Everything I need to know about business I learned on the farm #2: Want to learn project management? Plant a garden.

It’s about a week later than I had planned, but as of today, my garden is in.  Overall that’s pretty good since I started planning back in January.  We’ve been trying our hand at vegetable gardening since before we moved to the farm, but it really went to a new level when we moved out here three and a half years ago.  In our old house our garden was a few tomato and strawberry plants.  This year I’ve put in strawberries, asparagus, beans, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, gold potatoes, tomatoes, green and jalapeno peppers, eggplant, kale & collard greens, peas, okra, lettuce mixes, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers and corn.  Clearly more land equals more things you can grow.  However, there is one constant from the garden we grew 10 years ago and the one we are growing this year:  regardless if you are planting a single tomato in a pot on your porch or putting in corn or wheat for a commercial grower project management is the key to success.  Yes, compost and fertilizer and water and sun are all important, but without a good plan, you’ll never get out of it all that you can.
This year I decided to try a few new things both in terms of vegetables and in terms of methods.  I added Asparagus in its own dedicated bed (they can last up to 25 years) as well as Cale & Collard greens.  And while I have grown tomatoes for years, this year I sprouted all of the tomatoes in my garden from seed.  No small task let me tell you.  The main reason was to get some varieties that I couldn’t buy around here as plants, but a small part of it was just to see if I could.  The tomatoes all sprouted fine and I had plenty to cover the 12 plants that I typically put out.
This brings me to my first lesson: have a plan.  I knew I wanted to growing tomatoes from seeds and I knew they had to be in the ground by Mothers day if I wanted a chance to have the prized ripe Tomato in late June (prized where I live anyway…keep all your comments to yourselves residents of Texas, California and other sub-tropical regions).  So back up from there and I had to get the seeds started in February.  Now in my neck of the woods there is still snow on the ground in February, so this required me to figure out a way to sprout in freezing weather.
Fortunately someone else had solved that for me by inventing the cold frame, but now this taught me my second lesson: dependencies drive the schedule.  Before I could plant my tomato plants on mother’s day, I had to sprout the seeds.  Before I could sprout the seeds I had to have a cold frame.  This put me back into starting the project in January (I am very methodical when I build anything, even a box with a glass top).  Hoping to have home sprouted tomatoes and not thinking about it until March would have been a non-starter.
Now that I had a cold frame, I felt compelled to see what else I could sprout, so I decided to try eggplant, peppers, zuchini and butternut squash.  The last two worked beautifully (squash is half weed), but the eggplant and peppers either didn’t sprout at all or never got beyond lilliputian proportions.  This lead me to my third lesson: you should assume that some aspects of your project are going to fail and have contingencies in place.  In the case of the minuscule peppers and eggplants the plan B was no more complex than going to the nursery and buying some fully grown starter plants there.  I there had only been a plan A then I would be out those two vegetables (which I di actaully really enjoy so that would have been a bummer) for the season.
I am sure there are many more lessons that I am forgetting, but as I look a projects I have been involved with in business, these are the three that most often get forgotten and lead people into trouble.  Great thing is to learn these lessons yourself, you don’t have to be on the back 40.  While the planning might be on a smaller scale, you can learn all the same things trying to grow a tomato from seed in a pot on your patio.  Good growing and if you do it right and startnext January, you’ll have the satifaction of having compeltly home grown tomatoes for your 4th of July picnic in 2010.  I told you it takes planning!






2 responses to “Everything I need to know about business I learned on the farm #2: Want to learn project management? Plant a garden.”

  1. Lisa Ashworth Avatar
    Lisa Ashworth

    I’m friends with Eric Broyles, who passed this on to me. What a great read! My husband and I live in town, but have parents on a farm and this year our goal was a ‘big’ garden. My father in law tilled up 1/4 acre. We’ll be busy this summer, to say the least, and have a ton to learn about trying to raise an organic garden. Know much about going organic? We’re always full of questions, ideas and dreams. Good luck with your garden!

  2. Chris Avatar

    Hey there Lisa. Thanks for the comment.
    What all are you guys growing in yours? We do grow our organic, although its pretty easy for us since we have three horses and therefore a pretty much endless supply of fertilizer (if you want some, come on out to Crittenden ;-)).
    Thanks for the good luck wishes and same to you on yours.

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