Wow! What a first year for the FFGC! The pilot study of the calculator at the HeartEye Village CSA in Lafayette Colorado went beautifully. We were able to grow 1lb per square foot! That’s TWICE as much as the national average, according to the National Gardening Association’s 2009 study “The Impact of Home and Community Gardening in America.” And the calculator made the HeartEye Village CSA’s first year so much easier than it would have been without it. None of us had more than just typical personal gardening experience but the calculator really helped us keep track of everything we were doing to grow 18 weeks of produce for our 25 members. You can read more about the first year of our ¼ acre micro-farm in the article I wrote called “Grow Your Own CSA” . This article recaps our start-up and first season. By October our members were thrilled to have received a great amount of quantity and variety in produce and were quite happy with the consistency we provided from week to week. I attribute our ability to do so to solely to the FFGC.
That aside, the pilot study also revealed to me a few ways to make the calculator more streamlined and accurate. It’s a work in progress that’s for sure, and as I am applying the calculator to our own farm, I am constantly working with it and making updates to the instructions to help users get the full range of benefits. For example, just last week as I was planning our CSA for 2010 using the calculator, I realized that another template would come in handy for extrapolating the information from the calculator to the row templates, which are used to guide planting and anticipate harvests. So I’ve added a new chart called “Crop Rotation,” which will help you to plan where you will plant the amounts of each crop generated by the calculator, while keeping in mind rotations from the previous season. This chart can then be used to fill out the Row Templates. Someday soon, Jim and I will produce another video to demonstrate how to use each of the templates. In the meantime the Calculator Instructions will be your best bet for getting the most out of the FFGC.
One thing that I’ve realized in working with the calculator is that it is really important for the user to give themselves plenty of time to use it and the templates to plan their garden or farm well before starting to work the soil in the spring. The calculator takes a lot of the headache out of planning. But users still need to make the plan, and that can take time as you synthesize all of the factors, from succession planting to sun/shade exposure locations, to crop rotations in order to come up with the best plan for your growing space.
I would recommend giving yourself several weeks to translate how you have been doing things then coming up with your initial plan using the calculator and templates. You will then want to revisit your plan to make changes as you sit with it and as new things occur to you or you remember things from previous seasons. Once your plan is set the chances of a user returning to it to make changes during the growing season are extremely low. For one thing, you will likely not have time because you will be far too busy working your garden or farm. For another, it will be best for accurate tracking to not make changes to your initial calculator input values during the season. You, of course, may want to make changes “on the ground” but it would be better to make notes about these changes for the next growing season rather than trying to change the calculator plan that you initially made.
Finally, please feel free to contact us any time. We love to hear from FFGC users whether you have questions, concerns or just want to share your successes.