Before you begin to plan your garden be sure to honestly access just how much work and time you are willing and able to devote to your garden. If it is just you alone and you are very busy, then plan for a smaller garden. If your entire family will take on the task, then you can plan for a larger garden. Then determine how much area can be converted into usable garden space.
To begin your garden plan, find a level area for growing vegetables. It will be easier to prepare, plant, and irrigate than sloping ground. If you must plant on sloping ground be sure to run rows across the slope instead of up and down so the soil will not wash away during irrigation or a rain shower. Plan to locate your garden near a water source so that it will be easy to keep watered. The garden spot also need to be placed where the vegetables can get at least 8 hours of sunlight each day for best growth. Plant vegetables where they are not shaded by trees, shrubs, walls, or fences.
Good garden planning is important if you are going to try and produce large amounts of vegetables from a limited area. Pay close attention to timing of planting and harvesting, selection of varieties, trellising, and other space-saving practices. Timing refers to the maximum use of the available growing season. Each zone has an optimal planting time for each type of vegetable and most zones allow for multiple plantings throughout the year depending on your location. See our Planting Schedules for your zone "Approximate Days to Maturity" from planting for selected vegetable crops to include in your overall garden plan.
Plan your garden with efficiency in mind. You can save a lot of space if you use trellising and staking. Do not grow horizontally what you can grow vertically. Vining crops, such as tomato, squash, cucumber, and pole beans, use a great deal of space when allowed to grow along the ground. Trellises, stakes, cages or other supports minimize the ground space used and increase garden productivity. Support materials can consist of wood, extra stakes, twine, or a nearby fence.
Improved varieties may be the best way for the space-conscious gardener to achieve higher yields. Today, a gardener can select bush varieties of beans, cucumbers, melons and squash that require much less space than standard varieties. Determinant tomatoes (those that grow only to a certain height) can be trained more easily to a stake.
If the goal of your garden plan is to achieve a larger harvest or you have a small space but want a large yield you can do succession planting. Succession planting consists of sowing seeds of a given crop at 2 to 3-week intervals to produce a continuous supply of vegetables. Beans, corn, lettuce, turnips, and beets are well suited to this practice and can add a lot to your harvest.
When planning your garden consider companion planting or the planting of two crops in the same bed at the same time. Normally one crop matures and is harvested before the other one. Radishes and carrots work well this way, since the radishes can be harvested well before the carrots are very large. The quick-growing radish seedlings also help to mark planted rows. If space is tight you could also plant crops in between other crops. This practice is known as inter-cropping and involves planting early-maturing crops between the rows of late-maturing crops to increase production in a small area. For example, beans, radishes, green onions, spinach, or leaf lettuce may be planted between rows of tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, or corn. The quicker-maturing crops will be harvested before the others become very large.
Plan your garden on paper before planting by developing a to-scale sketch. A well-planned garden can provide fresh or preserved vegetables for use all year. The garden plan should contain crops and amounts to be planted, dates of planting and estimated harvest, planting location for each crop, specific spacing between rows, and trellising or support required. First, make a sketch of the garden area showing the dimensions of the garden. Prepare a list of vegetables you want to grow. Then arrange the crops in the garden according to the amounts you wish to grow, dates to be planted, and space available. Plant perennial crops, such as rhubarb and asparagus, to one side of the garden so that the plants are not disturbed by preparations for future crops. Plant tall crops, such as corn and pole beans, on the north side of the garden so that they will not shade low-growing crops.