Planning your garden!

Holy cow!!! I am doing so much planning right now at the farm and I’d like to share my process with you! Over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of posts about the different parts of planning a garden.

This week I will be writing about the first stage of effective garden planning:

The Layout

In order to know the varieties and quantities of plants to grow we will need to take a big picture look at our garden plan.

Important questions to start with:

How big will your garden be? – Literally how many square feet do you have to work with? Decide where you want it and if it will all be contained to one area. Here on the farm we have our annuals together in the fields, our perennials in a bed closer to the house and the hot house plants/winter greens in a greenhouse behind the main field. Be accurate, go measure each space and write it down.

What are the current conditions of the space?- Is it garden ready? Do you have plans for expansion? What is the soil like? How many hours of sun? Is there a water source near by? What is in the space directly around the garden?

What are your garden goals?- Why do you want a garden? For you? For friends and family? To make money? What vegetables are you especially interested in growing? Do you want to do any freezing or canning? How many hours per week do you have to spend working in the garden? Do you want to grow organically?

Now that you have a bit of a better idea what you want and what you have available – lets do up a a garden sketch. Grab some paper, a pencil and a ruler. Start out with a sketch of the space(s) and the current layout. It will make everything quite a bit easier if you do your drawing to scale. Include an arrow showing North, the direction of your water source and anything nearby that might affect the garden. After all that you are ready to draw in any beds or features you plan on adding. It’s important to remember to leave space for harvesting, weeding and getting around with your garden tools. Also make sure to choose a bed size that will mean the least work for you. All my garden beds are the same width as the implements for my walk behind tractor (~30″) – meaning I only have to do a single pass down the bed to hit the entire soil surface. I also like my beds to be small enough that I can step over them, this is important when your beds start getting over 100 feet long.

Your sketch should be looking like a beautiful mostly blank canvas of a garden at this point. Use this sketch to determine the amount of available square feet for this seasons plantings. If you can this is a good time to scan your sketch so you can make copies, tryout different plans and use it for next year’s planning.

At this point I like to draw in a rough idea of what will go where. It is a good idea to think about companion planting when you are planning out your garden. You can take a look at this chart to see which plants are compatible and which are combative. These allotments will change slightly once we have calculated the exact amount of space needed for each type of plant, but it helps me decide on my priority plants. It also allows me to roughly plan out my irrigation. You can use a scaled drawing like the one below to order a custom irrigation setup from Dubois Ag. They are really helpful if you have any questions about what sort of irrigation you need.

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Here is an example sketch.

For the large garden I like to do up my garden plan in excel so I can flip to it easily when I’m looking through my Master Charts.

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Here is a rough idea of what the garden at the farm will look like this season.

Now, there are a few things you can do if you would like to take your planning to the next level – and I mean… who wouldn’t, right?

You can print off a couple copies of your base garden sketch to use to record extra details. Grab one copy and label each bed (numerically, alphabetically or with themed names.. however you want!). This will help you keep track of each bed’s history and general conditions. On a separate piece of paper, or on the back of your labeled sketch, write down the soil quality, drainage and light conditions of each bed. Now you can take a look at your rough plan and see if your original choices make sense. Are your fruit producing plants in the sunniest areas? Are the root vegetables in a spot with deep loose soil? This part can be tedious but it become easier each year as your experience help you to better understand the preferred growing conditions of each plant. For the most part veggies like lots of sun and regular watering.

If you have been using this garden space over the last couple years you should also use a few copies to show what you were growing where each year. You can use this map to make sure that you will be rotating crops properly this year and decide if you might want to rest a section of the garden in cover-crop. Don’t worry an in-depth post on crop rotation is on it’s way! For now I’ll just say that you want to make sure you are moving your groups of plants to a new section of garden each year (or rotating them around the garden). This will help to prevent build up of plant specific pests and be easier on your soil.

Another pro planning trick is to add in plants that will protect your main crops. This could be flowers to attract pollinators, plants that repel certain pests, plants that attract certain pests away from your crops or plants that will provide ground cover to keep weeds at bay. You guessed it – I’ll be writing up a post on organic methods of pest control to give you some ideas!

Alright, now you should have an idea of your garden layout. It’s time to plan and prepare for the next step: creating a super handy spread sheet to help you figure out average consumption, yield, bed space needed and seeds needed. Next week I’ll be posting about this and sharing my Master Planning Chart with you!

This week you should be thinking about what plants you want in the garden and how much of each you would like. Start to flesh out those garden goals so that you can plan the garden that will make you the happiest!

As always feel free to contact me with questions or share to your garden planning adventures!!

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