- Author: Reyna Yagi
Reyna Yagi (email@example.com), Northern California Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator, University of California Cooperative Extension - Alameda and Contra Costa Counties
How can we as urban farmers do our part to conserve water? Turns out there are a lot of ways that not only will help to save our beautiful state's water, but also help you build a healthier farm or garden with less work on your hands!
Rainwater Harvesting allows you to capture rainwater from roofs, collect it in a cistern for diversion to your landscape for supplemental irrigation. You should also observe your site's water runoff patterns and see how you can manage and maximize your runoff to deal with large rain events, stormwater runoff and infiltration around your site. Consider a rain garden!
- Dry Farming depends on the water stored in the soil from winter rains that plants can use in the spring as the weather warms. Plants rely on good soil moisture and deep roots to seek out this extra water without needing much supplemental irrigation. Grapes, potatoes, tomatoes, winter squash, fruit trees and grains can be dry-farmed.
- Deep watering wets entire root zones which promotes deeper root growth.
- Always water early in the morning to prevent daytime water loss through evaporation.
- Keep an eye on the weather! A refreshing rain or cool, cloudy day will extend the time between watering.
- Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. Visually inspect your drip system regularly for breaks, leaks and missing pieces. If you don't, your plants will certainly let you know with plant diseases.
California's agricultural industry is the largest in the nation and abroad, carrying with that a great responsibility to protect and conserve our resources. Urban farmers are highly cognizant of this. They are some of the most innovative and conservation-minded folks out there who understand the fragility of our water supply and their role in being model stewards of our lands and waters.
- Author: Aleta Barrett
- County: UCCE Placer/Nevada
In my first Starting Smarter blog post, I talked about hands-on education, business planning, market research, and crop selection (Starting Smarter Part 1). I could write a book on what I didn't know when I started farming. In Part 2, I will summarize key considerations for a successful start-up and things I would do in the first years.
If I had it all to do over again, what would I do differently in my vegetable operation?
Equipment & Infrastructure: I would invest in BCS (walk-behind tractor), used tractor, or make a rental equipment budget part of my start-up plan. My husband put his knees in jeopardy by using a shovel to break ground and farm our first ¼ acre. Rental equipment would have been a game changer in our first couple of years. We benefitted immediately from some key infrastructure investments: a cool room, washing area, high tunnel, germination area, and greenhouse. In our operation, these are important and I would get them as quickly as I could without taking on debt. Before buying, ask other farmers what were game changers for them. Develop a list, put the items in order of priority and buy them as you can. Go with inexpensive versions that get the job done and that you can afford. Debt is not the friend of a beginning farmer.
Land: A few things I would check when choosing land:
• Zoning and restrictions
• Flat/sloped and direction/aspect
• Water source and reliability
• Soil quality
• Drainage – how does the land behave during the dry AND rainy seasons?
• Delivery truck accessibility
• Prior use and potential for organic certification
• Surrounding property use – is there anything around you that may require barriers or cause conflict? (e.g. noise or odor restrictions)
• Is there adequate fencing? If not add that expense into your start up budget.
Farmers' Markets: I would stick with one farmers' market until I was consistently making a profit before expanding to more.
Organic Certification: I would have become Certified Organic sooner. It really was not hard, the certifier was very helpful and guided me through the process. It would have helped me keep better records from the beginning.
Labor: I would estimate my annual labor budget and add in employees only when I had enough cash flow. I would calculate the full cost (loaded labor rate, including taxes and workers compensation insurance) of an employee before hiring. I would consider how much time I could afford to spend as a manager rather than a worker on my farm. I would hire people only for the time I was available to manage them.
Owner Salary: I would pay myself every month, even if it were only $100. Just to get in the mindset that the farm should pay me. Then I would work hard to get that up to a financially sustainable income. The median per capita income in Placer-Nevada is $34,000 year or $2,833 per month. I would attempt to track and limit my time working on the farm. This is a challenge but it's important to enjoy life and not allow the farm to work you to death.
Financing & Savings: I did know a few things in the beginning because I had managed and owned other businesses in the past and benefited from having a savings account and family backing. I knew that the business would not turn a profit for at least three years and I needed enough savings to live off during that time.
There are some things you just have to learn by doing. For me, I'm better at fielding questions from farmers' market customers now. I remember how to harvest, what temperature, and how long to store various types of produce. In the beginning, I had to constantly check a book or go online for this information. There are many things I am still learning and I'm sure there always will be.
Your unique situation will require your own solutions and methods. I hope these tips help you become a profitable farmer more quickly and efficiently. May you have a bountiful and successful farm!
Check out the New Farmers and Resources tabs on our Foothill Farming website: http://ucanr.edu/sites/placernevadasmallfarms/
- Author: Cheryl A. Wilen
It's beginning to look a lot like spring, so many small growers try to save some money by starting seeds in growing systems and then plant the transplants to get a jump on weeds and other pests like slugs that can decimate a direct-seeded crop. But even the best ideas can sometimes not go as planned.
There are two main pathogens, Pythium and Rhizoctonia, that are the cause of damping-off disease but there are others such as Fusarium and Phytophthora. This disease occurs in newly emerged seedlings, or even as the seeds are just starting to germinate. Damping off is the cause of many seedling losses. It is most notable soon after the seedling emerges. The seedling will seem fine one day and the next it has flopped over at the base and then it dies. We see it a lot this time of year because it is most prevalent in cool and wet conditions.
Damping off is not the same as root rot. Damping off affects the young, succulent stem of the seedlings at or slightly below the soil or media surface while root rot affects the roots. We generally don't see root rot unless the drainage is bad.
There is no cure for damping off but it can be prevented. The best thing to do is avoid keeping the media very wet and if possible, start the plants in a warm location such as a greenhouse. It is better to mist the media and plants lightly several times a day than water heavily. Misters can be set to go off using timers or one can hand water using “fogger” nozzles. Do not reuse soil or pots that had plants that died unless sterilized because they now carry the pathogen.
As plants get past the seedling stage, they are no longer susceptible to damping off but if the soil is still kept wet, root and stem rot can occur.
UC IPM has developed a Pest Note covering damping off and it can be found at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74132.html
- Author: claire napawan
The spatial needs of successful public space include a strong neighborhood connection, an accessible perimeter, and a site design and layout that promotes many and diverse users. Communally-managed urban farms benefit from similar spatial considerations: strong connections to neighborhood context insure a strong community commitment to the demanding maintenance needs of a production landscape, strong physical and visual accessibility promotes diverse users of the site, and flexible layouts and designs encourage diverse programs within the site. The consideration of the communally-managed urban farm site as a whole, and not parceled into individualized plots, allows for the use of smaller and more constrained urban sites and a greater shared commitment to the entirety of the site. This can help lessen one of the consequences of a shared public and production landscape: theft. While perimeter fencing might be a requirement of other forms of urban agriculture, a communally-managed urban farm is more resilient to the impacts of leaving a site open and accessible to the public. In addition, the accessibility of the site can lead to a higher volume of volunteer participation, consistent maintenance and good overall site appearance, and a strong sense of ownership by surrounding community (including those not interested in urban farming). Thus, although often perceived as an incompatibility, this investigation reveals that an open site perimeter, as well as the other spatial considerations of a successful public space, are consistent to the design of a successful communally-managed urban farm.