Plotcrop

Plotcrop is a program for planning and/or recording the growing of fruit and vegetables on a garden, allotment or smallholding scale. You start by defining three main elements: plots or beds - your basic growing areas; crops - the varieties you grow; and, optionally, actions such as manuring that affect plots and crops. You then input crops and actions graphically by drawing them on your plots, adding notes and other data as required. Over time you build up a database of what you grew where and when, how it did and virtually anything else about it that you might want to record, including digital images. This data can then be retrieved and queried in a number of different ways. The following should give you some idea of how the program works:

This screen shows main and plot views, journal and notes windows. The main view ("View 1: crops at 05/02/03", mostly overlaid by other windows here) shows all plots at a given date; multiple views can be opened simultaneously for different dates.

The plot view ("View 1: plot A - crops") shows an expanded view of a single plot. In both main and plot views, different colours indicate different crop groups (as defined by the user); crops can be input as single or multiple rows, rectangular or polygonal blocks, or stations. Both types of view can be toggled between crops and actions. In plot view, individual actions can be overlaid on the crop display by selecting them from the dropdown list of current actions at the top right. Here the diagonal shading shows the area affected by an application of seaweed manure.

The journal window enables you to record daily observations.

In addition you can create an unlimited number of notes topics (eg "next seed order").


An individual crop record. Clicking on the "Actions" button brings up a list of actions that have affected this crop; action records have a corresponding "Crops" option. "Stage" can be seedling, intermediate and final. Where a crop exists in more than a single final stage, "Stages" enables you to access the data relating to other stages. "Plants", "Spacing", "Notes" and "Yield" are all optional information. "Outcome", which ranges from "very good" to "very bad", is selected when the crop is finished.


Another general view showing a crop record with images. You can associate any number of your own digital photographs, or images from other sources, with crop, action and plot records, journal entries and notes topics.

Queries

Visual output from a query "where did I grow brassicas in 2001?". Individual plots and crops can be accessed by clicking on this view. The program comes with various predesigned queries as well as a "wizard" facility which enables you to create and run simple queries like this one without any knowledge of databases; for users with SQL skills there is full access to the underlying database.

On the other hand, you may find you can get as much information as you need without using queries at all. One of the commonest types of question you are likely to ask, "what was I growing in 2001?", can simply be answered by opening a view with the appropriate date. And a separate Search function enables you to retrieve records across different categories by keyword - for example, all crop, plot and journal records containing "slug" or "snail".

Planning

This view shows a plot in planning mode. Existing crops are shown in grey, planned crops in normal crop group colours. Planned crops and actions are input in the same way as actual items, except that in planning mode you supply start and end dates and optionally, in the case of crops, yield start and end dates. In theory this enables you to map out the next year's crops in considerable detail - not just the period of occupancy of each crop, but also its expected yield period. If you wish you can set up templates for occupancy and yield times for each crop type or variety, so that when you enter a start or end date or a yield start date for a new crop the program fills in the remaining details. Alternatively you can leave the program to estimate these from historical crop data.

Needless to say, you don't have to use this mode if you don't want to plan ahead in such detail. Often simply looking at what you did in previous years will tell you most of what you need to know about the year ahead. On the other hand, because it does allow you to move and resize crops very easily, planning mode can be useful for working out how to fit crops together in a given area, and being able to scroll the view forwards and backwards in time makes it easier to resolve successional issues.

Yields

A yield chart showing some of 2002's results from my own garden. The light grey bands represent each crop's period of occupancy, the coloured areas the period of yield. Clicking on a crop band gives access to more detail. In planning mode estimated data for the year ahead are shown. Predesigned queries can answer questions such as "which French beans yielded most in 2002?" or "what were the total monthly yields from each variety of French bean in 2003?".

Plotcrop runs on Windows 95, 98, ME, XP, Vista and Windows 7. The price of 25 includes email support and future updates to the software. You can buy Plotcrop online via PayPal or by printing out and posting an order form. If you would like to explore the program's features first, you are welcome to download a demo version of the software. This comprises the main executable with online help and sample database. It is identical to the full version but comes without 2 separate executables used for the initial definitions. In other words you are stuck with a sample set of plots, crops and actions.

Alternatively, feel free to email me with any specific queries about Plotcrop.

Some background

I've been a professional programmer since the mid 1980s and a gardener since 1976. WYS Systems, which I started in 1985 with my then dentist and another of his patients, specialises in software for dental practices and laboratories, and has been my main source of income for the last 20 years. You may find it reassuring that hundreds of people have used my software - and are still doing so.

I started developing Plotcrop for my own use in the late 1990s and have been running it in more or less its current form since 1999. Although I'm largely satisfied that Plotcrop does the job I wanted it to, it's by no means a closed project - I'm always very interested in other gardeners' ideas, and feedback from users has made a significant difference to the program's development.

Plotcrop has been recommended in the Readers' Tips section of Kitchen Garden and Organic Gardening magazine's Resources.

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