It’s never too early to start planning next year’s garden, but we all know how procrastination can be, so here are a few tips for those of us that are still planning this year’s garden. These tips are geared more toward someone who is wanting to grow produce to sell, but they can help any gardener that wants to take a more organized approach with their food source.
1. Label your beds.
This will help you keep organized on paper, know exactly how much space you have, and it will also make it easy to tell anyone that is helping you exactly where you want them to harvest, plant, or do any other chores. The new market farming techniques are focused on growing in 30 inch beds rather than individual rows. The beds are usually raised up just a couple of inches with soil or compost, and will have walkways that are around 18” in between them. I find it easiest if you label each bed individually: bed 1, bed 2, etc… If you are growing on a larger plot I recommend taking it a step farther by breaking your growing area(s) into larger blocks first, and then labeling both the block and the beds within the block. Drawing a diagram that shows each field block is a good idea as well.
2. Decide which seeds to plant
Before you can make any sort of crop plan, you need to know what exactly you are planting. If you’re trying to market garden, I would start out by staking out your local farmer’s markets and see what is selling and for what price. You want to have products in your area that people actually want to buy, and ones that will make you money.
Once you have a list of what you want to grow, find the exact seeds that you are going to use, then start a spreadsheet like the one shown below. You will need to know the days to maturity, when they can be planted, if they need to germinate indoors, and how much space they need. All of this information makes it easy to know exactly how much seed you need to order, how long the crop will take, and how much room you need. I recommend either getting a couple different varieties for each type of crop, or else plan on planting them in succession in order to get a constant supply throughout the season.
3. Decide where to plant
I make another spreadsheet for this part, only this one is a little more complicated. There is a row for each the individual beds, and each column is a week of the growing season. This makes it easy to see a visual representation of each crop within its specific bed. If you have limited space you probably will want to max out your yields, so the more crops you can grow the better.
With this layout you should be able to get a general idea for how much each bed can produce over the year. Granted, farming isn’t exact, so not all of your dates will actually line up when it comes to harvest, but it will give you a good idea of what to expect. You will also be able to plan better from year to year by having this data.
Before you get started filling out the meat of the spreadsheet, there are a three main things you need to consider: crop rotation, sun exposure, and fertility.
Crop Rotation – If you are gardening this year, then it is best to write down what crops you have where, so you make sure that you can rotate them for next year. Some crops, like potatoes, are more likely to get pests if they are planted in the same place year after year. Similarly, there are some crops that are best planted after another the crop the following year. For example, legumes replenish nitrogen, so it is good to plant corn where your beans were the previous year.
Sun Exposure – You may not have full sun on every bed, which is fine. Some crops grow better with a little shade. I find lettuce much easier to grow in the summer time when it gets some relief from the midday sun. Other crops, however, do best with as much sun as possible, so just plan accordingly.
Fertility – If there are some beds that you know aren’t as fertile as others, you may want to plant crops that demand less from the soil, or consider removing those beds from production for part or all of a season and plant a cover crop to increase organic matter and fertility.
It may seem daunting, but having this plan will help you immensely. It will help you better budget for seed, fertilizer, and crop yields, which are necessary for any market gardener. Good luck and happy planning!