Sowing Seeds All Season Long
As a farmer florist, I want flowers in my pocket all season long. How to keep your garden flourishing all season? To me the key lies within succession planting. I work on gardens that are extremely small scale but also farm a full acre of flowers. Each project I approach with a crop plan, that specifies quantities I can plant, expected harvest window and a succession calendar.
Succession calendar you say? Yes - it's important to sow seeds through out the season, not just in the spring so your garden can produce bounty well up to your regions frost date. Working with your seed inventory the best way for me to plan is by working backwards. I do a little 'farmer math' and voila, a succession calendar is born. Now executing the sow by dates in the middle of the summer when I'm in the literal heat of the season, weddings, parties, farmers markets... that can really be the tricky part. It is super easy for me to get overwhelmed which is why winter planning is key to my sanity come peak growing season.
Let's get into my farmer math. In order to create a calendar that keeps you growing all season long we start with our seeds and spacing. First we need to know how many seeds we need to sow based on our spacing. This is done by determining your bed length, width and how far apart you want to plant each start. Im obsessed with Zinnias and I plan to grow A LOT of them this year, which I will place at a very comfortable 12x12 spacing. I grow on a big scale but lets not make it too intimidating by getting the numbers up into the hundreds. So lets say you have an 8 foot bed that is 3 feet wide. First of all if we're planting in inches, lets convert those foot and feet measurements to also be in inches. So you have a 96 inch long bed by 36 inches wide. Divide both of those lengths by our 12 in spacing. 96 % 12 = 8 and 36 % 12 = 3. Then you multiply those two numbers together, for your total plant count: 24 plants three rows with eight plants each. All of the seeds you start might not germinate so sow, 30 with room for error, and if you have extra you can sneak them somewhere else in your garden or give them away to a neighbor!
Ok, so I need to start 30 plants. But when do I start them? Let's look at your regions last danger of frost, here on Long Island I like to use my birthday as a sign that we are in the clear of frost, which is May 1st. Then we need to work backwards from days to maturity, which is information that you can usually find on the package of seeds or the suppliers website. Zinnias have a 75-90 day window until they are fully productive. So, lets translate the days into weeks because its easier to plan. So lets say 12 weeks. May first is when our plants are going in or going to be transplanted, but we started our seeds 4 weeks before that, on April 1st. As a general rule, you will start your first round of plants x amount of weeks before the frost date as it pertains to its variety, etc.
There we go. April 1st is when we start the seeds, 3-4 weeks before our frost date, then our plants get transplanted in the ground May 1st for approx. 6-8 weeks of weeding, and pinching (which is the technique of going in and pinching the buds off the flower heads to encourage branching) and more weeding.
Now, Lets get back to making our calendar and keeping things organized. I want to have a lot of flowers, for the bulk of my season, which is May-November. So, I'm assigning week 1 to the first week in April and then marking each week thereafter up until the end of my season. So April 1st is week 1, May first is week 6 and 6 more weeks after that, would be, the second week in June, week 11 and Harvesting begins! For me, I'll be sowing every week depending on different varieties and quantities I need, so each week I'll have a rotating list of different items to sow and start. Every week! For the smaller scale farmer, factoring in sowing every 3 weeks seems to me a good idea.
Things that do really well with succession planting in your home garden: carrots, radishes, beets, lettuce, baby greens... Coming up with a calendar of when your going to sow each variety and how many times, will then lead you to be able to know the actual amount of seeds you need for the season.
So, to come full circle - if I am a small scale farmer and I am sowing 3 beds in succession that is 8 feet by 3 feet over the period of the growing season I will need 90 seeds.
Hopefully you've taken away some neat things as you look do your own planning this season, from seed quantity, to spacing, to succession planting and creating your own calendar!
Honestly, farming takes a lot of planning and if you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comment section below! Happy planning.