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The ‘Normal’ plants

While I’m mostly focusing on the fun-flavored plants that will need to winter inside this year, I’m not completely skipping the ‘normal’ plants for my growing zone. I have a lot of heirloom seeds — some I purchased, some given to me as gifts — and I do plan on including them in a small outdoor garden, probably a raised bed. In fact, I plan on doing some succession farming in order to harvest as much as I can out of a tiny garden.

But has anyone else found that planning for succession farming can make your head feel like a ball of yarn the cat has been playing with too long? Trying to calculate all the differences between the various plants, their proper sow dates, the time they take to germinate and then mature, then figuring out which spots in the garden will be harvested & cleared for the next crop to go in….therein lies madness.

So, me being a computer person, I made my computer sort it out for me.

First, I looked online for helpful programs. There are a few, but none were quite what I was looking for. Then I found a helpful succession-planting spreadsheet over at Johnny’s Selected Seeds — along with a lot of other tools that may prove helpful to people. I highly recommend going over to check them out. Their worksheet was a great start. But it still wasn’t quite what I really wanted. So I modified and improved upon it until it was.

I haven’t quite finished filling out all the lines, but if anyone would like to use it for their spring planning, feel free.

On the first lines, you have to put in the first and last frost dates for your area. Everything else flows from there.

After that, you list the varieties of plants you want to grow, along with a few pertinent details about how they grow.

For the maturity and germination days, I put in an average. The math involved in the rest of the worksheet will not accept a range of values, so if your seeds state they will germinate in “10-14 days”, use 12 days instead. All dates will be approximate anyway, due to your local weather and number of sunny days to rainy, etc, so a little fudging here won’t change things significantly. Your plants will not perfectly stick to this schedule down to the day, no matter what you do.

In the “Interval between successions” field, put how long you want to wait between each round of the same plant. This is not specific to the growing of the plant, but to you personally. If you are wanting enough to preserve and store, then plan to plant as quickly as you have bed space available. But if not, then only plant enough to make it from one harvest to the next. In other words, if your family only will eat one head of lettuce a week, then you might want to plant a single seed every 7 days, so you would put a ‘7’ here. Or you might want to plant 2 seeds every 14 days and so use ’14’ here. There is not a space to list how many you plan on planting, though you could add in that column if you wish. (Or use Column A to keep from messing up the formulas in the rest of the sheet.) Use your best judgment here and modify as needed.

In the ‘Sow days from last frost’ field, put either a positive or negative number, using your last frost date as ‘0’. For example, if a seed is to be sown ‘2 weeks before the last frost date’, you would put “-14” to indicate 14 days BEFORE (less than) the last frost date. And, of course, if a seed goes in after the last frost, use a positive number (without the minus sign in front) to indicate that it should be planted after the last frost.

After that, the dates should automatically update in the rest of it.

It lists eight planting dates, separated by the number of days you specified, beginning with the first date calculated by your final frost date and the ‘sow days from last frost’ number you entered for the crop. For some crops, you may be able to get in more successions, but eight will be plenty for most.

The ‘Final Planting date’ is the last date you can sow a seed and have your harvest (maybe) beat your first frost in the fall, calculated by your ‘First Frost Date’ and the ‘Days to maturity’ number. This does not take your successions into account, but any successions that fall after this date will be highlighted with red text to indicate that the round of planting may not mature enough to harvest before your first frost.

The ‘Sow indoors date’ takes the ‘1st Planting’ date and subtracts the germination time and seven additional days. This gives you a date to start seeds inside in time to have week-old seedlings to go outside on that first planting date.

Harvest dates are the planting dates plus the ‘days to maturity’ entered previously. This is helpful when planning when beds will be emptied and available for replanting.

All together, it keeps track of a nice bit of information in a manner that doesn’t make my head spin.

It’s not a fool-proof guide, of course. Cool weather plants won’t appreciate mid-summer planting rounds and a long, cool spring may get your warm-weather crops off to a slow start. The red dates might be concerning for a frost-tender crop such as tomatoes, but will be near irrelevant to cabbages and collards that appreciate a bit of frost. So, like all tools, this worksheet is only at its most useful when in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing. But I hope it is also a help to those trying to figure out what they are doing.

So get to planning, everyone! And Happy Homesteading!

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