If you follow my blog, you know that this year (2015) was supposed to be my first year as a market gardener.
Well, it started this way but didn’t continue for very long. Some of the reasons for that weren’t in my control… But others were.
Like the HUGE garden I planned beautifully and assumed I’ll be able to care for with three little kids in toe.
So I am serving this post to you fresh from my failed garden, hopefully it will help you avoid some of the mistakes I made this past year.
5 Things to Consider Before Planning Your Vegetable Garden
1. What Size of Garden Can I Care For?
This is probably the single most important thing to consider before planning your vegetable garden.
There are many things you can do to make sure your garden require minimum attention. For example, you can use mulch, which will suppress the growth of weeds. You can set up irrigation lines, so you don’t have to water the garden by hand. You can plant flowers that attract bees and butterflies so they’ll take care of pollination for you. Those are just a few examples.
However, no matter how many of those things you do, you’ll still have to spend time in the garden. Planting, harvesting, weeding, watering, fertilizing and so on.
How much time do you have to care for your garden? Are you working full time? Do you have kids to care for? Can you stand the heat of summer for longer periods?
From my experience I’ll tell you, it’s better to start small and expand a successful garden than start big and fail miserably.
2. Ho Much Room do I Have?
In my post “Vegetable Gardening Basics – Choosing the Right Location for Your Garden” I cover eight important points one should consider when choosing the right location for their garden.
Before you start drawing your garden plan and before you order any seeds, make sure you know how much room do you have for your garden.
Also consider some restrictions you might have on your property. Are you allowed to grow a vegetable garden in the front yard? Is your building association allows you to garden in your balcony in pots?
I know those things might sound stupid to ask, it’s your property, you paid for it. But let me tell you, I learned this the hard way.
When we bought our 20 acres of farmland in the country, I didn’t think to check county laws. I made sure we are buying land that has no restrictions on it. Next thing I know, the county sends us a letter informing us that we must remove our RV from OUR land. They don’t allow parking an RV on land that doesn’t have a house on it.
This alone, pretty much ruined all of our farming plans. Where are we going to sleep? Where are we going to catch a break from the heat? Or the cold? Or the rain? Our house is an hour away from the farm, the RV was supposed to be our home on the farm.
So check good for any restrictions before starting to sweat.
3. How Many Vegetables Your Family Needs?
Are you going to grow vegetables for fresh eating or preserving? Maybe both?
If you grow many tomatoes and plan to preserve some, are you going to have time to process them? Do you have enough room in your freezer? Do you have shelf room for jars?
Does your family eat more lettuce or tomatoes? Do you even like onions?
Take a couple of weeks to observe your family’s vegetable eating habits. If you use many tomatoes, make sure to make room for a few plants. If you eat a lot of lettuce but only one cabbage every couple of month, and you don’t have much room in your garden, it makes much more sense to grow four lettuces in the place of one cabbage. Especially since cabbage is on the cheap side at the grocery store.
It will take some time to learn how much of each vegetable to grow. One year you’ll have a great amount of beans from five plants and you’ll think yes, five plants are all we need, then, the next year, weather conditions will be bad for beans and your five plants won’t produce but a single side dish for Thanksgiving.
I don’t want to discourage you, but this is gardening. It will take some time to figure it out, and that’s OK. Enjoy the process and make sure you keep a journal so you can improve from one year to the next. Here is a link to a simple garden journal I made. You can print it and use it to record the happenings in your garden.
4. Consider Your Garden Layout
Here are a few options:
- Old fashion rows – row gardening is very common in large gardens, especially if the gardener is using mechanical equipment for planting, cultivating and harvesting. Rows are usually three feet apart with a furrow between them. Large plants like tomatoes and corn are easier to take care for if planted in rows.
- Raised rows – this is a very nice concept of permanent row gardening I learned from Jim and Mary over at Old World Garden Farms. Jim and Mary make their raised rows 18” wide and 20′ long. This allows them to concentrate their soil building efforts in that 18” space instead of the whole garden plot. Here is a link to their Raised Row series where you can learn much more.
- Beds – beds are very popular in the smaller home garden or farm because they are more productive and relatively easy to care for with hand tools. Much less space is wasted on walkways, therefore, you can plant many more vegetables. A great width for a garden bed is 30”. The walkway between the beds can be as narrow as 12” or as wide as you would like it to be to accommodate foot traffic or equipment like a wheelbarrow and such. Beds are permanent.
- Raised beds – raised beds are also popular in the smaller home garden. You will need materials like planks of wood or bricks to build the beds. Raised beds are great to improve drainage or if your soil is very bed and you prefer filling a bed with good soil before starting to plant.
- Containers – You can plant many vegetables in containers. Containers are popular with people that don’t have much space. They can help you create a productive vegetable garden right in your balcony or porch. Containers are also real good for perennial plants that you might want to move indoors in the fall, like herbs for example.
This is just a tiny bit of information about some layouts you can consider. There is much more to learn about each option. I recommend using a mix of those options rather than just one. You can grow herbs in containers that you can move indoors in the fall, so you have fresh herbs during the winter. Grow tomatoes and corn in rows or raised rows, while you grow carrots, beets, and radish in a couple of beds.
5. Will You Want to Grow a Fall Garden?
Consider the fall garden, especially if you have a small garden area.
The fall garden is, honestly, my favorite because it’s so much easier to care for. The weather is cool, so it’s much more pleasant to work in the garden. There are much fewer mosquitoes to whack, and almost no pests to bother the plants.
If you plan to grow a fall garden, make sure to leave room for it early in the spring when you plant your summer garden. You will need to plant many of your fall vegetables while your summer vegetables are still producing.
For example, here in NC (zone 7B) we plant fall peas in the middle of August. Many tomato plants will keep producing until the middle or even the end of September. You wouldn’t want to clean the garden from perfectly healthy and productive tomatoes so you can plant peas.
It is sometimes possible to undersow seeds beneath growing crops. You can also start your fall plants in small pots, cell trays, or soil blocks and move them to the garden when space opens up.
I’ve made many mistakes this year, but I’ve learned so much. Even though I will go through the same garden planning process the next time I plan a market garden, I know there will be many things I’ll consider before making the garden plan. Hopefully, my failures will help you avoid some mistakes.