Garden Planning

Gaiam.com, Inc

Yesterday, as the wind blew and the snow swirled, I spent a good many hours planning our first garden. We’re fortunate to have a pretty large yard with a substantial area (40′ x 100′) already fenced off for gardening. even though it’s currently buried under a foot of snow (which I adore, it’s fabulous,) it’s time to start planning things for spring.

Having been through thirty-mumble transitions from dead-of-Michigan-winter to OMG-IT’S-SUDDENLY-SPRING, you could say this isn’t my first rodeo. I know if I put things off any longer, it’ll be too late to order seeds and get them in on time (or have a hope they’re still in stock.) Thus, I am Planning and gazing contemplatively out the window:

Left entirely to my own devices, I would have created something monstrous, inefficient and unproductive – I haven’t done any gardening at all since I was but a wee lass eating peas off the vine in Mom and Dad’s garden. I needed help, and lots of it.

The three resources I used most yesterday were these:

I’ll be ordering from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange based on a friend’s recommendation and a casual look at their sustainable practices. Their catalog provides good descriptions of each seed variety, and their selection is quite extensive.

Having seen the ravages of non-indigenous plant species decimating habitat(see Scots Broom and Himalayan Blackberry in the Pacific Northwest,) I focus on planting native species. Flowers and native plants will mostly be coming from Wild Type, a nursery just down the road specializing in plants found natively in this part of the state. Their primary business is native commercial landscaping, but they have a few days throughout the summer during which they’re open to the public. Last summer, I took home several flats of plants, including several species of sunflower that did very well, even in the limited growing time they had. We closed on the house in mid-July, and didn’t get fully moved in until nearly August – too late to do much with the garden, but at least some decorative and wildlife-feeding plants got in. There is still much flower/herb planning to go.

Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening, by Louise Riotte, proved a valuable resource. Riotte lists an abundance of vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers and trees along with their companion plants – plants that improve each other’s yield or protect each other from pests. She covers other basic aspects of the plants as well, including medicinal and poisonous plants.

There’s one potential problem, though; she doesn’t cite her work. While I know there’s plenty of time-proven, tribal gardening knowledge, I do have to wonder if the information she’s providing is accurate. Statements like, “Tomatoes also dislike potatoes and fennel,” uncited, make me curious. For some of her wisdom, though, she at least gives a somewhat scientific reason, as here: “Because of its saponin content, spinach is a useful pre-crop and does well planted with strawberries.”

Thus, as I planned things out in growveg.com, I knew to put the allium and brassica families (onion and cabbage) together, to place pumpkins under sweet corn, beets with kohlrabi and so on and so forth. GrowVeg.com is a neat tool, and is free for 30 days. There is a garden planning/mapping tool, email alerts for planting/harvest and a planting guide. It’s not a perfect tool, but it’s not too bad. It would be very nice if the software (a Flash application used via a web browser) labeled each plant. If one wants labels, one must label everything tediously by hand (or be forced to memorize their key.) The ability to group plants into a single object would be lovely, as well; as it stands, if I decide to move one of those raised beds in the top left, I have to move every single element within it. That’s a hassle.

From the GrowVeg website:

“Frequently Asked Questions

Free Trial and Subscription

Q. Is it really free to use the GrowVeg.com Garden Planning Tool?
A. Yes, for 30 days you get the fully working version of our Garden Planning Tool. There is no limit to the number of garden plans you can produce and all the advanced features such as crop rotation are available. There is no obligation to subscribe at the end of your free trial and we do not require any financial details unless you decide to subscribe.

Q. Why Should I subscribe if I can just sign up for the 30 days free trial?
A. Once your 30-day free trial is over you will need to subscribe if you wish to continue accessing the garden plans that you have produced and receive the emails that remind you when to sow and plant. When you come to plan next year’s garden the GrowVeg.com Garden Planning Tool will remember your garden layout and where crops have been grown in previous years. This allows you to quickly produce next years’ plans without having to re-draw your layout. In addition, GrowVeg.com shows you where to avoid for crop rotation, based on your previous years’ plans.”

A one-year subscription is $25, $40 for two years. I haven’t signed up yet, and I’m not certain if I will. If they had more fully-developed features and a slightly more advanced user interface, I would be happy to do so.

Here’s a sample of half my garden plan thus far:

Looking down on this, I envision hundreds of pounds of fresh, organic, delicious produce providing us its bounty. I foresee learning how to can and properly freeze to get us through the winter months. I see myself driving baskets of produce to my dad and stepmom, to my friends and co-workers. It is a gratifying fantasy.

What I’m not able to clearly envision is how many hours per week it’s going to take me to weed and maintain that gorgeous, yet relatively enormous for a first-timer, patch of land. There will be mulch, oh yes, and compost. Companion planting should help with insect and animal pests, but what about the weeds? There will be no herbicides. Ground cover? Perhaps.

The Southern-most 25 feet I have currently planned to be covered in something like buckwheat. If I end up using the full 40′ x 100′, then amen and hallelujah, but I deem this unlikely. Whatever empty space there is will be a productive green manure crop. I’d pick clover, but one of our neighbors is on an anti-clover crusade, and I’d hate to a.) enrage her or b.) have her come over and spray the dickens out of it. So perhaps buckwheat, perhaps vetch; something to feed the bees. Certainly wildflowers.

There is so much to do, once the snows begin to melt – building raised beds and cold frames, spreading composted manure and tilling it in, maybe even planting a green manure crop. So much to learn…

Next up, planning for the chickens!

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4 responses to Garden Planning


  1. My dad had a similar sized garden when I was a kid. Before he retired, I can remember him coming home from work during the week in the summer and spending at least a couple hours outside in the garden, and pretty much all day Sat and Sun doing things like fertilizing, watering, weeding, etc. He had also set up a separate well and sprinkler system so he spent a good deal of time maintaining that too.

    What I don’t remember very well is how much yield there actually was. I know he gave a lot of stuff away and my mom canned, but it seems like a lot of the canned stuff never got used. :/

    • Erin D.

      I think I’ll be spending a ridiculous amount of time tending the garden and doing Stuff with the produce coming out of it – but I hope it will be worth while. 🙂 I’m hoping with good planning, the weeding and pest control will be minimal – I’m planning to use mulch over the rows, straw on the walkways, et cetera. We’ll see how it goes. If it’s too much, it will all just go back into the ground as compost for next year’s (smaller) garden. 😀

  2. Hi Erin, You will be pleased to know that we are just about to release a new version of the GrowVeg.com Garden Planner software that does automatically label everything and track varieties as well. Plus you’ll be able to add notes and organize succession planting.
    For bees and attracting benificial insects I would recommend phacelia which is also a good ground cover crop.
    Good luck!

    • Erin D.

      Hi Jeremy – Thanks for letting me know of the upcoming features! Tracking varieties would be fabulous, and is something I’d forgotten to mention here, and I hadn’t even thought to use it to track succession plantings. Nice! Thanks for the comment. 🙂

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