Planning Your Vegetable Garden

By , March 19, 2010

It’s that time of year! Spring garden planning and planting time. Usually I get around to planning & planting sooner, but this year it’s been cold right up till now, and plus my surgery has delayed things a bit. But happily, I got the entire garden tilled, amended, fertilized, and planted on Tuesday! All with crutches and a bum foot! It was exhausting, but fun to work in the yard again…and very satisfying when I got it all done.

Today I’m going to give you a little tutorial on how to plan your vegetable garden. Over the years I’ve developed a planning method that works well for me. Admittedly, I don’t really like garden planning very much. I do love looking through all my seed packets and deciding what to grow for the year, but the process of actually planning what to put where is a task that takes literally hours of mental work (for me at least). It’s a lot of thinking, decision-making, & considering all different garden plan configurations in my head before I even put pencil to paper.

That said, though, there comes a feeling of satisfaction and excitement when I’ve completed the plan and am thoroughly happy with it. Each year’s plan is different, depending on what I want to grow and also considering what grew there last year.

I have three 4’x8′ raised beds, a 2’x8′ raised “lasagna” bed (a story for another day!), another 4’x8′ raised bed against the south side of the house, plus various pots here and there for extra tomato growing space.

Here’s my basic planning process:

1. Decide what you want to grow. Look through seed catalogs or go to a garden center to get seeds, or if you’re like me and already have wayyy too many seeds to choose from, go through all your seed packets and set aside what you think you want to grow. (I like to start all my veggies from seed, but you could just as easily decide what you want to grow, and then buy plants from the nursery.)

Once you’ve narrowed down which veggies you want to grow, write them all down on a piece of paper.

2. Determine which vegetables will be in the Spring plan, the Summer plan, or both plans. If you’re planning both a spring and summer garden (which I do), you’ll have 3 categories of vegetables:

– Early-spring-planted veggies that you’ll harvest before summer (like spinach, peas, lettuce, etc.)

– Early-spring-planted veggies that you’ll leave in the garden through the summer — the “spring carry-over veggies” (like cabbage, onions, parsley, potatoes, cilantro, dill, chard, carrots, etc.)

– Summer-planted veggies (like tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucumbers, etc.)

As you can see in the photo below, I mark my piece of paper with “Sp” (for “spring”) to the right of the spring-planted veggies, and “M” (for “main” summer) to the left of the summer-planted veggies. Vegetables with both “Sp” and “M” will be in both garden plans. As I place each vegetable into the plan, I put a check mark next to it.

3. Draw two outlines of your garden plots on paper — one for spring, one for summer. For my plans, I have one piece of thick paper; on one side I have Spring, on the other side I have Summer. Be sure to also note the year somewhere on your garden plan. On both plans, draw in any perennial vegetables that have overwintered.

Graph paper isn’t necessary, unless you like to use it. I draw my plans free-hand, and just eye the scale of things. The first year that I did a formal plan, I got mathematical about it and used graph paper, with “one square = 6 inches” and all that, but in the end, I found it unnecessary to be so precise, and I haven’t used graph paper since.

Also, always work in pencil! 🙂

Draw your garden plots, and draw in any overwintering perennial vegetables.

4. Plan your summer garden first. I find it easier to plan my summer garden first, and then my spring garden. To plan my summer garden, I decide on the location of both the spring-planted carry-over vegetables as well as the summer-planted vegetables.

I begin with deciding where I’ll put my tomatoes…though in doing this, you’ll be thinking about all your vegetables — not just the tomatoes. But I like to put the tomatoes down on paper first, as this makes it easier to place other things.

I also place the tallest vegetables (tomatoes, plus anything grown on a trellis) at the north end of each of the raised beds, so that they don’t block the sun from reaching shorter veggies.

I also consider the locations of last year’s vegetables, and try not to plant the same thing in the same place the next year. It doesn’t always work out that way (for instance, this year’s cabbage will be partially in the same spot as last year), but to me, that’s okay.

I like to plan the summer garden first.

5. Plan your spring garden based on the summer garden. Now, on your spring garden plan, copy down the spring carry-over veggies that you placed in your summer plan. Then, fill in the empty spaces with all of your spring veggies that will be harvested before summer, like the lettuce, radishes, spinach, peas, etc.

I plan the spring garden based upon which veggies will be carrying over to summer.

6. Check your veggie list to be sure you’ve placed everything, and then you’re done! Now it’s time to plant your spring garden!

Click here to read about how I amend my soil each year to get ready for spring planting.

And as a side note…if you start your own seedlings inside (rather than buying from a nursery), that adds another step to the spring preparation process, but it’s not bad. I definitely prefer to grow my own seedlings! Mostly I start my summer stuff inside, like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and peppers, but this year I also started my cabbage inside and it’s germinating better than when I plant it directly into the garden. But other than cabbage, I plant all my spring stuff directly into the garden, without starting it inside. Anyway, I’ll share more about all that soon, too.

*UPDATE 3/5/11: The past couple years I’ve just planted cucumbers and squash seeds directly into the garden rather than starting them inside. I’m much happier with this method since it’s SO much easier and the difference in fruiting times is not appreciable enough to be worth the bother of starting them inside. So I’ll stick to starting tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage inside. I might also start my celery inside, too, since it never quite took hold when I direct-seeded last year.

One Response to “Planning Your Vegetable Garden”

  1. Nicolette says:

    I’m a seed junkie too! I love Botanical Interests in Broomfield…I’ve been meaning to take a field trip over there…

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