28 January 2009

The Grand Garden Plan

I have been staying pretty close to home, watching the goats for signs of labor. I don't want to be away when they kid, with such cold temperatures this month. And although most have probably already got the garden planned out by now, January always feels a bit early up this far north, we don't see bare ground until May some years. But it was a good time to tackle the garden plan this week. And it is a good follow-up blog to the importance of keeping records, because I sure did use them.

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.
Now I have my garden plan posted up on the cork-board, so that I can imagine it, dream about it, and see myself planting, weeding and harvesting all of these crops!


Chicago Mike said...

I loved reading that description. I plan in similar ways, with lots of notes from the previous year, but you do it in a situation where it REALLY counts. Very Cool. I would have a serious mental fit if I was trying to plan 37000 sq ft of garden, but thats because I am obsessed with variety not quantity. I would plant everything in sight!!!

I am curious what your loss rate is to deer and rabbits. We have a rabbit family under the deck that I am sure will take a hearty toll this spring. Have to figure something out.

The buggers ringed one of my apple trees this winter, so my sympathy level is VERY low right now.

With Best Regard,

Chicago Mike

Mr. H said...

What a great blog. I look forward to seeing how your future harvests turn out.

"A garden is never so good as it will be next year."

- Thomas Cooper

Anonymous said...

I LOVE to read your blog!! Can you share some or all of what you are planting this coming year? And, have you any idea how many pounds there are in a Bushel of tomatoes? Thank you for your hard work here. It is Great!!
Lisa L.

Anonymous said...

I plan my garden in much the same way. I have to admit, right around this time of the year I leaf through my journals...looking back and remembering that life was warm and green and productive! :)

el said...

Hah! Glad to learn those envelopes are useful to you. I just had a panic when I got my trade lists and thought, darn. Here I said I would trade but I have nothing to put the seeds in!

Your plans look quite do-able to me. Considering how new you are to growing all those goodies, it seems like you've done extremely well for yourselves and all that note-taking has really paid off. I love your math, too. It is quite hard to conceptualize how many row feet of garden will give you a hill of beans but you've done it, well, and every year your knowledge will only grow and grow. Working with a short growing season means extra constraints. Do you know what the garden calendar is by you? By moving from Minneapolis to Michigan I added an insane 75 days to when I can grow things. That's, like, two more crops of lettuce or the difference between a pumpkin harvest or not.

Good luck with those girls, too. Please let us know when the kids come!

mandi said...

i am so impressed with how much seed you have saved. your blog is a kick in the fanny for me to get to work!

EJ said...

Thats ambitious/inspiring! I will take better notes this year. Right now I note planting and sowing dates, and weather but not harvest quantities.

Bishops Homegrown said...

I make notes and document every year, but I always fail to plan anything other than the most rudimentary of ideas, such as planting dates and a rough idea of where certain things will be planted. I wish I could be more organized, but everytime I start on planning like that for the two farms I grow stuff on I start factoring in all the variables and just give up on planning in such a way. Probably mostly because Market Gardening, plant Preservation, and Plant breeding aren't entirely compatible all the time, that's and on an average we grow out about 1,000 accessions of seed every year, it becomes difficult, so I give it to you my friend! Excellent post and very inspiring!

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Chicago Mike, our cats and dogs keep the wildlife away from the gardens and barns. Also, the garden is out in the open, not along the edge of a forest. The only problems we ran into are the moose and bears in the grain, where the grain bordered on the edge of the forest, but we have moved our grain fields for this year. And in the garden, we really only have voles nibbling on carrots and squash, but again, I have learned to keep these crops away from the edge of the garden where they have more coverage from predators. There was a groundhog hole near our garden the first year, but the cats harassed them enough to move out. The dogs warn us to racoons or anything moving around the barns at night, looking for chicken dinner.

A family or rabbits could do some damage, I would get a live trap and take them far far away. Or get a good hunting cat. Our cats love wild rabbit.

Mr. H, thank you. Our garden lies asleep under three feet of snow, but it is alive and growing in my imagination.

Lisa, good question about the tomatoes, looks like it is 53lbs. Check out this site for other bushel weights http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/scales/bushels.html
I'll put together a list of crops for 09. Glad you enjoy our blog!

farmmom, we are always dreaming ahead, in the summer we dream of a mosquito free night in the middle of January, and now we dream of green growing things and birds singing in leafy trees. A garden is a good place to dream.

el, watch the envelopes for long term squash seed storage. Some mice got into mine, but they got the ones from 07. So all the squashes and cucumbers etc went into a big jar.
I really couldn't have done this garden plan without my notes. We had 126 days frost free in 07, and somewhere around 110 in 06. It goes pretty quick! 75 days is almost a whole extra summer!

You can be sure I will be posting gratuitous pics the minute those kids are born. Still waiting.

mandi, glad to be a source of inspiration, but be gentle on that fanny. *smile*

EJ, harvest totals can be really useful, even for knowing how much you actually eat.

Bishops, yes we find it hard to plan a market garden along side a home garden, and there are many variables. I try to keep things simple so they don't get away on me. Good luck with your seed saving and preservation this year.

ChristyACB said...

That is simply amazing! I've been accused of being a little...well...the word is followed by retentive, with my garden plans. But like you, I want the food so a plan is necessary. Your planning makes mine look like crayon doodles. Can't wait to see pictures of the coming growing season.

So very glad I found your blog!