How to Plan your Vegetable Garden
Grow what you love. The love will keep it growing.
by Emilie Barne (see more gardening quotes!)
Planning your vegetable garden is a step that is often overlooked by gardeners in our enthusiasm to... well, to roll up our sleeves and get busy playing in the dirt! While planning your garden isn’t crucial, a well planned vegetable garden does offer benefits:
- Higher yield of vegetables produced per square foot of garden space
- Healthier plants that are less susceptible to insects and plant diseases
- Easier garden maintenance and better control of weeds
- More aesthetically pleasing (don’t even think we gardeners don’t take a few moments in each day to admire the garden as it grows!)
Important: Beginner gardeners please don’t think that you have to accomplish all of these garden planning suggestions. They are not requirements. Instead, they are suggestions on how to maximize your efforts, your time, and your enjoyment. Some of these suggestions take years to implement. Pick and choose which ones you can realistically implement now, and which ones you will plant to incorporate into your gardening efforts in future years.
In other words, do what you can now. Think about the rest... for another day.
Your Garden’s Climate
Watch your garden space, at different times of the day from early morning to sunset. Note the areas that get the most sun, and those that get the least sun. This will help you in determining which vegetable crops to plant in which areas. You may also want to revisit this exercise in the summer (for the following year’s planning) as the sun’s position in the sky is often different in the summer than other times of year.
Do you have an area of your garden that’s near a tree? Tree roots are very efficient at taking nutrients and water from the soil. If part of your garden is in a section near a tree, you will need to plant shallow rooted plants that tolerate some shade there. Make sure you enrich that soil a few weeks before planting with manure/compost for best success.
Gardening Advice Tip: Are there sections of your garden that are near a fence or building? These make good wind breaks for tall or large leaved plants that are susceptible to damage from windy storms.
Are there sections of your garden that are near stone or brick outcroppings/walls? Stone and brick will hold heat. If planned properly, this can help you with plants that tend to like a slightly warmer climate than you have in your area. The bricks/stone pick up the heat from the sun during the day, and release it at night… keeping the temperature and soil in that immediate area more constant and warmer than surrounding areas. (This is known as a microclimate). Also, keep in mind that cold-season vegetables will not be happy in the heat of summer in these garden locations.
Measure your garden
Measure your garden space, so that you can accurately plan your row lengths, spacing between rows, and how much seed you’ll need to buy (or you may order more seed than you need!)
Selecting Your Vegetable Varieties
Pick your vegetables based on what you know your family will eat, and based on your climate conditions/growing zone. Most plants should have a particular variety that will grow in your area, but it may require a little research on your part.
Here's a list of detailed information about vegetables commonly grown in gardens: vegetable list
When planning the size of your crop for each plant, take into consideration your family’s usage and your storage space/options. For example, if you don’t have (or don’t wish to have) a canner, a freezer or a dehydrator – you may wish to keep your crop small with staggered plantings over the summer. This way you’ll have only as much as your family will eat for the summer. An overabundance of vegetables from the garden can be a burden, if you’re not prepared to store them.
On that note, if you a have a bountiful season, you may consider sharing with your neighbors (a great community building exercise!) or donating extras to your local church’s food pantry!
Gardening Advice Tip: Try to pick vegetables that mature over different parts of the growing season, or you may be overwhelmed with more harvest at once than you can possibly process.
Testing the pH Level of Your Garden Plot
Each plant type has a favorite pH level range, where it will grow best, be healthiest (less affected by plant diseases and insects), and will produce the highest crop yield for you. You will want to make sure that you've prepared the garden beds so that they're at the right pH level for those plants to thrive for you.
A pH soil test is a very simple and inexpensive process. You can purchase a soil testing kit (inexpensively) at any garden supply center. Plan to test your garden soils every 3 years.
For more information, review: Soil testing for pH level
Diagramming Your Garden Plot
Sketch out your garden plot – planning the rows, spaces between plants, and spaces between rows. Plan paths for the drip hoses or watering hoses, etc. Keep the pattern of your garden simple. Elaborate paths can create more headaches than you want (unless you're a very experienced gardener).
Keep your path intersections at right angles. There is a little advantage gained in having your rows run north and south, when possible, as the rows then will receive an equal amount of sunshine on both sides. However, in the grand scheme of things, the lay of your garden plot is more important to your success than north-south running rows. (For example, if you're gardening on a slope, you don't want your rows so that they run up and down the hill... but rather across the face of the hill, for better water management.)
Determine which plants you want in each section. When planning this, consider the climate information you gathered above. Also, you may consider companion gardening. Companion planting will help you make the most of your garden space, minimize insects, and maximize your plants’ health. Some plants will thrive when planted together, while some will actually stunt each other’s growth. Companion planting also allows consideration for plants that chase away insects planted near ones that tend to be insect prone.
Gardening Advice Tip: Plant your tall crops on the north side of your garden, if possible, to avoid shading the rest of the garden.
If you are planting in a garden that was used the previous year, be sure to rotate your crops. This means, do not plant your annual crops in the same garden layout as last year. The reasoning for this:
- Moving your plants around the garden from season to season will help keep plant diseases and insects that enjoy certain species from getting “well” established in your garden.
- All plants affect the soil, by what natural chemicals they release into the soil, and by what natural chemicals they take (or need) from the soil. Rotating your crops helps replenish or equalize the soil chemistry in your garden.
Of course, rotating your crops refers only to your annual plants. Perennials in your garden (like rhubarb, horseradish, asparagus) should be planted in “out of the way” spaces that can stay for years.
Also, certain plants are picky about being planted in garden beds used previously by other plant families. Be sure to check the information on each vegetable when deciding how to rotate your garden crop for the new season. Garden vegetable list.
Note: the advice and information contained herein is based upon our experience and study. As with any advice, please apply at your own discretion.