2013 Crop Report: Amaranth, Basil, Beans

Beans at the market.

Okay, micro farm geeks (and Pen and Pepper fans), I’ve finally got some time to write up the crop report for the year.  We grew a ton of different vegetables, so I’m going to split this up into a few installments.  For me, it’s fun (and useful) to think about what we grew and how it turned out and what I’d do differently next time.  I hope that it might also be helpful to other new, micro farmers in assessing yields and varieties.  It is very hard to find yield data for very small scale farmers.

The Crops, Part 1:

Amaranth Amaranth in the field

  • Varieties:  Red and green. We didn’t plan to grow this, but Karen, one of the other incubator farmers gave me some extra seedlings. We sold the bags of the greens a couple times and also harvested the tops of the red amaranth to sell as cut flowers.
  • Amount grown:  About 12 feet, about a dozen plants.
  • Sales:  $35
  • Where sold:  Farmer’s market only.
  • Amount sold:  9 bags of leaves.  Plus 4-6 bouquets of red amaranth blooms.
  • What was good about it?  It got a good price, about $4/bag.  It’s supposed to be very healthy.  The flowers are very attractive.  It grew very well in a part of the field that suffered from compaction and poor drainage.  It was the one green that didn’t mind the heat or bad weather.  The mature plants were large and had very few pest problems.
  • What could have been better?  I’m not quite sure the best way to harvest and prepare the leaves. Most customers had never heard of it, so it took a lot of hand selling to make the sale at the market.
  • Would I grow it again?  Maybe. It was a little hard to sell, but it was easy to grow and did very well in the heat.  I think I’d need to do more research on how to harvest it more efficiently and find some good recipes to help sell it.  I sure liked the way the mature plants looked in the field–very pretty.

Basil 

Thai Basil in the field.

Thai basil in the field.

  • Varieties:  Genovese and Sweet Thai Basil. Both seeds came from Johnny’s, and the Genovese was pelleted.  The pelleted seeds are a little easier to work with.  We started all our basil under lights in our basement and transplanted them.
  • Amount grown:  We grew just one succession of Thai Basil, about 20 feet,  plants spaced only about 6-8 inches apart in a 3-foot bed.  We grew several succession of Genovese. The first was a dense bed of about 50 feet.  Later we planted small plantings where zucchini plants had died due to disease or pests. And last we planted about 50 feet in a double row in a raised bed, with 8-10 inch spacing between plants, about 12-16 inches between rows.  (This worked best.)
  • Sales:  $398 Genovese, $156 Thai Basil ($554 combined).   We had projected sales of $1,026 for both combined.
  • Where sold:  Farmer’s Market, World PEAS CSA, our home mini-CSA
  • Amount sold:  172 bunches Genovese, 52 bunches Thai (124 total).  Projected was 535 bunches.
  • What was good about it?  The Thai Basil bed did pretty well in the heat and poor soil and lasted through most of the season.  When we had basil, we were generally able to sell most of it at the market. World Peas would have taken a lot more from us.  The biggest plus was that we had only planned to get $2/bunch at the farmer’s market, and we ended up selling bunches for $3, with little trouble.  It’s super fragrant, which helps attract customers. Last year, we grew cinnamon basil, which was a bit too specialized for our market–the Thai basil was a little easier to sell, and still very fragrant.
  • What could have been better? As you can see from the numbers, basil was not a good crop for us this season. It was planted in a part of the field with very poor soil, heavy weed pressure, and very bad drainage. Basil just doesn’t like to have it’s feet soaking wet all the time, so ours really suffered this summer.  The later plantings, in a raised bad, were starting to finally do better, but then the entire crop succumbed to Basil Downy Mildew.
  • Would I grow it again?  Yes.  I like growing basil, and generally it’s easy to grow. I’d be a lot more careful about where I put it–it does not tolerate poorly drained soil.  I’d be cautious of counting on huge quantities of it, though, because of Basil Downy Mildew.  I’m not quite sure how to get around that problem–it’s an airborne fungus, without a good organic control available.  In an incubator setting, like where we were growing, there can be multiple basil crops, and if one farmer gets it, then it can spread quickly (that’s what happened to us).

Beans

beans int he field

Very happy bean plants, late in the season.

  • Varieties:  Bush beans.  Maxibel (Johnny’s) and Tavera (High Mowing)
  • Amount grown: 4 successions, each about 30 feet, in a double row (one row of Maxibel, and one of Tavera, side by side).  Rows spaced about 12 inches, plants thinned to 2-4 inches, direct seeded at about 1-2 seeds/inch.
  • Sales: $182    Projected sales: $550
  • Where sold: Farmer’s Market and our home mini-CSA
  • Amount sold:   60 pounds.   Projected about 140 pounds.
  • What was good about it? The quality of of the last two successions, harvested in September and October were very good.  The last succession, grown in a raised bed with good drainage, had excellent yield and strong plants.  Both are tender, French-cut beans that sold very well at the market.  The Maxibels are a little larger and longer and have a better yield. Taveras are a little shorter and can be sold in pint containers, which can raise the price from $3/pound to $4/pound ($2/pint).  The Taveras are a little sweeter.  The Maxibels successions produced for about 2 weeks each, the Taveras could be picked a little longer.  Both sold VERY well when we had them.  I don’t think we ever didn’t sell out.
  • What could have been better?  Our first succession all died, due to standing water in the field.  The second succession struggled in the same field, again from wet soil.  The plants grew, but were small and yielded poorly.  We only got good beans very late in the season, when the weather and fields dried out enough.
  • Would I grow it again? Yes.  I’m personally partial to Tavera, though I can see the benefit of Maxibel.  Both sold VERY well, and our customers always wanted more.  I think growing a French cut bean is the way to go for a small operation like us, because the quality is high and taste far superior to a standard string bean.  Nobody in our family likes picking beans (it’s a tiresome chore), so we not likely to plant more than 30-40 feet at a time.  We had soil/field/space issues this season, which really hurt.  For us, I think 30-foot successions, every 3 weeks, over the whole season are really the way to go, but it takes good planning to make that work (and some luck).  I should have spaced the rows and plants a little wider for better yield.

That’s all the time I’ve got today.  Next up:  Beets, Broccoli, Carrots, Chard.   (Let me know if there’s any stat or data you wished that I’d included.)

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