The idea of planning a garden seems simple. Just plant in dirt, right? But before you can ever get to that point, you have to make several decisions. Each year, you should think about what worked and what needs to change.
The first decision we need to make is whether we want to plant in a plot of land (a ground bed), raised beds, containers, or a combination. There are pros and cons to each space. I personally use a combination of all three, since certain crops fit each of these options better in my garden.
Plot of Land (Ground Bed):
There are many great reasons to plant your garden in a ground bed. You’ll have a cheaper start-up because you don’t need to purchase many supplies. There is a greater flexibility in the kind of crops you can grow. Larger crops like corn and potatoes do better in a plot of land. It’s also easier to irrigate a ground bed with a drip system (my favorite).
But, the ground bed does have its drawbacks. Unless it’s an established garden plot, you have to decide how to clear it. You can till it by machine or hand-till, scrape the grass off the top, or cover it in the fall to kill off the weeds and grasses (which requires advanced planning). It’s also more difficult to control its fertility and composition. In my opinion, a soil test is a must so you’ll know how to amend your soil if needed — if your soil is too acidic or alkaline or if it shows deficiency in key nutrients.
A ground bed also presents difficulties when it comes to drainage. In clay soil, water drains slowly, whereas in sandy soil, water drains too fast. Either way, amending the soil is necessary to find the ideal medium. In most cases, this is a process that takes years.
The soil in ground beds also suffer from impaction caused by stepping, which isn’t great for the soil structure. This is even worse if you till it frequently with heavy machinery.
I have to admit, my raised beds are my favorites. I have better control of fertility, which equals more productive harvests. In general, I fight weeds less than in my ground bed, and let’s admit it. Raised beds are just pretty.
But, there are limitations to growing in raised beds. You can grow a limited variety of crops. Corn, black-eyed peas, and pole beans really need more space, although a good workaround with pole beans is to trellis them between beds.
Then there’s the cost. Each raised bed costs about $50 in materials for treated pine, but that cost will be more with different wood or if you purchase raised bed kits. And this doesn’t count the cost of the soil.
Raised beds also need watering more frequently due to their propensity to dry out more quickly.
Although I don’t grow my vegetables and fruit in containers anymore, this method does have its benefits. Besides watering, planting in containers usually equals less labor. You can better maintain soil fertility, and their mobility allows you to relocate the plant if needed.
The limitations include the types of crops you can grow. While most people can grow tomatoes, peppers, herbs, squash, lettuce, spinach, greens, and carrots, it’s harder to grow larger crops. Container-grown plants also overheat quickly and need consistent watering — sometimes multiple times per day! And of course, you have to consider the cost of containers and soil.
After we’ve decided on the type of garden space we’ll utilize, we need to determine the location. The two main factors in location are the amount of sun the space receives during the growing season (6+ hours minimum) and its proximity to a water source.
Once we have our location settled, it’s time to start planning our layout for the season. There are a couple of different methods to layout planning. The most popular types are planting by the row and square foot gardening.
Planting by the row is the most common. Square foot gardening is another method where you take each square foot and, depending on the crop, plant to fill that square, depending on the size of the plant. For example, for one square foot you might plant one pepper plant and in another square foot you plant 9 onions. One tomato plant requires four square foot blocks, while a squash plant might require nine.
Just like in choosing my garden space, I utilize each of these methods depending on the crop.
I have found that utilizing my Simple Garden Planner has made layout planning much easier. The layout grids allow me to pencil in the location of the crops, and the companion planting guide gives me the basics on what crops do best next to one another or far away.
In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, I talk more about the Land, Location, and Layout to help you plan your garden:
Click below to listen.
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