How to Plan Your Garden
Confession: I am a planner-person. I am most happy when I can plan out my day/week/month/year and then follow through with those plans/goals. I am pretty sure that’s one of the reasons why I love gardening. Yes, I feel an intimate connection with nature, and yes, I enjoy the thrill of growing my own food. However, it’s also a joy for me to plan out a very thorough gardening schedule.
I am also a bit old-fashioned about how I plan out my garden because I like to write it all out on paper. Yes, I could use a cool computer program, like GrowVeg.com. Honestly, if I ever decide to join the ‘computers for everything’ bandwagon, I would/will probably use GrowVeg.com. It’s a super awesome gardening scheduling program that makes garden planning super easy. So if you want to make garden planning a breeze, check it out!
However, I personally enjoy using paper for my garden planning. It’s one of the reasons why I also prefer actual garden catalogs in my hands, even though online gardening websites are probably a more-green way to buy gardening stuff. One of the reasons why I prefer to write everything out is that I can have various loose-leaf papers all over the table and sort them in different ways. It’s just what works for me. (Feel free to tell me YOUR garden planning strategy in the comment section below!)
In case you wanted some tips on how to plan your garden (OR you were just curious about how I do it), here are the steps that I take:
How to Plan Your Garden:
1. Order your seed catalogs and/or look online. These can take a few weeks or longer to come in the mail, so I order them around Christmas time (I live in a warmer garden zone, so my gardening starts pretty early). Here’s my post on how to find high-quality seed companies. I always get a lot of my seeds from SeedsNow, they have a great selection of non-GMO heirloom seeds. They also have some awesome seed banks if you just want a good variety of seeds without the hassle of ordering them all separately.
2. Figure out your garden zone (here). Every year, I check my garden zone. This is partly because I have moved so much that I sometimes get the numbers mixed up (10 moves in 10 years of marriage!). It’s also because garden zones can change. For example, I have lived in Upstate South Carolina for a few years now, and when first I moved here, it was garden zone 7b, and now it’s garden zone 8a. Your garden zone will help you figure out when to direct sow your seeds and also when you need to start some of your plants indoors (tomatoes, for example, need such a long growing season that you pretty much HAVE to start them indoors).
3. Figure out your soil conditions. Here’s how I properly tested my soil. Once you know the health of your soil, you can figure out what soil amendments you need to purchase and work into the garden before planting season.
4. Map out and measure your garden space. You need to know how much space you have for each type of plant, so that you don’t end up with, for example, 20 tomato plants and space for only 8 of them (ahem…yes this happened to me before). Since I live in the South, with our awful clay soil, I have cinder brick raised beds. Measuring my garden space is pretty easy because of this, and I also have bonus cinder holes around the edges of my garden beds for MORE plants. Score!
5. Test your old seeds. Here’s my tip for testing the viability of old seeds. If you are budget-obsessed like me, you probably had leftover seeds from last season. Hopefully, you put those precious seeds in a cold and dark place (I keep my seeds in the fridge!). Properly-stored seeds can stay viable for a few years, but it’s a good idea to check them so that you know if you need to buy more seeds than you first thought.
6. Read through your seed catalogs and make a list of the plants you need/want to buy this year. This is one of the funnest parts: seed shopping!!! I usually have a sheet of paper with two columns, one column is a list of the old seeds that are still viable, and next column is a list of the new seeds that I need/want to buy.
7. Order your seeds…and try to keep in the yearly gardening budget! This can be hard for me, since I want to grow everything! While ordering your seeds, read up about different varieties and pick the best one for your garden zone. For example, this year, for my cucumbers, I chose this variety, because it was developed by Clemson University, which is located in Upstate SC just like me. I also chose a new pickle variety that is supposed to be highly disease and pest resistant, because of last year’s disaster.
8. Plan out your garden. I remind myself about proper Crop Rotation and I try to make sure that all of my new seeds will have the best location as possible in my garden. Since I do this all on paper, I usually give each vegetable/fruit a number, and I put the numbers on my garden map and the number key on another piece of paper.
9. Schedule your garden. I usually just print calendar pages for free online, but you can also buy a new calendar just for gardening. No matter what, you will probably want a gardening calendar, even if it’s just an online one. Here’s a photo of a month from my last year calendar, in all it’s intricate details. I put the frost dates on my gardening calendar, and then figure out each and every plant’s needs. Tomatoes, for example, need to be started indoors 6-8 weeks before your last spring frost date. So I put ‘plant tomato seeds indoors’ on my garden calendar for those weeks. Tomatoes also like to be hardened off for 2 weeks before planting, so I make sure to write ‘harden tomatoes’ on my garden calendar 2 weeks before the last frost date. This might seem overwhelming, but it actually makes each week very easy for me. Every week, I look at the week’s list of gardening chores, and I cross them off one at a time. It makes gardening very efficient and stress-free.
10. Order/purchase gardening supplies. With my list of plants and mapped-out garden, I have a good estimate about how many seeds I will need to start indoors. I purchase peat pots (my personal preference for starting seeds) and the ingredients I use for a proper seed-starting soil (post coming soon!). I also have a heat mat for my seeds and a good seed starting light (like this). Since I planned out my garden so carefully, I only need one heat mat and one light, since my plants come and go very smoothly, and there is very little chaos in my seedling area in my home.
11. Write thorough gardening notes. During the gardening season, I write down anything that I think might be important for future seasons. For example, for 2015, I wrote the names of the varieties of plants that did not thrive in my climate. I avoided buying those varieties when I bought my seeds for this year. It’s amazing how quickly you can forget little details about your garden, so writing things down as you think of them is a good idea. I keep everything in a binder (see photo), and it helps keep everything very organized for future years in my garden.
How do YOU plan your garden?
Feel free to tell me about your garden planning in the comment section below! Just because this is how I do my garden planning doesn’t mean that it’s perfect for everyone else. I’m so ready for this year’s garden! Now is the hardest part of gardening: waiting for spring! 🙂
Want more tips on how to plan your garden? Check out the book The Suburban Micro-Farm, by Amy Stross. It has an AMAZING chapter on garden planning. I even learned some new tips for myself from that chapter! It’s a great gardening book to own. Learn more about it here.