks required to bring the crop to market and shut down the farm for the year. Right now we’ve entered all of the various bedspace. It would have been easier if we were farming on flat ground with equal length beds but as with so many things farming on a slope, it’s complicated.
We have different width and different length beds among the various garden sites that were available to us in our mountainous terrain. After several different planning iterations, we’ve worked out blocks of bedspace into planting zones. These will be planted with different crops over the year to come, starting first with salad mixes, root crops and greens and moving through cannabis and the variety of summer crops.
Once we input the crop and volume that we’d like to grow, the program compares it with the allocated bedspace, making sure that we’re planting the right amount of seed for the space needed. We input up-potting dates, transplant times and length of crop to harvest. We include tasks that need to happen along the way.
The data entry on the front end is massive, but once done it can be refined each season so that we can look back on what we did and evolve our practices. Right now we’re working on building out work templates within the program, so that once I’ve selected a crop and planting space, I can add a pre-created work plan for that crop. Cannabis is the driver of this aspect because there are so many labor points along the way with a long season, high-intensity crop.
The dates for compost tea, caging, mulching, pruning, leafing, foliar spraying and approximate harvest windows are all necessary data points in the work plan. After entering each task by hand at first we realized that by creating a work plan template we could plug it straight in for each crop.
Once we’ve inputted all of the crop plantings and the work plan for each, the program will build out the weekly task list, which we can compare with our experience to refine as needed. We can look at the timelines on the crops and see where there is empty bed space. We can assess points where there is too much work and compare them with times of lower effort. It will calculate seed needs for ordering and if we do the data entry it will compare expected output and returns with actual sales.
Once the plan is built, we can look at it from many different angles to refine our process. We can compare the volumes planted with our needs for market and refine this interaction over time. Not having to track everything in our heads will be a huge saving of mental effort and will also provide access to everyone on the team with the information in real time, anytime, instead of being stored in someone’s head and not always communicated well. Being able to look at comparisons of economics, bed space and sales will help us make decisions about which crops are best and in what volumes.
Planning work is incremental and is often overlooked in life. We all know that it will help us to be more effective but we struggle to allocate the time and effort to do it. I’ve been thinking more about meal planning and other ways that I can be more systematic so as to reduce stress in work and family life. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s downright discouraging, but like anything else, planning takes practice. The journey is what it’s all about and we’re glad for the opportunity to catch our breath after the hecticness of this year. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!