“Proper planning and preparation prevent poor performance.” Stephen Keague
This was the plan I drew up for my garden last year.
It was a bit ambitious, I must admit. But with the world shut down due to a pandemic and me working remotely, I had some extra time to think about what I wanted to grow in my 2020 pandemic garden.
I’m not a doomsday prepper by any means, but what I saw going on in the world concerned me.
People were swarming the grocery stores, buying up everything—hoarding toilet paper, flour, yeast, water, and tortillas.
I have to admit, that worried me. I have children. I need to provide for them.
Instinct took over, and with the future looking a little sketchy, I knew I wanted to grow enough to preserve and can food for the winter. So I increased my garden's size to produce enough produce for what I wanted to preserve.
When planning your garden, you have to consider how much space you have and how much time you have (and want) to invest in your garden.
If you’re reading this, why are you thinking about starting a garden?
Do you want to grow enough to preserve foods for winter? Or do you want a little container garden on your deck, so you clip fresh herbs while cooking, or pluck a few juicy cherry tomatoes off the vine for your salad?
Understanding the purpose of your garden will help you with your planning and save you time and money.
What Type of Garden Do you Want to Grow?
I’ve used two different strategies for planning my gardens. Row planting or by the square foot.
There’s no set in stone best-way garden design. It all depends on the space you have and the amount of produce you want to harvest.
1. Plot Gardening
A plot garden or cottage/kitchen garden is planted directly into the ground in a plot of land. It can be as big or as little as you want it to be.
My plan above was a square foot garden. Last year, I took a more artistic approach and planned my garden in 8 individual 8x8 sq. ft beds—each with a specific name and purpose.
The first row of two beds, I called my “Root Beds.” These beds held my garlic, beets, red and yellow onions, horseradish, carrots, and leeks. I also planted red and green cabbage and strawberries because they are excellent companion plants for root type veggies.
The second row of two beds was my “Caprese Gardens.” Both beds grew Roma tomatoes surrounded by basil and Marigolds. Marigolds and basil are natural bug repellents and protect the tomatoes from pest invasion.
The third row of two beds was, on the left, my “Salad Garden,” where I grew all my lettuces, nasturtium, cucumbers, sunflowers, and catnip for the kitties. On the right was my “Salsa Garden” where I grew, you guessed it, Jalapenos, tomatillos, cilantro, garlic, red hot chili peppers (not those guys), and Hungarian hot wax peppers.
The last row of two beds was my “The Three Sisters Garden” on the left and my “Creeper Garden” on the right.
In my Three Sisters Garden, I grew corn, beans, and squash. A Three Sisters Garden is an ancient method of Native American gardening that I wanted to try.
In my creeper garden, I grew my unruly creepers. Zucchini, pumpkin, squash, and snap peas.
I also added a strip of heirloom tomatoes down the left side and eight rows of corn at the end.
Whether you plan to plant in rows or get fancy and design a square foot garden, plot gardening is best for larger areas and people who want prolifically producing gardens.
This is how my garden turned out according to my plan above.
2. Raised Bed or Garden Boxes
A raised bed garden refers to raising or elevating the garden up off the ground in garden boxes.
Raised beds are great for people who have smaller areas or have difficulty bending or stooping.
Pre-fabricated raised bed boxes are typically 6 to 8 inches high, 3 to 6 feet wide, and 6 to 8 feet long. You can find pre-fab kits at your local hardware stores and garden centers. As their name indicates, raised beds can be raised as high as you want them to go by placing them on bricks or blocks.
Planting your veggies and herbs in raised beds also give you easy access and accessibility for weeding and harvesting your produce.
You can also make homemade garden boxes out of wood or other materials.
3. Container Gardens
Container gardening is just like it sounds, growing plants in containers.
Container gardens are suitable for small spaces, decks, rooftops, and balconies where the other conditions are right.
Three important things to consider when deciding where to put your garden is the sun, water, and soil.
Look for a spot that gets at least six to eight hours of full sunlight a day. It’s best to plant gardens away from structures and trees that may cast shadows over the garden during the day.
Your garden should be near a water source. If it’s not possible to plant near a dependable water source, you can use rain barrels. Rain barrels collect rain that can then be diverted to the garden.
Rain barrels are only useful if you get a lot of rain, which we don’t in my area.
Whether you’re planting directly in the ground or garden boxes or containers, the soil in your garden should be a mixture of sand, silt, clay, and humus for optimum growth. An even mixture of these soils creates a rich, sandy loam for optimum growth.
You can read more about prepping your soil by clicking here for a great article written by Master Gardener Susan Paterson about the best soil type for your garden.
What Type of Vegetables Do You Want to Grow?
Make a list.
Make sure you are choosing veggies and herbs that grow in your zone.
Different areas have different annual minimum temperatures or anticipated frost dates. Knowing your zone when shopping for seeds and plants helps you pick plants that will grow in your area.
Below is a chart provided by the USDA that you can check to determine your hardiness zone. This chart shows you the average annual extreme minimum temperatures in your area.
This information is useful, so you know when it’s safe to plant outdoors — after the last frost, and when to get everything out of the garden — before the anticipated first frost.
Once you know your garden's location, size, and zone, and you have your list of plants, it’s time to plan.
How to Plan Your Garden
Designing a garden is so much fun.
You can draw it out on a graph or plain paper. Or you can use one of the many online planning apps. You can get fancy or keep it as simple as you want to.
Back in the day before apps, I used to plan my gardens on graph paper. Each square representing an increment of measurement.
If you’re drawing it out on graph paper, you will need to know how far apart to plant each plant and how far apart the rows need to be. This information can be found on the seed packet.
I created a quick reference guide to give you information on the best spacing for some commonly grown veggies and herbs. You can grab that here.
Garden Planning Apps
Things are so much easier today, and all that research can be done at the press of a button—information at your fingertips.
Today, I’ve graduated to using a garden planning app. The plan shown above was created in the Old Farmers Almanac Planner app.
I love this app because it tells you how far apart you must plant each plant and how far apart the rows should be when you list your plants.
It also gives you your anticipated plant in-ground and harvest dates, based on your zone.
The other great thing about this app is that it gives you information about each plant, good companion plants to grow well together, and what plants should not be planted together.
I could write an entire article about the ease and benefits of using this app. But that could potentially keep us here forever. So I encourage you to check it out. It’s a very user friendly
Cool Season Crops and Warm Season Crops
When selecting your veggies, keep in mind that each plant has a temperature classification, which will tell you what time of year that plant grows best in your area based on your zone.
Some plants such as broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, onions, beets, and radishes grow better in cooler temperatures. While tomatoes, peppers, corn, and squash need the heat.
There are many reasons to grow a garden other than just the reward of great healthy organic food.
Studies have shown that growing plants can have many of the same benefits as having a pet. It takes you out of yourself while you care for something else.
Growing a garden is good for you mentally, physically, and emotionally. And planning it well in advance will save you time when it’s time to plant.
K.L.Bennett is a mother of 6 awesome males, vegan, garden gypsy, music lover, photographer, avid reader, autodidact, Ninja Writer, Taurus in Menopause, seeker of peace.