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Plan to Plant

May 12, 2011

This year my experience with vegetable production is expanding as I organize Longwood’s Terrace Restaurant Vegetable Venture. The Veggie Venture, as explained in a blog post last year, is a way to provide fresh, (extremely) locally grown vegetables to Longwood’s Terrace Restaurant while raising funds for the Professional Gardener student’s trip abroad. Not to mention the fact that it’s an amazing learning opportunity to gain practical knowledge in vegetable production! While we are seeking to build on last year’s experience, our goal remains the same: to produce high quality, low input produce for our guests at the Terrace Restaurant.

The veggie plot now with potato plants coming up in the forefrontSpring is finally here! Gardening and the joyful prospect of fresh vegetables are on the mind again in force. This year my experience with vegetable production is expanding as I organize Longwood's  Vegetable Venture for the Terrace Restaurant. The Veggie Venture, as explained in a blog post last year, is a way to provide fresh, (extremely) locally grown vegetables to Longwood's Terrace Restaurant while raising funds for the Professional Gardener student’s trip abroad. Not to mention the fact that it's an amazing learning opportunity to gain practical knowledge in vegetable production! While we are seeking to build on last year’s experience, our goal remains the same: to produce high quality, low input produce for our guests at the Terrace Restaurant.

A small seedling of Freckles one of our lettuce varietiesLast year was a success, and we were able to produce over 1,000 pounds of fresh veggies for the Terrace Restaurant. As I began planning for this year,  I was able to take into account what we learned from last year, including feedback from the Terrace Restaurant chef and manager. Although there are definitely some differences between planning for a home veggie garden and a vegetable garden for sale to a restaurant, I have found that many of the key considerations remain the same. The major changes this year were a smaller space and a fewer number of crops. One of the parts of vegetable production I enjoy the most is planning and charting out my crops to produce a large harvest in a small space. Although it may seem counter intuitive, a smaller, well-managed plot can actually produce more than a large garden that becomes overgrown. Also, by reducing the diversity of crops, we hope to provide larger quantities of each.

Rodale's Garden Answers and our already well-worn planting planStarting with a list of crops I knew did well in the past, I divided them into spring, summer and/or fall veggies and made sure to have a good number in each category for a continuous harvest throughout the whole season. (With some crops such as carrots, I like to relay crop them and plant multiple times throughout the season so we can have a constant harvest.) Then I calculated how much space we would need for each crop, and made a rough drawing of the space. (I like use graph paper to easily represent square feet.) Some of this knowledge simply comes from experience, but I have also found Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening, and Rodale’s Garden Answers: Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs very helpful.  Our crop list includes; snap peas, carrots, potatoes, Swiss chard, lettuce, kohlrabi, onions, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, summer squash, sweet potatoes, tomatillos, tomatoes, and winter squash. These crops were selected for their high productivity, range of harvest dates, and (in most cases) fewer pest issues.

Transplants growing in our student greenhouse Now it was time to order seeds! Although there are many good vegetable seed suppliers, I have used Pinetree Garden Seeds for several years now, and have been pleased with their variety and well organized catalog. Using the resources such as the books mentioned above, I calculated the sow date for each of the crops. Some we started in our student greenhouse, and others get directlysown into the garden.

Pinetree seed catalog and seed packets Estimated harvest dates (very important for us so we can give the chef a head's-up when crops will be harvested) were calculated using the sow to harvest days listed for each variety in the catalog. This information, as well as crop spacing, transplant date, and total number of plants was all organized into one master spreadsheet. Soon all this "dead of winter planning" will be fully realized as this warm spring weather continues transform our bare soil into a lush vegetable garden! Check back here throughout the summer for updates on our Veggie Venture's progress!

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