Saturday, December 22, 2012

Seasons Greetings IV: Record Keeping

Welcome to the next-to-last episodes of Lost In The Farmers Market for the year of 2012. Let me tell you, this entire year has been one heck of a ride.  This has been a year of serious research and development for the Skye Project, as numerous methods and materials were put to the test to determine what the best outcome should be. Numerous challenges arose each one in its own way threatening to derail the forward momentum gained by the project and its intentions.

Environmental difficulties aside as this is the next to last post of the year, it’s time to start talking numbers. I rarely do this except at year’s end to avoid this blog from turning to a complete boredom festival. That aside part of the Skye project is keeping track of the actual numbers how much material was used, how much was harvested, what worked and what did not. These bits of information collected over the course of the year and calculated in December just before the final harvest of the year, are posted well,  now. The reason for looking at the numbers is that it can tell me with reasonable accuracy if the concepts I am proposing even work, more so they give you the reader something to examine, and determine if you would like to try some of these methods your self. With that said here are the 2012 Statistics as of 12/22/2012. Keep in mind this is supposed to be tomorrow's post but it's being posted a day early.

Skye Project statistics:
Total amount Harvested*: 1006.05oz (62.88 lbs)

Most Productive Crops*:
1.      Red Giant Mustard: 152 ounces, (9.5 pounds)
2.      Jerusalem Artichoke: 93 ounces, (5.8125 pounds)
3.      Cabbage, Green Loose leaf: 89.75 ounces (5.61 pounds)
4.      Collards, Georgia: 81 ounces (5.0625 pounds)
5.      Potato, Sweet: 63 ounces (3.9375 pounds)

6.      Mustard, India: 58 ounces (3.625 pounds)
7.      Tomato, Black Krim: 55 ounces (3.4375 pounds)
8.      Lettuce, Bibb: 45 ounces (2.8125 pounds)
9.      Cabbage, Napa: 42 ounces (2.625 pounds)
10.  Cabbage, Red: 24 ounces (1.50 pounds)

Total Amount of fertilizer used*:
-          192 ounces of Alaska Fish Fertilizer (6 Quarts)**
-          2 gallons of Vermiculture concentrate

Total Amount of Soil Amendments used:
-          20cu of  un-sifted Compost
-          48cu of Organic Composted Turkey Manure
-          62 cu High Quality Topsoil with coco-fiber.
-          16 cu Moisture enhanced Clay-Topsoil
-          600lbs Black Hen Poultry Manure

Total Cost for Year: $1310.90

Average Cost per month: $ 109.2416…

Cost per Ounce of Produce: $1.303…

Average # work hours per Ounce of produce: 0.131 work hours per ounce***

Total Amount of Work Hours: 171.5 hours

Average # of Work Hours per month: 14.29

Average # of Work Hours per Day: 0.47 hours

The above information is quite useful by itself, you can see that my costs per year are a bit on the high side. Tye typical amount spent per year for an average homeowner on their yard is about $500-700 dollars a year. I obviously spent more then this, as some of you might realize yours truly is not an average homeowner and the cost is relative to the objective. As a refresher for those new to this blog or who have not heard the ultimate objectives of the Skye Project in order they are as follows

  1. Locally I intend offset household grocery costs by 5-10% yearly until at least 70% of all vegetable groceries are home grown on site.
  2. To produce the aforementioned food without the use of chemical agents and or mineral salt based fertilizers.
  3. To create a naturally self-sustaining agricultural environment using the least amount of land area possible.
  4. To promote through examples facts and figures that this process is repeatable, reliable and possible for the average homeowner.
  5. Efficiency of work and Economy of costs: minimal work at minimal cost for maximized output.
  6. Using study results, to produce a series of books of further promote the sustainable standard of urban agriculture.
  7. Promote the use of alternative plants as replacements for overly homogenized common varieties.

That said, the Skye project has had success on all seven fronts and is rapidly entering it's fifth year of operations in the North Carolina Sand Hills environment. That said you can pull one interesting fact from the information presented above, It costs me $1.31 per ounce of food grown on site per 7 minutes of working time. Essentially if bought at a store this produce would cost $4.50 per ounce which puts it up there with those gourmet specialties such as Shiitake Mushrooms and so on. For note that is 1.31 for the produce costs, plus 0.94 for labor and then a retail markup of 200%. I know more goes into retail then that but the fact is for getting food I know is absolutely free of toxic agricultural chemicals it's a small price to pay. I know what is in my food, who grew it and I also know that the way it was grown was sustainable and will only improve the land over time rather then damage and poison it as corporate agriculture would prefer. 

Politics and intentions aside there is the following bit of information to consider. Below is a comparison of core statistics for the last four years. The first set of numbers represents the monthly expenditures for the project. It is useful because the costs have always been accurately recorded and it shows when the primary spending tends to occur. Between 2010 and 2011 you can see the visible shift ins pending to support production beyond the needs of the project. In 2011 I started the Skye Project plant sale using our surplus plants and it became a standard operation by 2012. there tends to be another peak in spending in September or October as preparations for planting cold season crops begins. If you notice the warm seasonal preparations spending tends to occur in March or April depending on weather. Last winter was mild so the preparation was spread between February and April in 2012. 

From this bit of monthly financial number you can tell that the method I use is fairly standard, two major plantings, one in spring and one in fall. It also means that in order to have a real reliable harvest, one must pick a variety of crops to produce over a six-month or longer period.

Month     |  2009  |   2010 |   2011 |   2012 |
January   | ---.-- | ---.-- | 140.80 |   7.10 |
February  | 105.53 |  61.68 | 752.51 | 124.05 |
March     | ---.-- |  44.46 | 211.84 |  29.98 |
April     | 110.61 | 139.71 |  98.51 | 180.87 |
May       | 102.82 |   8.52 | 155.59 | 275.65 |
June      |  76.49 |  60.48 |  73.87 | 202.31 |
July      |  20.68 |  90.70 |  15.33 |  80.84 |
August    |  44.37 |  72.10 |   0.00 |   8.50 |
September | 124.55 | 304.84 | 355.00 |  47.82 |
October   |  17.82 | 410.61 |  78.87 | 353.78 |
November  |  73.68 |  75.05 |  42.49 |   0.00 |
December  | ---.-- | ---.-- |   0.00 |   0.00 |
Avg. P/M$ |  67.65 | 105.68 | 160.41 | 109.25 |
Per Year$ | 676.47 |1268.15 |1924.81 |1310.90 |

The information below represents the final accounting of the work hours and harvest amounts in general per year. The 2009 Year has no information included due to a lack of a working scale at the time, we fixed that oversight in 2010, but were still battling the soil issues which hurt productivity. Exceptionally cold weather between 2010 and 2011 also caused crop losses in November and December. You can see clearly that as the conversion of unproductive land into productive land occurs the amount of time spent working has been reduced. The work hour spike in 2011 is more or less due to the large number of construction projects then the actual act of harvesting, in 2012 the number of projects was identical, but the change came in their lasting effect and permanent nature.

Ttl lbHarv|   0.00 |  25.25 | 111.55 |  62.88 |
Hours PY  | 000.00 | 191.75 | 258.50 | 171.50 |
Hours APM | 000.00 |  15.97 |  21.52 |  14.29 |
Hours APD | 000.00 |   0.53 |   0.71 | 000.47 |

With all those numbers in consideration and compared against prior years numbers you can clearly see a lot of progress despite numerous natural setbacks to productivity in the 2012 growing year****. I'm personally happy with the results, given what occurred and the crop loss back in the summer the recovery was excellent. Next year starts the fifth year of the Skye Project being at it's current location, we've learned a few new methods and will be employing them. Hopefully next year will also be the first year in which the non-animal based fertilizer initiative will produce some fruit, no pun intended.

As always if you have an questions feel free to send me a note via this blog or ask in person at a sustainable neighbors meeting. With all that said, Keel 'em growing folks, oh and one last thing, friends don't let friends gift chia pets to gardeners!

*As of 12/22/2012
**Produces 192 gallons of ready to use liquid fertilizer at a rate of 1 ounce concentrate to 1 gallon water.
*** Essentially it takes less then seven minutes of work top produce an ounce of food roughly.
**** The tomatoes, eggplant, basil and some peppers were infested with whitefly in 2012 to the point the crop plants had to be utterly destroyed. It is estimated that this alone caused a loss to the tune of thirty pounds of produce. Also a loss of tomatoes to blossom end rot caused damage to the end result.

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