How to create a garden plan for your Bootstrap Market Garden

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So, you have lots of hungry customers signed up for your market garden . Now you need a garden plan to figure out how to grow the veggies to satisfy those customers.

Planning for a bootstrap market garden is a little different than planning your home garden. There are several factors you must consider to develop a good market garden plan:
  • When do you want to start and end deliveries?

  • When should we start our crops

  • How much of each vegetable do you expect to deliver for each share?

  • How many plants do I need to start?

  • How much space each crop will take?

  • How big does the garden need to be i.e. how much land will I need?


Lets go through each of these in order:

When do you want to start and end deliveries? This is determined by the length of your growing season, your skills as a grower, and your access to land and equipment. If you are in an area that experiences frost, most of your deliveries will occur between your last frost date in the spring and the first frost date in the fall.

For example, at New Terra Farm near Ottawa these dates are usually around May 10 and September 28. So we have about a 20-week growing season, on average. We extend the season in the spring and fall by using our greenhouse and plant protection techniques like row covers. We plan to start deliveries somewhere in the first two weeks of June, and continue until about mid-October – i.e. about 19 or 20 weeks of delivery, if the weather cooperates.

When should we start our crops? We work backwards from our last spring frost date and our first fall frost date to determine when we should start plants to have some available all season. We take into account the date we want to start deliveries, the optimum age of transplants, and the 'days to maturity' (usually given in the seed catalogues) for each plant to determine our planting schedule.

For example, we know that broccoli transplants best at about 5 weeks of age. We know that broccoli is pretty hardy, and can stand some frost if it is protected by row cover or a hoop house. And we want broccoli to be available as soon as possible in the season. We put that together with the 'days to maturity' figure (55 days for the variety we grow) and we have the following garden plan for broccoli:
  1. start broccoli seed in greenhouse 56 days (8 weeks) before last frost
  2. transplant out in field (under row cover) at 35 days; this is 21 days before last frost
  3. we know days to maturity (from transplant) for broccoli is 55 day, for the variety we grow
  4. plan to pick the first broccoli about 90 days (35 + 55) from the time we started the seed

In a good season, this means we will have broccoli available within a week or two of starting deliveries. By the way, customers are usually impressed when you can pull this off!

How much of each vegetable you expect to deliver for each share? Obviously, determining this will tell you how much you have to grow as well – e.g. if you have 10 full shares and you plan for each share to receive 1 head of cabbage each week, you need to be able to harvest (at least) 10 heads of cabbage each week. We figure this out well before the season so we can determine how much space we need in our greenhouse and in our garden.

How many plants do I need to start? We base our first estimates on average growing requirements for each vegetable for a family of four. For example, to provide green beans for fresh eating for a family of four will take about 30 plants. Since bush bean plants will provide pickings for about 3 weeks, we need to start (at least) 30 plants every three weeks, for each full share.

How much space will each crop take, and how big does the garden need to be? Using the example above, since we plant beans 3 inches apart in the row, we will need 30 x 3 inches = 7.5 feet of row of beans for each share, at each planting.

And since you should provide a ‘safety factor’ (to allow for poor germination, crop losses, etc) you should probably plant the beans 2 inches apart in the row and thin them out to a 3-inch spacing when they come up. This means you should plant 45 bean seeds for each share, at each planting.

Then you factor in the number of plantings of beans you should do (based on the length of your growing season and the re-plant interval for beans i.e. 3 weeks) to come up with the number of garden beds you will need for beans. Do this for each crop, and you can calculate a total area needed for your garden.

Whew! Sounds complicated, but this is the process we follow for each crop to build our market garden plan. That's the reason we developed our Bootstrap Market Garden Planner to help us figure all this out.

Next: Managing your Garden and your Business. With your plans complete, you now have to put the management practices in place to make your garden and your business run more . . .

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