Now that I have one year of market gardening under my belt, I am determined to do a better job of record keeping this year. Last year, I used one of those free wall calendars that came in the mail and wrote down whatever I was doing in the garden (planting, first harvest, last harvest, gopher issues etc.) in the little squares (this is not a bad method, but makes future planning a pain because you need to flip through the months to figure out when you planted, sprayed or harvested a particular crop). In some cases (green beans, peas, potatoes, cucumbers, an estimate on carrots) I kept track of the number of pounds I was able to harvest.
But a lot went unrecorded. How much lettuce did I actually plant? How many pounds did I harvest as small greens and how much as full heads? You get the idea. What I did have a good grasp of was what I wish I had planted more of (carrots, green onions) and what I planted too much of (kale, lettuce). This year, I’ve discovered a lot more resources for use when planning. (See a list of resources at the end of this post).
Have you ever noticed that a packet of seeds of the same variety (say, carrots, for instance) but from a different company, is not always in the same units or size, and that the pack itself rarely tells you how many seeds are actually in the packet? Ounces, grams, fractions of ounces and grams, or maybe it tells you the number of seeds but not the weight. Sometimes, they tell you how long of a row the packet will plant. Trying to determine how much seed you might actually need in order to plant a given amount of space can be a nightmare. And seed is expensive when you are planting 3,400 square feet (the garden will be approximately 100′ x 100′ this year, with rows from 2 ft to 6 feet wide).
If you want to figure out how many seeds you need to plant a 30′ x 42″ row of beets, for instance, you need to know how many you can plant across the row (2 – according to Elliot Coleman’s book, “The New Organic Grower”), how many you would plant if it was a single row 100′ long (from Johnny’s, modified by me based on final plant spacing, which is 2-4″ for beets), how good is the germination (about 83%), how much thinning you are willing to do (in this case, the seed is large and easy to plant, so my answer is none – it will take me less time to fill in the 17% bare spots than to thin 83% if I planted twice what I needed, which is what the package suggests). All of this gives me 280 seeds.
What kind of harvest can I expect from this 30′ row of beets? Beets yield about 100 lbs per 100′, so a 30′ long double row will give me about 60 lbs of beets. These beets will be sold in bunches of 3-5, harvested fairly small for both their greens and their tender sweet bulbs. I’m not sure yet how much 3-5 beets will weigh (one of those things I did not keep track of last year), or what I will charge for them (which is based on what they sell for in the store and what other vendors are selling them for at the market and what kind of premium I can get because they were grown using organic methods and are a mix of yellow, chioggia and early wonder tall top). There are about 2,000 seeds in one ounce of beet seeds (or about 70 per gram). Seed packets are generally in 1/8 oz, or about 250 seeds, so I need a little over 1/8 oz total. But I’m planting 3 different kinds, so I’ll need three packets, and will have enough left over for next year. Beet seeds are good for about 4 years, so next year, I won’t need to buy any seed unless I plan to increase my harvest. Fun huh?
Now I need to figure out when to plant my beets. Our last frost date here, depending on the reference you use, is around April 22nd. Beets are a frost tolerant crop, but they are also a biannual. This means the first year they make a bulb and, if left in the ground, the second year they send up a flower stalk and make seed. If you plant them too early and they go through too much of a cold spell, they think they have been through a winter and send up a flower stalk, never making a bulb. I learned this the hard way last year. Generally, it is recommended that you start planting beets two weeks before your last frost date, and again every 14 days to extend the harvest. So my first planting will be around April 8th. I’m planning three spring plantings, so the last planting will be around the 6th of May.
If I wanted to try for a fall crop, I would need to take into consideration the time it takes for beets to mature (about 55 days), when is my first frost (again, depending on the reference, late September into mid October around here), whether the plants are frost tolerant, how much slower are they going to grow as the days get cooler and shorter (generally a factor of 14 days), and how long I can expect to harvest them – or how long will they hold in the ground. This is likely a good long time, but I’m using 2 weeks as a ball park because the local farmers market here ends at the end of October, and I’m not personally a huge beet eater. I want to harvest and sell these puppies before the end of October. Using all of this, I get a date of August 13th as a “how late can I plant for a fall harvest” date. Though after harvesting and selling 60 lbs of beets in the spring, I likely won’t bother planting them in the fall at all.
Does your head hurt yet? The thing about all of this information is that it seems to exist no where in one place in a spread sheet or table form. I have literally taken information from seed packets, seed catalogs (Johnny’s, which sells to a lot of market growers, has some particularly helpful information and tools), books, and various internet sources. I then modifying charts for my own personal preferences, like a hatred of thinning plants. I now have spread sheets for estimating my yield in pounds based on how long and wide my planting row is, a succession planting schedule, seed counts per ounce and gram/germination %/shelf life, and a list of my own seed inventory, which includes variety name, company name, special traits (like organic seed or open pollinated), size of packet in oz/grams, and days to maturity. Plus a schedule of planting times based on frost date, because just because something can take a frost doesn’t mean it really likes to, and just because it’s past the frost date, it doesn’t mean it is warm enough yet. If you plant too early, the plants will just sit in the ground waiting for it to warm up and not grow at all.
Here’s a list of resources I used to put all of this together. With some good record keeping, I should be able to fine tune the information this year and really have a handle on it next year. If anyone would like to start with what I have put together, send me an email and I’ll share with you.
- How long will your seed last? What’s its typical germination? I started with this Storing Vegetable and Flower Seeds sheet, but found the % germination to be quite a bit lower than what was on my Fedco tested seed packets, so after putting this information into a spread sheet, I updated the germination % from my own inventory.
- Harvest Yields. If you go to Johnny’s and hit “request a catalog” and then “Browse our 2012 Online Catalog” it will open up the print catalog version. Page 2 has a Direct Seeded Vegetable Crops chart that will give you seeds needed for a 100′ ft row and average yield for a 100′ row. I often overrode the recommended amount based on my own planting preferences. There was also a nice article on this in the latest issue of Growing for Market. Roxbury Farm also has amazing information (look under “information for farmers” on planting and harvesting different crops, including yields.
- Number of Seeds per Ounce or Gram. This link has some information. Johnny’s has info under specific varieties (go to any lettuce page, for instance, and then look at the “growing info” tab. I pieced this information together from a lot of different sources. Note that there are 24.35 grams per oz.
- When to plant. I modified a version of Johnny’s interactive Seed Starting and Fall Planting calculators, after downloading their version to see how things were formulated. Below is a rough starting point. WB=Weeks Before Last Frost Date, WA = Weeks After Last Frost Date. Don’t know your frost date? Try the tool at Dave’s Garden or ask your local extension office.
Peas 6-8 WB Spinach 3-6 WB Arugula 4 WB Cabbage 4 WB Kale 4 WB Kohlrabi 4 WB Mustards 4 WB Lettuce 3-4 WB Parsley/Dill/Cillantro* 2-3 WB Onions 2-4 WB Beets 2 WB Broccoli 2 WB Cauliflower 2 WB Leeks 2 WB Radish 2 WB Swiss Chard 2 WB Corn 0-2 WA Basil 1 WA Celery 1 WA Cucumbers 1-2 WA Tomatoes 1-2 WA Melons 2 WA Peppers 2 WA Squash 2 WA Watermelon 2 WA Eggplant 2-3 WA
*You could probably go earlier on these. They used to reseed in my garden in Colorado, and were often one of the first things to come up when the soil started to warm.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2012, where we’re miles away from getting the field turned over, but should really start planting some onion seed inside, like, now!