As we are getting more serious about the garden, and trying to use it as a laboratory to learn how to run a farm, I’ve started to feel the need for a simple way to plan it. I want to grow a large number of varieties, and have succession planting, catch crops, cover crops, and proper crop rotation so that at all times every square inch of garden is growing as usefully as possible. A second goal is, with the garden at full throttle like that, to coordinate plantings so that crops ripen in a steady stream (i.e. not 200 radishes one week and none the next), and to have that stream continue throughout the year, assisted by cloches and coldframes as needed. A third goal is to be able to adapt in midstream to changing growing conditions, things we learn, or changes in what we need or want from the garden.
The reason I’ve been feeling the need for a simple way to plan this is that trying to juggle all those things makes my head hurt. There are a million little moving pieces that I want to manage, and I need a system. At the same time, it has to be a simple system, or I’m not going to want to use it. And if it isn’t simple, I really won’t be gaining much anyway. And I am still in a phase of taking in huge swaths of new information and building foundational knowledge, and I know that even just a month from now I’m going to be thinking differently than I currently am. So if it isn’t simple, it risks being too specific and becoming outmoded.
So, here are the principles I’m starting from:
1. Maintain records, but keep them simple.
2 At all times, have as much growth as possible. This prevents nutrient leaching, maximizes feeding of the microbes in the soil, and maximizes converting sunlight to useful crops.
3. Use harvest-gap-driven planning done at the last minute. Once a week, look at the harvest calendar for the next six months, and see what needs to go in the ground now to fill gaps in the harvest later. Leaving planning till the last minute minimizes unnecessary planning and allows responsiveness.
Following out those principles, I’ve come up with this system:
1. Everything is planned in units of weeks (52 per year) and 4×4 foot blocks of garden. Each week has a number (1-52), and each block has a designation (for me, probably numbered with bed and then block, like 3-5 would be garden bed 3, block 5).
2. Maintain a harvest planning calendar. When something goes into the ground, and *only* when something goes into the ground, write down its expected quantity of harvest in the expected week(s) it will be harvested.
3. Once a week, glance over the harvest calendar looking for gaps that need to be filled. It could be a gap of radishes 3 weeks out, or a gap of tomatoes 3 months out. Plant whatever you need to in order to fill in the gaps. If the garden is completely full, again, consult the harvest calendar. You can sow seeds indoors to transplant after a crop in the garden is done yielding, or you can underseed or companion plant amongst an existing crop, or you can chop and drop an existing crop that is less important. In any case, the decisions are driven by prioritizing the harvest.
4. Also once a week, glance over the crops in the ground. If anything is dead, finished yielding, diseased, or otherwise needs to be finished off, do the deed. Then again, consult the harvest calendar for the most important gaps, and plant something to fill those gaps.
5. The last piece is the block journal. For each block, record what you plant with a date. When you have a block to plant in, glance at its journal, and in consultation with the harvest calendar, choose something you haven’t planted in it recently. For crop rotation, that’s it.
6. Lastly, organize seeds in envelopes by planting seasons. So as I consult the harvest calendar, I can have the seeds spread out in front of me that are eligible to be planted. And while doing that, if there are any gaps in the season’s seeds, or any new or interesting varieties that I’ve been meaning to try, it will be obvious.
So that’s it, in three easy pieces: (1) a harvest calendar, by far the most important tool, (2) a block journal to help manage very fine-grained crop rotation of a highly interplanted system, and (3) a simple seed-organizing setup. And the idea that the relevant information is always at hand, and planning can be done in a very easy, continual process of little steps.