Planning out the Garden!

WE ARE AT THE END OF JANUARY! It is crazy to think how quickly this winter is going! Seed starting begins next month already, which means I need to plan how much to grow. Luckily, I had a kick in the pants moment yesterday, where a coworker and I got to discuss how many plants you need to grow, what you need to grow seedlings, and the space it requires. This all starts with my garden plan. My garden plan is how I look back at previous years to determine what would grow best in the spaces this year, how plants do together (companion planting), how much we need to grow, and what crops pair well for succession planting.

I start this all by deciding what I am growing this year. I made my list of what I all want to grow this season (like below):

2016-01-25 13.43.28.jpg

I then start to think of my layout from last year (Garden2015)

I take that plan and decide what is good to plant this year to follow up what was planted in the spaces last year. For example, peanuts are FANTASTIC NITROGEN FIXERS, so I want to follow them up with a HIGH feeder (something that consumes a lot of soil fertility, ex. solanaceae-potatoes,tomatoes,eggplant; cucurbitaceae-squash,cucumbers; bassicaceae-cabbage,turnip,radish,broccoli, cauliflower). So this year we are planting cabbage and broccoli where the peanuts were last year. The reason we do crop rotation is to keep pests down, to build up soil fertility naturally, and to keep diseases down.

Pest and disease problems usually present when the same crop is planted over and over in a space. You can see cabbage worms pop up when there is a BUFFET in the same spot year after year, so instead rotate them around the garden and interplant so the little buggers don’t have a FEAST but slim pickings so they GO AWAY!

Part of planning is also knowing what part of the garden needs rest by growing either a cover crop (lots of examples but I have not explored these much so I will not discuss them until I work with them more) or a light feeder (ex.root veggies, lettuce, and other greens) or something that provides more for the soil than it takes (ex. peas or beans).

Some good rotation ideas look like:

Solanaceae–>Greens & Roots–>Brassicacae–>Peas or beans–> Liliaceae (ex. onions, garlic, leeks)–>Greens & Roots–>Cucurbitaceae–>Peas or beans–> Garlic–>Greens & Roots

So obviously the pattern is heavy feeder–>greens & roots–>heavy feeder–>peas or beans–>heavy feeder, etc. If you aren’t growing that many greens or roots, you can use compost in-between heavy feeder years to help out the soil, or try planting a self sustaining area (ex.corn, beans, squash…where the squash and corn is the heavy feeder, but the beans feed it and the squash helps to keep weeds down, and the corn provide a climbing pole for the beans)

After I look at the rotations of the crops, I place down veggie names in each “garden square”. My very basic plans for my layout are above. Tim and I then take this to the computer and honestly think about how many of each plant will be able to fit in the space, and if it really needs that much space. Tim likes to do this on auto cad (such an engineer). He lays out the exact size of our gardens and we look at planting densities (to optimize space but not overcrowd plants) and determine how many plants we need in each section. If this opens up room we will plant in more root crops, lettuce, herbs, or a larger plant if we are short on space for that somewhere else.

The density for this will look something like:

In 30 inches for tomatoes you will only provide 1 row, but the plants will only be 9″ apart -or- Lettuce will have 3 rows in 30 inches and the plants will be 12″ apart down the rows (we have a whole section that is about this in the market gardener book)

This helps us then plan out the number of each plant we need to grow! As you can see the plans are pretty loose, this is to have flexibility in the plans, but that we have a good goal of what to plant where. This planning gives us a good number of plants to aim for growing indoors. Once we know the number of plants we want to grow indoors, we would use out 9 cell trays and plan how many trays to grow of each vegetable. If we don’t need as many transplants as we grow, we keep some for backups incase something happens to those that are transplanted, or if everything goes okay we give the rest away. We then figure out exactly how many trays are needed, how much space they will take up, the number of grow lights we will need or the number of heating pads we will need. This all seems to grow more and more every year. This year we are going to try growing our own onions inside, we are also going to grow kohlrabi, leeks, swiss chard, and kale inside this year. All those “new” vegetables we are starting will need more space indoors, so more trays, more lights and more heat pads may be necessary. We will re-evaluate what we all need after we lay out all our specifics, and see what we have from last year for growing seedlings.

I am looking forward to seeing how many trays we will be growing this year, especially now that we are going to move to soil blocks verses the plastic trays. We will see how well this goes! Wish us luck!

Have you started planning your garden layout?


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