A photo of my backyard

Beautiful snow is finally falling here in the Des Moines area. The boys are peacefully napping so I get a little quiet time to reflect on this imspiring past week.

Last weekend I attended the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference. This was my second year in attendance and I left feeling educated and energized for the 2017 farm season. A common theme I’m taking away from the conference is the critical importance of soil health.  Crop yields, water retention, pest issues, etc. can all be connected to fertility of soil.   

Here are some of the memorable sessions I attended:

  • Patrice Gros runs Foundation Farm in Arkansas and uses no till methods to enhance his soil.  He uses unique growing methods, and has a very profitable farm.  
  • Ajay Nair is an assistant professor from the Department of Horticulture at ISU and he shared a wealth of information on building soil fertility specific to a vegetable farm.
  • Mark Quee is the farm manager at Scattergood Friends School, in West Branch, and he gave a good talk on his use of cover crops for their farm.

Another thing I love about the conference is getting to connect with my fellow farmers. It's great to talk shop with farming friends at an event like this because in the thick of the season it can be difficult to be as available for each other.  

I was also able to meet other participants in the P.F.I. Savings Incentive Program. We ate lunch together and had a nice gathering after the conference.  There is a wide variety of farmers involved with this years SIP program from organic vegetables to livestock, but we all working to become better farmers and better stewards of the land.

At the conference, I had my first meet-up with my SIP mentor, Jill Bebout from Blue Gate Farm.  I’m so excited to be partnered with Jill.  She has a wealth of farming knowledge and she will be a great resource for me as a beginning farmer.  

In other news, Dowling Catholic High School did an article on the farm in their recent publication, “Focus.”  As a DCHS graduate and former teacher, it was very exciting to be approached about an article. You can read the article here

I spent almost six hours on Tuesday knocking out my crop planning for 2017.  It’s a difficult process for many farmers, but being a beginning farmer seems to make it even more challenging.  Crop planning is essentially a jigsaw puzzle for farmers.  While planning, you have to consider crop rotations, pest issues, climate, soil types, etc.  It’s no easy task.  That said, I’m really happy with the set up.  Now that the task is complete, I know exactly where I will be planting which seeds throughout the season and when they will be planted.  What is also exciting is I now have a much deeper understanding of crop planning and it should only get easier in years to come.  

A screenshot of a portion of my crop planning.

I’m really happy that all of my beds will get cover crops at some point in 2017.  A third of my beds will be planted with buckwheat cover crops in July, while the rest of the beds will get a combo of rye/pea cover crops in mid October.  Cover crops serve many functions that all revolve around soil health.  I’m planting the cover crops to increase organic matter, as a method of weed control, and also to fix nitrogen in the soil.  Growing intensively on less than ¼ of an acre can make cover cropping a challenge.  Many farmers will designate specific areas to be cover cropped for long periods of time, but I don’t have that luxury because I don’t have excess amounts of land.  I’m hopeful the system I have in place this season will work well and I will continue to incorporate cover crops into my crop planning each year.

With all the crop planning finished, I have been able fill my seed orders!  I love flipping through seed catalogs and deciding what to grow for the season.  I'll be growing many of the same things as last season, but I am most excited for the addition of edible flowers.  I'm experimenting with growing Nasturtium, Gem Marigolds, Viola, Bachelor's Buttons, and Dianthus.  Since much of what I grow focuses on salads, I figured edible flowers were a perfect addition to my arsenal.  I'm a rookie with edible flowers, so hopefully I have success! 

Now, off to finish taxes!