Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Mapping the Garden Beds

Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Mapping the Garden Beds | Grow a Good Life
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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:

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 garden, I focus on five vegetable plant families for rotation planning purposes:
Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Mapping the Garden Beds | Grow a Good Life

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 Garden Beds:

Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Mapping the Garden Beds | Grow a Good LifePlanning 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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29 thoughts on “Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Mapping the Garden Beds

  1. Margaret

    I really enjoy mapping out my beds as well. Since last year was essentially the first year where I grew enough food to allow for winter preservation, I’m still in the very early stages of determining how much I need to grow – I have a feeling it will be many years before I have that all figured out (if ever!)

    Reply
    1. Rachel Arsenault

      Margaret, Even though I have several years experience trying to plant enough for winter preservation, it is still a guessing game. A cooler than normal summer, poor crop, disease, or deer can have a huge impact on the harvest. I try to compensate for the unexpected.

      Reply
  2. Larry

    I almost always over plant. This way, if a marauding herd of hungry, rabid deer attack, they will not harm me much. If I end up with too mjuch for my own needs, I have 3 grown daughters with families of their own, and they are ALWAYS willing to help out with any overflow.

    Reply
  3. Larry

    By the way, I find your newsletter (I have a lot of trouble with the word “blog”) to be VERY informative and worth my time to read. I have been gardening for several years but it’s been sort of a game where I go stick a seed in the ground and what comes up tastes pretty good, so I plant something else and see what happens. Nice to have someone reminding me that I need to succession plant and rotate. I was forced into retirement in Mid December, last year and suddenly, gardening has become “farming” and we are gonna be much more dependent on what comes from the garden, not only because it’s cheaper, but also because it’s non-GMO, and BECAUSE it DOES taste better than anything we can find at the grocery store. Everything there, as you know, is trucked in from all over the WORLD, and I can’t count on taste or quality or wholesomeness. Hence, I garden, ahem…farm!

    Reply
    1. ~Rachel Arsenault Post author

      Larry, Thank you for your kind words. I have learned so much from other bloggers and enjoy experimenting with creative ways to grow a garden. I enjoy planning everything out especially when there is so much snow outside. Once the growing season begins, there is so much to do.

      Reply
  4. Sue@GLAllotments

    We an electronic planner that is great. It works out the spacing for each type of plants will fit into the chosen area, It also ‘remembers’ crops grown in previous years and flags up if sine crops are being grown again in the sane olave too soon

    Reply
  5. daphnegould

    I used to have a three year rotation, but since I can’t even eat solanums and legumes (though I’m growing some of the latter), my family groups are not as numerous. I tend to have a two year rotation. Plus I have a section of warmer garden area that I do a two year rotation within there because I like the melons and sweet potatoes to have the warm spot.

    My diagram is now in my computer. I print it out each year and mark it up manually. I like to do it with a pencil so I can keep changing my mind easily. I’ve never gotten into the computer design of the garden, but I do like the hard copy of the empty garden space on the computer.

    Reply
    1. ~Rachel Arsenault Post author

      Daphne, It took a while to get most of my planting organized by families in the same bed, but it is still a challenge to rotate because I grow more in the Solanaceae family than the others.

      Reply
  6. Terry

    Haven’t been following very long but find your info helpful. I haven’t had a big success with my garden as we have mostly sandy soil that I have been continually adding compost, manure etc to. Hope it will be better this year. I also want to build some raised beds.

    Reply
  7. ~Rachel Arsenault Post author

    Hi Terry, Thanks for reading and commenting. Our soil is pretty sandy as well. I have to add lots of compost every spring and fall to add nutrients and help with moisture retention.

    Reply
  8. Thomas

    I’ve never been good about mapping out my garden. Usually every year I just have a sense of where I want things to go and hope that I have enough space. Usually it works out one way or another but I definitely see the benefit of visualization.

    Reply
  9. Marla

    You have a great guide to starting a garden. I especially like the idea of vertical that work so well for people that have limited space and produce quite well in most cases. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge. Visiting from Homestead blog hop. Pinned & twitted.

    Reply
    1. klienielsen

      Actually I have a follow up question – I am starting some new beds in a location I don’t think has ever been tilled before. What are your recommendations for adding to the soil and starting mulch on a new bed?

      Reply
      1. ~Rachel Arsenault Post author

        Hi Kirsten, Compost will be the best thing to add to a bed no matter what the quality of the soil. Organic matter will help soil structure and provide nutrients. After digging the bed, add at least 4-inches of compost and work into the soil. I would also suggest getting a soil test to see if there are any nutrient deficiencies (http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/). If you start digging the beds and find the soil too poor, you can always add a square foot garden on top of the soil (http://growagoodlife.com/square-foot-garden/). For mulch, I really like using straw. I hope this helps.

        Reply
  10. rachel621

    I am new-ish to food gardening but I have big ideas. Signed up for your newsletter because there seems to be such good information for someone like me. Thanks for sharing on Merry Monday!

    Reply
  11. Nancy A.

    Thanks Rachel for this valuable information which I pinned. Also liked it on Facebook. I especially will pay attention to the growing seasons of each veggie. As you mentioned, I will plan to re-use space for more than one crop in a season. I saw this post at Natural Family Friday, where my post appears too (Global Effort for the Environment). Warm regards, Nancy Andres

    Reply
  12. Jean

    Seeing you mapping out your garden beds is a reminder that spring really will come — as difficult as that may be to believe right about now. The lengthening days also give me hope. I’m very grateful that this last storm missed us.

    Reply
    1. ~Rachel Arsenault Post author

      Jean, This was the best blizzard ever! I am so happy we did not receive the predicted additional foot of snow this time around. I am trying so hard to think spring right now and planning the garden is helping boost my spirits.

      Reply
  13. Nicky

    Thanks for this article and reminder that I need to get this year’s garden planning started. Thank you for linking up to the Let’s Get Real Linky Party! I’m pinned this to our party board and have chosen you as one of my featured bloggers this week. Please stop by and grab a blog button when the party goes live Thursday at 5PM EST.

    Have a fabulous week!
    Nicky
    Little Family Adventure

    Reply
  14. Rebecca Sorensen

    I am new to your site and I am really enjoying it! Your articles are so informative and your instructions are so easy to follow. Thank you for giving your time and knowledge.

    Reply
    1. ~Rachel Arsenault Post author

      Rebecca, Thank you for your kind comment. I have learned so much from other gardeners over the years. I enjoy sharing what works for me in the hopes that it inspires others.

      Reply
  15. Kevin

    Impressive write-up! Great guidance on vegetable garden. You have share very useful knowledge. This would be a great help for the gardeners especially newbies like me. Thanks a lot.

    Reply
  16. Margaret Fisher

    I’ve really been enjoying your posts so far. I’m a new gardener so there’s still so much I don’t know yet. I understand the logic of planting vegetables together by ‘family’…but my concern is this: I grow almost exclusively heirloom/heritage varieties, and so keeping seeds pure is very important. If say, I intend to grow 3-4 different varieties of pumpkin or watermelon, wouldn’t putting them together in the same bed run too high a risk of cross-pollination? (Also…would it be safe to plant my purple tomatillos in the same bed as my tomatoes? (cross-pollination wise)

    Reply
    1. ©Rachel Arsenault Post author

      Margaret, Yes, isolation is very important if you are saving seeds but you really need a large distance (up to a mile) to try to keep the plants isolated. It is really difficult to do in a backyard garden surrounded by other folks who garden as well. Bees and wind can spread pollen a mile away. Tomatoes and beans are considered self-pollinating. These are less likely to cross-pollinate, but it can happen.

      Reply

Thank you so much for your comments. I love hearing from you!