Garden Planning

It’s almost Ground Hog Day, so Spring must be just around the corner – and along with it, the biggest planting season of the year. For many gardeners in the country, it may be the ONLY planting of the year. No wonder we get excited, counting the days until spring. Although you still have to wait to put those spring seeds and seedlings in the ground, you don’t have to let the winter winds keep you idle. You have a garden to plan!

If your garden consists of a few pots on your patio, a garden plan is not that important to you. But if you have a roomy backyard and feel industrious, planning your garden is a good idea.

First, you need to assess how much room you want to allocate to your garden. If you plan to make raised beds, how big will they be and how many will you have? Knowing these things will help you decide how much you can plant.

You also need to note what areas of your yard receive the most sunlight and whether it is morning or afternoon light (or both). Does your garden area get shade at any part of the day? Some plants need full sun for eight or more hours a day. Other plants can handle a little shade or are unable to bear hot summer sun all day. Knowing this will help you decide which plants will grow in your garden.

Now comes the fun part – perusing all those beautiful seed catalogs you’ve received! As you go through the catalogs, make a wish list of all the fruits and veggies you want to grow that are suitable for your hardiness zone and garden conditions. Include on your list the plant’s sun requirements and spacing.

The final step before you order from your wish list is deciding what will be planted where and how much seed you will need. For that, you need to create an actual garden plan. Don’t worry. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. It’s just a simple map of your garden.

There are software programs you can buy to help you with this, but I think a simple Excel spreadsheet works just fine. I use a spreadsheet as though it were graph paper. If you choose to use Excel, first determine what your scale is (for me, every cell equals six inches); then draw out your garden plot or raised beds by outlining the cells representing the measurements. If you have raised beds or separate plots, number them. It will make it easier when you are making notes in your garden journal. Be sure to save this map, or empty garden plan, as a template so you won’t have to recreate it each year.

Now, take a look at that wish list of yours and compare it to your garden map. Be mindful of sunlight requirements and how much space an individual plant needs. Also, to ease next year’s planning (when you consider crop rotation), plan to grow plants from the same family in the same area or bed.

Here are some common crops by family:

BRASSICAS: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, radishes, kale, arugula

LEGUMES: beans, peas

NIGHTSHADES: eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers

ALLIUMS: onions, garlic, shallots, chives, leeks

CARROT FAMILY: carrots, parsnips, celery, fennel, cilantro, parsley, dill

CUCURBITS: summer & winter squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkin

GOOSEFOOT FAMILY: Swiss chard, spinach, beets

MISCELLANEOUS: fruit, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, basil, lettuce, endive, escarole, cress, artichoke, corn (which is actually a grain), asparagus, okra, chicory

Once you have your template created, enter the name of the crop in the place you want to plant it. You may have to rearrange crops a time or two before you get it the way you want it. When you have finalized your plan, choose a color for each plant family, then highlight each plot or bed the color of the family that plant belongs to. (Again, this will make things easier when you’re planning next year’s garden.) Then save your garden plan with the planting season and year.

Finally, look at the spacing requirements of each plant and determine how many plants can grow in the space you allocated for it. That will tell you how much seed to order. I order twice as many seeds as the plants I want. Some don’t germinate, some die before they mature, etc.

Okay, you may be thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot,” but don’t be overwhelmed. It’s pretty easy once you have your garden plot or beds mapped out. Here’s how I do it.

I have 14  raised beds in my yard, numbered accordingly. One is a berry bed, so nothing changes in that bed. No need to plan. One has asparagus in half the bed, and the other half is open for planting. I plant only in the spring in that half bed. So, the big deal is my other 12 beds.

My template in Excel maps out my 12 beds to the exact size – seven beds are 4′ x 8′ and five are 4′ x 9.5′. Because we have three planting seasons here (winter, spring, fall) and I use crop rotation, I make it easy on myself by planting one type of crop per bed as much as possible.

To show you how I mapped out my winter garden this year, here’s my plan at a scale of one cell per one foot of space. (Please note that the 4′ x 9.5′ beds are shown as 4′ x 10′ on this diagram.)

Winter Garden Plan 2013

Winter Garden Plan 2013

That’s it. Simple, isn’t it? So, go get your laptop, your seed catalogs, and a cup of tea or hot chocolate and make your plan. After all, spring will be here before you know it!

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