Garden planning can be done whether you have a city lot, a few acres of land, or just a small apartment patio. Nearly any space is sufficient to grow some of your own fresh, pesticide-free, and non-GMO food products. You might be surprised at how many things you can fit on just a small, sunny deck, or inside an indoor tower garden. For limited space, there are dwarf and bush varieties of many plants, as well as determinate types of tomatoes which only grow so big before sending their energy into creating tomatoes, rather than additional vines.
A Few Basics
If you haven’t already chosen the garden location, be sure to pick the area that receives sun for the longest period of the day, won’t be shaded by large trees or buildings during daylight hours, and has adequate drainage. The soil type and condition should be tested as well, allowing you to add amendments as required to achieve maximum plant health and productivity. Be sure there is easy access to a water source nearby.
Pros and Cons of Raised Beds
Raised beds offer several advantages over sowing directly into the level ground. You won’t have to till hard or rocky land or pick rocks and weeds before planting. During the growing season, raised beds can drain easily and tend to stay warmer, which promotes faster production of your crops. There are a couple of disadvantages as well. Raised beds are usually made from lumber, which begins to rot and become infested with insects.
Raised boxes may be as long as you wish (typically no longer than 10 feet), however, they should be between 24-40 inches wide and about one foot deep. Most raised beds are between 21 and 24 inches wide, making it much easier to access all the plants without having to walk on the structure. Have a look at Frame it All for a quick video tutorial and ideas.
How Much Space Do You Need?
It’s often difficult to visualize the space you’ll require, even when you have a good idea of which vegetables, and how many, you intend to grow. Start out smaller than you think you will need and add later on.
Of course, some plants will take much more space than others. Examples of these are watermelons, pumpkins, and corn. For an average sized family of four, growing corn and approximately 6 smaller crops, a space of about 30 feet by 40 feet should be a great start. Three rows of corn will take up a space of about 9×30 feet since they need to be planted about three feet away from one another, in both directions, to help ensure proper pollination.
You’ll find a free pdf sample garden chart with additional blank grid pages for you to use in planning your own garden at Scenery Solutions.
What to Plant?
Obviously, if you’re not a fan of Radishes, it would be silly to grow them. Aside from choosing foods you like, you might consider which foods are already easily available in your area from trusted local farmers. For example, there is an amazing organic potato farm close to me, so I can easily buy in bulk at very low prices. Utilize the space you have for foods that are harder to find, that you will actually use or those you would like to can, preserve, or try for the first time.
You might choose berry bushes such as dwarf blueberry, goji berry, or currants, keeping in mind how long it will take for them to bear fruit. You may decide to grow only herbs, or the plants needed to make a specific homemade salsa recipe. Don’t be afraid to gather recommendations from others on the numerous “varieties” available, and take your time in choosing things which will work well in your climate, or will produce at optimal times of the year.
A few of my favorite sources for superb, natural, or hard to find seeds are Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Preppers definitely won’t want to miss the new Survival Seed Vault of over 20 varieties of non-hybrid, non-GMO heirloom seeds by MyPatriotSupply.
When Should You Plant?
Depending on the zone you live in, the length of your area’s growing season, and the date of the last expected frost, planting times will vary. Familiarize yourself with the expected frost dates for your area (the last expected frost in spring and the first expected frost date this coming fall). One great resource for the US and Canada is The Old Farmer’s Almanac. In addition, The Farmer’s Almanac provides optimum planting dates in their Gardening by the Moon Guide. Have a look at seed packets to determine how many days are required for each variety to reach maturity. The time frame until harvest will need to fit within the number of days between last and first frost dates for your area.
Where Should Particular Plants be Located in the Garden?
When taller plants (such as corn) are placed on the south side of the garden, they will shade the other plants and hinder their growth, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Where you plant your crops, in relation to one another, can either help, or hinder their growth, or taste. For example, dill and carrots are both in the carrot family so you’ll want to plant them away from one another. When planting more than one variety of corn, you should plant in intervals so they do not mature at the same time, otherwise, they will cross-pollinate one another.
Companion planting is a terrific way to boost production and sometimes, flavor, of various vegetables. In addition, some plants enrich the soil with nitrogen, while others (mostly herbs) will either attract beneficial insects or help repel the unwanted pests.
- Shade peppers with corn and trellised crops like beans.
- If you plant carrots next to onions, they will repel each others’ pests.
- Plant squash among the corn since it will shade the soil and reduce weed growth. Raccoons will think twice about invading the corn due to the prickly stems of the squash.
- Allowing pole beans to climb corn will help feed the corn extra nitrogen. Beans are compatible with most herbs and vegetables, but should not be planted near onions.
- Planting basil and/or thyme with tomatoes is said to enhance the flavor of the tomato.
- Plant garlic with bush beans to repel aphids, although some say garlic hinders the growth of beans or peas.
- Pair borage and chamomile with strawberries. Borage to help with growth and chamomile to enhance the flavor of the strawberries.
- Plant peas around the outside of tomato cages. They will happily climb the cage and feed extra nitrogen to the tomato plants. Do not plant peas near onions or potatoes.
- Marigolds and sunflowers, while they repel pests and attract beneficials, are said to hinder the growth of most garden vegetables.
- Cabbage should not be planted in the vicinity of strawberries, tomatoes, or dill.
- Cucumber can be planted around radish, sunflower, beans or peas, but should not be planted near aromatic herbs or potatoes.
- Any type of mint will repel pests and attract beneficial insects, but they will take over your garden unless planted in containers sunk into the ground.
Beneficial and Harmful Pest Considerations:
The more planning ahead you’re able to do for your potential garden, the better your results will be. Will you need a fence to keep out neighbor’s dogs, cats or kids? Is there an abundance of rabbits, deer, raccoons, skunks, or moles in the area? How about insect pests or birds that might rob the fruit from your berry bushes? Will you need netting or cages to protect your plants? Numerous, natural and organic pest repelling (and beneficial-attracting) tips are offered in one of my favorite gardening books, called Rodale’s Garden Answers. It offers “At a Glance Solutions for Every Gardening Problem” including diagnosing and treating problems such as mildew, bacteria, mites, plant diseases, improper soil, and so much more!
I would like to see your garden photos and learn your tips for successful gardening! Feel free to share image links or comments below.
This post was originally written by me, for another blog I own, on March 30, 2012, and has been edited and updated to re-publish here.