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Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Mapping the Garden Beds

Mapping your vegetable garden before planting will help you see how many seedlings you need, where they will be planted, and how you can keep each bed producing all through the growing season.

Late winter is the perfect time to plan your vegetable garden. After enduring snowstorms and cold temperatures for months, I begin wondering whether spring will ever come at all.

Thoughts of warmer days and fresh garden harvests encourage me to the next step in planning a vegetable garden: Mapping the Garden Beds.

After organizing your seed box and making a seed list, the next step is to figure out how everything will fit into the garden.

Before sowing a single seed, it is helpful to sketch a map of the garden so you know how many seedlings you will need, where they will be planted, and how you can keep each vegetable garden bed producing all through the growing season.

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN PLANNING THE GARDEN BEDS:

CROP ROTATION:

It is beneficial to rotate plant families from one garden bed to another each growing season. Vegetables that are in the same family use similar nutrients and are vulnerable to the same pests and diseases. Planting different crop families from year to year helps to avoid depleting the soil and prevents crop specific pests and diseases from building up from one season to the next.

In my vegetable garden, I focus on five vegetable plant families for rotation planning purposes:

1. Allium Family: chive, garlic, leeks, onions, and shallots.
2. Solanaceae Family: eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatillo and tomatoes.
3. Brassica Family: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, spinach, and turnip.
4. Cucurbit Family: cucumbers, gourds, melons, pumpkin, and squash.
5. Legume Family: beans and peas.

The plants in each family are grouped together and planted in the same beds, so I can easily move them to a different bed the following year. Other vegetables such as lettuce, corn, carrots, and herbs are worked in where there is room, but I try not to plant them in the same spots two years in a row.

GROWING VERTICAL:

Tall trellised plants such as peas, pole beans, and indeterminate tomatoes are limited to the north end of the garden beds, so they don’t shade other plants.

SUCCESSION PLANTING:

Even in my Maine Zone 5 garden, I can grow up to three crops in the same garden space if schedule carefully. Quick growing crops such as spinach, lettuce, and other various greens can be planted in spring. Once the warmer weather arrives, spring greens usually turn bitter and bolt. These can be removed, fed to the chickens, and the space used to grow bush beans. Once the bush beans are finished producing, a fall crop of spinach, lettuce, and other cool-season crops are planted.

WINTER STORAGE INVENTORY:

The inventory of the preserved garden bounty from the previous year also factors into the amount of plants in the plan. I don’t weigh my harvests, but do keep notes on the number of plants grown from year to year. At the end of winter, I inventory what is left in storage and decide if I need to increase or decrease the number of plants grown to provide us with enough preserved food until the following years garden begins to produce.

HOW TO MAP OUT THE VEGETABLE GARDEN BEDS:

Planning begins with a blank garden diagram and the list of plants that you want to grow. The way you approach mapping out your vegetable garden beds will depend on your priorities.

For example, we rely heavily on canned tomato sauce, canned salsa, and frozen tomatoes to use in soups and stews. So tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic are considered necessities in the garden and take priority on the garden space. I begin with these crops and plot out where they will be planted for the new season. Then I move on to other crops that will need trellis supports to grow. Finally, I fill in with short seasoned spring crops along with what will be planted once these crops are finished.

Before you begin plotting out your garden layout, review the list of crops you want to grow, decided roughly how many plants of each vegetable you would like to grow, and check the seed package to see how much space each plant will need.

Step 1: First, make a sketch of the garden area showing the dimensions of your garden beds. This can be done on a computer program or simply sketched out on graph paper.

Step 2: Refer to your seed list and begin arranging the crops in the garden map.

Use square foot garden spacing or the recommended space between plants indicated on the back of your seed package to estimate how many plants you can grow in an area.

Step 3: Start plotting your garden with the crops you consider important.

For example, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic are very important in our garden. These are plotted first on my garden map to insure there is plenty of room to grow enough of these crops for preserving.

Step 4: Move on to crops that need trellis supports to grow. Remember tall crops should grow on the north side of your beds, so they don’t shade other plants.

Plan out where you will grow your indeterminate tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, peas, and other crops that will benefit growing with supports.

Step 5: Finally, fill in with short seasoned spring crops along with what will be succession planted once these crops are finished.

Mapping the garden beds each year will help give you an idea of what garden will look like. It makes it easy to figure out the amount of seeds and seedlings you will need to fill the space.

In addition, mapping the garden beds provides a record of what was planted in each location from year to year.

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