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5 Things You Can Do NOW To Plan Your Vegetable Garden

You’ve made the decision to grow your own food. You’re excited at the prospect of fresh green beans and broccoli from your garden being served on your dinner table.

Your budget shouts for joy as you replace expensive organic produce from the store with organic fruits and vegetables you’ve grown yourself.

But there’s a catch… you have to start the garden first.

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Maybe you’re ready to start gardening, but you don’t know where you begin.

Maybe the timing is wrong, or you need to put some other things into place before you can plant anything.

As you begin your gardening journey, you’ll learn that planning is half the battle. You can double your chances for success before you put your first seed in the ground.

So what are some decisions you can make now, even if you aren’t ready to start gardening yet?

5 Things You Can Do Now to Plan Your Vegetable Garden:

1. Choosing What to Plant

First of all, think about what your family will eat.

Kale and lettuce may be easy to grow, but growing them won’t do you any good if your family won’t eat them. Focus on the types of plants you want to eat.

Also, consider how much you want to grow.

Do you want to feed your family for the season or have enough extra to preserve for year round?

Space limitations may be a consideration when deciding how much to plant; however, if space is not a factor, consider this guide from The Well Fed Homestead:

How much should you plant in your garden to provide a year’s worth of food?

2. Deciding Where to Plant

Winter is a good time to determine which parts of your yard receive the most sunlight.

These sunny areas of your yard will be vital to growing fruiting plants as they will need several hours of sunlight to ripen their fruit. 

Go outside at noon and look for open areas that are receiving full sunlight.

Because shadows are longer in the winter (sun is closer to the horizon), areas that receive full sun in the winter will receive the most sun year round.

Likewise, areas that receive shade in the middle of summer will receive shade year round.

When to map your sun and shade:

June 21: Summer solstice is the longest day of the year. This is also when the sun is the highest in the sky. Areas that receive shade between noon and 1pm on this day will receive shade year round. Avoid planting fruiting plants in these areas.

December 21: Winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. This is also the day when the sun is closest to the horizon. The sun casts its longest shadows in winter, so areas that receive full sun between noon and 1pm on December 21 will receive full sun year round.

You’ll want to use caution planting traditional vegetables in full sun if you live in tropical areas. Many of them cannot tolerate full summer sun, which is why they are often grown in the winter in these areas.

Focus instead on planting native varieties during the summer months. There are also some Asian varieties that have been bred to tolerate tropical summer months.

Nick from Milkwood Permaculture gives a very detailed description of how to accurately map the sun (and why):

Design Basics: Mapping the Sun on your Site

3. Map It Out

So you have a rough idea of what you’ll plant, how much, and where your garden will go. Now you put it down on paper. (Graph paper works really well)

Part of the reason why I like square foot gardening is that it makes this process a lot easier. If you know how many plants of each type that you want to grow, you can determine how many squares you will need based upon their spacing.

I’ve found this guide from My Square Foot Garden to be very handy: Plant Spacing

I also recommend getting a copy of All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

If you’re planting in rows, determine how long your rows will be and how many plants you can put per row.

Spacing distances can be found on the back of your seed packets or looked up online. You can plant several rows of one plant or half a row of another depending on your needs and row lengths.

Keep in mind that corn needs to be planted in a square so they can pollinate properly, so you may want to dedicate a section of several rows for corn, instead of one long row.

When planning where to put each plant, consider how taller plants will shade shorter plants. This can work well if you want to plant shade loving plants along side tall plants that need more sun.

Also consider which plants benefit from being planted near each other as well as which plants should not be planted together. 

Companion planting has been used for centuries. The most popular combination is known as the Three Sisters (corn, beans, & squash), but many other pairings exist.

I’ve found this guide from Mother Earth News to be very useful: An In-Depth Companion Planting Guide

4. Choose Your Seeds

Before you can buy your seeds, you have to decide what varieties you are going to grow.

You’ve already chosen the types of vegetables you want to grow, but now do you want pole beans or bush beans? Glass Gem or Country Gentleman sweet corn? 

First, you want to look at your last and first frost dates to determine the length of your growing season. Then focus on varieties that will have enough time to mature within that window.

If you live in a very hot and/or arid environment, you’ll also want to choose varieties that are more heat tolerant.

Next, you get to decide if you want to grow hybrid, open-pollinated, or heirloom varieties

Hybrids have a lot of appeal because they usually grow bigger and faster, but they won’t breed true if you want to save seeds.

Heirloom varieties have bred true for at least 50 years and can be safely used for seed saving. 

Open-pollinated are younger seeds, but they will still breed true like heirlooms. They may also be more vigorous and genetically diverse than heirloom varieties. 

Now, when it comes to seed companies,  you’ll generally get a different answer for every person you ask. Everyone has a favorite and they all have their reasons why. Here are 4 of mine:

Strictly Medicinal Seeds
These are the seeds I sell through my nursery business and generally the ones I use the most often.

Yes, they are known for their medicinal herbs, but they also have a very nice variety of vegetable seeds.

I’ve gotten great germination rates from their seeds. All of their seeds are organic open-pollinated.

Botanical Interests
I’ve been using a lot of seeds from Botanical Interests more recently, and have also started to sell them in my nursery business. I like their selection of certified organic seeds. They’ve also recently become Project Non-GMO verified.

I’ve gotten really good germination rates from their seeds, and they offer a slightly different variety than Strictly Medicinal. The selection from the two companies compliments each other nicely.

Mary’s Heirloom Seeds
I started ordering seeds from Mary a couple years ago, and I’ve been very happy with the results.

Two things I love about Mary’s: $.99 seed packet specials and her month-to-month growing guides.

She rotates through what she offers for $.99, but it’s a great way to stock up on different varieties. She’ll also e-mail you when she’s having specials if you join her list.

She’ll even throw in a free seed packet for every 10 packets you buy.

And if you’re wondering what you can grow each month, I highly recommend her growing guides. All of her seeds are heirlooms, and she offers organic garlic and seed potatoes in the fall.

Seeds for Generations
I have to give a shout out to my friend Jason’s seed company. I’m going to be ordering seeds from him soon.

He’s an Air Force veteran who started this seed company so he could work from home with his wife and seven kids, and they’ve been doing very well.

He has a nice Garden Planning Calculator on his website to help you with your garden planning too. All of his seeds are organic heirlooms.

5. Plan Your Projects

Last but not least, you get to look at all of your notes and sketches and figure out how much needs to be done before you can start your garden.

Will you till the ground or go no-till? If you decide to do no-till lasagna gardening, you can start collecting cardboard and deciding what you’ll use for mulch.

Do you need to build a fence, trellises, or raised beds? Start collecting wood or saving money to purchase it.

If you decide to buy seedlings instead of starting seeds, you’ll need to budget for that added expense as well.

Check local gardening centers and craistlist for free or cheap planters and seed starting trays.

If you want to purchase new, I’ve found the best prices at Greenhouse Megastore.

Regardless of how much or how little you have ahead of you, the more that you can plan, save, and collect now, the sooner you can get to work once you’re ready.

What big garden projects do you have planned for this year? What are you most looking forward to grow? Comment below and let me know.