There’s never only one style of garden that works for everyone when it comes to vegetable garden planning because every gardener and their gardening wants and needs are unique. The type of soil you’ll be using, whether you’ll be sowing directly in the ground or using raised beds, how much sun and shade your garden area will get in a day, what types of fertilizers and supplements you’ll be using and what types of foods you’re looking to grow will all play a part in how your garden plan and your garden location is set up.
Settling on the best part of your yard for a garden is the first step. You want to look for an area that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunshine a day at a minimum, and has good drainage. The majority of plants will grow just fine if they have at least 6 hours of sunshine a day, and some food plants can even do well in partly shaded areas. Once you’ve decided on the location of your yard where you want to place your garden, next is deciding if you will be directly sowing into the ground or using some type of raised bed system. If directly sowing into the ground, prep the soil by tilling it and have it tested to find out what type of amendments if any you would need to add to make the soil hospitable to food plants. Raised beds are a bit simpler, just purchase some good garden soil and fill the beds. Most soils that are purchased are already fertilized and amended as needed, but a simple soil test can tell you if there are any additional amendments you’d need to add to your purchased dirt.
Another important factor in deciding where to place your garden is how close it is to a water source. You can’t always depend on the rain to provide a consistent and adequate source of water, so ensure you are close enough to a well or a water hose is long enough to reach the planted area without much hassle. Additionally if the garden is too far from a water source you may consider building a rain barrel out of a food grade 55 gallon jug for watering needs. Water is essential for your plants to grow strong and healthy and produce abundant crops for harvesting. If you’re interested in learning how to build a rain barrel, here is a good tutorial that shows you how.
So now you know where you want your garden, you’ve taken the steps to prep the soil or add the raised beds. Now that you’re done with that you need to decide what type of plants you want to grow. Always grow something you will actually eat, or that you can give away to someone who’s in need. Sometimes people are surprised by the amount of food that can be generated from a small amount of plants that do well. Unfortunately sometimes this food goes to waste because there is too much food, all of it couldn’t be given away or the growers don’t know how to can (put up) what they harvested. Start small on your first garden and get a feel for what you’re growing and how much time/effort it takes to not only grow but maintain, treat, debug, harvest and prepare the foods you’ll be growing.
Once you’ve decided what you’ll be growing it’s time to dive into your garden planning and get things placed in the best locations. Plants that grow tall are best kept in a part of the garden where they won’t shade other vegetables you’re growing. This can best be accomplished by keeping most of the bigger and taller plants toward the back which will most likely be the northern most part of your garden. Plants such as tomatoes are good candidate for this type of location.
Also consider companion planting, which is planting beneficial plants next to each other. Some examples are planting tomato next to basil, or green beans at the base of the corn stalk. Tomatoes benefit from basil by the basil repelling the tomato hornworm and basil can also enhance the flavor of tomatoes. Planting green beans that vine right next to a corn stalk provides the beans with a natural trellis and the beans affix nitrogen into the soil that benefits your corn, you can even add squash plants to the same bed as the corn and beans. Squash plants can deter raccoon’s from demolishing the corn since raccoon’s don’t like how the prickly squash leaves and vines feel. These are just two examples of how companion planting can work for your garden. There are other examples of companion planting such as onions, garlic and leeks planted with nightshades such as tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, as well as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower being planted with carrots.
Once your first year of planting is over, setting up your garden plan for the following year is a good fall/winter activity. Keep a schematic of what you planted where during your first gardening season. This will help you remember where you planted specific plants so you can ensure you don’t plant the same plant in the same location to following year. This is called crop rotation and it can benefit your garden by preventing the soil from harboring fungal spores, diseases and/or bacteria that can gain strength and become a problem if the same plants are planted in the same spots year after year. Crop rotation will also keep nutrients balanced in the soil and keep the soil healthier. Crop rotation is not a 100% fix all, but it can go a long way in helping reduce the chances of these problems happening.