Although crop planning is rarely easy, creating a crop plan for a community-supported agriculture operation, or CSA, can be especially challenging. Beyond needing an abundance of produce ready to harvest on a weekly basis, the harvests also need to vary enough to keep your members interested and willing to continue their affiliation. Yet with some forethought, you can create a crop plan that can help improve harvests and help your CSA run better.
Here are some tips for developing a crop plan for your CSA.
1. List When Your Crops Will Be Available
The first step in developing a CSA crop plan is to forecast when your crops can be available throughout the season. To do this, create a spreadsheet with a column for every week of your season. Next, below each week list of all the vegetables available that time of year. If, for instance, you can grow spinach in your region from May to June and then again from September to October, write spinach under each week in those ranges.
2. Curate Your Weekly Shares
Once you’ve written lists detailing potential availability, begin to decide when you want to include various crops in your CSA. If you expect kale to be available from June through September, for instance, you can plan to include it in every other share, depending on how much kale your members want. If a crop can be available during a given week but you don’t want to include it in your share, cross it off the list of potential crops for the week.
As you plan each week of the CSA, consider how that week’s share compares with the previous one. Try to incorporate at least two different items from one week to the next, but also don’t be afraid to repeat popular items your members appreciate. As a general rule, try not to include too many similar vegetables in any given share. A CSA share of all greens or all root crops is much less interesting than a share that includes a balance of both.
3. Create a Planting Schedule
Now that you’ve developed a list of the items to include in each share throughout the season, create a crop plan that can make that vision a reality. Let’s say, for instance, that your CSA plan contains six carrot harvests over the course of the season. First, determine what quantity of carrots you’ll need for each of these harvests. To do this, figure out how many bunches of carrots you’ll need for each CSA distribution. Then, looking back on any records that you have, calculate how much space it takes to grow that quantity of carrots.
Next, determine when each of those beds of carrots must be sown so they’ll be ready in time for their scheduled harvests. To do this, look up the days to maturity, or DTM, for the carrot varieties you plant. If your carrots require 50 DTM and you want the first planting to be ready for harvest by June 15, for instance, you’ll need to seed them in late April.
Now, repeat this process for all plantings you plan to include in your CSA, and log the results in a spreadsheet. Once you do this, you should have a list that details all the crops you’ll include in your CSA, as well as the dates they need to be seeded and harvested and the amount of space that they’ll require.
4. Assign Locations to Your Plantings
The final step is to assign locations to each of your plantings, arranging them so they’ll fit in your growing area. In the past, I’ve planted field maps for this part of the process, but now I prefer to use a crop planning software such as Tend. Such applications can help you visualize the successive plantings going into one bed. Regardless of what process you use, assigning crops to beds is like assembling a large puzzle that takes some time to solve.