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March 5, 2010 in gardening1 comment

planning your vegetable garden: deciding what to plant

part of a garden: peppers, rosemary, tomatoes

What’s going in your garden this year? If you don’t know yet, it’s time to put the remote down and get cracking. Super Bowl’s over. The Olympics are over. Time to moon over garden sketches and seed catalogs.

I know it’s almost a little late, but that’s why I’m doing this. So all you slackers like me can get into the garden just as quickly and efficiently as those horrible well-organized types who planned their garden in December and bought their seeds in January.

In this post, I’m going to tell you how to plan your garden and decide what to plant. And! There are future plans, oh yes. In the next days, we’ll be talking about what to plant from seed and what to buy as plants. We’ll talk about seed shopping. We’ll talk about seed starting. It’s a whole series thing.

mini-greenhouse from a salad container :)

One hint on the seed starting. Those salads you buy in the clear plastic containers? Keep those containers. You might be using them.

But! First things first. You don’t know what plants to buy/start if you don’t have a plan. Here’s what to do.

measure your space

Some of us have adorable little postage stamp spaces to garden in. Others of us have huge rectangles. And then there’s me, who wound up with a giant crooked triangle. Thanks, Dad. (No, really. He tills it for me. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.)

If you don’t know the dimensions you have to work with, get a tape measure or yardstick, get outside, and measure it. When you get back in — that was brisk, wasn’t it? — sketch out the outline of your garden in proportion. Use graph paper if you have it.

planning your garden: sketch it out

Or if you’re me, you drop a graph in Illustrator and anal-retentively draw your garden out in there with different colors and precise measurements. This is from two years ago, midway through planning. I’ve drawn lines to represent how long the rows would be.

I knew this because I’d measured what we’d put in that year, and added or subtracted for next year’s plan based on how much I wanted in the future.

what do you want to eat?

If you’ve planted a garden before, you have a good idea. If not, it’s all good. Make a wish list. Begin just off the top of your head: what do you like to eat most? What tastes way better from the garden than from the supermarket? What do you dream of planting?

Now break it down by category, just to focus your thoughts a bit more.

last harvest

You want tomatoes, eh? Which general varieties? Do you want beefsteaks for hearty sandwiches, cherrys for snacking, plums for canning?

Say you dream of luscious melons. Do you have the room to grow them? How many? Muskmelon, watermelon, or more unique varieties?

Herbs. What do you want to cook with? Basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, rosemary? Marjoram, tarragon? It’s up to you.

how much do you want?

Deciding how much to plant is important too. Zucchini is a wonderful yet prolific squash. People really do come home in summer to find bags of zucchini left on their porch, left in secret by furtive gardeners who planted too much zucchini. Protip: two zucchini plants will feed a whole family and then some.

Canning and preserving figures into these calculations. If you want to can salsa, you may want several plum tomato plants as well as a few hot and sweet peppers. Grow some onions and cilantro, and you can make your own brand of salsa entirely from the garden.

In most northern climates, cool-weather vegetables such as lettuce, peas, beets, and radishes may be planted twice: once in early spring, and again in late summer for a fall harvest.

In sum: Think of what you plan to do with the vegetables and herbs you grow, and build your garden plan around that.

post your tips

Do you think this was helpful at all? I don’t know if I’m being helpful or pedantic, or just rambling. What tips do you have for planning the layout of your garden and deciding what to plant?

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  1. Nick says:

    wow! The salad container tip is really awesome. I always figured there had to be a practical use for those suckers.

    Now if only I had a yard… sigh.

    Still great information!

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