Grow Biointensive Master Charts

We’re following a method in our backyard urban mini-farm called Grow Biointensive, which leverages decades of research by John Jeavons and the rest of the folks at Ecology Action. If you’ve gotten to this page, it probably means you’ve read How to Grow More Vegetables, gone to a workshop, watched it on YouTube, or heard someone talk about it. One of the most daunting things about the Grow Biointensive method is the sheer amount of planning and math involved! The core of this emerges out of using the Master Charts in How to Grow More Vegetables and the Master Garden Plan (from The Sustainable Vegetable Garden). Honestly, when Marcia and I first started, we sort of just glazed over the Master Charts section, did a double-dig, direct sowed a bunch of seeds, and called it a day. It was only until summer 2011 that we (and I should say Marcia, who really was the one who sorted this out) figured out the charts and the plan and started putting it down on Excel.* With all the planning and math involved, Grow Biointensive is the perfect candidate for Excel! This is still a work in progress, but we wanted to share this with any of you out there doing biointensive gardening so that you can spend more time working the land and less time with paper, pencil, and a calculator!

Before you start geeking out with these files, I wanted to throw in a few notes about how we set up these spreadsheets, and what you’ll need to do to get it to work properly in your garden. Or, you can skip my explanation and click here to jump down the page to download the files.

  • First off, we’ve only entered the crops that we’re growing or have grown in the past. To fill in data for your specific situation, you’ll have to consult the Master Charts, grab the info, and fill it in accordingly.
  • Check the formulas carefully in the spreadsheet. We’ve done our best to make sure all the calculations are correct, but always do a sanity check – if our spreadsheet is telling you that you need to plant 25,403 onions for a 25 square foot bed, dig in to really make sure the math is right. :)
  • For calculating how many seeds to sow in our seedling flats, there are a couple of things to know. First, our seedling flats are 10″ x 14″ (approximately half-flats according to How to Grow More Vegetables), so our calculations assume that we can fit about 240 seeds broadcasted, 120 seeds on one inch centers, about 55 seeds on 1.5 inch centers, and about 40 seeds on two inch centers. You will have to modify the number in column M that determines how many flats of a particular crop you need. So if column K says you’re going to sow 60 seeds, then column M divides 60 by 120 to determine that you need half a flat. We do this differently than the Master Charts, which builds in the germination rate to tell you how many flats to start — we go the other direction by figuring out how many plants you need (column H), how many seeds you’ll need to sow based on germination rate (column K), and from there how many flats you need (column M). If you want to modify this, just adjust the numbers across the top — 120, 60, and 40 — under “Number of half-flats to sow” for the number of seeds you can fit, respectively, on one inch, 1.5 inch, and 2 inch centers in a flat.
  • To add a new crop, just copy an entire row and insert it where you want. Double-check the sums at the bottom to make sure it still includes all the cells to add up, and also that the formulas copied over.
  • There’s a boxed section near the bottom that will also calculate how you’re doing on the 60/30/10 division of carbon and compost crops, special root crops, and vegetable crops.

Other than that, all the info in this spreadsheet comes right out of the Master Charts. If you’re creating your own new (Excel) row for a crop, just pull out your Master Charts, and get the data for things like centers, germination rate, seeds per ounce, weeks in first flat, and so on and enter those numbers right into the worksheet.

Once you’ve got it all set up, use whatever method you have for determining how many square feet of a particular crop you want to plant. Once you have that number, just enter it in to column E, and voila! It will fill out the rest of the spreadsheet for you, telling you how many seeds you need, how many flats to start, all by typing just one number. So, in this example below, all I did was enter 6 for square footage desired of Kale (in pink), and then it automatically filled out Number of Plants (5.04, in brown), Seeds to Sow (6.72, in green), Number of half-flats to sow (0.06, in orange), and Number of half-flats to prick out (0.13, in blue). You can click the image to see it larger.

Master Garden Plan Example - Kale

We always assume the worst, so we’ll sow more than 7 seeds, but this gives you the general idea. The other columns we had to fill out manually. But once you get it started, you’ll never have to do that again!

So, enough of my overly lengthy explanations. Without further adieu, here are the downloadable Excel Master Garden Plan files!

As a standard Excel file (.xls): Biointensive Master Garden Plan

As a Google Doc: Biointensive Master Garden Plan Google Doc

Feel free to modify or distribute these files. I will continue to work on improving the spreadsheet, hopefully adding some new automatic calculations in the future including:

  • Pounds of biomass produced
  • Number of calories produced
  • When to start seedlings in flats based on crop type

As we update our spreadsheet, I’ll post them here so that you can benefit!

* If you need a copy of Excel, the most inexpensive way to get a license from Microsoft is to buy the Home and Student version for around $100 to $125. Click here for Windows, and here for Mac. The cool thing about these I’ve linked to is you can install it on up to three computers in your home. If you can’t swing 100 or so dollars, no worries — there’s also a free version of Office you can download called Open Office.

Last Updated March 7, 2012

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  1. Charlie

    Thank you ever so much. I’d just sat down to start this myself when I spontaneously did a search for the Grow Biointensive charts and miraculously yours came up. What a time (and confusion) saver! Your efforts are appreciated!

  2. Jason

    Charlie – glad you found the page and that they’ve been helpful! Hope spring planting goes well!

  3. Kristin

    Hi, Love This! It is making my life so much easier for determining plantings. I did make one change, however, and that was to split the planting seasons into separate columns (Spring, Summer and Fall) so that I could easily filter by season.

  4. Jason

    Kristin – great to hear that it was helpful! The breaking up into seasons sounds like a good move.

  5. Sherry

    Wow! Great work. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m also a fan of Jeavons. Where I get stuck, though, is figuring out how much to plant. I know every family and every garden is different, but can you share how you came up with your figures in column E? It might give me some sort of idea where to start.

    1. Jason

      Sherry – a lot of it is a best guess based on the space available and what types of crops we want. I also try to take into account the crop rotation (heavy feeder->light feeder->heavy giver) by keeping track of what was planted where. If you balance that out with the general percentages of compost crops vs. veggies then it kind of works out in the end. Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any more questions.


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