The throes of winter bring dreams of spring, summer and autumn tablescapes at the farmers' market. Peak season booth presentations appear natural, aesthetically pleasing and simple. It is easy for one to forget the hard work and planning that goes into every fruit and vegetable that fills the market street.
Like many farmers in the off-season, Mark Guttridge of Ollin Farms in Longmont is as busy as ever. This time is reserved for planning out the entire growing season. Guttridge focuses on his crop plan, stocking up on supplies, education, networking and passion projects.
A good crop plan includes taking stock of seed on hand, researching new varieties, ordering any needed seed and mapping out crop locations and irrigation. For diversified vegetable growers, this is quite a feat. Guttridge himself grows 30-50 crops a year, and features 150 varieties. Guttridge explains the importance of a well laid-out crop plan, especially for beginning farmers. However, entering into his 11th season, there is definitely a fair amount of muscle memory and flexibility that comes into play.
"As a farmer you have to be in a constant state of adaptation," says Guttridge. For example he maps out crop location and transplant dates in his head, but understands he needs to be able to adjust if the field condition or the climate on that date isn't ideal.
Another lesson learned throughout the seasons is that a farmer should make sure all supplies are on deck for the year. Once days fill up with planting, maintenance, harvesting and markets, there isn't time to wait for a piece of equipment or tools to arrive.
The final three tasks of the off-season nestle well within each other — education, networking and projects of passion. National and regional conferences play a key role. Farmers have the chance to get together and share successes and failures, and learn from each other. They take their renewed energy and excitement from these conferences, head back to their farms and try new systems.
Last year it was microgreens, this year Guttridge is working on two projects — mushroom growing and transitional perennial crops. For him, building a diverse ecosystem is the answer to fixing our climate issues. Farmers have the opportunity to work on this by integrating more than just vegetables into their farm. This could include animals and woody perennial crops. Expect to seecultivated oyster mushrooms on Guttridge's market table this year, and plan to head down to his farm for you-pick blackberries, gooseberries and currants.
Guttridge leaves us with a couple of tips for our own gardening endeavors. Pick your focus. If your soil is not suitable for growing, you should amend it. You can start with a soil test or just stick your hands in the dirt and feel. If time is a problem, choose low maintenance crops and install an automated watering system. If you have trouble starting your seed, buy transplants at the market.
"What is your limiting factor to successfully growing food for yourself?" he said. "Focus on that thing and solve it."