Congratulations, you have lots of hungry customers signed up for your market garden . Now you need a market garden plan to figure out how to grow the veggies to satisfy those customers.
Planning for a market garden is a little different than planning your home garden. Here are the six steps you must follow to develop a good market garden plan.
Step 1 – Decide when you will start and finish selling your veggies.
This is usually determined by the length of your growing season. If you are in an area that experiences frost, most of your deliveries will occur between your last frost date in the spring and the first frost date in the fall.
For example, at my farm near Ottawa these dates are usually around May 10 and September 28. So we have about a 20-week growing season, on average. We sell veggies between early June and Mid-October, most years, which gives us about 20 weeks of sales as well.
Step 2 – Determine when to start your crops
To figure this out, you work backwards from your last spring frost date and your first fall frost date to determine when you should start plants to have some available all season. Take into account the date we want to start sales, the optimum age of transplants, and the ‘days to maturity’ (usually given in the seed catalogues) for each plant to determine your planting schedule.
For example, we know that broccoli transplants do best at about 5 weeks of age. We know that broccoli is pretty hardy, and can stand some frost if it is protected by row cover or a hoop house. And we want broccoli to be available as soon as possible in the season. We put that together with the ‘days to maturity’ figure (55 days for the variety we grow) and we have the following garden plan for broccoli:
1. start broccoli seed in greenhouse 56 days (8 weeks) before last frost
2. transplant out in field (under row cover) at 35 days; this is 21 days before last frost
3. we know days to maturity (from transplant) for broccoli is 55 day, for the variety we grow
4. plan to pick the first broccoli about 90 days (35 + 55) from the time we started the seed.
Repeat this analysis for each crop you plan to to grow to tell you when you need to start plants for your market garden.
Step 3 – Determine how much of each vegetable you expect to sell.
You can check on the Internet or visit farmers markets to determine what the most popular vegetables are in your area. For example, you may decide that tomatoes, snap beans, cabbage and broccoli are what you think you can sell.
If you decide you can sell 10 heads of cabbage each week, you need to be able to harvest (at least) 10 heads of cabbage each week, for the length of your season. We figure this out well before the season so we can determine how much space we need in our greenhouse and in our garden.
Step 4 – Determine how many plants you need to start
To end up with a yield of 10 cabbages each week, you must start more than 10 cabbage seeds. Not every seed will germinate, and not every transplant will survive. So include a ‘safety factor’ when determining how many plants to start. Here on my farm, we usually start about 25% more cabbage transplants than we think we need. So to end up with 10 cabbages, start 12 or 13 seeds.
Step 5 – Determine how much space will each crop take
So, if you have figured out how much of each crop you are growing, you then calculate how much space each crop will take. Using the example of cabbage from above, if each cabbage takes about 2 square feet to grow, then allow 2 square feet x 12 or 13 transplants (allow for all seeds you start, even though some might not grow) resulting in 24-26 square feet of garden bed needed for each planting of cabbage.
Step 6 – Figure out how big your market garden needs to be
Once you know how much space each planting for each vegetable will take, you can determine the total garden area required.
To continue the example from above, if you have a 20-week sales period, and you want to sell 10 cabbages each week, you need to allow space to grow about 220-230 cabbages (allowing for all transplants, even if some might not grow). So if 2 square feet are required for each cabbage, you will need 440 – 460 square feet for this crop.
Repeat this process for each crop you plan to grow to determine the size of your market garden.
Whew! Sounds complicated, but this is the process we follow for each crop to build our market garden plan. Hint: if you are technically inclined, a spreadsheet can help you figure it all out.