crop planning

Right now I am up to my neck in crop planning for the year. In an ideal world I would have had this done by the end of last year so I could work a little less hard this month but…. well it didn’t happen. We bought a house (no not a farm) and are busy building a new germination chamber and grow room in the basement. Yay! So in the hopes that this fancy new grow room will be functional come Monday morning, I am scrambling to figure what I am going to plant first. Here’s my process….

1. Figure out who my customers are and when they need flowers. Well that might be a topic for another day, but the short story is that I need to squeeze as many flowers out of my operation as possible for the longest possible time frame. I am particularly interested in having more variety early (April, May) and late (October, November). These parts of the season take a bit of risk and creativity. The addition of my hoop houses last fall should help.

2. I already ordered my seeds based on what worked well in the past and what I wanted to add this year. I made a list of all these seeds and how many I have and separated them into annuals and perennials. The annuals I separated one more time into plants that will be direct seeded into the field and those that I will need to start plugs for. Since the plug production is allegedly starting Monday I am working on that part first. Annuals are first on my list since most of the perennials aren’t going to produce much this year anyway.

3. I take that seed list of annuals that I created and go down the list writing in potential seed dates with the corresponding flower dates. Some, like snaps and sunflowers are going to have 8 different sow dates, others like gomphrena and kale will only have 1.

4. Then I go through that list of all the possibilities and start fitting them into my field map. I have sort of a small field so I know that not everything will fit. I begin to look for things that I know are not going to work well for me based on past experiences and cut them out. Things with multiple sowings get looked at to see if I can tweak the dates and turn 4 sowings into 3 with out much interruption in the flow of flowers.

5. Now I am going to look at that field map (which is a ridiculous mess and doesn’t make sense to anyone except for me) and group flowers together by flower date. With only 12 beds dedicated to annual plugs I am going to have to double crop as many of them as possible. I am hoping for 6 beds to be done flowering and tilled up in time to get another later group of flowers in that same bed. Which is sort of like having 18 beds to work with. That doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

6. I have the list of possibilities and the tentative field map and I start to make spreadsheet for every sowing of every variety with: variety, seed date, plant out date, flower date.

7. Lastly, I will take that spreadsheet and make a new field map. Double checking that I got everything on the map that is in my seeding plan and adjusting quantities based on how much I am trying to squeeze into each bed. Then I will repeat a simplified version of this process for the direct seed items. I have additional room for those. Lots of room actually but there is no water access in that part of the farm so I am limited to only directly seeded flowers.

I know that it will not all work out exactly like I have planned. I will forget to water some flats and plants will die, or the germination will be bad for some things, or the weather will not cooperate. Lots can and will go wrong but this makes it a lot easier in the middle of the summer when I am feeling overwhelmed and there is still planting to be done if I want fall blooms.

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