Planning for Space, Time... and a Bunch of Other ThingsThis is a departure from our usual action-based tip format, but taking time to think and plan now will avoid a lot of headaches for the rest of the season.
We've tried to make it simple--how often do you find so many aids to planning in one easy place?
Just pick the topics that apply to you and click on the information you need.
1) Plan for your space.Whether you use graph paper, a computer, or the back of an envelope, what goes where is the perennial problem. Plants will affect each other: Lettuce likes to be on the east side of something tall, so it gets morning sun but afternoon shade. Peppers like hot sun overhead but some shade on the sides to avoid sunscald. (We like to surround them with basil.) Onions can't stand any shading--they want sun on the shoulders of the bulbs to ripen them.
There are trade-offs to make--Do I want a whole winter's worth of squash and dry beans to store, or fresh sweet corn every day in August??? To figure out how many plants will take how much space, use our planting calculator.
2)Plan for fresh eating and for preserving.It's easy to overplant things that have to be eaten fresh, like zucchini. Remember to allot more space for easily-stored crops like winter squash, flour corn, or dry beans than for things you will only use fresh.
If you're canning tomatoes, freezing green beans, or making sauerkraut, you will need more space for those crops than if you were just using tomatoes, beans, and cabbage fresh. You may want to choose a special variety, too. I use paste tomatoes for salsa and canning, so I plant a lot of those, and a smaller assortment of favorites for fresh eating. Check out our varieties for canning, freezing, and fermentation.
3)Plan for harvest all season and all year.There's nothing worse that getting to the height of summer and finding that your sweet corn is already gone, your lettuce has bolted, and your green beans are petering out. Allow a separate space for planting later varieties. Once the original plants have petered out, it is too late for new sowings to mature. Even tomatoes need a later wave of plants if you use determinate varieties.
Garden planning needs to account for spring, summer, and winter crops. Usually, you can figure a crop will use its space for two seasons. For example, peas, broccoli, and lettuce could be sown in early spring in bed A. They won't be finished when it's time to plant summer tomatoes and beans--those will need to go in bed B. Bed A's peas etc will be done in July, in time for sowing with kale and cabbage for fall. Or there might be time for a late sowing of corn, green beans and basil. Meanwhile the tomatoes in bed B will go all the way till October, and give way to a winter cover crop of rye and vetch. There are more than four planting seasons. Here's a guide.
4)Plan how far ahead to sow indoors.If you sow squash indoors at the same time that you sow tomatoes and peppers, you will have pot-bound, sickly squash plants at planting time. You will need to start seeds in waves. Here is our guide for when and how to sow indoors.
5)Plan to prevent disease.It can be hard to stop putting spinach in that perfect spot by the path and tomatoes in back where they make a screen. But once you get spinach wilt in your soil, it takes 7-10 years for the soil to cleanse itself. Different organisms target tomatoes. So switch them. Often home gardeners don't recognize a specific disease--they just notice their garden is no longer so productive. It's really important to rotate the plant families from year to year. Here is our guide to plant rotation.
6)Plan for fertility.Legumes pull nitrogen from the air into the soil, so they are often grown either along with a heavy feeder or immediately after. Grains make lots of carbon in their stalks and leaves, giving you more and better compost. And cover crops benefit the soil in more ways than we can list here. They are important enough that it is worth figuring out ways to work them into your garden year. For summer cover crops, a good rule of thumb is to plant buckwheat or alfalfa when ever you have an open spot for a few weeks. For winter, here's when and how to plant winter cover crops.
7)Plan for seed saving.We are often contacted in the fall by customers who want to know how to save seed. We often have to tell them that they are not going to have usable seed--they didn't plan what needed isolation. So, if you have favorites you'd like to save, now's the time to plan. Is it a variety that will cross or is it self-fertile? Do you have more than one variety of that species? Do you have enough distance between them? Can you separate varieties by sowing time instead of distance? Can you plant early enough for the seed to fully mature?
Many flowers and herbs are easy. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, beans, and peas are very do-able at home. Squash, the cabbage family, spinach, amaranth, and pumpkins may need special measures. It also depends on your site and climate. Luckily, there are excellent and very readable books on seed-saving to help you figure it out.
8)Plan for your climate--and some surprises.Gardeners often love a challenge, but for reliable crops, plant varieties that are adapted to your climate. In short-season areas, choose early types. In hot, wet places, disease-resistance is a priority. Climate will also affect spacing--very wet areas may need wider plant spacing so air can circulate. There so many ways that climate will influence your planning, we recommend a look at "Garden for Your Climate" in our How-To section.
Once you have settled on the varieties you want, include some fall-backs in case the season is hotter or colder than you expect. I can nearly always ripen the big luscious heirloom tomatoes. But I always plant a super-cold-hardy type like "Stupice" just in case. If you have cabbage, carrots, and chard as well as tomatoes and corn, you will still have something from the garden if the summer is cold.
This work by Bountiful Gardens is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.