Crop Planning: An Introduction
Updated: Jan 24, 2021
The vegetable garden is covered in a foot of snow and it is -30 C outside. It's a typical winter in the Canadian prairies. You don't need to think about growing veggies right now, do you? Actually, now is the perfect time to plan!
We are going to dive in deep with a series of three articles. Be prepared; this is going to get quite detailed. The intent is not to make this a complicated process, but to give you thorough examples and answer every single question that you may have along the way. If you are like me and geek out about stuff like this, please read on and enjoy! If not, I will recommend you move on to how to read a seed package (here) or how to start seeds (here) for a little less detail, but still more than enough information to get going in the vegetable garden. That being said, I would still take some time to look through the upcoming three articles, even if you don't go through the process yourself, as there will still be some useful information to glean and use in your own garden. Even gardeners with tiny plots will get something out of them.
Why should we bother with all this planning anyway? Here are some great reasons:
you will plant the right amount of each vegetable for your family, not too much and not too little
you will be able to plant the maximum amount of food possible in the space you have, no wasted space!
you will know exactly when and where everything needs to be planted
you will know exactly when to harvest each vegetable
you will know which vegetables need to be started indoors and when they need to be transplanted outside
you can easily adjust amounts of what you plant from year to year
you can easily rotate your crops from year to year (this helps immensely with pest issues!)
you will easily be able to determine if you can get more than one crop of a vegetable in one growing season (succession planting)
it will save you huge amounts of time in the following years
you will have a permanent record of what, where and when you planted for each year
As I mentioned in the article on reviewing the past season (see Fall To Do: Season Review), taking notes on your year allows to you make adjustments to your plan and improve it in the following years. That means less work, more food and tastier veggies for you and your family!
Part 1: What and Where to Plant
This begins with the fun part: brainstorming all the things you would love to grow. Seed catalogs are a great help here! It then involves paring that list down to what you and your family love most, what makes the most sense economically to grow, and what you have room for. Then it's time to get out the graph paper. You will make a scalable drawing of your garden space and then you will begin to fill it in with all those yummy choices. I will go over intensive garden spacing, crop rotation and companion planting to determine the ideal location for each vegetable. This will maximize your yields, reduce pest issues, and cut down on the amount of work you need to do in the garden. I will concentrate on square foot gardening (a popular method of intensive gardening) but I will also give you some tips for creating a traditional row type garden instead. In the end, you will have a handy graphic representation of your vegetable garden that you will refer to all season long.
Part 2: When to Plant and Harvest
I'm going to say what may be a scary word for some of you, but here goes: spreadsheets. It's the absolute best way to figure all of this out. Yes, you can definitely do all of this by hand on paper, but that would prevent you from gaining one of the greatest benefits of all this planning: being able to put together next year's plan in a jiffy! You will do some basic math (spreadsheets make this super easy) to determine exactly how many seeds you need and determine exactly when you need to put those seeds in the ground, whether or not they should be started indoors, when to transplant outside and when you should start harvesting for each variety. In addition, you will determine the harvest period for each vegetable and find out if you can get in a second or even third succession planting squeezed into our short summer. Even more veggies for you!
Part 3: Putting it Into Your Schedule
The last step in crop planning is putting it into action. All this planning will be a waste of time if you don't actually use it in real life. You will put together a weekly schedule of to-do's, including what needs to be seeded, transplanted and harvested. If you have a calendar app in your phone or a calendar on your fridge that you look at daily, your crop plan schedule should be added to that as well.
I know this sounds like a lot, but I am going to take you through it, step by step. Trust me, this will make your work in the garden easier, faster and much more productive!
Yummy gardening everyone!