More Detailed Vegetable Garden Plans…Hooray!

Now, I’m sure that the pigs and our new flocks of chick­ens are going to present plen­ty of prob­lems in the near future, but right now the biggest chal­lenge for me is design­ing the half acre veg­etable gar­den. In this post I’m going to describe my plan for the gar­den, as well as the thought process behind it. As I said before, my mom (Has­so) is real­ly col­lab­o­rat­ing close­ly with me, espe­cial­ly when it comes to mak­ing deci­sions about the gar­den, so when I say “my plan” what I real­ly mean is “our plan”. Togeth­er, over the last cou­ple of weeks, we’ve been try­ing to gath­er as much infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble from farm­ers and expe­ri­enced gar­den­ers in the area. Luck­i­ly, every­one we’ve talked to has been unbe­liev­ably help­ful. We also attend­ed a NOFA (North­east Organ­ic Farm­ing Asso­ci­a­tion: MA Chap­ter) sem­i­nar on Sys­tem­atiz­ing a Diverse Veg­etable Oper­a­tion, which also pro­vid­ed a lot of great infor­ma­tion (a lot of which went right over my head). 

In addi­tion, we’ve both been read­ing Eliot Cole­man’s book, The New Organ­ic Grow­er which has been pret­ty indis­pens­able. Eliot Cole­man, who has a farm in Brooksville, Maine, is one of the kings of small-scale organ­ic farm­ing and his book has been a great entry lev­el text­book for us. 

How­ev­er, one of the lessons I’ve learned pret­ty quick­ly is that no one is going to tell you exact­ly how to farm veg­eta­bles, instead you’re just going to end up with a bunch of sug­ges­tions. It seems as though grow­ing is such a per­son­al thing, that instead of depend­ing whol­ly on one text, or one after­noon of advice, it’s impor­tant to pick and choose what makes sense to you. Each piece of land is dif­fer­ent, and each style of grow­ing is dif­fer­ent, and farm­ing is about devel­op­ing a close enough rela­tion­ship with your land to under­stand what it needs to be suc­cess­ful, and what you need to be suc­cess­ful along with it. Over the last cou­ple of weeks I’ve heard sev­er­al times that “farm­ing is as much an art as it is a sci­ence”. I’m a suck­er for phras­es like that. I can already tell that I’m going to be repeat­ing that phrase to peo­ple for the rest of my life. 

So, back to my (our) gar­den. 

The first step was to take a soil text to deter­mine what our soil’s like. We dug down through the snow and pick-axed some earth from the frozen ground to send into the lab. We’re still wait­ing for the results, so I’ll post more infor­ma­tion lat­er. 

Next, I got a map of the prop­er­ty and we laid out exact­ly where we thought the gar­den should be (see pre­vi­ous post). It was impor­tant to keep the plot about 15′ out from under­neath the tree-line, to make sure the plants will have enough sun, and to keep the rows away from Black Brook, which runs between the veg­etable gar­den and the horse ring sea­son­al­ly. Ide­al­ly, the area would be flat, how­ev­er, our gar­den has a slight slope to the East. Luck­i­ly, it’s slight enough so that appar­ent­ly it’s not going to be a big deal. 

We were ready to plan the plot. Cole­man rec­om­mends divid­ing your land into 5′ rows that are each 100′ long, and then plant­i­ng 4′ and leav­ing 1′ for a path. We were advised by many peo­ple that 4′ was a lit­tle too wide of a plant­i­ng row for us and that 1′ was a lit­tle bit nar­row of a path. Since we’re plan­ning on doing the plant­i­ng, weed­ing and har­vest­ing by hand, it’s impor­tant that we can eas­i­ly move up and down and around in the paths and reach into the cen­ter of the rows. There­fore, we decid­ed to make 3′ rows and 2′ paths. 

We also learned that it was very help­ful to be able to dri­ve a truck right into the mid­dle of the gar­den. This option will help us to bring sup­plies into the cen­ter of our veg­etable patch, and move har­vest­ed pro­duce eas­i­ly and effec­tive­ly out. With these stip­u­la­tions in mind we made the fol­low­ing plan:

I had to decide how to fill up all these rows. Enter: seed cat­a­logs. Seed cat­a­logs are so much fun; they are also so over­whelm­ing (some­day ask me about my bit­ter­sweet one-week love-affair with seed cat­a­logs). I got most of my seeds from High Mow­ing Organ­ic Seeds, because they’re local (out of Ver­mont), but I also got a fair amount from John­ny’s Seeds, which has every­thing, and Seed Savers Exchange, which sells pri­mar­i­ly heir­looms. I went through veg­etable by veg­etable and used infor­ma­tion from the cat­a­logs as well as infor­ma­tion from Cole­man’s book and off the web to fig­ure out what vari­eties I want­ed to grow, approx­i­mate­ly how much of each veg­etable I want­ed, how many plants I need­ed, how many rows of each veg­etable I want­ed to plant, and, there­fore, how many seeds I need­ed. Then I placed the order. This all took me about a week, and still it felt like most­ly guess-work. 

This year I’m going to attempt to grow: beans, beets, brus­sel sprouts, cau­li­flower, cab­bage, car­rots, cel­ery, chard, corn, cucum­ber, egg­plant, fen­nel, all kinds of greens, kale, leeks, peas, pep­pers, parsnips, radish­es, squash­es, toma­toes, herbs and flow­ers. I got a bunch of dif­fer­ent vari­eties of each veg­etable, so I can real­ly find out what I like and what works best in our cli­mate and soil. 

Now I’m in the process of decid­ing what goes where, and attempt­ing to lay out a plant­i­ng sched­ule. I have to deter­mine when each seed needs to be plant­ed, and whether it will be plant­ed inside and then trans­plant­ed into the gar­den or seed­ed direct­ly into the ground. A lot of the veg­eta­bles need to be suc­ces­sion plant­ed as well, that is to say that I will need to be plant­i­ng them through­out the sea­son to guar­an­tee a con­stant and con­sis­tent har­vest (aka let­tuce, beets, car­rots etc). All of this needs to be care­ful­ly and clear­ly planned and orga­nized as well. So far being a farmer means mak­ing a lot of charts. 

Things to fig­ure out:

Till­ing sched­ule: when the ground unfreezes we’ll need to till the plot before we can plant it. This is com­pli­cat­ed and involves a lot of machines and trac­tors and knowl­edge. There is also a school that argues that till­ing is not nec­es­sary. More on this lat­er. 
Fenc­ing: we need to fig­ure out how to keep all the rodents, wood­chucks and deer out. This is also dif­fi­cult, and involves deep thought, spend­ing mon­ey and pos­si­bly var­i­ous fence erect­ing equip­ment. I’ve been warned that deer can eat your entire crop of her­itage french filet beans in one night. Chill­ing. 
Cov­er crops: once we fig­ure out what’s wrong with our soil we can deter­mine what kind of none-edi­ble cov­er crops we should plant in areas that are fal­low (aka. unplant­ed) in order to add nutri­ents and enrich. 

…and much, much more. 

I hope all this is inter­est­ing to you guys. If you have any ques­tions let me know!

One Response to “More Detailed Vegetable Garden Plans…Hooray!”

  1. TheGoldBug says:

    Excel­lent­ly observed,” answered Can­dide; “but let us cul­ti­vate our garden.”

    What are your plans as far as apply­ing fer­til­iz­er? Will you buy or compost?

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