I don’t know about you but cabin fever has set in around here, we just had a pretty big snow storm middle of last week. March 1st and they are calling for another one to three inches of the white stuff tonight. We are having some pretty good snow fall as I write this. Now here I am thinking about planting things outside already. I want to share with you a couple of things to keep in perspective when planning a garden and your vegetable garden layout .
If this is your first Garden
You need to decide where to put it. I’m not going to go into detail about Sun angle and making sure that no shadow ever falls on your garden. I’ve worried about that sort of thing in the past and to tell you the truth it will just drive you nuts. If you just observe your own property from now until it’s time to prepare the ground for planting you should be able to tell what part gets the most sun. You don’t want to put the garden so far from the house you wont ever visit it. But if there is no good sun there by the house then just put it farther out.
If you are trying to figure all this out in the winter think back to the sunny area of your yard last summer and go from there. Remember also that the sun will be higher in the sky in the summer. Another thing about garden location.
Watch out for trees
Try not to plant a garden too close to a black walnut or trees that are relatives to the black walnut. These trees contain a toxin called Juglone. This toxin inhibits the growth of many plants that come into contact with the roots of these trees. I personally have grown a garden near black walnuts, and my existing garden grows near a hickory tree. The key is to be far enough away. In my garden plants closest to the Hickory tree don’t do as well. In the past when I used to till I would regularly run into roots from that tree. That particular tree is also south of my garden. It casts a partial shadow over that portion of the garden for some of the day.
My answer to all of this?
I am slowly migrating my garden farther away from that tree. Last year I added about twenty more feet to the north end of my garden. This year I will let about five feet on the south end go back to being grass. Yup my garden got bigger.
Lets talk about how to do a basic vegetable garden layout
The first thing is to figure out how big a garden we need. Again if you are just starting out then start small. You can always make it bigger next year. How big also depends on what you want to grow. Please remember that you don’t want to take on more than you can handle. So take a look at what you want to grow, this will help you determine how big a garden you need. I’m going to throw an example out here to try to explain this process.
Lets say you have decided to grow the following things. I’ve put the garden spacing required next to the plant name. All of this information is printed right on the seeds packets so no guessing about how to space the plants.
- Zucchini Plant in hills spacing 3′-4′ apart.
- Cherry Tomato Plant spacing 2′-4′ spacing between rows 2′-4′
- Brussels Sprouts Plant spacing 20” spacing between rows 24”
- Yellow wax bush beans Plant spacing 6” spacing between rows 24”
- Lettuce Loose leaf type Plant spacing 12” spacing between rows 24”
- Nantes Carrot Plant spacing 3” spacing between rows 18”-24”
- Radish Plant spacing 2”-3″ spacing between rows 6”-12”
Now to keep things consistent anything with a row spacing of less than 24” we will make 24”. Or you could make three rows together at 6” in the case of the radish and still have no problem reaching across to pick them. Just make sure you have room to move down the rows on either side of that one. When planning just make sure you are thinking about how far you will need to reach in order to plant, pick, and weed.
Now for the planning
Get a piece of graph paper, or you can find a software to help with this part. I’ve never had luck with the softwares so here’s how I do it. Sketch out the plants on the graph paper each square equaling one foot. It doesn’t need to be perfect because it wont be when you do it for real either.
Once those plants get growing that wont matter. Just draw not so perfect circles on a spacing that you feel is one foot for a plant that has a one foot spacing, or two feet for one that has a two foot spacing. Put the name of each plant below the row so you can keep track of what you are doing. After you get the whole thing laid out draw a rectangle or a square around all the plants representing about a 1′ to 2′ space around the outside of the plants.
Remember anything growing near another plant is a competitor for the plant you are trying to grow. That’s why the spacing of the plants and weeding is so important. If the plant you are growing has to compete with grasses or other things it will not do as well.
If you were to lay out the vegetables shown above you would end up with a garden that was 12′ wide and 20′ long. This includes a one foot buffer zone around the whole garden to minimize the yard grass competing with the garden plants.
Other things to consider
I guess I will take a moment to touch on the one exception to this rule, Nitrogen fixers. These are plants the at pull Nitrogen right out of the air and put it down into the soil for the plant to use. The plants that do this also end up sharing with other plants because of the special relationship they have with certain types of fungus or mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Most of the time they will share the nitrogen with the plants around them while alive via the Mycelia growing in the soil. If the plants are annuals than after they die even more is released to the soil around where this plant was grown.
We already have been looking at one of these plants. That yellow wax bean up there in the list is a nitrogen fixing plant. Think about where you could put these to help feed the other plants in the garden. One type of plant does not benefit from any mycelial relationship and that is the cruciferous vegetables. Things like Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and Kole Rabi. When you place plants to grow together in an arrangement that benefits all in the group that is called a poly culture.
I just wanted to give you ideas to move forward with, it’s ok to experiment with your garden however you want. That’s how you learn what works, and what doesn’t. Moving forward in your gardening adventure when you find things that work keep doing them, when you find out something didn’t work don’t do it anymore.
Something to avoid
When I started growing a garden about ten years ago I decided right from the get go that I would not use any pesticides or fertilizers “ever”. What I’ve learned is that you need to add back to the soil what ever you take out. Enter in the compost pile.
I maintain a compost pile, everything biodegradable that goes through our kitchen that we don’t eat goes into that compost pile. Also yard the waste, and garden debris. I’ll explain the process in a different post but keep it in mind as you move forward. You don’t need any chemicals to produce good food. And lots of it!
Now that you have an idea about how to plan a garden, the next post will be about seeds, bulbs, and crowns. Where to get them, and what to expect. We will also cover starting your seeds indoors, also what not to start indoors. Don’t forget to sign up for the PermacultureFlora updates.