Project objectives from proposal:
Crop Selection, closely spaced crops only:
Since we are interested in learning if a Japanese PPT will increase profitability on a small farm, we will examine this question by comparing the profitability of 5 different crops (beans, beets, lettuce mix, spinach, lettuce heads) planted in the traditional way and with the paper pot system. We have selected 5 crops we believe to be representative of the closely spaced crops that we grow on our farm.
The paper pots come in linked chains at 2, 4, or 6 inch spacing which makes them suited only for closely spaced crops. We currently grow 13 crops that use spacing this close. They are beets, carrots, cilantro, radishes, turnips, lettuce mix, parsnips, arugula, spicy greens mix, spinach, peas, onions and beans. We also transplant one (head lettuce) that would be a candidate for transplant with the paper pot system.
Some crops don't work as well: The word on the paper pot forum at smallfarmworks.com is that cilantro, which resents being transplanted, is not a good candidate. Tap rooted crops such as parsnips, carrots and daikon radishes have been reported to be unsaleable as they have too many forked roots as a result of being started in the small paper pots.
Lettuce mix, spicy greens mix, and arugula are all planted at the same spacing and sold at the same price per pound. Lettuce mix will be the crop we will study.
Beans are direct-seeded at two rows per bed and the fruits are picked for several weeks. Earliness to market commands a premium price and assures a certain customer loyalty.
Spinach is hardy for early and late in the season. It can be sporadic in germinating and a chance to fill in any empty seed cells in the paper pots could make the stand more uniform.
Head Lettuce is currently grown at one foot spacing. Growing at six inch spacing and harvesting every other head at a baby size could greatly increase the gross revenue per bed (if a market exists for baby lettuce).
Beets currently get thinned by hand once. When planted at four inch spacing from the outset, thinning could be reduced or eliminated.
We will compare and contrast the profitability of traditionally grown plantings to plantings that are transplanted using a PPT. We will compare 5 crops with 3 different planting dates for each over the course of the season. At two of the planting dates we will have one planting done in the traditional way (direct seeded into the ground, or in the case of head lettuce, transplanted by hand) to a planting seeded the same day in paper pots and then transplanted with the PPT in 3-4 weeks.
Earliest planting date comparison:
We will also compare the earliest planting possible. In this comparison, we will seed directly into the ground on the earliest possible date for the crops. We will also sow into paper pots four weeks before the earliest possible date that we believe we will be able to transplant the paper pots. We will track the earliest harvest date from the first paper pot plantings and the outdoor plantings.
Time line of activities:
Beans earliness comparison planting:
Beans will be planted into 4-inch spaced pots in the third week of April to be put out with the transplanter around the second week of May. We will direct-seed a comparison bed outside in the second week of May to compare the earliest planting possible with each method.
Beans comparison plantings:
Beans will be planted in paper pots as well as in the field in the first week of June and then the third week of June.
Beets earliness comparison planting:
Our first field planting of beets happens as soon as the ground can be worked. We generally plan on the second week of April. Beets will be planted into 4-inch spaced paper pots in the third week of March in anticipation of transplanting out as soon as the ground can be worked, when we will also do our first outdoor sowing.
Beets comparison plantings:
A second planting of beets will happen in paper pots and direct-seeded into the ground in the first week of June. A third planting with a sowing in paper pots and direct-seeded will happen in the first week of August.
Sowing dates will be the same as beets. 2-inch paper pots will be used for lettuce mix.
Spinach earliness comparison planting:
We will seed spinach into 4-inch spaced paper pots in late March and plan to transplant them with the PPT in mid April, when we will also direct-seed our first outdoor planting.
Spinach comparison plantings:
The second planting will be in May, with an outdoor sowing and a paper pot sowing happening on the same day. The third sample planting will be in September. Spinach seeds are generally soaked overnight before planting as this can help increase germination. Seed will be soaked for both the paper pot plantings as well as the direct-seeded plantings.
Head lettuce will be sown on the same schedule as beets. One planting will be grown like most growers currently grow it, with seedlings transplanted at one foot spacing. The paper pot lettuces will be sown in the 6-inch spaced paper pots. Every other head in each bed will be harvested as a baby head allowing the other to grow to maturity.
In the event that weather were to delay planting dates, we would still compare direct-seeded and paper pot transplanted plantings started on the same days as each other, only at later dates.
Weed control will be done as needed to each planting. Labor for seeding, transplanting, cultivating, and any hand weeding will be recorded in our Crop Journal and tallied at the end of the season.