How to Plan a Garden

How to plan a garden for efficient use of space, and your time. Since its getting to be that time of year for seed starting (at least in the northern hemisphere) I thought I would provide a quick example of how I plan my plantings here on the farm.

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The instructions here are intended primarily for those intending to start a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) market garden, but the same approach applies to other market gardeners and even home gardeners who want to be more efficient in their garden planning.

Lesson 1 in how to plan a garden is to determine the quantity of each crop you plan to feed your CSA customers. For this example, let's assume I am planning for 30 full CSA shares.

Basic data needed for this example: My Last Frost Date (spring) is about May 10; my First Frost Date (fall) is about September 20. And let's take snap beans as my example crop.

Here's how to plan your garden using this data:

I direct seed snap beans around my last frost date. Days to maturity (i.e. before I can start picking) varies from about 45 days to 55 days, depending on the variety and the time of year. Let's take 50 days as an average. If I allow a few days for germination, I expect to pick beans from my first planting around the first week of July (May 10 plus germination time plus 50 days).

Most varieties of snap beans will produce for about 3 weeks. So that means I will replant beans every three weeks until 50 days before my last frost (Realize that you may lose a few beans if the frost date is exactly Sept 20 or earlier, unless you protect them with row cover).

Last planting date therefore is around August 1 (Sept 20 minus 50 days). And I will make about 4 plantings in all.

Lesson 2 in how to plan a garden is, how many seeds in each planting? Typically a snap bean plant will produce about 1/4 pound of beans over its 3-week useful life.So if you are providing 2 pounds of beans each week to each share, you will need to start about 2 lbs/share divided by 1/4 lb per plant times 30 shares times 3 weeks = 720 seeds planted every three weeks.

To be on the safe side, I would plant at least a thousand seeds each planting, especially early in the season.

Lesson 3 in how to plan a garden is to figure out how much space your crop will take. Snap beans work best for me when planted 6 inches apart in all directions. So a 30-inch wide bed could hold 4 rows. 1000 seeds would therefore need (1000/4/2) = 125 ft of bed, or 2 1/2 50-ft beds.

That's the math, folks, you need to do that for each crop to plan your garden. Keep good records about yield quantities and dates to adjust your planting for next season.

See also: How to Start Seeds

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