Mapping out your vegetable garden so you have a plan on paper once planting time arrives is a key component to a successful growing season. So is detailed note taking. I have a sketch of every garden I’ve ever planted, about 45 different drawings at last count, and I’ve never regretted the small effort it took to commit the plan to paper. As well, I am meticulous in writing down varieties, dates, first harvest, frost and any other pertinent details. So let’s talk about mapping out a vegetable garden.
Why a Paper Sketch?
Having a layout on paper ensures you have allocated room for every item you wish to grow. It ensures you don’t forget something or run out of room at planting time. It can also save time during the hectic spring rush of planting because you aren’t wasting time figuring out where everything will go.
By referring to past plans, you can be sure you don’t plant the same vegetable in the same space as last year. This will help with disease and insect control and also prevent nutrient depletion of the soil by the heavy feeding vegetables such as corn and the Cole crops.
Having a paper sketch allows you to refer back to the drawing at any time to see how much you’ve planted of any given item. This means you can increase or decrease plantings accordingly without relying on memory for how much you planted previously.
Bear in mind any garden plan is just that, a plan. It’s not written in stone and is subject to modification at any time. It’s much easier to fiddle around with the placement of plantings when you can simply erase and rework the plan to your satisfaction. Even still,
I’ve been known to deviate from my plan when I’m planting. If I make any changes at planting time, I am sure to update my paper sketch so I have documentation of what I’ve done.
Considerations When Developing a Layout
I take into account several factors when coming up with my sketch. I try to group plants with similar growth requirements together. For example, in spring, I try to locate all frost tender vegetables near each other so if a frost threatens I can protect just that area without having to cover the entire garden or put numerous covers throughout the garden.
Grouping by growth requirements also simplifies soil preparation and fertilization. For example, the Cole crops or Brassicas require the addition of lime or wood ashes to the soil prior to planting to ward off root maggots and club foot. They also require spraying to control the little green cabbage worms. Having the Cole crops grouped together makes soil preparation and spraying easier.
There are certain cold tolerant plants such a cabbage, Brussels sprouts, leeks, kale carrots, parsnips and Belgian endive that I leave in the garden for as long as I can come fall. As much as possible I like to grow these near each other. That way I can put the rest of the garden to bed without these hardy vegetables being in the way of fall clean up and tilling.
Unless you grow them vertically, you may want to position all the vining plants (pumpkins, winter squash, melons and cucumbers) on the perimeter of the garden so the vines can ramble all over the place and not interfere with other growing plants.
Be sure to keep crop rotation in mind when mapping out your plan. Plants can be broken into 3 classes. The heavy feeders which includes corn, all Cole crops, leafy plants such as spinach and lettuce, pumpkins, squash and tomatoes; the light feeders which includes carrots, garlic, onions, leeks, potatoes and parsnips; and finally the soil builders which includes all beans and peas. A good rotation is to plant the heavy feeders, followed by the light feeders then the soil builders in any given space of the garden. Or you can follow the heavy feeders with any soil builder. The only rotation I wouldn’t do is plant the heavy feeders where light feeders were previously.
Draw Your Plan on Paper
Before you can commit your plan to paper you must go outside and take some measurements of your garden. Knowing how much growing space you have available is critical for determining how much of each item you’ll be able to plant. At a minimum you’ll need to know the length of your rows and beds as well as the widths of any growing beds. You’ll want to know the entire length and width of the garden area so you can determine how many rows and beds you have room for.
If you’re smart you will lay out your growing areas so you have as few walking paths as possible. In other words if you are putting in beds, make those beds the full length of the garden instead of several shorter beds throughout the entire length. Doing so will translate into more growing space in a big way. We’ve always done this with our raised beds as well as any wide beds that aren’t raised. Each vegetable is planted in its allotted space then the next vegetable is planted right next to it and so forth down the entire length of the bed. We’ve had growing beds as long as 90 feet.
If you want you can use graph paper to draw your plan to scale. Or you can use notebook paper or plain unlined paper but do make note of how many feet are planted to each vegetable. Another way to keep track is to record how many plants will be in the ground. For example: 18 broccoli plants, 6 Brussels sprouts, 24 tomato plants, 30 bell peppers etc.
When mapping out your plan, be sure to allow for proper spacing between plants. So for instance, if you have a 3’ open space, don’t expect to be able to cram 6 broccoli plants into it as 2 is a more realistic number.
The Shape our Garden Takes
Here’s how I plan and layout our garden. You may find it helpful in planning yours. We are a household of 2. Our goal is to grow all of our vegetable for the year. Rarely do we buy any vegetables from the supermarket even in the dead of winter. I plan the garden so we have a good variety of vegetables for consumption during the winter months by relying on what I put by in the freezer, what I canned in jars as well as what is stored in our root cellar. Believe it or not on Jan 27 we had a “fresh” vegetable salad that was comprised of solely homegrown produce-Belgian endive, red cabbage, carrots, red onion and winter radish. This kind of vegetable independence wouldn’t be possible without good planning.
In our raised bed that’s about 60 feet long I grow onions, leeks, carrots, beets, Belgian endive, spinach, celery, garlic, lettuce, parsnips, kale. All of these items are intensively grown.
I plant corn in a block of 5 to 6 rows. Each row is 12” to 14” apart and 40’ long with corn spaced 12” apart in each row .
Potatoes are planted in rows 36” apart. Any closer than that and I can’t do a proper job of hilling them up. We aren’t fans of planting potatoes in tubs, in straw or any other alternative way of growing them. We’ve seen the results and find them lacking compared to the yields we get raising potatoes the conventional way.
All peas are grown vertically on a fence of chicken wire with seeds planted on either side of the fence which creates a double row of peas.
Beans are grown in rows spaced at least 24” apart. I tried growing beans in a raised bed where they were closely spaced but had problems with mildew and rot due to poor air circulation so I went back to growing them in rows and have had no more problems. If space is a concern consider pole beans. Compared to bush beans they take longer to start producing but the yields are tremendous.
All Cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) are grown in a wide bed that is not raised. I have a central row with plants spaced 18” to 24” apart. A row is placed on either side of the center one, 24” apart from it. In the 2 outer rows I stagger plants in relation to those in the central row.
Because space is not a big problem for us, I grow all the vining plants in hills-cucumbers, pumpkins, winter squash and melons and let the vines run free, but these can be grown vertically to save space.
Tomatoes and peppers are grown in our greenhouse which has raised beds that are about 40” wide. Tomatoes are spaced 30” apart while peppers are spaced 18” apart. This should get you started and you can modify and tweak in the ensuing years to find just the right balance for your particular needs. Happy Planting!
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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