When starting a vegetable garden, it’s important to set up a garden plan in advance so you end up with a bountiful harvest. Create a plan every year to help you decide what to grow, how much of each vegetable you need and where you will put each one. Knowing where the sun and shade fall in your garden is a place to start. As your plants grow, the taller varieties can provide shade for the more tender ones that need less exposure.
The row size is key to making sure that your plants are going to have the resources they need to thrive – sun, water, air. You don’t want them competing for essential elements of the garden otherwise you may end up with plants that don’t reach their full potential. How you space your plants is important for a successful garden, but so is how you space your actual beds. You should allow 2’ of space between your beds. This leaves you enough room to walk and work while also conserving as much space as possible for your actual beds. An ideal width is no more than 4’ wide so you can reach the middle to pull weeds and pick vegetables.
What to Grow
Decide what kind of vegetables you and your family like to eat and make a list. Look at each one online or head to your local plant nursery to make sure they can grow in your area. Some vegetables like to be started indoors and then transplanted to your garden while others like to be sown directly into the ground. Either way, the seeds or seedlings should be planted after the last frost date in early April. Also, some vegetables work well when planted together so knowing those combinations is helpful.
Next, find out the number of days until harvest and make sure you have adequate weather conditions for your vegetables to mature enough to be picked.
Now, you can refine your list by maturity size, light requirements, spacing needs and hydration needs.
Here are some great instructions from Garden Therapy on how to set up your garden plan:
Measure your vegetable garden and draw a garden map to scale 1″ representing 1′ in the garden. Draw in any obstacles that you will have to contend with like posts, irrigation heads, or other structures you need to work within the garden.
Label north on the map and watch the sun over the course of a few days to get a sense of what the light will be like. Remember that the sun in the summer and fall will be in different positions in the sky. Trees will leaf out and create shade, buildings may create more or less shade as the sun moves.
Now Add Plants to Your Garden
Use a pencil so you can easily move plants to new spaces or add more. Our vegetable garden is a small area that has four planters, two on the ground and two in the sky in a vertical planting system. To determine what plants went into the beds I looked at the location and amount of shade. I planned for root vegetables and plants with deep roots in the two beds that are on the ground. Shallow rooted plants when in the upper planters. I also make sure to note vertical vegetables such as tomatoes or peas. They will need additional support and may eventually cause shade to lower growing plants later in the season.
Finally, put pen to paper and mark the final location of your vegetables. This plan may change as the season goes by. Mark those changes, and anything that you noticed throughout the year right on your garden map. It will be a great starting point for next year, and a memento of your garden for years to come.
Make sure you put your map somewhere for safe keeping. Make notes on what worked and what didn’t work so you can plan again better next year. Saving your map for future reference can be an immense help!
You may also want to consider crop rotation for your garden. Plants that belong to the same family tend to use the same nutrients in the soil. Planting the same vegetables year after year in the same area can deplete the soil. Similar plant families include alliums, Solanaceae, brassica, cucurbit, and legume families. When doing your planting research, make a note of what family it belongs to. Keeping your map is especially helpful in keeping track of crop rotation year after year.Garden Therapy
- Start with the most tender plants. Reserve the best sunny spots in your garden for them first. South facing walls can be particularly good for providing the heat that these plants like in order to produce an abundant harvest.
- Next add the roaming plants that like to send out vines – melon, squash etc. Situate them at the edge of your vegetable beds so their broad leaves don’t cover your other plants.
- After that, place anything that grows on a trellis – peas, beans, squash, cucumbers – where they won’t shade other vegetables. However, since it gets very hot here in Virginia Beach in the summer, you can use this shade to plant spring crops such as lettuce and spinach can benefit from shade in the heat of the day.
Other Things to Consider
- Water: Some plants need a lot of water such as beans, peas, sweet potatoes and corn and can be planted in areas that are slightly lower as those areas will retain more moisture. Otherwise, plan to water your garden everyday.
- Access: Some vegetables will be harvested on a regular basis, such as herbs and vegetables you like to eat the most, so plant those near your kitchen or at least somewhere you can get to easily.
- Space: Remember to consider the mature size of your plants in order to space them correctly when planting. They look so small as seedlings but will grow and can overcrowd.
Set up a garden plan in order to get the best results from your efforts. Decide what you want to eat, research how to grow those vegetables and determine the optimal use of your space in order to get the highest yield from your vegetable plants. Happy gardening!
How to Plan a Vegetable Garden: A Step-by-Step Guide
6 Things to Consider When Planning a Vegetable Garden
Designing the Vegetable Garden: How to Make a Garden Map