How to plan your fruit and veg garden with my new free tools

I have a new version of my database now and you can find the details here.

Last year I decided that planning my allotment on a spreadsheet wasn’t for me.  I’m a visual person and I found messing around with a spreadsheet was a real chore, I wanted to enjoy my planning.  I decided to use Airtable as the basis for a solution, I chose it because it had many of the same features that a spreadsheet did, but rather than just being boring text, it was beautiful, or at least it could be beautiful when loaded with photos of the wonderful fruit and veg that we grow.

My databases have evolved over time and become more of a joy with every yearly update that I work on.  This release adds functionality for managing seed packets and integrates these into the rest of the database.  It also adds a first attempt at bed planning, which will no doubt improve next year.

The database is not an app, I don’t sell it, I don’t really support it, I just gift it to the community to do with as they will.   It’s ready to use as it is, but to really get the best of it you should customise it to suit your specific needs, take a copy of it and make it your own!

This may be way too complicated for your needs, if so I suggest that you look at this video for something simpler!

This first video, shows you how I use it, why I use it and some of the basic features.

This second video shows you how to get started, how to create an account, take a copy of my databases and then customise them.  It shows you how to have a play with my data and then how to add your own.  Don’t be afraid to break things, you can take another copy and try again.

This third video goes deep into the seed packet management functionality, which I’m most excited about, it’s already paying dividends for me!  It’s not only saving me money and reducing waste, but it’s also so much fun to play with.

This next video provides a bit more information about the features that we added to the database in summer to keep track of all of our preserves, the recipes we used etc.

Finally we have the two older videos, which might still be useful, because they go deeper into some of the older features,  but you need to remember that these show a very different version of the database and not everything shown will exist now.  This is the very first video:

This is the second release, a bit more refined, but still a long way to go!

Ok, so that’s the videos over with.  If you want to get a copy of the tools that I demonstrate in this video please click on this link and create an account:

If you already have an account then click on this link and take a copy of the databases to use for yourself.  Remember you can customise it to suit your own needs.

Here’s a brief summary of why I chose to develop this database:

  1. I wanted an easy way to capture everything I was learning about gardening
  2. I wanted a way to manage all of the seed packets I have
  3. I wanted a way to plan what to plant in each bed and when
  4. I wanted a way to plan and track everything I was sowing
  5. I wanted a way to share that with youtubers
  6. Ideally I wanted to be able to share views onto the database for particular videos, for example “everything I sowed in January”, “everything I planted in April”, “all of the cabbages I’m growing this year” all from a single source
  7. I wanted something to have fun doing on rainy winter days!
  8. I wanted an app that would work well in the browser, on my PC and on my iPhone

Since my database is built on top of Airtable, you can learn a lot by watching their tutorials and reading their guides too:

Finally I’m aware that there are lots of other tools out there, ranging from spreadsheets to full blown graphical planning applications. I’ve tried a few of them, but they don’t meet my needs, some don’t deal with my climate very well, or they don’t work well for early and late season planting or they are just too complex or expensive.

You might however find they suit you better than mine, because:

  1. Mine doesn’t have professional support
  2. It isn’t very slick and polished
  3. It relies on you customising it to your needs
  4. Migrating data from one version to the next isn’t automated

If you are new to my allotment videos you might find a bit of context useful. We have three allotments in my family, mine (Steve), my wife’s (Debbie) and my middle daughter’s (Jennie). We also have a small kitchen garden at home. They are all managed in an integrated fashion, so don’t expect to see the usual mix of veg on each plot.

On Jennie’s plot, for example, we focus on potatoes, squash, alliums, and brassicas. This video provides an overview:

I do an update of the allotments, roughly one a week, you can find the tours here:

Our approach to allotment life is to: grow as much as we possibly can, to be self-sufficient in veg all year round and in fruit in season, to give away our huge surplus to friends and family, and to have as much fun as possible.

My wife and I spend about 4 hours a day, 4 days a week on the plots (on average) and we keep nudging that down as we eliminate non-productive work: like grass cutting, weeding and watering as much as practical. We are both newbie gardeners, only starting the allotments in 2016.

I’m a bit obsessive about the nutrient density of the veg that we grow and making the plots easy to work because it’s through this allotment lifestyle and food that I’ve overcome a debilitating auto-immune disease.

I’m always aware though that it might not last so I make sure that I don’t work too hard, eat as much organic fruit and veg I can and design the plots so that I can still work them if I flare up again.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

27 Responses

  1. Mark Anson says:

    Hi Steve,
    I have been using you database to develop one for myself.
    Thank you so much, I follow your Youtube channel avidly.
    A game changer for me.
    I am trying to be self sufficient as you are but on a 750m2 house block.
    Hoping to eventually produce some of my own protein by growing quail.
    I have tried for many years with excel and google sheets to write some sort of Database but with no real success.
    Have fallen in love with airtable despite its lack of formatting and a few other missing features.
    I noticed that you are receiving some error messges in some of your fields.
    It may be that you are fine with that and apologies for being presumptuous if that is the case.
    In the spirit that you share your hard work by making your database freely available, If you would like to get rid of those error messages you can use the formuls below.
    I have only done three fields but the same formula structure will work on the others as well.
    If either Field is missing you will just get a blank field.
    If you wish to enter somethig to say the data is missing you can enter something in between the last to inverted commas of the formula..
    Hope these help

    Table: First harvest Dates – Field: Difference in Dates
    IF({First harvest 2020},IF({First harvest 2019},DATETIME_DIFF({First harvest 2019},{First harvest 2020},’days’)+365,””))

    Table: Sowing Log – Field: Days to Germinate
    IF({Germination Date},IF({Sowing date},DATETIME_DIFF({Germination Date},{Sowing date},’d’),””))

    Table: Sowing Log – Field: Days in plugs/pots
    IF({Planting Date},IF({Germination Date},DATETIME_DIFF({Planting Date},{Germination Date},’d’),””))

    Cheers and thanks for your channel, your database and your hard work to share it.


    Ps the Airtable community is amazing in helping out…..

  2. Mark Anson says:

    Ps …you may need to re-enter the inverted commas and apostrophe as the formatting appeasr not to hold if you copy straight from my reply,

  3. Thanks Mark, pleased you are enjoying the database and channel. I really hoped that people would embrace and extend what I’ve done because I’m very much an 80/20 person, only doing the 20% of effort that delivers the 80% of benefit, hence not getting around to the error catching formulas (thanks for those!). All my life people have taken my original ideas and taken them forward, it’s in my DNA to start and let others finish (some call that lazy). Thanks for the great feedback, keeps me motivated! : All the best – Steve

  4. Hi Mark, I’ve fixed the errors using your formulas since you made ti so easy for me and republished my databases with the fixes

  5. John Taylor says:

    Thanks Steve Fantastic will read it this evening and make notes in my Diary you all stay safe love the videos

  6. Michele McLean says:

    Hi Steve, I just had to stop by and say thank you for your fantastic database! It’s exactly what I’ve needed in order to keep myself organised but I’m too busy (aka lazy) to create for one myself
    All the best!

  7. Graham Hobbs says:

    Hi Steve. Managed to download your database, which is fantastic. At first I started to modify it to suit my needs, the varieties I grow and to enable integration with my current spreadsheets. However, perhaps mistakenly, I then thought it would be easier to start afresh, although gratefully using many of your ideas.
    However I have hit a problem in trying to link records from different tables. It just doesn’t seem to work according to Airtables Support tutorial or it appears your configuration of customising of the field type.
    I created both tables as independent tables from scratch as ‘create empty table’. Then I have tried to link them. With the field in one table from ‘customising the field type’ I select ‘link to another record’ and indicate the other table. (It confuses me that it only offers the other table not the specific field within a table)
    Then when inserting a record in the field of the first table, I select the record from the look up list of records from the other table, but it generates another field alongside the first, the first states ‘unnamed record’ and the 2nd field gives the record selected. Unfortunately the 1st and 2nd fields are linked so I can’t just delete the 1st one, leaving the info I need.
    Sorry to impose on you but can you or anyone else think what I am doing wrong?

  8. Graham Hobbs says:

    Hi, I asked earlier what I was doing wrong in linking tables, well I have finally worked it out – you have to link to the primary field first.
    Thanks Steve for your database, it has spurred me into a great new adventure – developing my own database.

  9. Thanks for the update Dave, I often think I should start again, I no so much more now. Sorry I was late replying, when I read you earlier comment I realised you’d not sorted out the primary key : all the best – Steve

  10. Graham Hobbs says:

    No point starting again if it works for you. The main reason I needed to change was because how my existing data was formulated in my spreadsheets, plus the fact that a lot of my varieties are different to yours. So little need to keep your data and a different format for the tables made transferring the existing data easier..
    I also hope to include other jobs around the allotment, such as pruning and various building projects, and hopefully to see the rotations and successions in the various beds which I currently do with my spreadsheets..
    Although I am an old hand at allotments, databases are totally new to me, but you have really shown what a fantastic tool it can be. You are also teaching this old dog new growing tricks. Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge and experience

  11. Sounds like your spreadsheets will help a lot. I do all my bed planning in the database now, but I’m using a different system than the one in the public snapshot. Recognising that everyone grows different varieties I’m restructuring the database so that most information is held at the type level (kale, lettuce) etc with much more knowledge captured on best sowing dates, spacing etc. I’m also creating a diary database, with jobs to do for each month etc

  12. STEVE LONG says:

    Thanks for this database and video instructions. I found that you there is an easier way to grab photos from the internet – you just choose the second tab down for the image insertion, which is a url link. For the photo you just right click and copy image address rather than the image, and paste that into the link. You can even go down to the next tab, which is a web search, and use the best image that this pulls up. Hope that helps – now I only use the photo top tab to drag pictures straight across from Photostream.

  13. Thanks for the tip Steve

  14. Jon Shepherd says:

    Hi Steve,
    I have downloaded your database, I tried using your seed packets to start with but in the end I removed and started over but I dont know if I am doing anything wrong. When I create a new record Aubergine. you already have my variety but it seems to be very restrictive what I can put in there. Sowing Dates and Harvesting dates are not available as options? why might that be?

  15. Hi Jon, the version that I uploaded and that you have downloaded is a very old version, but if I can remember. There are three main tables. A varieties table, which is the place to log what you plan to grow, then a seed packets table, where you log each seed packet you have for that variety, finally a sowing log table, where you record each batch of each variety that you sow. It’s the sowing log table where you would record the sowing date, planting date, first harvest date and last harvest date. You end up with just one entry for each variety, a few seed packets for each variety (over time) and many sowing entries for each variety. Each year I tend to take a copy of the sowing table and rename it for the year “sowing log for 2021” and start again. It might help to look at the version of the database I’m currently using with all my data in it, this winter, I will be releasing this version after a bit of tidying up. Does that help?

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