Can I pick your brains a little?

lindy_looDecember 9, 2012


I just completed my first year market farming and it was a great experience. I did really well, but not nearly as well as I could have. The heat did a number on us and we lost half our crops before we were able to get a decent watering system in place. I am feeling really confident about next year, though.

I was hoping to get some advice on a few things if you don't mind sharing.

I was wondering what bed size you use and how many rows you fit into each bed. Specifically, do you have a standard bed size or do you change it depending on the crop? I was thinking of doing 4 bed sizes depending on the crop but I think I'm complicating things.

My second question is about spring planting. I'm zone 5 and I don't have a lot of experience with cold weather crops so I am trying to get my planting times down. I planted far too late this year and I didn't get very good production because of it. When do you plant things like spring brassicas, onions, peas, carrots, beets etc.? I'm thinking mid April...

Finally, at what intervals do you succession plant? I am having a real hard time finding good advice on this. I want to succession plant beans, carrots and beets and maybe some others.

Thank you so much for any advice.

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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

There are many factors to consider with succession planting. How close you plant depends on how much you sell each week (how big your market is) and how much land you have.

Here is what we try to do and every year is different, (Last year was the weirdest).

Zucchini- Transplant into hoop buildings April 5-15, direct seed into black plastic May 5-15, direct seed (might try white plastic) June 1-10, July 1-10, July 25-30, If I am feeling lucky August 15th (but no later unless it goes into a high tunnel.

Cucumbers about the exact same as above

Watermelon and Cantaloupe, April 15, May 15, June 5 and June 25th (they take longer in the fall)

Tomatoes- March 10-18 (in High tunnel), then 3 to 4 weeks later, Early May and Last planting (in high tunnel) June 20th

Carrots, First planting goes in December 26 to January 5, Then again in late February. May try an outside planting in late April. Fall crops start in June and late July.

Beans are every 3 weeks, all summer long. I plant Bush Beans, pole beans have never liked me. The last few are closer to 2 weeks apart. I try to have them all year. I plant 4 to 5, 30 foot double rows. I pick for 3 weeks and see how they are producing.

Beets, they don't like my soil and they don't grow well for me.

I plant spring brassicas at the end of March/April. I try to have one planting. But for me, I try not to over do mid June pickings because my high tunnel tomatoes start coming in and they take all my time and make me the most money.

I plant Onions starting in February (in high tunnels) and then again in March in Movable high tunnels.

Bed spacing is personal preference. I plant almost everything 12 inches apart, in row. It matches the drip tape. Between rows, it varies. Do you have a tractor? That would dictate what my row spacing is.

Onions and carrots get 4 rows per bed, Beans get two rows per bed. Peppers are planted i double rows. Okra in single rows. Garlic is 4 rows to bed. Squash is single rows.

This is a place to start. More questions, ask away most here are very helpful.



Here is a link that might be useful: Check out our Farm Blog

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 12:48AM
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dirtdigging101(7 - NC)

Planting dates are best determined by last average hard frost in the spring and first hard frost average in the fall. I use the table in the book square foot gardening gets me right where i like to be. anything earlier is a risk of seed loss.

My beds are 4' wide and paths are 2' wide. there are no hard sides. no wood no brick or anything but dirt and mulch. spacing just depends on what is growing in the bed i roughly follow the guidelines in square foot gardening book.

my beds are 90' long each and i think of each one as 9 beds 10' long each. there are 27 of the 90' beds. there is no tractor or roto tiller and each square foot grows at least one cover crop per year.

the chicken area is 220' x 27' and all kinds of leaves, hay, and whatever goes in there. an inch of loose dirt is raked off this area and spread on the beds each year.

for average frost dates check with your local county agent

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 6:56PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

My beds are 3.5 wide and paths about 2.5 wide. But I think I would make the beds narrower if I did it over. Eliot Coleman's are more like 2-2.5 feet and so all low tunnel equipment is set to fit that. I want my low tunnels over 2 beds or 9 feet wide but the benders are for 6 feet I think. Also it gets a little wide for my short arms.

I have a zone 4 succession chart I made.

Feel free to email for more info on this since it is hard to read.
Johnny's has cool interactive charts for succession planting and when to get fall crops in.

Here is a link that might be useful: Johnny's charts

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 7:46PM
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dirtdigging101(7 - NC)

if i had more land i would have beds more narrow and wider paths. i only have 1/2 acre 132' x 165'. and fencing all this in cost money. fencing is big investment for me

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 9:16PM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

Most of your excellent questions have already gotten excellent answers. I'll just add/repeat a little and hope no one minds.

-Bed width is usually the same for most crops because the field is generally tilled and prepped at the same time. For me it's determined by my tractor tire widths which are 36". I like this size because it's easy to reach the center of the bed while weeding/harvesting.
-Transplant spacing in the rows is determined by which crop you're growing and the plants needs. Check the Johnny's catalogue for detailed crop info.
-The number of rows in the bed is mostly determined the same as above but other factors apply such as fertility and expected crop size. For example, baby greens can be planted tight (5-6 rows/bed) but lettuce heads will crowd each other if planted tighter than 3 row. Fertile ground can grow 5 rows of radish in a 36" bed but with lower fertility, i'd drop it to 3-4 rows.

For succession planting you have some great advice from the others. I'd just add that beets hold well in the field and so I plant them every 6 weeks or so. Carrots I sell a lot of and plant them every 3-4 weeks. I'm also starting to plant more than one variety at a time (in separate beds) to stagger the maturity date.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 12:04AM
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I don't have beds, more like plots. 50' long and 200' or so long. I have plenty of land, acres and acres available, so that's NO problem for me. Labor is the biggest problem for me.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 9:08AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I should say too: my beds are permanent and not disced up every year. The paths have black plastic. The beds are not raised. I practice 'low till'. They are just under 50 feet long, 3.5 feet wide and there are 50 of those. Then the 2 open edges are available for 100 or 150 foot long beds. Within the beds I do a lot of staggered planting schemes of 3 across, 2 across, 3 across; or very close together seeded rows with the earthway seeder. Staggering: using the spaces, instead of putting the next plant right next to the first one allows for many more plants. It even works with seedling cups in a tray! Count it out. :-)

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 10:26AM
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i plant in 30" beds like elliot coleman. 12 rows of lettuce for salad mix per bed. i also plant some things in rows, like potatoes, so i can use the tractor to hill them and dig them.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 1:20PM
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Even though I have what many would consider ample land, I still plant intensively and successively. I have 6 annual beds that run from 50x150 to 70x200. Most of the large plots are for pumpkins, winter squash,gourds, and melons. The things that go in single rows are potatoes, okra, and sweet potatoes. All beans go in double rows. Things like peppers, brassicas, and everything in the onion family are planted in the diamond pattern that Little Minnie described. Since I have access to lots of organic materials (leaves and grass clippings), I don't use plastic. This works wonderfully in a a wide row planting. As soon as one crop is finished, I replace it almost immediately w/something else from a different family of vegetables or a cover crop like annual rye. I just can't stand bare soil. All lettuce, beets, chard, carrots, spinach, and herbs are planted in wide rows. The walkways between the wide rows are always mulched with leaves or clippings. The plots always stay the same dimensions, and all remaining plants get mowed down and everything tilled under in the fall--except those areas designated for late season crops like the brassicas again. These areas I surround with the black plastic leaf bags and cover w/Remay. The plastic absorbs heat while there is also composting action within the bags that extends my season quite a bit. I pick some outstanding broccoli and cauliflower this time of year even though we've had temps in the low 20's. Other crops like radishes, turnips, etc. I leave all winter, and the deer usually take care of them by spring.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 3:10PM
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Wow! Thank you so much for your replies and all the great information. I'm trying to go through it all and compare to what I was thinking about doing. We don't have a tractor or high tunnels but those are things I am trying to get as soon as possible.

It seems that everyone has a bit different definition of what a bed is. I live on 5 acres and right now we have one plot that is 100x75' (the length of our mainline is 100') and a second one that is 70x60'. We will be expanding next year to have a third 50x100' plot and extending the current ones to 100x100' and 70x100.

I really like the idea of permanent beds because right now we till the entire plot and then I have to create and map out the beds every season which takes a lot of time and effort. I would really like to just till the bed and have a more permanent path in between. I think I may go with either 30" or 36" for bed size. I am just trying to maximize space efficiency in the beds. I agree the diamond pattern is the best way to fit the most plants in.

Jay and brookw, what size bed do you use? Your row spacing sounds similar to what I was thinking.

For those of you who have a permanent or standard bed, what do you do about things like trellised tomatoes, peas and crops like potatoes that are planted in a single row? That's why I was thinking of having several different bed sizes.

As for starting crops in the spring I was planning to start brassicas, bulb onions, green onions, peas, carrots and beets in mid-April. Is that too soon? Should I use row covers? My last frost date is 5/15 and the first market is June 15th. This past year I didn't have anything to sell at the first few markets except plant starts because I planted everything too late and then critters ate my peas. I would like to have produce at the first market next year. (I don't grow greens except a small amount of spinach and kale because there is a greens specialist at the market and the bunnies always eat them all before they get to harvestable size.)

Thank you all for the succession planting information. Carrots sold like crazy this year so I want to plant a ton more of them. I never thought to succession plant the cucurbits. Thank you for the chart, little_minnie! I will have to compare it to the notes I have for my plants.

I'll be back with more questions and thoughts. Thank you again for giving me so much to think about.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 12:31AM
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We don't have...high tunnels...Should I use row covers?

Everyone's market is different, but I do ten times better when I can sell something out of season, like early tomatoes or cukes grown under plastic. When I'm the only vendor with a product, customers practically fight over it. But as soon as everyone has the same product it becomes nearly impossible to sell.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 12:42PM
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My bed size is 4 ft because that is the width of my tiller. I'll then have a 2 ft walkway between the beds, so there's not much wasted space. Between the plots, I try to have a 10 ft strip of grass so I can turn my little tractor around in it. It's really time consuming, but I bag all of my grass. My perennial beds of grapes, asparagus, rhubarb, and all the berries are in single rows from either 6 to 10 ft apart so I can mow between them. I tried mulching originally but failed miserably. Now I just mow between the rows and only weed the beds themselves, which gets easier every year as the mulch builds up. The fruit trees are in rows as well

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 1:29PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)
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