I love to grow things. I really think it’s genetic. When you trace my mother’s ancestry back to my great great great grandfather, who lived in the Yorkshire area of England, and look at the census form under occupation, it says “gardener”. This same grandmother ran a floral shop in Twin Falls Idaho for years.
My father’s side of the family is similar. Two Kleffner brothers took a ship over from Germany looking for a better life and land on which to farm. One ended up farming in Montana, and I have a cousin who still ranches in that area five generations later.
I used to hang out in my grandmother’s flower shop when I was five or six. My mother worked there for a while, and I can remember watching her carefully transplant small houseplants into a terrarium and tenderly pressing them into their new soil. We always had healthy happy houseplants growing up. (To this day, I can’t walk into a room with a plant that is hurting for water, and not take care of it. I’ve been known to do this in waiting rooms.)
I also grew up around vegetable gardens. I had to become an adult and a more adventuresome eater before I embraced the idea in full, but the first time I grew tomatoes (in beautiful silicon valley soil and the benign weather of California) I was so successful that I brought in a grocery bag of tomatoes to share with my coworkers. (An appreciation of the ease and abundance of this I only came to appreciate later, when I tried to duplicate the feat in Arizona’s desert heat and Colorado’s high elevations).
So now I want to garden for a living (well, at least part of my living). Turns out, planning a garden for market vs planning a garden for your own use is a very different process. When was the last time you measured how many “servings” of spinach you harvested off of your spinach bed? How many seeds was that anyway? Just how much does a “bunch” of spinach in the grocery store weigh (most of the yield info I can find is in pounds if I am lucky or bushels if I am not)? What vegetables sell the best? What vegetables can I charge the most for (yes, potatoes are the number one purchased vegetable in the country, but I can’t charge very much for them)? If there are 10 carrots in a pound and I plant 340 plants, that’s 34 pounds of carrots. If I sell them in one pound bunches, is that enough to last me through the farmers market season? Remember all of those word problems we all hated in math class. Finally, a practical application!
And then there is the issue of water. We don’t have the strongest well in the world. I plan on using drip tape to water my garden. So if I use low pressure drip tape with emitters every 12 inches, that’s 13 gallons per hour per 100 feet of tape. But how much ground does an emitter cover in sandy loam soil? And how long will I need to run it to reach the maximum spread? (Turns out the answer to that is easy to solve, with a gallon jug and a pin hole, but not when the ground is covered with snow!)
I’m using a couple of good resources for all of this planning. John Jeavons book “How to Grow More Vegetables – than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine” is more for the home gardener, but is a great source for estimating yields. Eliot Coleman’s “The New Organic Grower” is fantastic for the “I’ve tried it all, and here’s what worked best” advice for the market gardener. Last but not least, Mother Earth News has recently introduced an interactive Garden Planner that helps you lay out your beds, and takes into consideration spacing, plant family, and future rotation. Very very cool.
Thankfully, the last ten years of gardening have given me the basics. Every year I try growing a few new vegetables, just to see how they do. I know that when your kale starts to get aphids, it’s time to harvest it all, as battling them is a loosing proposition. I know what organic pesticide to spray on the cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and the like) when they get those little green inch worms (better known as cabbage worms, and laid by the ethereal white cabbage butterfly). I know how to prevent the dreaded curly top in tomatoes by covering them really well with netting in the early growing season. I know what types of carrots I like the best, and that bush type (rather than sprawling type) squash plants are fabulous and take up a whole lot less room. But boy do I wish I had been keeping track of yields all these years!
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2011, where we’re miles away from any sign of spring, but it sure is fun to dream of green growing things.