whole-farm-planning-soil-types

Whole Farm Planning – Phase I

With land now under our feet, I’ve embarked on a whole farm planning mission to see the bigger picture and gain insight into the living farm as a whole. Surely no small task and one that cannot be fully explained in one blog post. Rather, I thought it useful to share my humble beginnings in the thought process and see where it takes us.

A hobby farmer I met on G+ had this advice for me:

“…My three words of advice before taking any action: observe, observe, observe. Become so intimate with your land that you know when it burps and sneezes!” – Dan Grubbs

Valuable advice no doubt from someone with experience. We do plan on camping out soon on the farm as we start with some rudimentary clean-up of the garage and barn. This will give us an opportunity to listen to the land and catch a few sunrises and sunsets.

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Whole farm planning from above

My initial interests in farming came from a strong desire to achieve a more self-sufficient existence. I have a whole host of farming books and one that is a great resource is “The Self-Sufficient Life” by John Seymour. This is not an extremely in-depth piece on whole farm planning and there are better books solely devoted to the subject. From a beginner’s mind – the example above planted a seed for me which in some ways started the journey back in 2004.

In Seymour’s example, he divides 4 acres into eight 1/2 acres plots and plans appropriate crop rotations every year while keeping several plots in grass for 3 successive years. Looking at our farm from the sky, I can imagine some of what Seymour is demonstrating in his 5 acre example and applying that framework on our land:

aerial-land-tax-map

With about 50 acres of pasture there are lots of options with livestock. Using calculations found around the web and assuming there is quality forage, just 6 acres of pasture could provide grass in season for:

  • 1 cow and her calf
  • 3 sheep and her lambs
  • 20 pigs
  • About 240 laying hens

As an example this would offer some meat, milk, cheese and eggs for a 20 person CSA year-round. Pasture could also be lightly tilled and seeded to crops and grains in the rotation. Much depends on the soil first.

Whole farm planning from below

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“Silty clay loam and loamy fine sand
one day gonna get me to the promised land.”

One of the basics for farm planning is to identify your soil. Before we landed our farm whenever I had a possible land lead the first place I would go is the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to look up the soil type.

For anyone interested in the full report, here’s our web soil survey from the USDA NRCSTriple-Green-Jade-Farm_Soil_Report [PDF]. In it, you’ll see that “KyB” stands for Kingsbury silty clay loam on 3 to 8 percent slopes which makes up the majority of our soils in the pasture.

One of the things that I looked for in the report is when land is classified as “Farmland of Statewide Importance.” It probably sounds more regal than it is but I believe this means that the soil has certain attributes and characteristics that will lend itself well to producing crops and carrying livestock should it be well-managed and in my case, well-drained in some areas.

Thoughts on homesteading vs. farming

Along the lines of starting small, I first thought it would be wiser to remove any pressure that business aspects might bring into play in regards to whole farm planning. By focusing on homesteading and not the “whole farm as a business,” learning from the land could be more relaxed and low-key. It would allow us to make our mistakes now and learn from them without risking too much upfront.

On the other hand, because we have researched the area and think we understand the market and demographics fairly well, would we be missing a key business opportunity by not including this aspect from day one? Having the farm as a business is our stated goal, so that plan would always be in there anyway.

What I think will happen is a blending of both homesteading (feeding ourselves) and farming (feeding friends, families and community). They both have their advantages. I think that over time as we develop as farmers we can gain a thorough understanding of the land with this blended approach. Holistic management techniques as well can be applied to both.

Here are more useful sources for whole farm planning:

 whole-farm-planning-self-sufficiency-book

I have this penchant for needing all me ducks in a row but I know that this one will take me some time to figure out. I do know however that it will be time well spent, gratefully to the end of my days.