Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Planning your vegetable garden

by Rhonda Jean @ Down to Earth

Although summer is coming to an end here at my little homestead, we're getting ready for our main vegetable planting of the year. March is our big month. We start with a lot of empty beds - the only time of the year we have them, and plant, prune or rearrange enough fruit and vegetables to do us over the next few months. As the months pass by, we plant up empty spots as they appear to keep up a supply of organic vegetables and to add variety and seasonal vegetables.

We originally set up our garden so we could rotate our crops. Crop rotation is a handy way organic gardeners plant to help with soil health and to fight pests and disease. We found that when we planted all year long, we couldn't use crop rotation practices but we do still try to not plant the Solanaceae family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant) in a bed that's grown it the previous season. Now we pick a bed for our potatoes and tomatoes, making sure they weren't planted there in the previous year, and then start working out where everything else will go.

My front and back gardens.
Click on map to enlarge.

It's helpful to draw yourself a map of your garden and another map of your vegetable garden. If you list your intended crops at the top of the map as you think of them, or order them, you can then plan your garden well before you actually go outside to plant. Make sure you do your mapping with a pencil because there will probably be a lot of changes made along the way. By the time you plant, you'll be satisfied that you have a place for everything and if you're using crop rotation, you have all the families in their right places. Keep your maps in your home management binder because they will provide a valuable record of your gardening years.

As you become more experienced, you'll change the way you garden. You'll probably start out with ideas from the internet, books and other gardens, but that will evolve as you realise certain things don't work like that in your garden and you work out ways to get the best harvests for the least effort.

My vegetable garden.
Click on map to enlarge.

I always start some of my seeds in trays and the rest in the garden. Some plants do best when transplanted as seedlings (like tomatoes), others hate to be disturbed once they're in (like parsley, chard, beans etc). I started planting those seedling seeds last month so they're ready for our main March planting. Timing is everything in gardening. Vegetables will not grow out of season, no matter how much you want them to. So be guided by a planting map for your area so you don't waste time and money on seeds that might germinate and grow, but will never reach maturity and give you a harvest. Here is an excellent plating guide for Australian gardeners. This is a planting guide for the UK and NZ - it's in the drop down menu. Planting guide for USA zones 1 - 10.

When I post here again, I'll go through a few tips and tricks I've discovered over the years I've been gardening. I wish you all happy planning and gardening, and abundant harvests.