Garden planning for a vegetable garden doesn't have to be stressful - in fact, many gardeners would say it's one of their favorite parts of gardening! Still, when you're new to gardening, planning it out can feel totally overwhelming. So many questions!
How much space do I need? Can I use containers? What should I plant and when? Which method should I use?
If you have a family member or a neighbor who is experienced with gardening, then you have an excellent source of help! They can answer a lot of the questions you'll have during the process of planning and growing a garden.
Whether you have a gardening mentor or not, this post is the main resource you can use to get your garden planned!
Garden Planning for Beginners: How to Plan a Garden for Best Harvest
How much space do I need for a garden?
To determine how large of a garden you'll need to feed your family, a good rule is 50 sq feet per person. You can have this in a traditional row garden, in raised beds, in containers, or in any combination you choose. If you want or need more space, or have less space, make it that size! Growing some food is always better than growing no food.
Selecting a Site When Garden Planning
Sun exposure is critical to planning a productive vegetable garden. Vegetables need at least 6 hours of full sun every day. Many of the more common vegetables prefer 8 hours of full sun per day. If being planted in the ground, garden rows should run north to south to take full advantage of the sun.
Of course, not all veggies like full sun all day - tender plants, like lettuce, require some shade. I prefer to put them in raised beds or containers situated where they will receive some shelter from the sun during the heat of the day.
Most seed packages will tell you the sun requirement so consult those before putting any seeds in soil!
Soil Concerns When Garden Planning
Speaking of soil - it's the second-most important thing to consider when selecting a site. Vegetables prefer loamy, well-drained soil. If you are not sure about the quality of your soil, you can pick up a cheap soil test at most garden centers.
There are some more extensive tests available online or at your local cooperative extension office - just do a quick web search. Testing your soil isn’t necessary, but it can be a way to help your garden produce more.
Beds and/or container methods of gardening have an edge here because it's easier to control the soil quality. You can simply purchase quality, organic soil at your local garden center or farm supply store and poof! Perfect soil.
Enriching soil is a process, but should be considered in the garden planning phase. For the first time gardener the fastest way to start producing some of your food is to add compost or quality topsoil to the existing soil. Some folks choose to use an organic fertilizer the first year as well.
To enrich our soil, we add compost from our compost pile and worm castings from our worm bed every spring before we plant!
In the fall, we let our chickens clean up the garden. The chickens “till” the garden, aerating the soil, and they fertilize it with their manure.
We also add worms and mulch to the garden to maintain a 4-6”layer of mulch. In the winter, we use cover crops, mainly buckwheat, to feed green manure to the soil. If you know someone who has cows, you could add their manure directly to your garden or your compost pile.
Never place your garden or raised bed near a tree or it’s above ground root system. The tree will steal nutrients from the vegetables and put too much shade on the garden.
If you have garden pests like deer, coons, or rabbits, selecting a spot near your house MAY help discourage them from nibbling your harvest. That said, deer and rabbit have eaten vegetables in containers right off my porch. I have found a single strand electric fence does wonders. They seem to smell the electricity and avoid it!
Planning For Water Needs
Deciding how you will meet the water needs of the plants is a vital part of planning a vegetable garden. Our choice is to catch rainwater and use soaker hoses. Vegetables require at least 2 inches of water a week. Some require 3-4 inches a week - this includes bell peppers and watermelons.
I have found it’s especially helpful to have a soaker hose system in my raised beds since they require more watering. We wait to put the soaker system in place - once the plants are large enough to mulch, that's our sign! Until then, we use rainwater to meet the water needs.
The Gardening Tools You Actually Need
There a few basic gardening tools every gardener ought to have:
Of course, the type of garden you are planning may make some of these unnecessaryfor your situation. For instance, if you are going all raised beds and/or containers, you wouldn’t need a tiller, a hoe, or maybe even a broadcaster.
For my raised beds and containers,I use hand size versions of these tools. If I were going to say which areas you should not skimp on, it would be tools and quality seeds.
And the one tool every gardener should absolutely have, no matter where they garden, is a garden journal!
You can use something as simple as a composition notebook (and be sure to use a pencil!). In your journal,draw out your garden space and then graph where you will place each plant in the garden.When you actually start planting, make any changes to the original graph.
Also, keep your seed receipts stapled to the garden graph for that year. Making notes will remind you of what did well and where, what you enjoyed and didn’t enjoy, and will also help in crop rotation.
The When & What Of Garden Planning
You will need to know the dates of the first and last frost in your area. Since the dates in the almanac are approximate, keep a watchful eye on local weather when planning your seed starting dates and in ground planting dates.
Plant too soon and you lose the crop, plant too late and you may lose the crop. Don’t let this alarm you, nature is designed to give us clear warning and prep time! But do keep the frost dates in mind.
It’s important to find a seed company you feel confident in and enjoy supporting them with your business! If you order seeds, place your order as soon as you can. Due to the increased demand for seeds, I recently had to make three alternative choices for things I wanted to plant!
Many people buy all their seeds at their local farm and garden supply store - if you do this, build a relationship! These relationships will become a valuable resource for you.
Which Vegetables Should I Plant?
Most vegetables yield multiple crops per season which provides enough for your family, for preserving, and for sharing. Some of those are beans, peas, okra, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, watermelon and cantaloupe!
For the first time gardener, I always suggest easy to grow and popular fruits and vegetables such as:
- Lettuce - pick it and thin it; it regrows until it’s too hot for it; then it will bolt and go to seed
- Tomatoes - very high yielding; pick them when ripe; they re-bloom and keep making and making
- Zucchini squash - these are super productive, trust me! Pick when ripe, they keep making
- Peppers - any variety you want; very productive; I have 5 varieties this year; treat like tomatoes and zucchini
- Beans - any variety you like; we plant at least 3 varieties; pick when pods are full and thick; theyKeep making as long as you pick them
- Peas -any variety your family enjoys; pick when pods are full; they keep making as long as you pick them until they have finished their cycle; for most varieties, this is the end of summer
- Yellow squash – just like zucchini
- Watermelon – they put off more than one fruit at a time
And one final piece of advice - when planning, use flowers! Marigolds, nasturtiums, and zinnias mixed in to the rotation help discourage some predators and insects, plus they add a little splash of color.
You now have some of the basics of garden planning, so what are you waiting for? Go get vegetable gardening!
You might also enjoy:
- A Beginner’s Guide to Container Gardening with Herbs
- Simple DIY Raised Garden Beds
- Back to Eden Gardening Set-Up Checklist