The first main seed order is finally done. There will be one more in a week or two, and then I’ll be set for the season. Working out the order was relatively painless, it does get easier every year, but without this handy Seed Quantity Calculator, my head would still be spinning. There are at least 65 different veggies, herbs, and flowers, and must be well over 200 varieties overall (wow, hard to believe when you add ’em up). It’s a lot to piece together.
Of course, I could REDUCE. That’s a whole other story (and then there’s the hybrids/seed-saving issue), but basically, I think variety is a great thing on all levels, so instead of reducing, I resist the urge to add more. For mainstay crops like green snap beans, I’ll try at least 2 or 3 similar varieties to see how they perform in this particular field (depending on conditions, the differences can be quite big). And you’ve gotta Try New Things, grow a little okra, some Jerusalem artichoke, LOVAGE, a row of tomatillos, and…lots more—even if a crop’s not exactly popular (self included), we can all learn! Crops, cultivars, there’s a lot of seed to choose from… And it gets more complicated.
On this tiny farm, where plantings are measured in multiples of 50 row feet, not in acres, the catalog price breaks are a maze of temptations and false economies. Seed for many crops becomes tantalizingly less expensive right after the first “bulk” quantity. For example, if 5g of something is $6, and 25g is $18, how can you pass up savings like that, especially when the difference is “only” 12 bucks? Freeze the extra and it’ll be good for years! But those extra 10 and 20 dollars add up real quick, and there are always lots more varieties to try.
So it goes, crop by crop, variety by variety, at ordering time. It could get real messy if I hadn’t long ago (Year 1!) worked out my seed quantity order sheet, which at least allows me to instantly check on how much space I really have, how much seed I really need, what the yield might be like… That helps!
The Sheet is pretty common sense. I set it up in a database, but it could as easily be a single spreadsheet. Some columns you enter the values, others are automatically calculated. I used to think of it as my master planning tool, where everything could eventually be worked out with pinpoint precision, but I got over that after a couple of years, and use it more loosely now. Here it is, column by column:
Spacing: in-row spacing, between plants (inches)
Rows: number of rows per bed, based on my 50’x5′ beds.
Plants per bed: automatically calculated (50′ × Rows per bed ÷ Plant spacing), a useful number when starting seedlings for transplants
Beds: how many beds of the crop do I want to plant out; this number is automatically totaled at the bottom of the sheet, and that clearly shouldn’t exceed my total of about 400 beds this year!
Replant: succession planting, how many times I expect to plant in a previously used bed
Feet per unit: how many row feet does it take for one sales unit, e.g. 1 unit of carrots is a 2 lb bunch; this is my own little innovation over the usual yield by weight, it makes more sense for weekly harvests, and it sorta works, but the numbers have to be…refined
Units per bed: automatically calculated (50′ × Rows per bed × Feet per unit)
Seed for 100′: quantity needed, starting with the standard seed catalog estimates, I adjusted most of ’em based on what I actually used, usually a function of the Earthway seeder’s particular (sometimes generous) seeding rate for individual crops
Seed per bed: automatically calculated (Rows per bed × 50 ÷ Seed for 100′)
Quantity: automatically calculated, this is the big total seed needed for the season number ((Beds + Replant) × Seed per bed)
Weeks: the harvest window, how many weeks the crop should be available over the season, including succession planting
Retail units: automatically calculated, how many units available each week, a crude but still kinda useful number that evenly divides the total expected production over the harvest weeks ((Beds + Replant) × Units per bed ÷ Weeks)
The rest is notes: what a sales unit is for a crop, like, one bunch or 2 lbs, etc, any special field prep (mulch, row cover) to quickly highlight the crops that’d take extra materials and work), and a seed cost note. The Beds + Replant and the cost are calculated in a grand total at the bottom of the sheet.
There you have it! It’s not rocket science, just a simple tool that actually works quite well. By changing a figure or two, you can instantly see how things will be affected overall. The last couple of years, I mostly use the sheet as a printout and plan with that and the field production map and a pencil, I don’t sit in front of the computer, tweaking numbers, ’cause by now what’s already entered is pretty much in the ballpark.
UPDATE! I added a Viability column, right after the crop name, for the number of years seed is good for in average storage conditions (these numbers vary A LOT for some crops, depending on your source, so find one you like. ;) This comes in handy when going over your inventory, if you have seed more than a couple of years old.