Stephen has only been at Allsun Farm for 8 days – phew! We have covered a huge amount of ground with him and we too have planted broad beans.
So what have we covered so far?
- Laying hens – our dawn to dusk work force who weed, clean up bugs and lay wonderful eggs
- transforming derelict weedy beds into fertile ground using a mower or scythe and a reciprocating spader on a two wheeled horticultural tractor
- building beds that are fully prepared ready to plant
- planning what we want to grow, when we need to plant it, in what quantity and in which bed
- growing seedlings in pots, plug trays and soil blocks
- weeding both by hand and using long handled hoes and wheel hoes
Tomorrow we pick again and we will also get round to transplanting lettuces and spring onions into garden beds. We will in less than two weeks have covered the whole cycle needed to grow vegetables commercially. From here on in it will simply be refining techniques and practice. Market gardening is a balance of craftmenship and detailed planning – we will post some pictures asap – now it’s off to bed!
The planting schedule was easy. Many years ago we created a system of planting cards based on years of diary keeping at Allsun Farm. It is conservative but hey that means it works and will certainly work at Milkwood.
Planting cards for the Milkwood Market Garden
These cards not only act as a run sheet they also end up being a garden diary and yes computers and spread sheets are wonderful but when you are in the garden doing stuff with dirty hands then a bunch of hard copy printed cards are just amazing. You can download your own blank printable copy by clicking here.
You then have to work out just what you want to plant and in the case of a garden that is going to supply the needs of the Milkwood kitchen then this is a lot of different vegetables and fruit. Eliot Coleman in his wonderful book ‘The New Organic Grower’ taught us just how to plan a diverse, productive, healthy vegetable production system and I would really recommend his chapter on rotations. Very few people actually tackle the rotation game that he describes but we have done it many times and are now pretty confident about the process. In order to kick start the garden at Milkwood we have done the planning while Stephen the new trainee is away at the snow. What we want is to present him and Kirsten & Nick with a ‘fait accompli’. Maybe not the final solution to vegetable growing at Milkwood but certainly a good first stab at the iterative process that will gradually become the Milkwood garden plan.
After determining the timeing you then need a bed plan. The plan for the market garden was done as a spread sheet (lots of modular beds all the same size). What we didn’t have was a plan for the kitchen garden. I made do with some notes and photos that I took when we first visited the site so the following plan includes a bit of poetic license!
Mud map of Milkwood kitchen garden
Then it was a lot of coloured systems filing cards, a big table, paper, paper clips and pens voilà . . .
Organising the Milkwood Market Garden Bed Plan
Time now for a night off. When you push yourself to do this kind of planning and finally come up with a plan of what to plant, where and exactly how much, you remove a huge, stressful, uncertainty factor and can then get on with growing stuff.
The baby pak choi that Stephen planted only 6 days ago are now germinating – hurray!
Questions for Kirsten & Nick from Joyce
- Can you please post the size of the fenced area?
- Have the pigs arrived to plough up the proposed vegetable area?
- Please post some pictures when they are happily working the ground.
The last few days have been very hectic, here at Allsun we have been cramming in planting seedlings, getting up to speed with weeding and hoeing. We have also talked non stop about what to grow, when to grow it and how much to plant. I think all three of us have spinning brains. Stephen has been dreaming about spread sheets, I (JW) have been stressing about how we are going to transport all the seedlings we have planted to Milkwood and Mike is concerned that all the planning is not yet in place.
The reality is that we have only had Stephen here for 3 days and we have actually covered a lot of ground with him. He left yesterday for a week at the snow which gives me a few days to really nut out the field plan and planting schedule so I am busy at our dining room table surrounded by piles of system filing cards, note pads, random jottings and my laptop.
Both the beetroot and the silverbeet (planted 26/7) started germinating today.
- Beetroot seeds germinate.
All other seedlings looking good.
- We had established that we already had some seedlings. Helen had been out at Allsun Farm potting up capsicum and eggplant seedlings so they were organised as well.
- Kirsten agreed to organise a couple of pigs to plough up the area we had marked out as the Market Garden on our visit to Milkwood
- We agreed to start growing some more seedlings prior to the Milkwood trainee being appointed
The Run Sheet
The next job was to start the run sheet. When you are organising a production vegetable operation you need to decide:
- just what you want to grow
- when you want to grow it
- where you want to grow it
- what quantity to grow
This can all be worked out with a pile of systems cards a note pad and a spread sheet. The whole process will be detailed in the Organic Market Gardening workshops we are running at Milkwood. For now Mike and I needed to short circuit the process so that the trainee gardener would be able to hit the ground running.
There is also all the tools and equipment that will be needed – another page in the spread sheet.
The run sheet is now started. It is very much a work in progress and we have worked out a way to allow Kirsten and the trainee to work on it. If it looks like being a useful resource we will organise a downloadable copy at a later date.
So we’re sitting at the kitchen table, planning our market garden with Joyce and Mike from Allsun Farm, and Joyce suddenly looks at me sharply: “you’ve seen our vegetable growing CD ROM, haven’t you?” Erm, no?
With forewords by Eliot Coleman (international edition) and Peter Cundall (Australian edition), I’m not quite sure why I’ve only just come across this comprehensive resource. It’s Allsun’s self-published guide to growing vegetables, covering everything from tools and planning through vegetable varieties and harvesting. Wow. Read More »
Here at Allsun Farm we are also surrounded by seed catalogues, vegetable seed lists, bed plans, calendars and our heads are spinning too. There is something so exciting about planning for the next season of vegetable growing.
The garlic is happily tucked up with its mulch, the early broad beans and peas are up but not growing at this stage and all the onion seed has germinated. Now we can dream about summer. Over the years we have selected a solid core of about 30 different vegetables that reliably make up our year round vegetable harvest. To qualify for a place in our garden the varieties we choose have to pass a number of tests.
- we must want to eat them – no point growing tomatillos if you don’t ever eat green salsa!
- they must have superb flavour
- they must be productive varieties – we can’t afford to waste space
It is also very important for us to cover all the basics, the things people buy every week when they go to the green grocer. Potatoes, onions, garlic, cooking greens, salad greens, fruits, roots and herbs. And not just for a few weeks. We aim to harvest all these basic groups for most of the year. Our tried and tested list includes some of the best heirloom tomatoes we have ever tasted, beautiful and tasty lettuces, crunchy lebanese cucumbers, asian and european spring greens and lots more. This is the list that we will draw from for the inaugural Milkwood Market Garden. Maybe not weird but definitely wonderful!
Of course our plantings here at Allsun never stop with the tried and true, there are so many good things yet undiscovered. As we flip through the catalogues and dream of summer we always order a few new things reaching for the yet to be discovered taste sensation. In fact I will predict now that if all goes to plan there will be some chocolate coloured capsicums on the menu at Milkwood early next year.
This week I received all our yearly seed catalogs, and, as usual, started planning feverishly. How many is too many weird and wonderful heirloom watermelon varieties? And then I paused. Wait a minute, we’re aiming for community scale in our vegetable production this year. This shifts the goalposts entirely.
I’m now realizing that, for our organic market garden adventure, we will no longer be focusing on the craziest colored tomatoes. At least for this first year, while we learn the ropes, we will be going for yield and nutritional density as top priority. Pragmatic organic, here we come. Continue reading