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Time to Plan[t]

A good plan is the first step in establishing a healthy home vegetable garden. Planning includes selecting your site; deciding on the size and style of your garden; choosing which vegetables to plant; and then planning the layout of your garden.

I definitely recommend keeping notes! It's very helpful from year-to-year to remember those good-performing vegetable varieties and to learn from all your successes and failures.

Choose Your Spot

  • Choose a place where the soil is loose, rich, level, and well-drained.

  • Do not choose low areas where water stands or the soil stays wet. Vegetables will not grow in poorly drained areas.

  • Vegetables need sunlight to grow well. Do not plant where buildings, trees or shrubs will shade the garden. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.

  • Do not plant vegetables under the branches of large trees or near shrubs because they rob vegetables of food and water.

  • Plant the garden near a water supply if possible. Water is important especially during long dry periods and when planting seeds.

How Big?

Making the garden too large is one of the most common mistakes of enthusiastic, first-time gardeners. A garden that is too large will be too much work. When determining the size of your garden, consider these factors:

  • Available room. For apartment dwellers, the garden may be a planter box or containers. In a suburban or rural area, however, there may be plenty of ground space for a garden.

  • Available time. If the only time you have for gardening is after work or school, or on weekends, there may not be enough time to care for a large garden.

  • Family size. If gardening is a family activity, a large space can be cared for. A larger family also can use more vegetables.

  • Reason for gardening. If the garden is purely a recreational activity, a container or a small bed garden may be enough. If you want to grow vegetables for canning or freezing, a bigger area is needed.

  • Types of vegetables to be grown. Some vegetables take a lot of room. Most need at least 3 feet of space between rows. If you want to plant ten rows of vegetables, the garden must be 30 feet wide.

What to Grow?

Consider the following points in selecting vegetables:

  • Space available. Do not plant watermelons in a small garden. They take up too much room. Other vine crops such as cucumbers and cantaloupes can be grown in small gardens by trellising them on a fence some other structure.

  • Expected production from the crop. The smaller the garden, the more important it is to get high production from each row. Small, fast-maturing crops such as radishes, turnips, and beets yield quickly and do not require much space. Tomatoes, bush beans, squash, and peppers require more space but produce over a long season.

  • Cost of vegetables if purchased. Plant vegetables that are expensive to buy at the grocery store. Broccoli is usually one of the more expensive vegetables that can be grown in most home gardens. I was able to freeze enough broccoli to last the winter.

  • Food value of vegetables. All vegetables are good, but some are more nutritious than others. Grow different kinds of vegetables to put more variety in your diet. Always aim for a colorful plate!

  • Personal preference. Grow vegetables your family likes to eat. This is especially important if the garden is purely for recreation or personal enjoyment.

Your Garden Plan

Arrange vegetables in a way that makes the most efficient use of space and light. Group tall vegetables such as okra, corn, and tomatoes together on the north side of the garden where they won’t shade shorter vegetables such as bush beans. Also, group vegetables according to maturity. This makes it easier to replant after removing an early crop such as lettuce or beets.

Make a drawing to show the location and spacing of vegetables in the garden.

Plant vine crops (cucumber, pole beans, squash) near a fence or trellis if possible.

If there are perennials, such as asparagus, berries, or certain herbs, keep them on an edge of the garden that does not get tilled or in a separate garden.

From my experience, some vegetables are easier to grow from starter plants purchased at a greenhouse, like tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage to name a few. These are the kind of things you will learn and take note of.

Below is a simple garden plan.

Once it's final, keep it for reference in your journal and especially for revising the following year.

Timing Your Plantings

Vegetables are divided into two general groups—warm season and cool season. Cool-season crops can stand lower temperatures; plant them before the soil warms in the spring. They also can be planted in late summer to harvest after the first frost in the fall.

Warm-season crops cannot tolerate frost and will not grow when the soil temperature is cool. Plant them after the last frost in the spring and early enough to mature before frost in the fall.

A small starter garden could simply be a salsa garden to grow every ingredient for your recipe.

One of our goals every year is to make and can our own salsa.

How Much to Plant?

Some vegetables produce more than others so fewer plants will be needed. The amount to plant depends on family size, expected production, and whether or not you plan to do any freezing or canning. If you do have an excess of vegetables many food pantries will take your extra produce.

"There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments."

- Janet Kilburn Phillips

Here’s to a great growing season!

— Michelle Boehmke

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