Lessons from Kohlrabi

Ellie Lewis on how a crop-planning assignment gave her a newfound appreciation of farmers.

Packages of Johnny's seeds
Packages of Johnny’s seeds ready to be planted…and planned.

Our Urban Agriculture class just recently finished working on crop planning assignments. We had to plan for one crop for a 100 foot by 4 foot bed for the entire season, running June 1 through December 1. We picked our crops from seed websites such as Johnny’s seeds, and then we had to figure out how many seeds we would need for the bed for each succession, all the while planning for pests, disease and poor germination. Oof!

I picked kohlrabi as my plant. Kohlrabi requires 15 seeds per foot spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. In order to plan for pests and disease, I estimated that 20 seeds should be planted each foot, and that there would be three rows. Therefore, kohlrabi requires 6,000 seeds for each planting. Because kohlrabi is the type of plant that you harvest once instead of a plant like kale, which you can eat off of for a few months, you have to plan for multiple successions of kohlrabi plantings. Overall, the season required 13 different plantings every other week, which meant that 78,000 seeds will be needed at a cost of $285.80.

Having no farming background, I found this assignment to be extremely informative in terms of how much planning has to go into a farm for one season — and we only planned for one crop. I was also surprised at the differing costs of seeds. For one season kohlrabi costs $285.80, which seems like a lot of money to put up front to plant one crop. In the example we were given in class, kale costs $6.15 for the entire season, which is significantly cheaper. I wonder how much farmers take into account how much one crop costs when planning for a season, or if they’re weighing the consumer demand for more expensive crops.

In thinking about how much planning farmers with multiple crops and multiple beds have to do, I have a different and heightened respect for farmers. Planning for one crop for one bed for one season was challenging. I can’t imagine planning for multiple crops for multiple beds for more than one season!

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