After months of dreaming, weeks of research, and a few nights of sketching and list-making, my veggie garden is planned out for the year. The permaculture course I just completed at an urban farm here in Vancouver inspired me to be way more organized about my planting this year. (More on this course and its awesomeness later.)
I’m not a planner by nature. I always start the gardening year with good intentions, but I never seem to be organized enough to manage intensive-production techniques like succession planting that make the most of a small space like mine.
I’m also prone to impulse seed purchases, which inevitably wreak havoc on any existing plan as you try to make room for the new crop. This is especially true for heirloom tomatoes. I tend to buy way more varieties of tomato seeds than I could possibly plant.
But enough about my flaws.
Sometimes it seems like the whole world conspires against your veggie patch – the weather stinks, leaf rollers destroy your kale, your dog tramples your seedlings – but planning your planting scheme for the year, and trying against all odds to stick to it, is something positive you can do.
I’m determined to make the most of my garden space this year. So I planned. I drew out my beds. I listed everything I wanted to grow. I figured out what was going to go in each of my three raised beds according to plant family and space needs. I sighed as I crossed things off my list I didn’t have room for. Despite that, I found myself really nerding out and getting into the process. I was even tempted to get out my pencil crayons at one point.
Then I used one of the techniques Farmer Rin taught us: plotting out what you’re going to plant, grow and harvest over the seasons using a simple chart. I drew a table with nine cells (three rows, three columns). Across the top I wrote, “Spring,” “Summer,” and “Fall” (you could also add Winter). Down the first column I wrote “Plant,” “Grow,” and “Harvest.”
Then I wrote in what I needed to plant in each season, and when I could expect to harvest each crop. I’ve since turned this into a free downloadable planting planning worksheet.
I find this a great way to quickly see if I’ve got any obvious empty spots in a bed. In one bed, for example, I just had carrots and tomatoes, which left big blank spots in the “Harvest” row for spring, and in the “Plant” row for fall. By adding an overwintering vegetable such as leeks or Brussels sprouts to that bed, I could plant in fall and be harvesting the next spring – getting that much more action out of a single bed.
The other thing I’m doing this year is adding seed starting dates to my iCal. I’ve even got “reminders” set up so I don’t forget to start my beets around April 12, for example, or do a second seeding of lettuce on May 10.
Think that’s a little over the top? Maybe so. But if this is the first year I actually manage to have something growing in each of my beds year-round, it’ll be worth it. Now I just have to follow the plan. Wish me luck.
Sounds like a good system. I kind of like being spontaneous in my plantings, but that probably isn’t very efficient. I’m going to start a plan for my new veggie garden tomorrow. Thanks for the ideas.
Oh that’s very impressive. I never plan which is maybe why my allotment (community garden I think in the US) is never as productive as I’d like.
Hmm. I’m going to have to go away and have a think and a tinker with pad and pen. Yes, I really should raise my game. Thanks for the inspiration!
Sarah O says
Wait, using coloured pencils is a step beyond nerding out? Guess it’s time for me to plan that Star Trek garden. :)
I thought of using my iCal, but I ended up printing off three calendar months and writing my seed starting schedule directly onto that instead. The coloured pencils are for the bird’s-eye-view plan, which isn’t finalized (and coloured) until after planting.
Using iCal is a great tool. I’m trying to set up a yearly recurring what to do when for the whole garden. Also using iPhoto to document how things are growing is a good tool to remember, research the whole process. No, if you are “over the top” I’d be certifiable!
Knox Gardner says
We do wish you luck! We’re on our second year of trying to always have stuff growing to eat. It’s very rewarding.
We just had a “Spring” dinner for 12 people where every dish had something fresh from the garden. Nice big arugula salad, sorrel pie, and then some stuff which was like “chives sprinkled on top.” Still considering it was early March…MUCH GARDEN PRIDE.
Between the planning and then a cloche, you can do this.
One thing I have found fairly helpful is keeping my seeds in a box, with labeled tabs for every two weeks in the early season on when to plant and then I just rotate the seeds as I need to remind me. I can always look in and think about what’s next. Mixed results as there is that seed pack of parsnips that there is never room for, but not bad.
I actually diagrammed out my garden (to get my companion planting sorted out) and then spent a few days making a digital color coded version with a paint program. I understand your geeking out entirely.
Maybe you could do some planting around the office with your impulse seed purchases? No offence to the landscapers at work, but I’d much rather see your garden handiwork any day.
I fully intended to plan out my 4 raised beds. Then I soaked my peas, not calculating out the exact number needed to allow room for succession planting…I couldn’t let those swollen beauties go to waste! Aargh…I’ll try again next year with peas! Thanks for the inspiration! Happy Spring!
Wow! I am *so* impressed. Trying to do my first veggie garden. I do more ornamentals and pots. I will try to incorporate your drawing idea. Thanks!
glad to hear i’m not the only one nerding out! this year i’m also making a priority of planning madly because i have challenged myself to growing everything within my patio rather then the community plot! and yes, i feel you on the impulse shopping; somewhere in the back of my mind i have a huge piece of land that i can plant 20 different tomato varieties into a tomato jungle, then *poof* i get home and realize i can only squeeze maybe 4 plants max into my space… maybe a seed swap should be in the works next year if there isn’t already one somewhere i’m not aware of? :-)
Hi i enjoy your site ,i only wish i was able to go back to my gardening (mainly landscaping &design).
but due to problems i am not able to .
But the relaxation i get from plants i miss so much ,but reading your blog i get so much reminders of what plants and outdoor work are able to do without us realising it(when working )so please keep it up and please ‘experience is worth far more than books and looking at the plant’s and envioroment that they live in and plants teach us so much .
WOW – you put me to SHAME! I am without a doubt the most disorganized, accidental vegetable gardener ever. My veg beds get no sun at all over the winter months, so I just composted, added minerals, and let them sit since November. But now I have a ton of lettuces, arugula, and chamomile that volunteered themselves – of course, they are all in the pathways and my ornamental beds rather than in my designated vegetable plots – but whatever! I am so happy to be collaborating with nature on having a year-round garden. Even though it looks like hell.
Farmer Rin’s/ your plant-grow-harvest chart is great!
Andrea Bellamy says
Gardengrrrl – I know! I like to be spontaneous too. But I’ve learned that it’s the enemy of a productive garden. So I save my impulsiveness for random shoe purchases. ;)
Deb – Good luck! Let me know how it goes.
Sarah O – LOL. Check out Kiss My Aster’s Star Wars garden craft week: http://www.hortmag.com/kissmyaster/
Rachel – Oh, great idea. I’m stealing that one.
Knox Gardener – That’s inspiring! Like the box idea too.
Deep – Impressive! I like it.
Milkybeer – don’t think I haven’t considered it!
Becca – I feel your pain. I do that all the time. Gardening is trial and error. And more error.
Melinda – Yay! Good luck and happy gardening.
Nancy – hey, I have that imaginary 20 acres too! I have tomato seeds if you want to swap.
Cool – thanks!
Germi – gotta love the volunteers. And if they’re in your way, make ’em into a salad!
Georgia – thanks! I find it very helpful.
The plant-grow-harvest matrix is a great idea. I’m going to try it as well because I am terrible with empty spaces in my beds. Thanks!
Li'l Ned says
Thanks for the photos! I too am Getting Serious about succession and fall/winter plantings. My biggest challenge is that all but one of my garden beds is a weird shape, so it’s really hard to know the real square footage of any of them. The nice, tidy succession charts in books never actually work out for me.
I invariably soak too many seeds (pea commenter, I feel your pain), plan too many different things for the space I’ve got in any one bed, or fail to do follow-up plantings throughout the summer. Well, mainly I buy too many seeds.
But I’ve been poring over Eliot Coleman’s ‘Four Season Harvest’ and making lists and charts, and now that I’ve seen yours (thanks so much for PHOTOS!) I am going to make another attempt to get The Plan down on paper. With colored pencils.
i can’t tell you how i aspire to be in this place!! i am working my way in that direction. this is very helpful. i’ve started to put fertilizing dates in my ical and pruning dates. i am to get incredibly organized with it. this is very inspiring. thank you! the charts are helpful to. maybe i’ll have time to sit down with this more later…
Oh my gosh. This is just what I needed to read. I was out in my garden on Sunday planting and I thought, I should really be more organized. I am totally going to use the chart. Yay! Thanks!
OK, that is freaking impressive. I need to take a class like that to galvanize me – as it is, I’m stuck in the random/impulse mode you mentioned. Plus it’s only April and I’m already feeling behind! It almost makes me want winter back… I like your chart idea, hope it works and you get great harvests in every season!
Sara Bearchell says
I really like the iCal idea- why didn’t I think of that?? I might even try putting my dates into my iPhone this year so I get buzzed in the ass if I forget.
To figure out my timing, I’ve been using the West Coast Seed Catalogue planting chart for a few years with great success. It’s particularly useful for Vancouver gardening, although I’d push my dates back by about 2 weeks this year. Brrrrr! I’ve got a link to it here if you haven’t seen it before: http://www.sarabearchell.com/2009/04/when-to-plant/
Can’t wait to hear about that course….
So I guess a MS Project Gant chart would be way too nerdy? :) Planning is the only thing you can be sure of in your garden. Then nature does what it does.