I recommend starting small. We started our first CSA on our new farm in the spring/summer of 2005, feeding 26 families on 1/3 of an acre with a troybilt tiller and a hoe. This was the beginning of what turned into a 100 member CSA after two years.
Imagine a ½ acre prepared into 4 foot wide raised beds. All of these beds are roughly 100 ft long and irrigated using T-Tape supplied with water by a 1 inch black poly header pipe (all above ground). Here is a list of what we planted the first season, with planting times for the season. This can all be adapted to your situation, but by keeping the beds all roughly the same, you can easily plan for more or less as you grow each year.
Irish Potatoes (Jan-Feb): 50 lbs. Red La Soda and 50 lbs. White
Head Lettuce, Swiss Chard and Kale (Jan-Feb): direct seed 3 or 4 rows down a whole bed for baby greens or transplant for bunching. Fertilize with 10 lbs. Colloidal Rock Phosphate and 10 lbs. organic fertilizer of your choice.
Beets, Lettuce Mix, Arugula (Feb.): direct seed 3 or 4 rows down a whole bed for baby greens and repeat in 2 weeks. Fertilize with 10 lbs. Colloidal Rock Phosphate and 10 lbs. organic fertilizer of your choice. It basically takes a ¼ lb of seed to plant a whole bed of each (same with the Swiss Chard). You should get 2 cuts off of each bed, and then your second planting should be getting ready to cut.
Radishes (Feb): Choose at least two varieties, and plant a half a bed of each. In the spring we have found French Breakfast, Easter Egg and any of the early round varieties do best. Daikon and others are best planted as winter radishes in the fall. Fertilize and plant the same as the previous greens mentioned.
Tomatoes (Jan-Feb): Start your transplants indoors or in a small greenhouse. Early Girl, Celebrity and Romas are your staple tomatoes; you need 100 plants of each for the CSA. Heirlooms can add some interest, 100 plants would be a good start. This will give you 4 beds of tomatoes, which will all need to be staked and trained, planted in mid-March and early April. Fertilize each bed with 10 lbs Colloidal Rock Phosphate, 10 lbs organic fertilizer, 2 lbs. Epsom Salt. Mulching with straw would be a good idea.
Sweet Peppers (Jan-Feb): Start your transplants and plan for at least 200 plants or 2 beds. Members really like Bell Peppers like Big Bertha but we also like heirloom varieties like Marconi, Sweet Italia, Banana Peppers and Spanish Spice. Fertilize with 10 lbs. Colloidal Rock Phosphate and 10 lbs. organic fertilizer of your choice. Plant out in the beds after frost in early April. Mulching is preferred.
Eggplant (Jan-Feb): Start your transplants for at least 200 plants or 2 beds. Pingtung Long, Florida High Bush and Rosa Bianca are nice. Fertilize with 10 lbs. Colloidal Rock Phosphate and 10 lbs. organic fertilizer of your choice. Mulching is preferred. Plant out in the beds after frost in early April.
Summer Squash and Zucchini (Mar-June): Direct seed one bed of each, and repeat every two weeks. You should have at least 6 beds planted at different dates. This helps manage your harvest, and keeps you ahead of the cucumber beetles, squash bugs and other pests. Fertilize with 10 lbs. Colloidal Rock Phosphate and 10 lbs. organic fertilizer of your choice.
Cucumbers (Mar-June): Direct seed once a month to have at least 3 beds for the season. Fertilize with 10 lbs. Colloidal Rock Phosphate and 10 lbs. organic fertilizer of your choice. Market More is a good selection. Members also like Asian varieties.
Melons (April-May): Direct seed one row in a bed and thin to one foot apart after germination. Fertilize the same as the previous crops. We recommend 7 to 10 beds total. Try Isreali, Honeydew, and other interesting heirloom varieties. Plan at least a ¼ pound for seed and try to get a late planting in again in July for an early fall harvest. Mulching is recommended if possible.
Herbs and Flowers: Plan at least one bed of cilantro (Feb-Mar), and basil (April-May, transplants could be started in Feb), direct seeding a bed of sunflowers also makes a nice addition to CSA shares.
If you do not have access to a greenhouse the first year, another market grower in the area may have space to start your plants for you. You could supply them with the seed and have it arranged to be ready when you are.
While all this work is happening, you still may need time to recruit your new CSA members. Plan a Farm Day to show prospective new members the garden you are preparing and share the vision. I will discuss Membership fees and agreements in the next issue.
Also, keep in mind; this is your spring/summer field. It would be good to have another 3 ½ acres in a summer cover crop to get ready for the future, try lablab or iron and clay cow peas in sandy soil (20 lbs and acre), then you want to have another ½ acre ready to plant for your fall garden starting in late September.
Grab a seed catalog and start dreaming!
- Farmer Brad