Crop planning 101
Long ago, when the original humans planted their crops, they relied on what they could forage and predict from their surrounding world . Moon placement, star maps, the height of the sun- these were the tools they had. What they were able to accomplish with this raw knowledge amazes me.
Admittedly , when I first began growing my own food, there was no plan . What I knew was very rudimentary:
Start your tomatoes and peppers in April
Don't put your plants or seeds in the ground until after the last frost.
Other than tomatoes and peppers, all seeds go directly into the ground.
If that sounds familiar, it's because it is. It's the same anecdote that our grandparents lived by. While still a great rule of thumb upon which gardeners all over the world still rely, it tends to result into one large crop finishing simultaneously. Greens would come at the beginning of the season, beans in the middle, and everything else towards the end. Though this strategy will still provide nutrient dense, organic food to your household, I plan differently in order to gain maximum potential from our short-lived season here in Potato Country.
Here are a few helpful terms that could prove useful:
Days to maturity : Often seen as DTM. This is the average amount of days your plant will take from germination to maturity. This does not reflect fruit setting/ripening times.
Germination Time : The amount of days, under proper conditions, from seed to first emergence.
Direct Seed : The process of directly planting seeds into prepared soil.
-Do not buy your seeds from a big box store. Small providers are more reliable, and, in my experience, provide a better yield. My recommendations for quality seed are as follows:
William Dam Seed Company : damseeds.ca (Canadian Owned/Operated)
High Mowing Organic Seeds : highmowingseeds.com
Johnny's Seeds : johnnyseeds.com
Vesey's Seeds : veseys.com
On any quality seed packet will be listed some useful information; typically DTM and desired plant spacing. The Burly Farmer's methodology behind spacing is inspired from Elliot Coleman mixed with a splash of craft beer. (More on that, later). Take note of your DTM. Spinach for example, has a DTM of 40 days. Those 40 days represent the time from first emergence to maturity, so remember to add the extra time it takes to germinate before they go into the ground.
Spinach: DTM - 40 days Days to germinate- 14 days
Total time from seed to maturity (harvest) - 54 days.
Being that we are outdoors keep in mind that temperature, precipitation, and humidity can all effect this predicted time frame (check in on future posts for more on this).
Fourteen days. Though it seems a little on the heavy side at first glance, bear in mind this number represents the maximum possible days. We are constantly striving to beat that number, and adjust accordingly.
Step 2 :
- Figure out what time the party starts. First and last frost dates are paramount. Do you know them?
For the 2022 growing season , we are looking at a last frost date of May 20th, with the first frost showing up around October10th. That gives us roughly 140 days of a non-extended growing season. Keep in mind that those dates are an estimation, and it is always best to watch the weather. My favorite weather app is AccuWeather.
-Little splash of tech. This is where it may be in your best interest to download an app that will help you do your calculations a little faster. There is no shame in counting through days in a calendar if that's what you have access to. If you can do the math mentally - even better. I cannot. I use an app called Days Between Dates. It's simple and self-explanatory.
Step 4 :
- When it comes to sprouts, you want to let them sleep in. Once your seeds have sprouted , you need to give them time to relax before they will be ready for transplant to the great outdoors. Generally I use the rule of 30 days. (Of course this may vary, but let's stick to 30 for simple calculation purposes).
Note : Over time this blog will contain all information needed for the various different crops.
May 20th ; our last frost, the beginning of our season. We have two options in front of us : plant seed into the ground, or plant transplants. Both are great options, especially with the spinach from our above example . Lets take a look at both, using the information above.
Seed option : Directly seeded on May 20th - Add 54 days (see above) and you should be harvesting spinach by July 13th.
Transplant Option : Counting backwards 44 days from May 20th - This is calculated by using the germination time, as well as the rule of 30 days in cell (where they sprout). We need to start our seeds indoors on April 6th. With proper care , you will have great transplants, roaring to get into the dirt.
That brings our first harvest of spinach closer to the first week in June. That being said, there are many factors that can change that.
Think of it this way : We want the crops to spend as little time in the field as possible before we harvest them, mainly to allow for more plant cycling. This is how we maximize our short but capable season. As exciting as the thought of an ever-growing rotation of spinach all season sounds, we want to grow more of everything - not just satisfy Popeyes' needs.
Now that you understand the process, let's add some more crops:
Beans : DTM - 55 days
Radish : DTM - 22 Days
Broccoli : DTM - 65 days
Spinach : DTM- 40 days
For this example we will use three beds (their size will be indifferent, as we aren't calculating the amount of seed/plants that are needed). Let's add our extra time, and figure out what we will plant as seed, as well as what will be started inside. Off the bat, radish will never be transplanted. It will always be started directly from seed. Broccoli on the other hand, will do substantially better as a transplant . Beans and spinach are both quite flexible.
Our plan for May 20th
(Pause for effect )
Bed 1 : Broccoli - seed indoors April 6th - transplant May 20th - maturity - June 24th - harvest - July 14th
Bed 2 : Radish -direct seed - May 20th - harvest - June 25th
Bed 3 : Spinach - seed Indoors - April 6th - transplant May 20th - harvest June 10th
This is what I refer to as my first rotation. You'll notice we deviated from the plan slightly with our broccoli. As mentioned above, maturity doesn't always mean your crop is ready for harvest. Broccoli crowns are usually fully developed 2-3 weeks after maturity (don't panic- a post on crop nuances will be coming shortly).
One crop rotation? Not in my neighborhood.
Bed 1 : Beans - start indoors - June 10th - transplant July 16th- maturity -Aug 4th - harvest Aug 11th-Sept.
Bed 2 : Broccoli - start Indoors - May 12th - transplant June 25th - maturity July 30th - harvest Aug 13th
Bed 3: Radish - direct seed - June 11th - harvest July 17th.
And with time to spare...
Bed 1 : Radish - direct seed Sept 1st - harvest Oct 5th
Bed 2 : Spinach -direct seed Aug 14th -harvest October 7th
Bed 3 : Beans - start indoors - June 3rd - transplant July 17th - maturity- Aug 11th- harvest Aug 18th- Sept 10th .
Broccolli - April 6th- July 14th
Beans - June 10th - Sept.
Radish - Sept 1st- Oct5th
Radish - May 20th- June 25th
Broccoli - May 12th- Aug 13th
Spinach - Aug 14th-Oct 7th
Spinach - April 6th - June 10th
Radish - June 11th - July 17th
Beans- June 3rd - Sept 10th
There it is- three beds planned to their maximum potential . Please keep in mind, this is only a guideline. Use the concepts until you out-grow them. After all, that is the goal; constant improvement, better yields, year by year. Make your plan, make mistakes, and take notes of it all.
Here's to knowing what you grow, and to growing what you know.