Planning Your Next Vegetable Garden

It’s the end of the growing season in most of the U.S. which means that you’re probably starting to think ahead to your vegetable garden for next year.  The best time to plan your next vegetable garden is when the previous year’s vegetable garden is still fresh on your mind.  Here’s what you need to consider when you start planning your next vegetable garden.

Think about this year’s vegetable garden

The best way to plan a vegetable garden is to consider what you did this year, what worked and what you would have done differently.  Let’s start by thinking about what you did this year.

vegetable garden rows of produceWhat crops did you plant?

Did you plant tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squash?  Those are the first plants that most people grow when starting a vegetable garden, so they were probably on your list of things that you grew.  It’s always a good idea to experiment with new crops.

Adding a crop or a new variety of crop will add some interest to your garden next year.  So next year, maybe you want to add some onions, eggplants or a new type of tomato to your garden.

Think about how you grew your garden.  2020 was a crazy year and gardening saw a huge resurgence.  This meant that there were tons of new ideas out there for the best way to grow vegetable plants.  But, what we’ve found is that the best way to grow vegetables is the way that works for you.  Everyone has a unique gardening style and there are many different ways that you can do something the ‘right’ way.

Did you grow your vegetables in containers or did you till up a large block in your yard and plant a traditional vegetable garden?  Or did you go the easy way and plant in raised beds?  If you fought weeds in your garden all year long, then you need to change what you did.

Maybe you should lay down thicker mulch or try spacing your rows out further next year so that you can get a tiller between the rows.  If all else fails, you can always count on containers or raised beds to be relatively weed-free.

Is there anything that you would like to do differently next year?  Maybe the pest control that you used to treat the aphids on your tomatoes didn’t work as well as you hoped.  In that case, plan on using a biological control, like ladybugs, next year to deal with your aphid problem.  What about that new tomato variety that they sold at your local garden center?  Was it lacking in flavor?

Try a different variety, like the Cherokee Purple, that is full of flavor. Remember, this is your garden.  Feel free to experiment with new varieties. Consider the plants that you couldn’t keep enough of.  Did you find yourself always out of fresh cucumbers despite your plants’ best efforts?  Or maybe you found that your kids always ate the orange cherry tomatoes off of your plants and you never got any.

If either of those sounds familiar, then you need to plant more of that same crop in your next garden.  If the orange cherry tomato that you tried this year was an obvious hit, plant three or four plants next year.

The same is true if you can or preserve your garden harvest.  You can keep tabs of this over the winter as you plan your next vegetable garden.  If you find yourself running out of frozen okra or canned tomatoes this winter, that’s a good sign that you need to put out additional plants next year.

You’ve probably read or heard somewhere that you should only grow what you eat.  And while that’s true to a certain extent, you should experiment some with new plants or varieties that are different than what you would consider ‘normal’.

That’s one of the aspects of gardening that can be so exciting.  Did you plant a crop of cherry radishes this year?  Maybe next year you can try planting some blue radishes (Mom always did say to eat your ‘colors’!).

Not only will some of these different colored vegetables look different, they’ll taste a little bit different, too.

Mapping Out Your Next Vegetable Garden

Now that you have a better understanding of what you need to grow, it’s time to actually map your next vegetable garden out.  Mapping out your next vegetable garden will help you to visualize next year’s garden.  It’s a good idea to map out your vegetable garden before you plant.  This will help you to put beneficial plants next to one another.

It will also help you to rotate your crops each year, which is important for good soil health.  Lastly, you’ll be able to see what you have room for in your garden.

Start by sketching out your garden space.  Try to make your garden sketch to scale so that you can accurately place plants in your sketch and give them proper room.  You don’t want to create a sketch and purchase too many plants that you don’t actually have room for.

Take the extra time needed to create some sort of scale for your garden sketch.  Some good starting points are: 1cm on sketch = 1 foot in garden; 1 inch on sketch = 1 foot in garden.  Using one foot in your garden as a unit on your sketch is the easiest way to plan your garden. Most plants will fit within one foot, making it a good unit to go by.

Once you’ve sketched your garden out, you can start putting plants into it.  Consider where you had crops in your garden this year.  Different plants take different amounts nutrients out of the soil, so it’s always a good idea to rotate crops around in your garden from year to year.

If tomatoes were in the far back rows of your garden this year, move them into the middle of front of your garden next year.  This helps the soil’s nutrients remain intact year after year.

Start by sketching out any root plants that you’ll be growing.  Carrots, potatoes and turnips are excellent crops for breaking up hard soil.  Place these in spots where the soil could be a softer texture.  If you’re adding space to your garden next year, plant root crops in the new garden space to help loosen up the soil.

Next, add any large plants to the garden sketch.  Large squash, vining squash, melons and cucumbers take up more space than many other plants.  Sketch them into the garden next, making sure that you leave enough room for them to spread out.

Add your smaller crops in the remaining spaces.  Crops like corn, tomatoes, peppers and peas don’t have as large of a footprint in the garden and can be placed into smaller spaces.

If you’re planting any shade-loving crops, tuck them into spaces where other crops will provide them shade.

Lettuce can grow well in the shade of peas, tomatoes or even corn.  You can also tuck herbs around some of your other plants.  Not only will this allow you to grow more in your garden, but it can help with keeping insects off of your vegetable plants.

Try planting lemon grass, rosemary, marigolds, basil and mint plants around your vegetable plants for insect control.

When to start

Knowing when to start your next vegetable garden is just as important as knowing what you’ll plant in it.  The easiest way to know when to start your garden is to work backwards.  Pull out a calendar and let’s plan when you’ll need to start seeds and get your garden in the ground.

Start by finding your average last frost date [https://parkseed.com/find-your-planting-zone/a/12/].

This will give you the estimate of the last day in the spring when you can expect to be hit with a frost.  You can give yourself a buffer if you want and use a date a week or two after this date.  Use your selected date to plan when you’ll plant your garden.

Now that you have an estimated planting date, work backwards to determine when you’ll need to start seeds indoors.  Most crop plants can be planted about two months after sowing seeds.

Every crop and variety is slightly different though, so check the back of your seed packets to make sure.  Start your seeds indoors with enough time for them to germinate and have true leaves on them before you plant them outdoors.

There’s a lot involved with planning a vegetable garden.  Start planning early by evaluating what worked (or didn’t) in this year’s garden while it’s fresh on your mind. Use this information to plan what you want to try next year and get planning!

 

Today’s post comes from Shelby DeVore, founder of Farminence.com (https://farminence.com). Shelby is a former agriculture teacher and a multi-generational home gardener.  She currently lives on a small farm with her husband and three children where they raise way too many animals and grow a large vegetable garden each year.

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