How I Plan My Vegetable Garden

How I Plan My Vegetable Garden

In the winter I sit down with my box of seeds, the garden plan from the year before, and a notebook to get ready for the growing season ahead.  Here are the steps I take to make sure we have a full pantry next year.

Evaluating Last Year's Garden

This is our fifth year with this garden plot.  Each year has been different.  Sometimes I try new crops, like last year we grew sweet potatoes for the first time.  We've loved having them in the basement and they have kept even better than the potatoes.  This is probably because our cold storage isn't as cold as potatoes would like.  However, the sweet potatoes and winter squash love it.  I also, had an onion crop failure last year which I'm still frustrated by.    I wrote up an Annual Report on the Vegetable Garden for this blog and at the end there is a list of notes for the coming season.  I read through them to remind myself and then moved on to the next step.

Additions or Changes

I decided to grow sweet potatoes again, we don't have room for more or I would consider expanding.  This coming year I am buying both onion seed and sets to make sure we have a successful harvest.  I also decided to move some of the more water thirsty crops like basil, tomatoes and zucchini to the north end of the garden where they will be nearest the rain barrel and at the front of the soaker hoses.  Other than that, 2018 will be similar to 2017.

List of Seeds, Starts and Sets

This is the step I need to get to sooner rather than later.  I am often slack in ordering and am disappointed when exactly what I wanted is sold out or I have to order from multiple companies.  January is the month to get ordering done.  (Or even earlier - Although, I like to save my garden planning for after Christmas.)

This is an old tissue box (back from before we switched to handkerchiefs) that I cut the top off of and repurposed. 
It is just right for holding seed packets.  

I get out my box of seeds I have saved and the leftover bought seeds (I rarely use a whole packet in a season).  I pull out the packets of seeds for the veggies and herbs I want to grow and make sure there are enough seeds left.  I usually plan for twice as many seeds as I want plants, since not all of the seedlings will make it.  There are certain plants that I have trouble germinating with saved over seed packets, the most notable is basil.  I reorder fresh seeds every year.

I also go check the seed potatoes I have saved in the basement to make sure they are holding on.  So far so good - no rot!

I make a list of what I need to order.  This year that is:

Onion sets
Sweet Potato

Crop Rotation

My Crop Rotation Card

Now that I know what vegetables are going to be in the garden, it's time to figure our where they will be planted.  I have four beds, each thirty by four feet which makes crop rotation easy.  I have a four year plan.  I do grow a lot of nightshades, namely potatoes and tomatoes.  They are roughly half my garden; I make sure they don't get planted in the same place two years in a row.  Allium (onions/garlic) and squash are my other two big crops and they are on a four year rotation.   I have a note card to keep track of crop rotation.  It has a small map of the garden and a grid with the bed number across the top and the year in the left column.  Then I can see which crops are in which beds on any given year.  Looking back over the last four years, I decide the veggies that will go in each bed this year.  Since what I grow changes a little each year, it doesn't work out perfectly.  I just do the best I can.

Draft the Garden Plan

Garden Map

With my crop rotation note card at hand, I print out a map of my garden for the year.  I have a map showing the garden by square feet.  With a pencil and ruler I block out each crop's allotment.  Once that is settled, I go through and make a circle where each plant will go and an X where a hill of multiple seeds will be planted.  This information helps me remember spacing when I go to plant in the spring.  It also helps me know how much to order.  Using pencil in important.  Nothing ever quite goes as planned in a garden.

Place Seed and Plant Order

Now I have all the information, I place my seed and plant order.  I don't have a lot to buy this year.  I will only be ordering from one company to save on shipping and fuss in general.  I don't even look at seed catalogs anymore, they just make me question my plans and want things I don't have space for and aren't suited for my climate.  I get most of my advice on which varieties to try from our local market farmers. My favorite seed companies are Johnny's Selected Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and Fedco Seeds.  Don't forget to do a quick search online to see if you can find any money saving coupon codes.

This year I am ordering:

1 'Sunshine' kombocha squash seed packet
1 'Genovese' basil seed packet
1 'Harmonie' cucumber seed packet
25 'Mahon Yam' sweet potato slips
2 'Redwing' onion sets (50 per bunch)
4 'Patterson' onion sets (50 per bunch)

Order completed!

And now I'm ready for April when the onions and potatoes will be ready to put in the ground.

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