Almost four feet of snow has fallen in the last week, with more snow on the way, and really cold temperatures. This is usually the time of the year that I begin to wonder 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 bed producing all through the growing season.
Things to consider when planning the garden beds:
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 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.
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.
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 Garden Beds:
Planning begins with a blank garden diagram and the list of plants that you want to grow. 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.
Refer to your seed list and begin arranging the crops in the garden. 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. Try to keep the same crop families together making it easy to rotate the beds next year. Remember tall crops should grow on the north side of your beds, so they don’t shade other plants.
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.
I enjoy mapping the garden beds each year and seeing what garden will look like. It makes it easy to figure out the amount of seeds I need to purchase and the number of seedlings I need to grow to fill the space. In addition, mapping the garden beds provides a record of what was planted in each location from year to year.
The next step in Planning Your Vegetable Garden is setting up a seed-starting schedule so you know when to sow your seeds.
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