Live for Today, Plan for Tomorrow

by Russ Cerocke, Farm Manager


Planning ain’t easy, that’s what they say; today’s plan is tomorrow’s memory.

As one who works in agriculture, you might think my winters are pretty laid back, after all, the plants aren’t growing. What, oh what, would there be to do? Plenty. The term planning has always sounded vague to me, and that’s probably because it is. What is a plan anyway? I’d say it is our best attempt to predict our actions and their outcomes in the future, using only information from the present and the past as guidance. Sounds pretty vague to me, but it’s the best we have. Without being able to know for sure when the rains will come or go, when the frost will cease, or how often the sun will be shining or the wind blowing, it is impossible to make plans that are 100% accurate, and that is what I find exciting about it!

As farmers, we do our best to plan along the lines of our historical averages; average first and last frost dates, average rainfall, average high and low temperatures, and the general assumption that the patterns should persist, at least for the most part. What we do know is how many people we need to feed, how much food that will take per week, and the amount of plants we should need to fill all of those hungry bellies. So, what do we plan on?

Thus far, we have planned our fields and our greenhouses to provide enough food for all of our farmshares, farm stand, and this year we will also be supplying fresh produce to 5 local food pantries as a part of the Itasca Bank 75th Anniversary Celebration. We have done this planning in accordance to the principles of organic practices that require regular, multi-year rotations of plant families in a way that provides adequate time between like-crops, allowing the soil to regenerate. Another part of this planning, beside quantity, is timing. When do the seeds need to be started? Transplants planted? Weeds need to be managed? And most importantly; when will we be able to harvest? How much? and for how long? It’s a lot to think about. We also have soil test results from years past that help guide our decisions on amending our soil to maintain optimum nutrient balance for the plants, soil life, and ultimately our bodies.  We have established target dates, quantities, and locations for the 50+ types of vegetables we grow, not to mention their endless progeny of selected varieties. Ok, winter planning is a thing! So, what’s new in 2023?

Well, for starters, I am. During my first season as the farm manager, I am focusing on efficiencies in production and methods, while trying to minimize risk during the growing season. For now, this means I will be saving some of my wilder new ideas for a later time. But, I’m human and I like trying new things! This year we will be adding white beets to our lineup, a sweeter beet used worldwide for sugar production. We will also be continuing our sweet potato production into its second year with a close eye on summer irrigation, hopefully producing some sizable sweet potatoes this year. We are planning to install a test garden this year as well, so that we can identify more fun, new things without risking a failure in production if the new thing we try turns out to be not-so-fun. There are a lot of exciting plans for the coming seasons, I can’t wait to share them all with you! But for now, let’s come back to the present moment.

First at bat: Alliums! One of my favorite plant groups, the Alliums include onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, and garlic! Our garlic was planted in November, and mulched over with the winter leaves from Naperville. Garlic is truly the first at bat, but it does kind of cheat by sleeping in the batter’s box. The rest of the Alliums are the first of our crops to be started in the late winter. The Alliums that we grow are quite cold tolerant. If we keep air and soil temperatures at 40-50 degrees, they’ll do great. That’s why we planned our 2023 onion seeding for February 21, which happens to be paczki day! Or, Fat Tuesday if you prefer. It is the perfect time to allow the seeds to germinate and give us a BIG head start on the warmer spring weather. Once the field soil nears 50 degrees, the Alliums are ready for transplanting -generally in mid-April – so that when temps hit 50 in early-May, the Alliums will be ready to grow!

When all is said and done, planning is essential to farming, or any kind of gardening. Plants have various growth characteristics and preferred conditions, which should all be well understood and balanced in order to ensure healthy, sustainable growing conditions for generations to come. At The Conservation Foundation, we take resource management and conservation seriously. Without intricate planning and close observation, attempting to manage our lands sustainably would be a bigger challenge than it already is. So, here’s to planning, as haphazard as it can be at times; it’s just one more example of us humans doing our best!

Happy Planning!



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