NEW FARMER JOURNAL: Easy Growin' Farm, Buena Vista CO

How much to plant?
Although the market for organic vegetables is wide open here, this farmer new to growing for market is having a tough time guessing the amount of produce he can actually sell.

By Joshua Flowers

Farm-At-A-Glance

Easy Growin' Farm
Buena Vista, CO

Farmer: Joshua Flowers

First season: 2004

What they raise: Mixed vegetables, goats (for milk products), edible flowers, herbs, raspberries, eggs

Marketing strategies: Health food store, farmers’ market

March, 2005. As hints of green begin to adorn the landscape, the yearning to open up the earth and insert seeds emerges with the coming of a new season. However, it is nature who dictates when one can begin playing in the soil, and it seems that she is still reveling in wintry weather for the time being. So, as I patiently wait for the thawing of the ground, I spend most of my time seeking to keep the ladies content. That is, my small herd of milking does and 99 hens.

The seeds are now ordered and arriving in intervals. Most of the vegetable seeds are an open-pollinated variety, with the exception of red bell peppers. This being my first year growing peppers, I decided to play it safe and stick with a quicker-setting variety that does well in cooler climates. One of the local health food stores has specifically requested red bells, so I went with the hybrid to improve my chances of a successful crop. I also decided to order flower seeds, hoping to find time to make a few bouquets to offer at the farmers’ market.

I am still unsure of my seed calculations, as I am a novice at growing for market. Because the farmers market is relatively new and hasn’t had a consistent supplier of vegetables in the past, I am not sure how much produce I’ll be able to peddle. Also, I was recently approached by the owners of another health food store who would like a supply of local vegetables. Really, I have no idea how to project the amount of produce I will need to supply and if I have enough seeds to fill the demands. This season will be a huge learning experience in that aspect. With successive planting, I should be able to increase certain crops to match demands if I find that my calculations were low.

As far as starting seeds, I am a bit behind schedule with broccoli, cabbage, and a few flowers—which should have all been started March 15. I had hoped to have my hoop house up weeks ago, but again nature reminds me that it is she who is really in control. The snow and winds have put a halt to my goal of having the greenhouse erected and my seeds happily germinating away inside.

This has also caused me to rearrange my plans for chicken housing. The original idea was to keep them in a portion of the hoophouse, but being as they were due to show up on the farm last Sunday, I had to create a space for them in the barn. So for now the hens and goats are cohabitating and seem to be getting along just fine, even if the goats end up wearing chicken manure more often then they would like. I purchased the flock from a local chicken “pro” who was getting out of the egg business. He told me to show up early laden with burlap sacks and we would catch us some chickens. Soon we were filling potato sacks with birds and, though they fiercely fought being plunged into the “gunny”, once inside they were quickly pacified. All but one (rest in peace) transported well this way.

Two hens have been placed in a makeshift bird hospital because their eyes were swollen and secreting a bubbly fluid. I believe this is due to an imbalance of carbon to nitrogen in their previous bedding. The eyes were getting burned by high levels of ammonia. Also the flock’s production is down, with an average of 25 eggs a day. I’m trying to figure out the best feed rations to promote productivity but realizing it will probably take some time for them to adjust to their new home. They don’t seem to appreciate the nesting boxes I built, but instead keep sneaking off and depositing the goods in various nooks and crannies in the hay stack and goat feeders. Both health food stores want me to supply them with eggs now, so I hope that these little ladies turn it up soon. Most likely I will have to increase the size of my flock to supply both stores and the handful of customers I already have.

As for the four goats, they are pumping out around 21 pounds of milk a day. I have rented a buck, but it is late in the season and there doesn’t seem to be much lovemaking going on in the barnyard. I am currently looking into regulations on selling chevre at the health food store, as they have expressed interest there.

The scene is ripe for organic farming in this valley as the local market is craving whole foods and there are not many producers. I have been blessed with many opportunities opening up just as I was ready to get in. Now if my funds, the weather and the animals all cooperate, this should prove to be a successful season.