Some people thrive on planning. They schedule, prioritize, and just generally have their stuff together. And others tend to just jump in and see what happens. But when it comes to growing a productive, beautiful garden, planning is really important to your success.. It helps with everything from figuring out which seeds to order to deciding if you can really afford the space that growing 15 varieties of heirloom tomatoes will require. It will save you time and money, and, best of all, save you from a few headaches during the gardening season.
It doesn't even take that much work. Here are some steps to keep in mind when planning your next garden.
1. Assess Your Gardening Space
Look at where you'll be growing your garden. Will you be planting in containers, traditional beds, raised beds, or maybe even off-site in a community garden plot? How much sun does the area get? Measure the space -- this will be helpful later on. If you garden in several different beds, measure each one individually. Consider drawing them out (to scale, if you want to really get into the planning mode) on graph paper.
2. Figure Out What You Want to Grow
So now you that know what kind of space you're working with, the fun begins. List everything you want to grow. This is dreaming time. It doesn't mean you'll grow it all, necessarily. It just gives you an idea of where your priorities lie. Do you want lots of paste tomatoes for canning? Plenty of strawberries for making jam? Tons of greens for salads? Maybe your family loves potatoes, or squash, or carrots. Write it all down.
3. Narrow It Down
This is where your garden measurements and your list of things to grow come together. If you have limited space, it's unlikely you're going to be able to grow both enough tomatoes for canning AND enough potatoes to store for the winter. You'll need to make some choices here. What items are on your MUST grow list? What will you and your family actually eat (as opposed to just wanting to grow something because it's interesting or pretty?)
This is also the time to assess when you can best grow things. Spinach, for example, is best grown in spring or fall in most areas (it bolts when the weather gets hot). So you can grow it, but what will you replace it with during the heat of summer? Maybe some bush beans would work. This step can be a lot of fun, but it can also help you get your shopping list under control as well.
4. Draw a Plan
You don't absolutely have to draw out a garden plan, but it can help you see your space and how things will work out more clearly. If you're not great with a ruler and pencil look into online garden planning tools. (I've listed several good ones in this blog post.)
This step helps you figure out how many of each plant you can grow, and you can also figure out succession planting at this time, so it makes it very easy to figure out what you need for the next step.
5. Buying Seeds and Plants
Now is the time to take your list and plan and go shopping. You still have some decisions to make, though. Are you going to start your warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers indoors from seed, or are you going to buy transplants? If you're starting them from seed, you'll need some equipment for seed starting. At the very least, you'll know which seeds you need now. Here are some good sources for organic seeds.
6. Figuring Out When to Plant
Next, you need to come up with a schedule, based on your plan, so you'll know when to plant everything. Here are a couple of my favorite sources:
- Mother Earth News: What to Plant Now
- Johnny's Selected Seeds has a seed starting interactive calendar and succession planting calendar on their site.
It's not difficult, and it really doesn't take that much time. But a bit of planning will help you grow a healthier, more productive garden next year.