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Author: Jason Padvorac

Progress report: March 2017

Progress report: March 2017


$15.48 meal co-op books

$45.96 for 3 cubic feet of potting soil, 3×50 foot landscape fabric, and 5×25 foot floating row cover

$10.92 for 3 more cubic feet of potting soil

$20 for seed trays and pots

$40.88 seymour grub hoe

$16 for seeds from Sylvia Davatz

$52.94 for 6′ wide weed barrier and wood for seedling trench, and pvc pipe for transplanting tube

$14.60 for seeds from Adaptive Seeds

$48.00 for seeds from Wild Garden Seeds

$2.99 for logo design app

$19 for staple gun and staples

$61 for wood, hardware cloth, and paint to build simple duck house

$40.42 books on raising ducks

$40 duck feeders

$11 two indian runner ducks

$50.19 for three more ducks and supplies

$30.36 duck bedding, water jars, feed, etc

$32.69 for tools

$13 for a machete

$8 for duck food

$62.90 insurance payment


  • Dig a trench and cover with floating row cover to provide a sheltered, frost-protected place for starting seedlings.
  • Got more seedling trays from a neighbor who used to operate a nursery
  • Made a facebook page
  • Starting preparations at the secondary site



Sign lease

Pave driveway

open business bank account

put first crops IN THE GROUND


lease stuff:

Toolbox for Leasing Farmland

Progress report: February 2017

Progress report: February 2017

This report was a little late (it is March 4th). This is partially because the end of February snuck up on me – whose idea was a 28 day month, anyway? It is partially because I’ve been busy working on stuff. This report will be much shorter than last months for both reasons. You can read last month’s report here, and next month’s report as it is shaping up here.

I mention a lot of things in here that I could go into much greater detail on. If you are curious about the reasons behind any of this, or want references or resources, let me know in the comments. I don’t have time to go into detail on everything right now, but I certainly have time to go into some of the topics if it would be helpful to anyone.

[The picture is some seeds from Baker Creek, and from a local seed swap. This is a small portion of what we are planting this year!]


Overall, this is incredibly exciting. Spring is coming, and things are very quickly falling into place and becoming real. It is also very intimidating – there are so many unknowns, so many things to learn, and so much work to be done. Sometimes I feel like we are on top of the world, and sometimes I feel like I am in waaaay over my head and that the entire project is going to collapse in complete failure. I’ve done the entrepreneurial roller coaster before, so I’m pretty good at acknowledging the feelings for what they are and keeping my head down and just getting the work done.

But it would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that this is a roller coaster, and that it is hard. I’m looking forward to next year when we will be spending a higher percentage of our time refining things rather than beginning everything from scratch. 🙂

Expenses: $216.18

The only expenses this month were for seeds and other plant material. Overall, the seed budget is significantly higher this year than it will likely be in the future because (1) we are trying a bunch of varieties to see what grows best and sells best here, and (2) in the future we will primarily be growing seeds we saved ourselves, or swapped for. This month brings our total expenses to $579.18.

$32.95 Seeds from Mariseeds bred by Chris Homanics

$51.24 Seeds from Baker Creek Rare Seeds

$55 Seeds from Carol Deppe/Fertile Valley Seeds

$32 Seeds, Sunroots, and cactus pads from Joseph Lofthouse

$18.50 Purple Tree Collard cuttings from happycatseedandc0mpany on ebay

$16.49 Daubenton kale plant from park5500 on ebay

$6.88 Green Giant tree collard cuttings from 888forsale888 on ebay

Work Done

  • Stumbled on some interesting ideas that combine community development and marketing: packaging food as meal kits, and organizing supper swaps. I’ll write more on this later, but the basic idea is to get our community eating more food made from scratch by organizing a cooking co-op, and providing food in bulk packages with recipes designed to be convenient as meals for those co-ops. It is more affordable to cook food from scratch, and as farmers if we can sell food in fewer transactions of larger sizes we can provide a better price, and if we make it convenient for people to eat our food then people can spend less money on expensive processed foods, and afford our produce more easily. It all adds up to making the food more affordable and accessible from a number of angles, and is a key part of our strategy to compete with Walmart.
  • Planned out permanent cover crops for the vegetable beds.
  • Mostly finished choosing varieties and ordering seeds: I poured over catalogs from all the local seed companies I could find, looking for crops that would likely grow well in our cool maritime climate, and that would hopefully sell well. I’ve also gotten some seeds from independent plant breeders that I’ve met online.
  • Worked out a ton of details with Mary Anne about the land use and how operations at the farm will go. It is a bit more complicated than just using someone’s yard, because we will be using a pasture at their equestrian facility, and are hoping to have the farm be as open as possible as a demonstration site, and those two factors combined mean that there are a lot of logistical details to make it all safe and smoothly operating. We are just about ready to sign the paperwork and get moving.
  • Researched legalities and logistics. We will not need a permit for the farmstand, but it does need to have legally adequate parking and offset from the road. I need to research the laws about signs a bit more to see what exactly we are allowed in terms of roadside signage.
  • Made progress planning the installation of infrastructure. We found a source of inexpensive crushed concrete to make the driveway and parking area for the farm stand, and an inexpensive source of compost to jump start the garden beds.
  • Made progress planning and researching dry farming and microbe inoculations, which we will be experimenting with heavily as a way to potentially bring areas into garden beds with extremely minimal inputs from outside. Many more details on this later!
  • Planted some onion seeds in milk jugs… and decided that we don’t want to plant anything more in milk jugs because it is kind of a bother, and not going to scale anywhere close to what we will need.
  • Brought on our first partner – Neil will be helping out on the farm. We’ve known Neil for almost a decade, and he is a very good worker and very smart, so are tickled pink to have him on the team. His primary goal is to learn, and was willing to work for no money, but for us, operating sustainably means that we should pay people who are working on the farm. Also, we don’t want to get nailed by the government for violating labor laws. The sticking point was that we don’t have money coming in yet, and therefore don’t have money to pay him with. After digging into the laws, we found a simple solution to keep everything in line with our values and the laws of the land: add him as a member to the LLC, with a percentage stake based on the estimated percentage of the work he’ll be putting in this year.
  • Found some excellent resources for bed planning. Unfortunately haven’t been able to make as much use of them as I wanted to because there are so many unknowns right now. Hopefully we will be able to do more of this next year:

Coming up

  • Build the basic infrastructure at the farm: clear the access way, put in a driveway, build the farmstand, prepare planting areas.
  • Start outreach and marketing to build community around the farm. Put together a Facebook page and website, and start posting content.
  • Design the farm branding: logo, brand name, mission statement, business cards, etc
  • Make posters and flyers
  • Plant early spring greens and herbs, probably with low tunnels for quick and easy season extension.
  • Research Good Agricultural Practices and make sure our operations are following them and are safe.
As a small market farmer, Walmart is my most important competition

As a small market farmer, Walmart is my most important competition

I’m going to throw out some scattered points – the connections may not seem obvious, but I’ll bring it all together at the end. The big picture that emerges is incredibly exciting to me. My most important, critical competition is Walmart, and anyone who is growing good food on a small scale is an invaluable help for me. Especially if they are close to me, and even more so if they are in my own neighborhood.

Here we go…

If I set up shop in a farmers market, and there are a dozen other farms with their booths, and I go home at the end of the day with unsold produce, then yes, I was in competition with the other farmers. But would label tomatoes as a weed if you planted five of them per square foot?

Some fruits and vegetables are incredibly more nutritionally dense than others. A good comparison would be comparing young, sweet kale leaves to romain lettuce. One serving is not like another. And more than just different kinds of foods, nutrition can vary immensely based on the specific variety of a vegetable, and the way it is grown can have a huge impact on its value for improving your health (also important is the soil it is grown in). There is a gulf between lettuce and kale, and another gulf (although not as big) between well grown kale and industrially grown cruddy kale.


Almost anyone can walk into a Walmart and afford to buy some fruits and vegetables. The quality and freshness is not the best, but it is just about as affordable and accessible as food can get in this country (the United States). It is very important for everyone to have access to food they can afford. Walmart and friends serve a role right now that nobody else does.

People are creatures of habit, and stick to what is known and comfortable. And yet people can change when given time, and when given examples. But people only change when something else changes first. Because most of the time, people do things for reasons that are connected to reality somehow – and if reality remains unchanged, why would we possibly think that people’s choices would change?

People have limited time, and most food is not cooked from scratch, but poured out of bags and boxes, or zapped in a microwave. The skill of efficiently cooking simple but tasty foods from scratch takes time to learn, along with trial and error. A lot of people don’t have the time to go out and learn this all on their own.

I want to repeat the above point – that people can change, and our society can change, but only if reality itself changes first. This is a critical point.

The USDA recommends eating at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables everyday, and modern science suggests that we ought to be eating at least 10 servings a day. Eating more plant food is incredibly useful for avoiding degenerative diseases and premature death – and eating more plants helps you feel younger and healthier. And that is industrially raised cardboard-like plants, not even the truly good food that we can raise.

How many vegetables are available in the states, per person? Fewer than three servings a day. We are producing LESS THAN A THIRD of the most important food we can eat. No wonder we decay so badly as we age.

The economy is teetering right now, and there are more troubles in the wings. And more than just our current crises, for the last 40 or 50 years the people in the United States have been pulling in the same effective wages, while facing rising costs for education, healthcare, and etc. Money is tight for ordinary people, and that is not going to change. Unless it changes by money getting even tighter.

Putting it together

The people in my community are malnourished. This is because of a culinary culture that is centered on a mockery of real food, it is because they do not have enough money to buy the fruits and vegetables except for industrial cardboard junk, and because there isn’t even enough of that cardboard junk to go around.

Most people here are used to getting food that with no bug holes, in a brightly lit and air conditioned warehouse with shiny floors. They are used to eating lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes. And it makes sense – they weren’t raised to know how to enjoy other kinds of vegetables, the packaging really is beautiful and convenient, the prices are cheap, and since they are already there shopping for other things it makes sense to also pick up some produce.

Who is my competition? It is the brilliantly lit, rock bottom priced warehouse that sells boxed macaroni and cheese. The warehouse that indoctrinates people to the idea that convenience is prized above all else, and that peddles the myth that preparing real food from scratch is a luxury for the rich. My competition is the habits and voices inside people’s heads that tell them it is okay to live with all that. My competition is the fact that the modern world, perfectly symbolized by Walmart, has sapped my people of their time, money, energy, and focus.

Who are my allies? Who are the people who are doing the most to change our culture so I can make a living by selling irregularly shaped, handgrown vegetables from a roadside stand? The farmers who are in my region, who are fighting the same fight.

What small fraction of people get enough vegetables to eat? What vanishing fraction shops at farmers markets or joins a CSA? There is so much that needs to be done. We need billions of pounds of well grown fruit and vegetables in the country. We need millions more small farmers. Just in my neighborhood we could use dozens of small farms. How many do we have? At the moment? Zero.

This year our farm will be the first in our neighborhood. Next year, or the year after? I hope we can get more farms started, because the need in my little community vastly outstrips what I could ever provide. And the more farms there are in my community, the more mindshare we will have, and the more we can help each other pull a groundswell of commerce away from the warehouses and back into our neighborhoods.

We small farmers have to work together to develop and share ways to educate people. Ways to get people to eat kale, ways to teach people to learn how to prepare kholrabi, and ways to help people embrace seasonal eating, and so much more.

Competing with Walmart on price

This may be the hardest challenge, because there is no shirking it – we need to fight as hard as we can to learn how to make a living while attacking Walmart on price. If our stuff costs more, the truth is that it will never see broad adoption. No matter how good it is, if people can’t afford it they won’t buy it.

I’ll have much more to say on this in future posts, but I don’t have the answers yet, just ideas and fantasies. It might be impossible. But I find potential impossibilities exhilarating.

What if we grew more perennial vegetables that produced more heavily with less work? What if we worked with soil biology, and permanent groundcovers, and rarely or never had to weed?

What if we found ways to do without expensive coolers, walk behind tractors, soil amendments, weed cloth, and all the other expenses? What if we made an app that tracked people’s purchases at the farm stand, and emailed them recipes and reminders to help them eat more vegetables (and buy in greater quantity)?

What if we found ways to connect so tightly with our local communities that we didn’t have to spend a quarter of our time marketing? What if teaching cooking classes was part of the services we offered, fundamentally integrated with the farm? Or coordinate a community “meal bank”, like a time bank but with a currency of homecooked food instead of hours?

I don’t know how many of those ideas are at all practical. But I know for a fact that what we need to do cannot be accomplished without reality changing. People will not change unless something else changes first. They won’t eat more vegetables and support small farms unless we change ourselves first.

The biggest force keeping people where they are? Walmart, and everything it represents. The biggest force working for change? Small farmers.

Walmart and friends, you are officially on notice – I’ve got my sights on your produce section, and I’m not alone, and we are not going to go away.

Permanent ground covers for vegetable beds

Permanent ground covers for vegetable beds

We will be experimenting with permanent ground covers in our vegetable beds – specifically planting and allowing perennial plants interspersed with our vegetable crops. The purpose of this is to keep essentially a living mulch to help conserve water, suppress weeds, and to keep the ground covered with leaves engaging in photosynthesis. This will ensure that the life in the soil is being continually fed by root exudates.

I’ll be writing a post later about the biology of the soil that will give much more context to this. 🙂

One important note is that I’m not leaning on these crops to fix nitrogen, a role commonly given to cover crops, although they will certainly help to make nutrients available to the plant by maintaining a vibrant soil food web.

I want to see what it is like to disturb the soil as little as physically possible: sowing or transplanting into fully intact ground covers. No strip tilling, no mowing even. For this reason, they need to be short. I’d love to include dutch clover as a nitrogen fixer, but in most of the annual beds it simply grows too tall. Doing this with crops grown as annuals (like spinach, broccoli, or carrots) is pretty far out. I don’t know how well it will work – this is most definitely experimental.

I made a list of plants starting from Elaine Ingham’s list of perennial cover plants, then finding ones that seemed like they were a good fit for my climate and market farm context. I was looking for plants that:

  • Are tolerant of foot traffic. Although we intend to have permanent paths and beds, so plants that can’t take foot traffic will probably just not grow in the paths.
  • Are easy and inexpensive to establish but not too aggressive
  • Are pretty short, because I’ll be growing these among annuals
  • Are not woody, so that if I need to, I can cut or rake them away from the soil easily, and seeding / transplanting tools don’t get gummed up.
  • Tolerate wet / moist areas. We get a lot of winter rain, and I will likely be irrigating at least some in the summer – this needs to not kill the plants.
  • Tolerate dryness / drought. This is a little at odds with the previous point, but I’m looking for a mix of plants. We have dry summers, and I want to be able to get away with as little irrigation as I can to grow the crops.
  • Dense growth habit. I’m looking for plants that will grow densely and cover the soil to protect it from rain compaction, evaporation, and excessive weed seed germination.

My process was to scan through Elaine Ingham’s list, and then perform an internet search for any plants that were at most 2-3 inches in height or shorter. I confirmed their short height, then made a pretty quick snap judgement based on the criteria listed above. An images search that showed the plant growing around pavers or in a walkway was an almost sure sign that it fit the criteria I’m looking for. This was a quick-and-dirty process so I could get on with the rest of the planning for this growing season. Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions or critique!

Green carpet, aka Smooth rupturewort (Herniaria glabra)

This grows 2-3 inches tall, and sends down a deep taproot. Excellent! This means that it will not be competing for light with our crops, and hopefully largely keeping its roots deeper than the crop roots, while deeply feeding and loosening the soil. We will get seeds at $8.99 for 10,000 seeds here.

Pros: no spreading rhizomes, deep taproot, fairly soft and easy to manage

Cons: this may be too tall for the annual beds. We’ll see.

Lemon Frost Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus)

This grows 1/2 inch to 1 inch tall! And supposedly has a wonderful fragrance to it. I imagine this would be a bit trickier to get established – the tiny seeds would probably require growing as transplants to successfully establish a stand. Nevertheless, the very short height and attractiveness of the plant makes it worth trying.

Pros: extremely short, pleasant aroma

Cons: if it is anything like normal thyme, it might get a bit woody.

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)

This will definitely be experimental. Depending on circumstances, dandelions can grow quite tall (a foot or so in my area), or they can have a rosette that tightly hugs the ground. Joseph Lofthouse says that in his region in Utah, dandelions will grow short if it is dry and sunny, and tall if it is moist and shady. He intercrops it in beds with garlic.

Pros: a valuable rootcrop, leafcrop, and flowercrop, inexpensive and easy to obtain, deep taproot can deeply feed soil

Cons: might get to tall if conditions trigger height, might compete for water too much

Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca)

These are drought tolerant, nicely spreading… strawberries! The berries are tiny and inconvenient to harvest, but might make an occasional treat when working in the fields, especially for the kids. Suggested by John in the comments, and a few posters over at I’m a little concerned that they may be too tall, but I’ll see.

Pros: easy to establish, drought tolerant, berries!

Cons: the runners might get annoying, it is taller and bushier than some of the other options here

Sedum requieni

This was added after Scott Dilatush mentioned it in the comments. I’ll quote what he said: “This drought tolerant evergreen plant grows only 1/4 inch tall and makes a dense mat that takes heavy foot traffic. Extremely easy to hoe. Soil prep is a must for longevity.”

Miscellaneous ground covers

These ground cover plants seem fairly similar so I’m lumping them together. They grow 1-2 inches tall or so, and readily spread to cover an area. Some of these like to stay moist, and others like to dry out between waterings. So we’ll see how they do!

  • Miniature Brass Buttons (Leptinella gruveri)
  • Alpine Brass Buttons (Leptinella minor)
  • Blue Star Creeper (Pratia pendunculata)
  • Scotch Moss (Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’)
  • Fine Tide Turf (Selleria microphylla)
  • Wooly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus)
  • Reiter Creeping Thyme (Thymus Reiter)
  • Wallowa Mountains Mossy Sandwort (Desert Moss)

The final mix

There were a few almost-duplicates in there – multiple Thyme species and a couple Brass Buttons. I’m trying to keep things simple for now, and don’t want a mix dominated by any one genus, so I removed “duplicates” and came up with this list:

  • Green carpet (Herniaria glabra)
  • Lemon Frost Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca)
  • Miniature Brass Buttons (Leptinella gruveri)
  • Blue Star Creeper (Pratia pendunculata)
  • Scotch Moss (Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’)
  • Fine Tide Turf (Selleria microphylla)
  • Reiter Creeping Thyme (Thymus Reiter)
  • Wallowa Mountains Mossy Sandwort (Desert Moss)

I’ll probably sow a bunch of seeds in pots, then pluck out individual seedlings to transplant into the beds on a 3 inch spacing. Some beds will get a mono-cover, and others will get mixes of the plants. I’ll only do this in some portions of some beds, so we’ll be able to compare the impact of the different plants, the mix, and bare soil or mulch.

Progress report: January 2017

Progress report: January 2017

This is the very first monthly farm progress report! These reports will serve two purposes: first, they will help me stay organized and on track, and second, they will open the doors on the creation of a new farm. This blog is the primary place where I will be keeping plans, to-do-lists, data, finances, etc. In other words, the kinds of documents I would normally keep on my computer as text files and spreadsheets will simply go on this blog. It doesn’t make much difference to me, but that way the information is available for you to learn from.

During the month, the reports in draft form will be published as a live-journal of what is going on. You can see February’s report here.

When I do use spreadsheets, I’ll put them up on Google Drive and link to them from this blog.

These reports will follow a format of Expenses, Work Done, To Do, and Wrapup.

Before we get to the meat of it, a minor disclaimer about the title of this post. It encompasses farm activities in January of 2017, and all of time preceding it. I didn’t do all the reading this month. ; )

Expenses: $363

$83.93 for SPIN-Farming Basics book

$49.99 for SPIN-Farming Crop Profiles (This is one part of their second book. I didn’t need the other part of the book, so I figured I’d save some money. They have the individual sections of the book available at, or you can buy the whole thing at Amazon.)

$200 for registration with the Washington Secretary of State. We are now holders of a UBI for JM Padvorac Farm LLC! That means I can apply for the business license, which will only be $20. We’ve held off spending money on anything else for the farm, because we can’t deduct expenses that occur before we actually get the business license. That’s one of my very next tasks.

$10 for shipping some seeds a kind plant breeder gifted us!

Work Done

Land Access

We don’t have enough land ourselves for this, so getting access to land was crucial. I had mentioned in a comment on Facebook that we were planning to start some kind of neighborhood farm / garden, and my friend Mary Anne Campbell saw it and said we needed to talk. She runs the National School of Academic Equitation about a minute down the road from us, and has some pasture space she is willing to let us farm on. She has a lot of enthusiasm about the project, and it is great to have her energy adding to it. I’ll write more later about how the process went between “hey, let’s talk about this” and deciding the nuts and bolts about where exactly to situate the site, access, water, legalities, compensation, etc.

Bed Planning

I’ve been through the SPIN farming crop profiles, and am going through them again more carefully to start working up a plan for the beds and the relays (i.e. which crops follow others after harvest). This first year we don’t really know what the market is like for the different crops, so I expect we’ll probably significantly overproduce some things and underproduce others. We’ll track what happens and make corrections for next season.

This is complicated a little bit because the land we will be farming is not a flat, monotonous rectangle. It is on a slight, lumpy hill, with a tree or two, and some dryer areas and some muddy areas. This is fantastic, though. The natural variations mean that we will be able to align crops to zones where they will naturally be happier, and will need to do less irrigation or drainage work ourselves.

And the fact that it is on a hill would be an erosion problem for a tilled garden, but not for us. It’ll be fun to demonstrate how adaptable and performant farming can be when done in alignment with nature.


Up till this point, the vast amount of time has been spent in reading, researching, doodling, and dreaming. It has been very useful time for building a foundation. Here are some of the resources that have been the most useful in doing the background research and learning in preparation for starting our no-till farm…

Forums and Groups

I have learned an incredible amount from lurking in the shadows of groups and forums online, and by asking questions. I recommend joining and browsing some of these, and looking for more on your own. If you find the right watering holes, you can ask a question and get a number of well thought out answers and perspectives, not all agreeing with each other! These are my go-to places for when I need help:


I’ve read some of these cover-to-cover, and skimmed others for particular bits. I highly recommend all of them, but if you are short on time I recommend the the first three: SPIN farming, One Straw Revolution, and The Lean Farm.

[No links here, affiliate or otherwise. Check your library or do a web search for the titles if you want to find the books yourself.]

  • SPIN-Farming Basics and the crop profiles bit from SPIN-Farming 2.0, by Wally Satzewich and Roxanne Christensen.
    I spent a few months in analysis-paralysis mode trying to figure out where to start. These two books were the answer. They are a bit pricy, but well worth it. They are concise, and lay out exactly what steps you need to take to start a successful sub-acre farm. They also have tables of data to help estimate expenses for different scales of operations, lists of materials and supplies with typical price ranges, and basically all the other numbers you need. For making a quick, rough plan for a business it is an incredible timesaver. It won’t teach you how to grow plants, but it does talk about how management practices of growing plants factor into a responsible, realistic business.
  • One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka
    When soil is disrupted, it demolishes the incredibly complex web of life that is required to effectively store water and deliver nutrients to plants. The SPIN books above only talk about managing a farm by tilling, so if you want to go no-till, other resources are required. Because the author was farming in Japan, the specific techniques and planting schedules he talks about cannot directly be applied here, but the management approach he takes is revolutionary.
  • The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman
    I come from the software world, where lean practices are very common (or at least, very commonly aspired to). I’ll quote from “Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.” In the case of a farm, value means food that is ready for people to eat, and resources means your time, energy, money, seeds, water, tools, etc. In my opinion this book is absolutely required reading if you are starting a farm.
  • The Market Gardener by Jean Fortier
    This is in roughly the same category as the SPIN books, but a bit different. The author has a 1.5 acre farm in eastern Quebec, and has a very successful business of it. This book has a lot to say about the business practices of a farm, but spends more effort discussing the actual growing of plants than the SPIN farming books. He practices minimal tillage, which I like better, but I’d much rather go for no tillage. This is a much longer book, which makes it more useful for giving a feeling for what a small farm might be like – but it lacks the conciseness and immediately actionable data of the SPIN books. An invaluable resource, but if I had to pick just one to start with I’d go with SPIN.
  • How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits Than You Ever Thought Possible by John Jeavons
    An important goal for me is to learn how to grow food in a way that is sustainable – and one of the clearest ways to do that is to minimize the inputs that you get from land outside your farm. If you can turn sunshine, rain, and soil into food, and also turn it into all the things you need to grow food, then you’ve got it made. Most of the market gardening books rely heavily on tillage (importing machines and oil), plastic mulches, large quantities of compost, and all kinds of other external inputs. Jeavons’ book is all about how to intensively manage beds to build fertility with almost no external inputs at all, and almost no tilling except when first creating beds. And the possible yields per space are impressive.However, his book as about growing a complete diet for oneself and family. It involves growing a lot of grains, which is not a practical moneymaker on a suburban farm, and the methods for growing vegetables are quite labor intensive. There is much to learn from it about minimal / no-till, and about inexpensively growing out transplants yourself.
  • Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening by Will Bonsall. No duh, right?
    Similar to How To Grow More Vegetables, this book is all about minimizing external inputs. Bonsall has come up with a variety of innovative techniques, and has a lot about weed management, creating trellises and supporting plants with resources on farm.
  • The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe
    She has an incredibly practical perspective on things. Like Bonsall, she has a lot of innovative techniques and perspectives on growing food on the human scale. She tills, but aside of that uses very little or no fancy tools or equipment, and grows a lot of food. Like Bonsall’s book, she talks about growing food for personal use, so a lot of it is not practical for a market farm, but in terms of managing the land with simple tools and human ingenuity it is a gold mine.

To Do

My, oh my. There is a lot of work to be done. It quickly feels overwhelming, and I have to constantly remind myself that if we just do one piece at a time, it will all happen. Starting a new business is very intimidating and scary, even if it doesn’t have a ton of risk.

This is our first year, and we are starting later than would be ideal. If I’m not careful, that stresses me out. Fortunately, we are not in a financial pinch where we need to make a certain amount of money from the farm – we’ve got our other income to live on for now. The goal for this year is to put all the pieces into motion, so we are running a real, honest to goodness farm business.

If we run out of time and don’t manage to get the tomatoes started early enough, or if we can’t prepare as many beds as we wanted, or if the farm stand is nothing more than a folding table for two months, it will be very disappointing. I’m worried that those particular things will happen. And I know that even if those things don’t happen, something important is going to fall between the cracks or otherwise mess up. We are complete newbies at this.

You know what? That’s what entrepreneurship is like. Sometimes it is exciting and a lot of fun, and sometimes it is disheartening and makes you feel like an abject failure of a human being. If you can push through the lows, incredible things can happen.

Anyway, I wrote that because I’m procrastinating about actually putting down in a list all the things we need to get done… because I know it is going to scare me. Oh well. 🙂

Most time-sensitive tasks to do

This is the stuff that has a time window. If we don’t do it by the appropriate time, either we lose an opportunity, occur expenses, or start making other stuff back up and have to wait.

  • Apply for the business license
  • Plan out beds that require transplants, so we can order seeds and get them started. Most important are onions, followed by the tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and the other hot crops that have trouble maturing in our climate.
  • Dig a trench and cover with floating row cover to provide a sheltered, frost-protected place for starting seedlings.
  • Build or buy seedling trays
  • Start seeds
  • Put together and sign a formal contract with Mary Anne so that everything is 100% aboveboard before we start doing stuff on the land
  • Get tarps/cardboard to smother weeds where the beds will be
  • Lay out and secure tarps/cardboard to smother weeds where the beds will be

Most urgent tasks to do

This is stuff that we have to if we want to run a successful farm this season. We don’t have to get this stuff done right now, but if we aren’t working on it now, there’s no way it will all get done and we’ll be in trouble somehow.

  • Ensure legality of a site for farm stand / parking
  • Clear out the overgrown driveway that would be the best site for the farm stand (if that site is legal)
  • Design the farm branding: logo, brand name, mission statement, business cards, etc
  • Make posters and flyers
  • Build a website that both sells and educates
  • Set up an email list
  • Set up a Facebook page
  • Start marketing through various channels
  • Build a farm stand
  • Paint a nice big sign to go with the farm stand
  • Acquire and set up hoses / sprinklers / drip irrigation
  • Set up a post-harvest processing station
  • Research Good Agricultural Practices and make sure our operations are following them and are safe
  • Go through the legalities of volunteers/interns on the farm so we can make it a community project, not just our project
  • Organize sound financial records so taxtime doesn’t sneak up and obliterate us

Smart stuff to do

This is stuff that isn’t going to create any kind of emergency if we don’t do it, but would be wonderful if we did. Little downside, decent potential upside stuff.

  • Network with local people / community organizations / leaders
  • Talk with the restaurant down the road
  • Look into selling “farmstand credits” to help with cashflow before the crops come in
  • Find a property owner or two who is willing to let us put up a sign in their yard on the road pointing ahead to the farmstand
VeggieCompass tracker system

VeggieCompass tracker system

VeggieCompass is a spreadsheet and system of practices for data collection on farm. We’ll probably be using it this year.

From VeggieCompass:

The spreadsheet is designed as an intuitive system for data organization for diversified vegetable farms. It is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with three input pages and three output pages. Expenses are entered on the first spreadsheet page, and sales information on another. A third sheet requires growers to allocate detailed expenses to each crop including production labor hours. The spreadsheet uses the data from the input pages to calculate each crop’s cost per pound ($/lb), breakeven price, and gross margin by market channel. Farmers can then adjust which crops to grow, how much to grow, and pricing to increase profits as well as make more informed farm management decisions.

More information and a download of the spreadsheet is available here.

Why we are starting a suburban farm

Why we are starting a suburban farm

I’ve wanted to have a farm for years now, and we are finally taking the leap – albeit a very careful, bit-sized leap. We are starting small, with the absolute minimum of expenses and complication. Our goal for this first year is to learn how to produce and sell food commercially, so that we can scale up intelligently next year. I’ve been the co-owner of a small software company for the last 7 years, and we have learned a lot about running an efficient, lean operation: lessons I’ll be bringing to the farm, and lessons that I’ll be sharing here as they apply. Below in this post I’ll share what we have done to date, our expenses, and what is coming next.

The focus of this documenting will be to show how to make a decent living doing regenerative farming in a suburban area.

But why are we starting a farm? Oh, where do I start…

I plan to write a series of posts (or a book, or books!) about why I think it is important for us to be growing food. I’ll just give a few quick reasons here. There is way, waaaaay more to say than I have space for here. I hope to go into much more depth on each of these topics in the future, and include many more as well.

Farming because I love my kids

Right now, when I work, I have to shoo my two little daughters away (they are 1 and 3 years old). And my professional work is not something they can even understand, much less participate in. It frustrates them, and it frustrates me. But growing plants? They love plants! Almost every time we eat a meal my 3 year old picks one of the foods we are eating and says we should grow it. They both love being outside, they both love looking at seed catalogs… and they both love spending time doing things with their parents.

Look at any culture before industrialization – children were not only able to understand what their parents were doing to provide a livelihood, they almost always were involved somehow! I strongly believe that children are meant to grow up engaged with their world, learning directly how to live from their parents and other close adults.

Meggan and I want to give our children the best childhood we can, to give a foundation for lifelong flourishing. For us, the best we can give them is growing up farming.

Farming for our health, and our community’s health

Food that is raised well is incredibly more nutritious than food raised poorly (there is plenty of scientific evidence for this, by the way). If a person eats vegetables purchased from the store, it is difficult to get all of the phytonutrients and micronutrients that are needed to be healthy. This even applies to most organic food, too – the label “organic” means far less than what it might seem.

The short story is that healthy soil hosts an incredibly complex system of insects, microbes, and fungi that deliver a stunning array of services and nutrients to plants. Heirloom varieties of plants do far better at accumulating nutrients than the bland factory farm varieties. Modern industrial agriculture, including most organic farms – use nutritionally deficient varieties and engage in practices that destroy the life of the soil, reducing it to little more than sterile dust and sand.

In the United States, we don’t even grow enough industrial vegetables for everybody to eat 5 servings a day. And there are very few truly nutritious fruits and vegetables being produced. To be healthy, my family needs this kind of food to be available, and the same for my community. I want to be a foot-soldier in the efforts to provide it.

And for us personally, tending the fields in clean, fresh air, rain and sunshine, is just about one of the healthiest forms of exercise that there is.

Farming for future generations

The way food is currently grown, with tilling and chemical fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides, we have an estimated 60 years before there is no more topsoil in the world. We can’t grow food without topsoil, and the way we currently grow food destroys topsoil – it literally blows away as dust. That is 100% gone in 60 years, and we should expect massive hunger and starvation if we don’t get our act together quickly, because every year we lose more and more land. We have already lost a third of the land that was capable of growing food.

The way we have gardened, and the way I will farm, actually creates topsoil, and also sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. Soil and dirt may seem boring – until you realize that almost everything you have ever eaten came from topsoil.

There are plenty of people working on figuring out how to produce food not just sustainably, but regeneratively. The process of farming can actually make the soil better, it can make habitats better, it can make the air cleaner and the rains more consistent. If done wrong, farming will literally starve us all within decades. When done right farming is an unbelievably powerful force for good and wellbeing.

And you know what? It has been shown that is possible to produce more food when farming properly than when people farm with the most modern chemicals, machines, and genetic engineering. And proper farming is far more resilient in the face of drought, pests, diseases, and changes in climate, whether manmade or natural.

Farming for conservation

We are in the middle of a mass extinction, and could lose 75% of all species on our planet. There are now many rural places where you can drive for miles with a clean windshield, while not many years ago it would have been covered in bugsplats. Butterflies and bees are being lost. Mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, amphibians. It is not only incredibly sad to lose all this beauty, but it is incredibly dangerous. Ever study the food web in school? Remember how everything is interconnected, and when pieces start going missing stuff can fall apart? Remember how clean air and oxygen come from healthy forests and oceans? We are putting all of that at risk.

Of all the reasons for this, one of the very largest is… wait for it… industrial, chemical farming. We have demolished millions of square miles of habitat, and replaced it with extremely simplistic, single-crop fields that are sprayed with poisons to kill everything except the desired crop. This is unbelievably short-sighted.

And all this unnecessary to feed the world. I’ll quote myself from above because this is important:

And you know what? It has been shown that is possible to produce more food when farming properly than when people farm with the most modern chemicals, machines, and genetic engineering. And proper farming is far more resilient in the face of drought, pests, diseases, and changes in climate, whether manmade or natural.

The way I’ll be farming, a significant amount of habitat will be preserved. Moreover, given that the land I’ll be using is currently a grass pasture, I’ll be able to significantly increase the amount of natural plant, insect, and animal life on the land.

Farming as an example

Good farming can do so much good for so many people. I want to join the growing number of people who are helping show the way. My contribution will hopefully be to provide a free, carefully documented example of a startup farm that would be practical for almost anyone to do. An example that shows how to start with very little capital investment (no need to buy land, and hopefully under $1,000 for supplies which could be funded from community support). I’ll be putting together a practical, doable roadmap/plan that covers a span of years and shows how start with gardening, then on to farming part time, then farming as a full time career.

Farming for a good life

Think of a bear in the woods. It is always rumbling around doing things that it needs to do to survive… but is it working? No, it isn’t working. It is just being a bear, doing what a bear does. Fundamentally we are no different, and the troubles that come with work are our own doing.

We have a flawed mindset that divides our life into different kinds of things – work, family, church, community – and then if we spend time on one piece, it subtracts time from all the others. And then we lay awake at night stressed because we are too busy and don’t have enough time to do all the important things we have to do, much less the things we want to do.

We also often have the problem of making a livelihood in unnatural ways. We do work at tasks that are highly abstract, tasks that are far removed from what we are built to do. For example, with my software work I spend a lot of time sitting still, staring at a pane of glass, wiggling my fingers.

Look at any pre-industrial culture. Imagine a Maori warrior, or tribal Scot, or an indigenous American. How many of them sat still everyday, just wiggling their fingers? How many of them needed to isolate the bulk of their energy and time from their children, their community, and their religion?

Here’s what a farm-centered life will hopefully look like for us. We’ll wake up as a family, and share breakfast, the head out to the farm. We will plant, tend, and harvest till lunchtime, as a family. We will often sing hymns and other songs while we are in the fields, and we will (hopefully) often have members of our community stop by to visit, and to learn. We’ll spend more time in the fields in the afternoon, and some of us will hang out in our little farm stand by the road to sell our produce to the people driving home after work. We’ll get a chance to meet, talk with, and provide nourishment for our neighbors.

It will not be work, it will simply be life. Living. Doing the kinds of things we are meant to do, outside in the fresh air, sunshine and rain. Spending our time and energy with the people we are meant to live with.

On Sundays, we will stay home from the fields and have rest, worship, and fellowship.


There are so, so many benefits to farming. It will let us be whole as a family, better connected with our community, closer to our God, keeping ourselves healthy and helping those around us to be healthier, stewarding our inheritance for the generations to come, and helping show a better way to a world that desperately, desperately needs it right now. For the life of me I can’t think of a better way to spend our lives.

I should note that farming can be backbreaking and stressful work. But it does not have to be that way, and it should not be that way.

I have studied agriculture and farming for years now, and have found many, many examples of people who are farming properly and it is neither backbreaking nor stressful. When done right, farming does not involve farm loans, expensive machines, and chemicals. Good farming is very resilient, and is much more able to handle the pests, diseases, and market fluctuations that would ruin a conventional farm. All that good farming requires is responsible business practices, industriousness and commitment. I view responsibility, industriousness and commitment as very important components of a good life, so no loss there!

This is all for now. The next post will be a very practical one – a list of the steps we have taken so far, what we are working on now, and the general plan to take us from pasture to a working farm in the next few months. Stay tuned!

Plant and forget gardening: plants are your friend

Plant and forget gardening: plants are your friend

This year, we were traveling for about two months out of in the growing season. During that time, our gardens fended for themselves, yet still produced a lot of food for us. They had no watering, and the only weeding of note we did was trimming back a mis-timed cover crop and pulling out some buttercups.

Despite the low input we have gotten more kale than we can eat, cucumbers, tomatoes, raspberries and blackberries, garlic, beets, collard greens,tomatillos, and more.

I’m going to write a series of posts about how we did this. What worked, what didn’t and what we’ve learned for the next seasons. We’ll go over soil, dealing with pests, how to get away with not watering, and other topics. Starting off, we’ll talk about…

Choosing low-maintenance plants

Simply choosing what plants you will focus on can go a long way towards reducing the amount of work you need to do in your garden. Some substitutions require a little adaptation in your palate — like kale for spinach, or yellow tomatillos for tomatoes. But some substitutions are more or less direct — like Climbing Spinach instead of Spinach.

Kale versus lettuce

The MVP for us this year has definitely been the kale — I got seeds for a variety that grows very well here. I literally scattered them on a garden bed and didn’t even tamp them down, and the plants have grown full and have yielded more than we are capable of eating. They are easily outgrowing whatever slug or worm damage they get. This is great!

Planting took about 2 minutes, and aside of that the only work has been harvesting. This is about as low-maintenance as it gets.

Contrast this with lettuce. Lettuce is fun to grow, and tasty to eat. But if that was where the greens in my garden came from? It would have been a lot more work this year. Multiple plantings, likely need for water, likely greater pest damage. And I would have had to weed them a lot more, as well.

If you really like lettuce on your sandwiches and find kale has too strong a flavor, you could plant a Linden tree. Yes, a tree. I haven’t tried it yet, but the leaves are edible cooked or raw, and supposedly do a fine job replacing lettuce on a sandwich. And which is easier to grow: lettuce, or a tree?

Climbing Spinach vs Spinach

I haven’t grown Climbing Spinach yet (also called Caucasian Spinach, because it is from the Caucasus mountains). However, I’m getting seeds to grow it next year, so I feel like I can write about it here. : )

This plant has leaves you can eat that taste fairly much like Spinach. However, instead of being grown and harvested as young sprouts, this plant is a vigorous perennial vine. Plant once, and harvest for many, many seasons. And spinach must be planted in the cool seasons: around here, that means you get a spring crop, nothing in the summer, and then a fall crop.

With Climbing Spinach, it starts producing edible shoots in early spring before spinach would even be ready, and then bears leaves all the way through summer into the fall. In addition, because it is grown as a perennial, it can get a well-established root system, which means it will be a lot more tolerant to growing purely from rainfall, without needing irrigation.

If you want something spinach-y, Climbing Spinach achieves the goal with waaaaay less work. You could even ignore it for a year, come back, and harvest the next year.

And more. Many more…

Do you grow onions? Try potato onions instead — they are a little smaller, but much easier to grow. Do you like collard greens? Grow a collard tree instead, it is exactly the same, but bigger and it lives for 20 years or more. Do you like tomatoes? It isn’t widely known, but if you let tomatillos ripen they turn yellow and taste a lot like a pear tomato, but they come individually wrapped in paper husks so you can harvest them after they have fallen on the ground and they won’t be mushy or moldy. So add some tomatillos to your garden, and you instantly gain leeway.

I could go on and on about substitutions you can make that allow you to get pretty darn close to a gardening process of plant -> neglect -> harvest abundant yield, but I’ll stop for now.

Bonus tip: Save your seeds.


The kale that has grown so magnificently this year, despite having as much care as a weed in a field — came from seeds a friend gave. He got the seeds from another friend. They both live in this area. Those seeds have been bred to resist the pests here, and to do well with the climate. Not by any fancy program, just by these two people saving seeds from the plants that managed to grow successfully in their garden. If I had just bought kale seed from a catalog, I doubt it would have done nearly as well.

I planted a couple dozen squash and pumpkin seeds in a nursery bed this spring. With one exception, all of those seedlings were obliterated by slugs. One of them was unaffected. It has since grown into one of the happiest, most vigorous squash/pumpkin plants I’ve seen. It has no evidence of slug damage at all, but what it does have is fairly prickly little spines. I think that kept the slugs away. In any case, I’m going to save seed from it, and that’ll be a cornerstone of my squash plants for future years.

The point is that you can substitute one kind of plant for another (climbing spinach for spinach), and you can also very often find or easily select for varieties that will be so much less demanding in your particular area.


Say you have a dry summer like we do in the west. If you grow your plants without irrigation, they will tune their response to the water stress by turning on certain genes and turning off others. Some of these changes they can pass on to their seeds. In one generation, with no selection by you, your plants can become better adapted not just to your region, but to your own garden and your own gardening style. Obtaining seeds from a catalog or an exchange is fine when you are acquiring a new variety — but if you want your plants to be able to help out in the garden and save you some work, you want them to be tailored to your own conditions.


If you do some research upfront when choosing plants for your garden, you can take an enormous leap towards a plant and forget garden. And if you save seeds, you get even further. If you are around here, feel free to ask me for tips on any of this and I’ll talk your ear off and probably give you a bunch of seeds, too.

Are there any high-maintenance plants you grow that you would like to be able to plant and forget?


Harvest-driven planning

Harvest-driven planning

As we are getting more serious about the garden, and trying to use it as a laboratory to learn how to run a farm, I’ve started to feel the need for a simple way to plan it. I want to grow a large number of varieties, and have succession planting, catch crops, cover crops, and proper crop rotation so that at all times every square inch of garden is growing as usefully as possible. A second goal is, with the garden at full throttle like that, to coordinate plantings so that crops ripen in a steady stream (i.e. not 200 radishes one week and none the next), and to have that stream continue throughout the year, assisted by cloches and coldframes as needed. A third goal is to be able to adapt in midstream to changing growing conditions, things we learn, or changes in what we need or want from the garden.

The reason I’ve been feeling the need for a simple way to plan this is that trying to juggle all those things makes my head hurt. There are a million little moving pieces that I want to manage, and I need a system. At the same time, it has to be a simple system, or I’m not going to want to use it. And if it isn’t simple, I really won’t be gaining much anyway. And I am still in a phase of taking in huge swaths of new information and building foundational knowledge, and I know that even just a month from now I’m going to be thinking differently than I currently am. So if it isn’t simple, it risks being too specific and becoming outmoded.

So, here are the principles I’m starting from:
1. Maintain records, but keep them simple.
2 At all times, have as much growth as possible. This prevents nutrient leaching, maximizes feeding of the microbes in the soil, and maximizes converting sunlight to useful crops.
3. Use harvest-gap-driven planning done at the last minute. Once a week, look at the harvest calendar for the next six months, and see what needs to go in the ground now to fill gaps in the harvest later. Leaving planning till the last minute minimizes unnecessary planning and allows responsiveness.

Following out those principles, I’ve come up with this system:
1. Everything is planned in units of weeks (52 per year) and 4×4 foot blocks of garden. Each week has a number (1-52), and each block has a designation (for me, probably numbered with bed and then block, like 3-5 would be garden bed 3, block 5).
2. Maintain a harvest planning calendar. When something goes into the ground, and *only* when something goes into the ground, write down its expected quantity of harvest in the expected week(s) it will be harvested.
3. Once a week, glance over the harvest calendar looking for gaps that need to be filled. It could be a gap of radishes 3 weeks out, or a gap of tomatoes 3 months out. Plant whatever you need to in order to fill in the gaps. If the garden is completely full, again, consult the harvest calendar. You can sow seeds indoors to transplant after a crop in the garden is done yielding, or you can underseed or companion plant amongst an existing crop, or you can chop and drop an existing crop that is less important. In any case, the decisions are driven by prioritizing the harvest.
4. Also once a week, glance over the crops in the ground. If anything is dead, finished yielding, diseased, or otherwise needs to be finished off, do the deed. Then again, consult the harvest calendar for the most important gaps, and plant something to fill those gaps.
5. The last piece is the block journal. For each block, record what you plant with a date. When you have a block to plant in, glance at its journal, and in consultation with the harvest calendar, choose something you haven’t planted in it recently. For crop rotation, that’s it.
6. Lastly, organize seeds in envelopes by planting seasons. So as I consult the harvest calendar, I can have the seeds spread out in front of me that are eligible to be planted. And while doing that, if there are any gaps in the season’s seeds, or any new or interesting varieties that I’ve been meaning to try, it will be obvious.

So that’s it, in three easy pieces: (1) a harvest calendar, by far the most important tool, (2) a block journal to help manage very fine-grained crop rotation of a highly interplanted system, and (3) a simple seed-organizing setup. And the idea that the relevant information is always at hand, and planning can be done in a very easy, continual process of little steps.

The farmer in the arena

The farmer in the arena

Feeding billions of people is a very difficult task. My hat is off to the people who have been doing it and keeping pace with explosive population growth. We have big problems with how we make our food, though.

Most importantly, the industrial way we make food right now is simply not sustainable. Organic or not, industrial agriculture ultimately leads to wastelands and deserts. There is no question about this — every year we lose arable land to topsoil loss, salt buildup, and etc. We literally cannot keep doing things the same way or we will run out of land.

And this does not even mention all the other problems like the abuse of harmful chemicals, ensuing collapse of honeybees, the economic strangleholds exerted on farmers by the multinational chemical and ag companies, the dependence on fossil fuels for equipment and fertilizer, disappearing aquifers, etc.

But the problems (and solutions) go a lot deeper than new tricks for growing and harvesting things. We need farms that can *sustainably* produce food, yes, but also farms that can pay livable wages to workers. We need a lifestyle and workstyle such that more people will *want* to have those jobs. And even then, most modern people won’t want to do farm work. So we need agriculture that is de-industrialized but still efficient enough that the work of a few people can feed many, many others. We need grain and vegetable cultivars that fit this, and we need to embrace currently uncommon crops.

I could go on, but I will stop there.

I do not see the industrial system addressing it’s fundamental problems until it reaches a breaking point. And while alternative agriculture has come a long ways, there is still a ton of work to do figuring out how to deliver those things that I just said we need. Market gardens and CSA programs and the like are an important and necessary step in rebuilding agriculture, but few of them are successful businesses, almost none of them provide affordable staple crops, and they don’t produce enough food for the labor input. There are critical pieces that are still missing.

I do not claim to have those pieces, and maybe they do not exist. Maybe the agriculture we have now is the only kind that we can have with the culture and society and economy as it is. I honestly don’t know. But I’d like to try my hand at putting the pieces in place.

I haven’t been able to articulate it quite like this, but this is on of the very core reasons that I’ve become so obsessed with “gardening” lately. Now that I’m coming to understand more what it is I’m trying to do, I intend to start getting serious about it. Starting with the little garden we have, I’m going to start learning to farm.

Exactly what that means will be the subject of future posts…