Vegetable Garden Planning

comments (2) December 27th, 2009

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I always start gardening in January - curled up by the woodstove, with a nice cup of tea and a pile of seed catalogs. Since what I’d like to grow always exceeds the available space, careful planning is a must. I also rotate my crops, so I need to keep track of what was planted where last year. If you’re just starting out with your garden, or if you would like to make better use of your space, maybe my experience can help you plan your own gardens.

Plant Rotation
Rotation is important for the health of the soil and the vigor of the plants. Many plant diseases are specific to one family of plants, so by planting different types of plants from year to year you can prevent that disease from taking hold.

Another reason for rotation is the amount of nutrients that a plant takes. Some vegetables, peas and beans for example, actually feed the soil. Their roots have the ability to make nitrogen more available to other plants. Others, like corn and broccoli are what’s known as heavy feeders, they will deplete the soils nutrition.

Maximize Growing Capacity
I garden intensively. This means that I make the absolute best use of the space all year long. I do this both by interplanting and with succession planting. I plant an early crop like peas, followed in the same bed by a later crop such as melons. I can put the melons in before the peas are done, knowing that they will be out by the time the melons need the space.

I may also interplant lettuce with the peas, basil with the tomatoes, carrots with spinach, and so on. This way I have something growing in the almost every bed year round.

Getting Down to Basics
As far as the planning goes, some of the steps I take only have to be done once, such as drawing the garden, and are reused every year. Others are done from scratch each time.

I start with a list of what I want to grow. For me this includes not only the type of plant (tomato, bean, carrot) but the variety (Big Beef, Nickel, Bolero, etc). I know from experience how much space I need for each crop, and how many plants I can get in a bed, but this information is readily available to beginners in books and seed catalogs.

Next, I look at what was planted in the beds last year. After doing this year after year, I finally decided to create a three-year plan for each bed. That way I can just plug in the various plants into their assigned beds. Not everyone bothers with rotation, you can simplify it by only worrying about rotating if you had a problem the year before.

The rotation is based on plant families, not individual species. For example, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are all Solanaceas. So if you are going to rotate plants, you wouldn’t want to follow tomatoes, for example, with peppers, though it's OK to plant them together. If you had a disease problem, avoid planting the same family in that bed for at least three years.

Looking at my rotation plan, I now assign each crop to a bed. Knowing the approximate maturity dates of each variety I am planting, I can determine where I can interplant or where I can have two or more successions.

The last thing I do is to list all the plants in order of start date. Some of the seeds will be started indoors and transplanted; these will have two dates listed - seed starting and transplanting. The remainder of are direct-seeded.

The Real Gardening Begins
After that I just start following the list, starting seeds once or twice a month between January and April. When the weather warms up and the beds dry out a bit, I'll start things warm season crops, and prepare beds for later crops.

My garden doesn't always go as planned, of course. Sometimes I start something later than I wanted to, or forget it altogether. Some seeds don't germinate, or fail to thrive after planting. Sometimes I have to buy replacement plants, other times I just do without that particular vegetable. If that leaves me with an empty bed or part of one, I'll just plant some quick-growing crop like lettuce or coriander.

Not everyone I know plans as extensively as I do, and many of them have very successful gardens, so don't let all this talk scare you. You can always do what my neighbor Joe does - go out and buy a bunch of seed packets that look interesting, sprinkle seeds in various beds or rows, water and wait. Nature is quite capable or taking care of itself.

Learn more about crop rotation...

posted in: Garden Planning, crop rotation, new garden

Comments (2)

AlanWilkins writes: impressive
Posted: 1:59 am on May 29th
bevflowers writes: This is my third year of gardening and I am wondering when I should expect to be able to harvest peas. I started them outside in April in a raised bed, have trellising for them to grow up, have watered and fertilized regulary. At this time they are about two to three inches high and i live in Zone 5. I have tried the past two years to get a good crop of peas but have disappointed so far. Am I doing this right? Should my plants be higher than this by now? Just panicking I plan to use the center of this raised bed for beans which I will be planting soon.

Posted: 10:52 am on April 30th
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