I used to hate the planning step. I wanted to just be about actually planting and growing stuff. But after years of growing vegetables, I now know how important a plan is. It frees your mind. When spring comes and all hell breaks loose around the homestead, you are ready. All you gotta do it let your plan tell you what needs to get done. I promise you that if you take the time to make a garden plan, your growing season will be a million times more productive. Here is how to plan a vegetable garden in 7 simple steps.
You can clean the drool off of your chin now. No shame, it’s OK. I know what you’re going through.
I am going through the same thing every January.
They are stronger than us. They have special powers. They take over your mind, your soul, your body. They make you think of sunny days and moist soil. You flip the pages and feel the warm breeze kissing your skin. You hear the chirping of birds and the buzzing of bees.
They stare right back at you. The crisp, orange carrot. The round, smooth, pink radish. The crunchy, long, bright green cucumber. The tomatoes… Oh God, the tomatoes. Purple, yellow, red, green… You want them all. You have to have them all!
And they make you buy them all. The vicious seed catalogs!
Then Spring arrives. You stand there in the middle of your garden, swatting at the extra large mosquitoes, thinking, where the hell am I going to stick all these seeds?
Yep, I’ve been there too. Giant mosquitoes and all.
So let’s hold the thoroughbreds for a minute, close the catalog, and take a moment to plan the garden. I mean, really plan the garden, calculations, maps and so on.
How to Plan a Vegetable Garden in 7 Simple Steps…
It sounds scary, I know, but it’s not that bad. After a little bit of work, you’ll be ready to order what your garden can grow, and grow well. You won’t waste seeds or your money, and your harvest will be bountiful, beautiful, and much tastier since each plant will have the right amount of room to grow.
Note – throughout this post I will use my garden as an example. It doesn’t matter if your garden is made of 3 pots or 7 raised beds, or 2 acres of rows and beds, the process of planning will still be the same.
Step 1 – Map Your Garden…
I am sure there are a million software programs and apps you can use to draw a map of your garden, but I am an old school kinda girl, so pencil and paper are it for me.
If you are not using the computer to draw your garden map, use graph paper and a pencil. If you already have a garden, draw your beds and pots. If you want to add a bed or a pot somewhere add those to the map even if you didn’t make or buy them yet.
If you are starting a new garden, decide on your setup and draw it. Do you want rows of vegetables? Do you want beds? How wide is the walkway between those beds? Do you want to be able to access parts of the garden with a tractor? Or a lawn mower? Maybe someone in your family is in a wheelchair and like to spend time in the garden with you? Make it possible for them to move around.
Your map should show you…
- Your rows or beds,
- Measurements of beds, rows and walkways,
- Cardinal directions so you know where the sun is coming up from.
- Buildings, trees or other things that affect the amount of sun a certain area in your garden gets.
- Greenhouse or cold frames location.
My 2015 garden was made of beds 30” wide by 30′ long (30’=360”) with a walkway of 20” between beds and 5′ between sections. We had one 30′ x 12′ hoop house for seed starting and storage. Things have changed since then but we will use this as an example. This is a big garden, I was growing for market back then but again, no matter how big or small your garden, the process is the same.
Step 2 -Name Your Rows, Beds or Pots…
You can use numbers, letters or whatever else. Just make it easy for you to remember.
I used letters for the rows and numbers for each bed in the row.
I start everything from the left because this is where my neighbor’s house is. What does this have to do with my neighbor you’re asking?
First, we bought our land from him, so really, it all started with him. And second, his name starts with A.
After birthing four children, you don’t have many memory cells left. And I didn’t have many before, so just imagine… When I am in the field, it’s just so easy to make sure I hold the map right Since A is where Mr. Alvin is.
Anyway, naming your garden sections will help you create a garden log. You can record where you planted each crop so next year you know not to plant it again in the same spot (crop rotation and all that…) and you can follow the growth of each variety you chose and make notes, maybe next year you’ll decide to choose another or go with the same variety. A garden log has many benefits; it will help you improve your garden from one year to another.
Step 3 – Make a List of Vegetables You Want to Grow…
Or in other words, what do you like to eat? No reason to grow rutabagas if no one in the family is going to eat them. Unless you are growing for someone else or market, then grow what others like.
This might be a good time to revisit the seed catalogs. But don’t linger there, just make a list of the vegetables and herbs you want to grow. Don’t look at the varieties just yet.
Step 4 – Place Your Veggies on the Map…
We are going back to the map now. Take your list of chosen vegetables and place each one on the map. Do you want two beds of tomatoes? Three? Maybe half a row?
Use a pencil and play around with it. You might find that there is not enough room for everything and that you need to give something up (or build another bed, if you are like me…).
If you have areas with a bit of shade, place chard, or lettuce there. Consider where the sun is coming from and place tall plants, like pole beans or peas, in an area where they don’t block the sun for other crops. Also, make sure to place them where you can comfortably build a trellis for them.
Maybe you want some of your beds to be planted with flowers? They can attract beneficial insects and add beauty to your garden. Also, consider where you plant perennials like asparagus or strawberries, for example, since they are going to stay in the same spot for years (read: Planting Strawberries and Caring For Your Plants, and: How to Grow and Cook Asparagus).
Step Five – Calculate How Many Seeds You Need…
So you know where your lettuce is going to spend the Spring, but how many lettuce seeds do you need?
In my Homestead Management Printable Pack that you get for free when you subscribe to my monthly newsletter there is a sheet that lists recommended vegetable spacing. I use this sheet all the time even though I remember most of it by now just to make sure I plant things the right way.
Let’s keep going with the example of the lettuce. Let’s say you have a 10′ long by 3′ wide garden bed that you are going to plant lettuce in.
First, let’s convert to inches (multiply by 12 because there are 12” in one foot). 10 x 12 = 120” and 3 x 12 = 36”. So your bed is 120” by 36”. Lettuce needs to be planted 10” apart in rows 8-10” apart. So in a bed that is 36” wide you can fit three rows of lettuce since you have to make sure you don’t plant on the edge of the bed.
I started by drawing one row in the center of the bed at 18”. Then, another row 10” to the left and another one 10” to the right. This will leave 8” between both outside rows to the edge of the bed. Now, each row is 120” long, dived 120” / 10” (space you need between lettuces) = 12.
Now, to make room for the first and last lettuce in each row we need to take off the first and last lettuces (since we don’t want to plant right on the edge of the bed). So 12-2 =10. This means that you can fit 10 lettuces in each row. You have 3 rows x 10 lettuces per row = 30 lettuces in a bed.
After calculating how many seeds you need of each veggie to fill the spot you have for it in your garden, you will have a much better idea of how many seeds you need to order. Just remember, the calculation we made above is for one bed. If, for example, you have three lettuce beds in your garden plan for the year, you will have to order three times the number of seeds.
Also, if you are going to have a Fall garden and prefer to make one seed order for the year, you might need to double the number of seeds for the cool weather plants. So if you are going to plant the same bed in the example above again at the end of summer for fall/winter harvest, you need to order at least 60 lettuce seeds (30 x 2).
Step Six – Order Your Seeds…
Now that you know how many seeds you need of each crop, you can start putting your order together. Based on your numbers, decide if you want one variety of lettuce or 3 (the number of seeds in each packet will be listed so make sure to pay attention to this information). You can go over your seed catalog with a red pen and mark the varieties you want to order, or you can use my seed ordering sheet that you will find in the Homestead Management Printable Pack.
I strongly recommend one thing, put your order together but don’t buy the seeds right away. Let it rest for a few days. You’ll change your mind about something or remember another. After a couple of days, when you are sure you are ready to order, go check out.
Step Seven – Make a Planting Schedule…
You have all those wonderful seeds on their way to you. When are you going to plant them?
If you plant all your 30 lettuces at the same time, you are most likely going to have 30 lettuces ready for harvest at the same time. However, if you plant a few lettuces every two weeks, you will have a continuous supply of garden fresh lettuce to last you a while.
If you are planning to start said lettuce indoors (read: Indoor Seed Starting for Any Season), a planting schedule will not only help you figure out when it’s time for planting, it will also help you figure out what supplies you need to have on hand before planting time comes.
I actually like to make the planting schedule before I place my order of seeds because usually, I can buy the seed starting supplies from the seed company. I make one big order that includes everything I need.
You can do a Google search for something like “vegetable planting dates in (your area or growing zone)”. You are most likely going to find a document from your local cooperative extension that will list the recommended planting dates for each vegetable. Plug those dates into your planner or print calendar pages exclusively for a planting schedule.
However you decide to do it, your goal is to have this piece of paper clearly telling you things like “start 2 trays of lettuce indoors” or “plant one bed of spinach” or “transplant tomatoes” on certain dates.
So there you have it. I like doing this every year during the month of January. This way everything is planned out, and I am ready for spring to arrive. I have enough time to gather all of the needed supplies, build trellises, get my indoor seed starting station ready and so on…
I hope this helps and I hope you’ll have a wonderful garden this year! Make sure to sign up to the newsletter so you can get the Homestead Management Pack with all the garden printables. There is an opt-in form above, but if you missed it you can find it here.