Reducing Rodent Damage on your Farm

As the harvest season progresses and the air cools, rodents start thinking about stocking up for winter and finding a home. Across the US, rodents cause up to 1 billion dollars in damage a year. Don’t let that be you.

Lets start by getting our crops in without damage in the field.

Our number one recommendation is to clean up your fields. When we see issues it is usually because of piles of weeds, debris, and trash on field edges. This extends into the field- keep your crop clean. If rodents have no place to hide, the local raptor population will have a field day. Best of all, they don’t require health insurance or a 401k!

Plastic and ground cloth, while they keep weeds down and warm the soil slightly, do provide a home for these furry creatures. Think long and hard if it is worth the damage.

Agrid3 is a great Certified Organic bait. We put it in little bait boxes in the field for crops that tend to get hit (sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, winter squash) usually around August 1st. We will flag each location for as the crops tend to grow, the boxes tend to disappear until you hit them with a machine! We used to just use small wooden boxes but Eliot showed us how he has gone to using small tackle boxes with holes cut in each end.  8-12 boxes per acre work great. 

Eliot Coleman's tackle box turned into a rodent bait station.

Eliot Coleman’s tackle box turned into a rodent bait station.

Mousetraps in the above boxes or just a piece of 4” drainage pipe work great as well in the field but have to constantly be checked. 

I do show some pictures in my ebook here which show a few ideas…

Also, if you type voles into the search box of the Four Season Farming and Winter Growing Facebook page  a bunch of good info comes up.  

Once they are in Storage…

Again, clean around your building and provide no habitat for the little critters. Old plywood, piles of pallets, junk equipment, all provide great refuge from predators and warm winter homes. 

Remove other sources of food. Keep compost piles, grain storage or straw storage away from where you are trying to store food. A scorched earth policy.

Well-lit, cement floored, clean storage areas are always a good idea. Gives you instant knowledge if you have been breached! Dirt-floored, cluttered, dimly lit storage areas are just asking for trouble. 

We do not recommend bait boxes in storage. Too easy for a animal to eat the bait and then die somewhere in your carrots, causing all sorts of food safety issues. I would take the tackle box and put snap traps in them, making sure to check them every other day. 

And,  get a good dog. Most cats try to have too much fun with their food to be of much use. 

Books that will make you think, help you grow, and make you money.

Last night, I did a marketing webinar with NOFA- Mass. We had  great time talking about the buyers journey, the curse of knowledge, how to tell your customers story, and the importance of unified messaging.  At the end, I offered some resources that I have found helpful. Here you go. Click the book to take you to Amazon and purchase.

Paco underhill is an environmental psychologist, who has spent his career researching why people
buy or the science of shopping. For those who have retail outlets for their product, whether they be farmers market stalls, roadside stands, or other venues, Paco’s books are a must.

Simon Huntley has been on the forefront of helping farmers with their web presence, CSA software, and figuring out how to market their farms. He will be releasing a new book, Cultivating Customers, in a few days and I am looking forward to it. Sell what you sow is another must for farmers, it covers a vast array of information that is important to marketing and promotion.

Seth Godin is a legend of his own, he has spent the last part of his career helping us understand how ideas spread, marketing, leadership and change. He was recently inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of fame.  Good stuff.

In Platform, Michael Hyatt lays out how to build an audience and sell your idea or product. Excellent step by step guide, with short, easy to read chapters. Guy Kawasaki’s book, Enchantment, has chapters on things like; How to achieve likability, how to enchant your employees,  and how to achieve trustworthiness. A good read for how to understand people and how to change how they view you.

Of course no farm library would be complete with out The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook or You Can Farm by Joel Salatin. Essential for any farm. I’m not sure why Richard put organic in the title, this book is for any farm.

Another book which everyone should read, farmer or not, would be the enduring classic,  How to win friends and influence people. Get it, read it, and then read it again.

Of course, who has time to read all these books?  That’s why I recommend Audible. From driving to markets, hours on the tractor, to driving home for the holidays, a good book is a great companion and education.

Struggle with marketing? Here’s a free webinar.

What do companies such as Go-pro, Apple, and Coca-Cola have in common? They all do a great job with marketing. Yes, they all have great products (well, in the case of Coke its debatable), but in reality, they have figured out how to tell the story of how you need their product.

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The first iPod ad.

You can do that too.

You shouldn’t have to struggle with selling your product or communicating with your customers. Join me this Tuesday at 7 PM when I will share simple principles, tips, and techniques to connect with your customers and sell more product. I will talk about the power of developing your farm story and branding your farm, figuring out who your customer is, and connecting with them through simple social media strategies.

Over the last several years, I have spent thousands of dollars on marketing courses and seminars. Why, because marketing is a vital part of any business.  As I tell people, “if you can’t sell you product, its like you are just growing expensive compost

Best of all, did I mention this is free?  This webinar will be part of NOFA/Mass’s Inspiring Ideas from Experts in the Field.    See all the details below.

Marketing Strategies for the Farm, with Michael Kilpatrick
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
7:00 pm  |  Eastern Daylight Time (New York, GMT-04:00)  |  1 hr
Meeting number (access code): 733 334 807
Meeting password: farmer
Add to Calendar
When it’s time, join the meeting.
Join from a video system or application
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You can also click here to see NOFA-Mass’s original post.

Tips for increasing traffic to your farmers market stand

GrowNYC, which sponsors the NYC greenmarket program, recently released a PDF entitled “Understanding Customer Behavior at Farmer’s Markets”. I read through it this morning and thought there were some great takeaways. It’s a great resource for anyone selling at farmers markets or a produce stand.


Big takeaway- Do you step back and watch customers interact with your stall? Are you watching customer flow? After we had set up our stand and the market started, we would step across the aisle and watch customers. Our goal was to see how they moved by and hopefully through our stand. We would also “secret shop” our stands to see how employees where interacting with our customers.


Provide plenty of room inside the stall for customer movement. In retail science, there is something called “butt room”. Customers become uncomfortable when their personal space is invaded during a shopping experience and that can influence brand perception and future shopping habits.


Loyalty cards are great- customers always want to feel part of a “club” or “program”. Especially for staples which they can buy from anyone like salad mix, ground beef, or eggs, this can help drive sales.


Pile product high! If you can display 100 bunches of radishes, do!  It will help sales as people are drawn to abundance. Of course, then it can wilt, you might say.  Keep it looking fresh by spraying it down with water, we used something like this.


Selling meat or hot food presents special challenges. Many growers are using rolling ice cream freezers to keep meat frozen while still allowing customers to see the product. Having big, colorful posters displayed as well as offering samples can also boost displays.


You can read the entire report here.
What unique things do you do that help drive your farmers market sales?

Ebook- 10 winter growing secrets we wish we knew when we started

Winter growing can be tough. From unforeseen cold snaps which damage plants, to aphids wreaking havoc, it’s not a forgiving growing environment. Then if you manage to get a nice crop grown and ready to harvest, you have voles to deal with, and downy mildew starts destroying your lettuce. Other questions lurk… If you are building a new tunnel, what features do you add? What’s worth the money?

The winter season should be easy and slow paced. You shouldn’t have to be working long days weeding chickweed from your paths, shoveling your tunnels out and fighting those pesky voles for your super sweet spinach. You need a winter growing system that puts you back in control of your time, allowing you to rest and recuperate from the crazy summer growing season.

When I started winter farming back in 2005 at Kilpatrick Family Farm, we had all these problems and more. I remember plowing out greenhouses at midnight because we hadn’t constructed them properly. I remember losing whole crops to disease, insects, or those voles… And yes, I weeded my share of chickweed (and tomato volunteers) from the beds.

I knew there had to be a better way, so I embarked on a cross-country study of winter production farms, talking to dozens of growers, asking about their techniques, varieties, and styles. We talked to greenhouse manufacturers, extension agents, seed breeders. We refined our system to make it work for us, providing a stream of winter growing profits that allowed us to sleep well at night.

I also shared our system with hundreds of growers across the US, talking at dozens of conferences, giving webinars, and getting lots of feedback. I fielded hundreds of questions too. Over time, I realized the questions started following patterns, so I began compiling a FAQ.

Last winter, I sat down and decided to turn that FAQ into a 60 page ebook, covering the top questions I get on winter growing and season extension. It’s jam packed with information that will save you time, make you money, and help you grow a crop you can stand back and be proud of. It will help you know what parameters to run your greenhouse at so you can sleep well at night, knowing that your crops are tucked in and safe for your customers.Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 10.39.48 AM

Already, the few growers that I have shared it with are giving positive feedback. “A great little book, I enjoyed it” from a grower in Vermont. A grower in NY said “I can see a lot of work went into this, very helpful information”

If you’re wondering how much this information is going to cost you, well, that’s the best part. For now, I’m making it available for free. That’s right, click on the link below, sign up, and we’ll email it to you directly!

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What do you have to lose? Click this link, and I’ll send you the ebook. In a few months, I’m going to rewrite and start charging for this valuable information. Don’t miss out.

You don’t want to miss this free webinar on transplant production.

A couple weeks ago I said that Adam Montri (of Michigan State University) and I were teaming up to offer a webinar on Transplant production. We’re going to cover design, setup, tips and techniques used by some of the most successful farms in the US. It’s scheduled to be an hour but there is so much good information that I’m worried we won’t be able to get it all in!  There is only 100 seats available and they are going fast, so make sure to sign up today to reserve your spot! We’re hoping to record it and share the content latter but no promises that it will work!

Here are the details:

Thursday, March 17th 7-8 PM

click here to register

This webinar is one of three that MSU is offering this spring. I’m definitely going to be sitting in on Adam’s about tunnel crop production!

HhFH Webinars, March 2016-2

HhFH Webinars, March 2016-2

Radical new hoop house design to save you time and money (Edited)

Since being transplanted to Ohio and taking a short hiatus from full time farming, I’ve been wanting to do some backyard growing. I knew that I wanted a small hoop house, but the design was escaping me. So many of the different small houses I had built were too flimsy, or didn’t have a door, or just too much work. So I thought and thought, for around 3 months before I came up with this design. It has only been up for 2 weeks, so it’s not thoroughly tested, but so far, it seems to work.  Let me know what you think!!


After I shared this video, Eliot Coleman emailed me that he had used this design back on a house in 2002 to overwinter field crops. Good designs always reappear.

Eliot Coleman slanted endwall 2002

A similar house that eliot designed back in 2002

Do you have ideas to make this a better design?  Comment below!!

What we learned from our Overwintering Spinach Trial

For some reason I’m fascinated with spinach. Perhaps it’s the different colors, textures, and growth habits, but all of it intrigues me. We sell a lot of spinach on our farm: baby, leaf, and bunched.
Last year we decided to do several trials. One was in the fall comparing 8 different types, looking at growth habits, hardiness, and disease resistance. The other was a ¼ acre, 9 variety, overwintering trial, looking at the same characteristics. We are located in zone 4a, and can get quite cold during the winter.
The process started Mid-summer with identifying the area for the trial. We wanted well drained soils as spinach doesn’t like wet feet, especially during the winter. We choose a sloping, Hoosic gravelly loam that had previously been in spring greens. The field was tilled and fertilized, beds where made, and the Spinach seed was planted mid October, 3 rows on the bed, 18” apart. Seed spacing in the row was 12-16 seeds per ft.
After seeding, the spinach germinated and was cultivated once before winter covers were put on in late November for overwintering. We used one layer of Typar 518 or 2 layers of Covertan 30 weight. The winter of 2014-15 was severe, with good snow pack. The rowcover was needed, because when part of it blew off, that area died. (Thankfully it didn’t destroy all of any one variety, so we still were able to collect data from all varieties.)
Spring came on slowly, with late April snowfalls. We didn’t’ get out into the fields until April 12th when we fertilized the spinach with krehers 8-3-3, putting down 60# N to the acre. We were, however, able to check the spinach in late March as the snow receded.
One problem we had was that rowcovers on spinach can cause rubbing, or white spots on the leaves. We didn’t want to hoop the spinach, so we ended up delaying harvest by pulling row covers completely off. This was done approximately at the end of April.
early trial
We started harvesting spinach from this section the last week of April, and continued through the last week of May when the last varieties bolted.

The results: the field was evaluated on May 15th when all the pictures were taken. I evaluated bolting again at the end of May to confirm our earlier results and make any last minute observations.

A note about the pictures: We clear-cut the field early May for a wholesale order, that is why many of the leaves look a little ragged.

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Space- Solid all around spinach. A little slow growing and had a tendency for the bottom leaves to be yellow.

Emperor- Wow, what a great spinach. Early, tall, dark green. It did have a tendency to have deformed leaves and show some bottom yellowing. Bolted quickly as well, but for an early spinach this was great. We really like this variety for bunching. Scored low mainly because a low percentage of plants deform.

Giant Winter- Bolted early, one of the quickest to size, but color wasn’t great. Leaves yellowed as well.

Giant Winter
Pidgeon- Best spinach overall. Sized quickly, took forever to bolt, held off disease and deformity was okay. Great color, easy to harvest.

Tyee – An old standard. Minimum score on all aspects was a 6. You can see why people still grow this.

Racoon- Absolutely beautiful spinach (was our favorite in the fall trials) Very upright, easy to pick, bolted relatively soon though and flavor wasn’t great. Very good disease resistance.

Bloomsdale- Older variety, grew a bit slower and bolted relatively soon, but scored best for flavor. Very savoyed leaf.

Regiment- Another nice variety. Not on our list to grow again since their are much better varieties.

Renegade- Second best score overall. Large leaves, slow bolting, relatively nice flavor, good disease and deformity resistance.


They say the proof is in what you grow next time, so here’s what we’re going to overwinter again. Space, Emperor, Pidgeon, and Renegade. Even though Emperor scored lower, it’s earliness and size were winners for us. Its all about what you want in a spinach, and as our overwintered spinach only has to last several weeks before the regular field plantings come in, we will take earliness and yield over bolt tolerance.

We also overwintered baby red Russian kale in the field. Of course it bolted quickly, but would have been fine for one cutting of early spring greens.

red russian kale

To check out more pictures of the trial, click here!  

What are you looking for in overwintered spinach? What varieties have you tried?

Can the boss work the hardest? PT 2 Tips to increasing worker effectiveness

In the last post, I talked about some of the reasons I feel that farm crews have a hard time operating at peak effectiveness. My main point was that good crew members, while wanting to work their hardest, don’t work as quickly as the boss because many times they are not sure exactly what is expected or required of them.

Cleaning beets with a Fells bunch washer

Cleaning beets with a Fells bunch washer

Here are just a few tips to building a great, more effective team, motivating them, and increasing their productivity.

  • Have clear expectations and instructions. Having and understanding a field map, knowing where the label goes on the kale bunch, etc. can save more money than you think possible. After I give instruction on a task for the day, I have employees repeat them back to me. It’s amazing what can be lost in translation, especially in under 5 minutes.

  • Have a clean, concise farm/crew handbook. There are so many reasons for a crew handbook, it deserves it’s own blog post. A handbook puts everyone on the same page and eliminates many mistakes by informing your crew before things come up.

  • Make them feel that you are all on the same team, because you are. Have a “we” mentality, not a “me vs them.”  If you complain about your crew, it will get back to them, and that is not winning with people.

  • Be organized in thought and space. Walking in and being able to go over how we want the day to go, what we wish to accomplish, and what tools and supplies need to be readied changes the game. Also, having supplies, tools, and equipment laid out clearly decreases worker frustration immensely.

  • Never ask them to do something you are not willing to do. When the weather is nice, the work load steady, and the crop clean, I rarely work with the crew. But when the weather is 34 degrees, sleeting and windy, the fields muddy and the orders huge and ominous, I am out there with them, encouraging them, working alongside, and feeling their pain.

  • Cull the bad apples. Once we had a crew member, who, when challenged to keep up with the rest of the crew in weeding, said, “we’re all winners, no matter our speed.” These need culled, for their sake as well as the crews moral. If a great crew member sees another getting away with shoddy, slow work, all sorts of problems will develop.

Work with them, sweat with them, bleed with them, laugh, and cry with your crew. It will go a long way to building an efficient team that can change the way your farm operates for the better.

What tips or thoughts do you have on helping your team operate well together?