Our garden in 2009 will be a grand .85 acre, including grains, and a small market garden. We started in this spot in 2007 with a 1/4 acre, and as a new gardener myself, I didn't have much of an idea of how much to plant of what. In 2008 we expanded to about 1/3 acre, including some bread wheat. Last year, planning and planting the garden was much eased by the added knowledge I had gained, and recorded, about how much the garden yielded and how much we ate. So this coming season, the garden is bigger than ever, with more variety. Part of me is intimidated, part excited, and part of me is confident that I can do this.
I always start the planning with the pantry. I write out a wish list, of how much I want stored in the pantry. Up here, we eat out of the pantry for at least 8 months of the year. Our diet is based on storage crops and grains. The variety is provided by delicious condiments, fermented vegetables, and herbs and spices. Even eggs, dairy and meat are seasonal in our kitchen.
I am still much improving our winter diet, with more variety and nutrition. So I got out my garden book for 2008 and began my pantry wish list for 2009/10, making adjustments to past harvests, basing my decisions on our tastes, on nutrition, on storage ability, and ease of growing/harvesting.
Once I have my pantry list, I work back, using my records on row feet and yields to guide me. Crops are grouped in families, roots, brassicas, cucurbits, tomatoes, etc. For each crop, I work out the row feet that would fulfill my pantry list. For the grain crops, I work with the average yield per acre, in our soil conditions. For example, wheat in our soil, would be expected to yield 3,000 lbs/acre. We are aiming for 400 lbs in the kitchen and for seed. So that works out to 1/8 acre. Hulless oats are lighter, and would be expected to yield, on an average year in our average soil conditions, 2,000 lbs/acre. To harvest 250 lbs, we need to plant 1/8 acre as well. Dry beans, in my garden, have been yielding about 1 lb for 10ft, at 6 inch spacing. So to grow 25 lbs of baking beans, I need to plant 250 ft. Tomatoes in my garden have been producing about 10 lbs per plant, and so on...
With this list, I begin the spacial garden plan. We rotate our crops, so I already knew generally where they would go. The grain crops go in the newly turned ground, the root crops and onions are following the heavily composted tomato plot, the potatoes are following the somewhat rough ground where the cucurbits were, etc. The condition of the soil, and crop rotation dictates where each crop will be planted the following year. As I fit the crops into our garden plot, some of the staples were expanded where room allows, to compensate for crop loss due to disease/pest/weather, and less important or experimental crops were, in some places reduced.
With the garden plan worked out, I wrote out the planting dates, and number of transplants to start. So when March comes along and it is time to start planting out the flats of seeds, I have a list of what to start, when, and how many, of what variety. This especially comes in handy with my herb garden. I have to start many of them early, especially the seed crops, caraway, dill, fennel, etc. With such a variety, it goes a lot quicker when I have it all worked out before hand. I also looked back at my notes on last year's planting dates, and frost tolerance to work out this year's planting dates for new crops like amaranth, quinoa and millet. Up here, every day counts.
Then comes the seed inventory! I have to send out a snicker to El, over at Fast Grow the Weeds who has a seed envelop fetish as well. And I'm converted to her style of envelope making. Thanks! For the most part, I've got years worth of seeds here, but I've always got a few holes, and a few varieties I am not happy with.
I haven't put my seed order in yet, but it is the smallest it has ever been, with my success in biennial seed saving. I am still looking for a good source of Chickpeas and Lentils, and searching for some Sugar Beet seeds as well. We are going to try making sugar beet syrup this year.