From my own garden plans, two of my raised beds with plans for greens, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

In our Gardening 101 series, we’ve talked about a lot of different things so far… how to select seeds for better success, growing herbs, gardening based on where you live, square foot gardening.

I know that the process of planning what and how much and when and where to plant everything can be one of the most daunting aspects of gardening. It’s a place where a lot of people get stuck. They’ve got an idea of things they’d like to grow, they know where the garden will be, they’ve bought some seeds, but now what?

In this two part series, I’m going to walk you through the process of planning out an actual garden— my own. I’m going to show you the steps I take, how I make my decisions, what the plans look like, and how those plans translate into simple steps that I can follow through with.

It’s all about taking theories and concepts, and turning them into vegetables on your plate. Sounds good, right?

Step 1: What do you want to grow?

Based upon my family’s preferences and foods that I like to preserve, these are the foods I most want to grow, listed in order of priority:

Your list might look quite different, but from #1-19, these are the veggies that matter to me most (I know, I’m not exactly a minimalist, am I?). I’ll tell you right now that I don’t have as much space in my garden as I have veggies on my wishlist. So I make compromises, but I’ll get to that in a little while.

For now, make a list of the veggies that most matter to you (or fruit, if that’s something you want in your garden- I grow just a few things, like some raspberry canes and a rhubarb plant). Do it based on what your family eats the most, on what costs the most where you live, on vegetables that you want to buy organic but can’t afford (the Dirty Dozen comes in handy here), on the things that you think taste the best when they’re garden fresh, etc.

Step 2: How much do you want to grow?

Personally, I like to grow enough to eat freely throughout the harvest season, with as much extra for preserving as possible. At this point, with only a small-ish backyard garden, I certainly don’t expect to put enough nearly food up to keep us going through the winter (though it is surprising how much can be grown in a small space).

There are a lot of charts out there that tell you how much you need to grow to feed a family of 4. They’re usually based on rows, which I don’t find very helpful (although some do show how many plants per row, and the yield, which is slightly more useful).

I find the info in the book Square Foot Gardening gives a good general guide for determining how much room I need. He writes about how many 4×4 ft blocks (or 16 square feet) you need to feed fresh produce to 2 people (2-4 blocks, depending how much you eat and the variety you want), 4 people (4-6 blocks), and then additional space for preserving.

I have 86.5 sq ft in raised beds, another 38 sq ft in the ground, a garbage can for my potatoes and a bunch of containers for my raspberries. My 130+ square feet equals about 8 4×4 ft blocks. According to the Square Foot calculations I should be able to grow enough to feed us well during harvest months, plus have some to preserve. I would agree that the space I have will allow us to do just that.

The so-so garden location behind the shed, where I'm growing my year's worth of garlic, plus all of my peas along some chicken wire on the side of the shed, plus a rhubarb plant.

Ultimately, I find that it’s easiest to just guess-timate how much our family eats and plan to plant in accord with those numbers. Here are some of my own examples:

  • Cucumbers (slicing)- 2-3 large or 5-6 small per week
  • Tomatoes- 6-8 small or 3-5 large per week, and a bowlful of cherry toms
  • Zucchini- 1-4 per week (totally depends how we’re using them)
  • Carrots- 5-10 per week (depends on size, if they’re baby ones we’ll eat way more)

With this in mind, here’s what I might plan:

  • Cucumbers (slicing)- 5-6 plants (they grow slowly where we live, but if you live somewhere hot you might need a couple less plants for the same yield)
  • Tomatoes- 2-3 regular plants, plus a cherry tomato plant
  • Zucchini- 1 plant is probably enough (because they reproduce just like bunnies :)
  • Carrots- We start harvesting them around June/July, so I’ll plant 8 carrots for each week of the summer from that point on. If I planted 112, that would do us through about 14 weeks of summer (mid-June to end of September). I would want to stagger my planting over 4-6 weeks so they’re not all ready at once.

Notice that I haven’t taken preserving into account yet. If I want to also preserve zucchini in addition to eating it fresh, for example, I will grow 2 plants instead of 1, so that I can shred and freeze a lot for the winter. I like to can and dehydrate about 60-100 lbs of tomatoes each summer, so I’ll want another 8-10 plants purely for preserving purposes.

Now your next step is to take your list from Step 1, and either based on your own gardening experience or these links, jot down beside each vegetable how much you might need to grow to get what you want.

In this snapshot of part of my garden, I'm growing 12 tomato plants, 2-4 for fresh eating and the rest for preserving. 8 cucumbers plants, half for eating and half for pickling. There are also mini red bell peppers, basil and melons as well.

Planning Your Own Garden

If you’re wondering how I made these awesome garden planning images, it’s this new site I just discovered called GrowVeg.com. Basically it is a garden planning software. You use it’s tools to draw up a map of your yard or garden, as close to scale as possible (you can be quite precise with it), and then you drag and drop the specific crops that you want to grow. You can pull them larger to make rows or blocks of the same crops, you can label them as specific varieties (like my 6 different tomato varieties), and all sorts of other customizations. It shows you the spacing that each plant needs, and give you sowing and harvest dates (which are based on weather stations near your home, so they’re fairly accurate).

I’m using their 30-day free trial at the moment (a one-year subscription is $25, 2 years is $40). I haven’t quite decided if I want to go ahead and subscribe but so far I’m pretty impressed, and I’ll show you more of how this can be a helpful tool in the next post. I am an affiliate, so if you go ahead and purchase through my links I make a small commission, which helps me to keep this site running (so thanks!).

In the next post, I’ll continue to walk you through translating those numbers of what you desire to grow and harvest into the space that you actually have available, and then some tips on how to arrange it all in a way that works.

What are your biggest challenges in planning your garden?

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