"How much food can I grow?" "How many people can I feed?" "And how do I begin to answer these questions?" These are common question for gardeners and farmers. Time and experience can definitely help answer them, but for new gardeners or farmers, these questions can be daunting. The Fantastic Farm & Garden Calculator was designed to help in expediently answering these questions.
When Tracy & I decided to take the leap from being home gardeners to starting a small CSA farm, those two questions haunted us. We were almost literally pulling our hair out trying to figure out an easy way to determine how much of each crop we needed to grow, and how to determine how many people we could feed with our given amount of land. After trying the few garden planner programs that exist, we still weren't getting all the answers we needed. Plus, while I'm a visual person, I found the drag and drop type planners to be a bit to game-like and cute for me. We wanted to be able to enter some basic info about our garden and our production goals, and then to get the hard facts. It seemed like we had to come up with our own planner.
With Tracy's expert background with creating advanced spreadsheets, she decided to create one to help plant the garden. We gathered all the info we could find on potential plant yields from dozens of books and dozens of websites, and Tracy got to work.
We already knew how many row feet of growing space we had available to us. We had an idea of how many CSA members we'd like to feed each week. We also knew which crops we wanted to grow, and had an idea of how much of each we wanted to give to our CSA members each week. We knew our plant spacing (biointensive, in our case), and knew our final frost date. But the hard part for us was trying to figure out how much of each crop we needed to plant, and exactly how many people we would be able to feed. This is where Tracy's calculator would come into play. With the calculator, we entered the information noted above, and it output the info we needed. It told us:
- How many plants of each crop we'd need to feed each person a given amount of each crop per week.
- How many row feet each crop would require.
- How many row we had left to plant additional crops in.
- Or if we planted too much and had no space left, it told us how many row feet we didn't have.
I'm sure on our first try, we found out that we didn't have enough space to grow all that we thought we could. In that case we took a look at our figures to see where we could free up some growing space. We could either reduce the number of people we planned to feed, or reduce the number of different crops, or we could reduce the weekly amount of some crops. Lets say we wanted to grow everything we planned on growing so the CSA members have a wide variety of produce. After looking at the amounts we wanted to give out each, perhaps we decided 1 pound of lettuce per person was too much, so we lowered it to a half pound. Then we update the calculator and check our remaining row space. Oops, we still don't have enough room. Lets drop the lettuce to a quarter pound per person. Once again, we update the calculator and see that we are close, but still don't have enough row space. We don't want to give out any less lettuce, and perhaps the other crop amounts look good, so lets reduce the number of CSA members from 30 to 25. We update the calculator and now see that by reducing the number of people we want to feed, we now have enough row feet of space to grow a little bit more food!
What if you don't want to grow less of anything, or feed less people? Get creative with Intercropping! Intercropping is a method of planting fast growing and slow growing plants together in the same space. For example, lettuce is a fast growing plant and it could be planted in with your tomatoes, which is a slower growing plant. By the time your tomato plants are getting large during the heat of the summer, your lettuce will have bolted.
This example scenario, combined with watching the how-to video should help you see how easy, and quickly you can try different garden plan variations with the Fantastic Farm and Garden Calculator. You can also see that it will quickly answer questions such as "how much food can I grow?" or "how many people can I feed from my garden?"