At this point, I am going stir crazy to get my gardens going. I desperately want to get my hands in the dirt and get back outside. We only have about 30-45 more days of COLD weather before we will start warming up. To be honest, that is mind boggling. Our last frost date this year is around March 23rd for our zone 7b. I couldn’t be more excited! But now is the time to start planting our spring seedlings and long summer plants. But how do you know what to plant? You start planning your garden.
Planning Your Garden
There are a ton of things that go into planning your garden. It’s not just I want tomatoes and peppers. It’s much more involved than that. But the good thing is, it’s not really a lot of work. Right now. As we go through this post, I’m going to show you the questions we ask and how we set up our plans to make sure we, and our animals, have plenty of food in the gardens.
What do you eat?
The first step in planning your gardens is determining what you want to eat. New gardeners will usually plant all sorts of things without really asking what they like to eat. They’ll take up huge beds or rows thinking that they MUST plant cucumbers, even though they HATE cucumbers.
But you? You are going to really think about the foods you like to eat, and plan accordingly.
Do you like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, or berries? Figure it out and start working on how much you think you’ll need. I’ve got a post on what to plant in your veggie garden, to read more about this.
How much do you eat it?
The next step is to decide how much of that plant you want. There are somethings to keep in mind here. Let’s take cucumbers and tomatoes here. Let’s say you absolutely LOVE cucumbers, but hate raw tomatoes. BUT you eat a ton of tomato sauce and you want to can it.
You should look at how much fruit a plant will give. A cucumber plant will yield approximately 10-15 (or more) cukes depending on when you pick them. Don’t need or want 100’s of cukes? Don’t plant a bunch of plants. A tomato plant will yield approximately 8-10# of tomatoes per plant. A quart jar of tomato sauce needs approximately 5# of tomatoes, roughly. If you are trying to put up a lot of tomato sauce, maybe plant a lot of plants.
What kind of space do you have?
This is where I can’t really tell you how much or how little to plant. You’ve got to make those decisions based on your garden size. But I will tell you that you can absolutely get creative with your space. Tomatoes grow well in containers, so you don’t have to “waste” garden space on tomatoes if you can put them in pots on the back porch.
Planting plants like marigolds, mums or basil will not only help keep bugs off your plants help keep the soil healthy. When we are planting our raised beds, I plant something high, something low, and a root. For example, I will plant peppers, carrots and oregano in the same area.
Lastly, look into vertical gardening. Running a couple cattle panels or other trellising could save you a ton of space and allow you to use more of your beds!
Usually, I will plant a row of tomatoes, peas, and onions or garlic. The tomato plant shades the peas. The peas put nitrogen back in the soil. And the garlic or onions will help deter pests. This idea is called companion planting and is really beneficial to your gardens.
I will also plant things like oregano, basil and catnip, along with other herbs, around the garden in hopes that it will also deter pests. Flowers do a great job of not only repelling insects but also attracting them. Japanese beetles will eat my marigolds but leave my vegetables alone.
Another option is planting multiple plots of the same vegetables in different areas. Or even planting things you don’t like, like cucumbers. Let the cucumber beetles, squash bugs and other pests that LOVE cucumbers, squash, melons, etc, eat the cucumbers that you don’t like in hopes of protecting the plants you love like your cantaloupe.
Let’s Get Planning
Draw it out
Drawing out what you are planning is a great way to visualize your space. First, let me apologize for the the horrible photo, but it’s what I’ve got. This is our plan for our main garden. As you can see it is scaled at 2ft per square.
This plan really helped because I was able to figure out exactly how much space I have and how much space can be used for plants, walkways, gates and more.
Another big thing to remember when planning your garden is space. You need space to move between the rows of your garden and your plants need room to grow. A lot of new gardeners will cram as much as they can in their row or bed and then wonder why everything is stunted. They will put their seedlings in the ground and then think, “It looks so bare” and plant more…. I am SUPER guilty of this, even now.
But if you stick to the recommended spacing, it won’t look bare for long.
Using the chickens
So one of the things that we are doing this year, per our plan, is to get our chickens in the garden. Here in Georgia, we have a ton of bugs and a ton of weeds. Last year, our garden wasn’t amazing for a couple of reasons but the two biggest where bugs and weeds.
We plan to “plant” our chickens in the garden to help with bugs and weeds. We are building chicken tractors that will be 4ftx8ft. They will also have roosting bars, nesting boxes, feeders, etc in these tractors.
We noticed that we have had a lot of poultry loss over the last several years. We’re not 100% sure if it is from predators or the chickens just wandering off. So we will be putting the chickens in their tractors and then rotate them through the gardens. We’ll see how it works.
Order your seeds
Once you have figured out what you are going to eat, how much, and where you are going to put it, it’s time to order your seeds. It is always preferred to save money and save your seeds, but sometimes you can’t do that. Either because you don’t have seeds to save, hybrids, or it’s just easier for you to buy them. I will usually place my seed orders in December or January, so now is the time to get this done.
When your seeds come in, start looking at when you need to plant them according to your last frost date. Mine is March 23rd so I’ve started planting my peppers, pumpkins, and other slower maturing plants. This will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
Start your seedlings
So there are a million different ways to do this. The first time we tried to start seedlings, we had poor germination and what did germinate, we didn’t know what it was. Now, we use this shelving unit in our living room next to the windows. Our living room stays warm and gets a lot of sun. Stay tuned for our greenhouse build!
The tray above is simply a 1020 tray that does NOT have holes. We do not water from the bottom. We mist and use domes to trap moisture and heat until they are established. The little pots inside? Simply amazing! I love these little pots. They have held up very well and I highly recommend them.
Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough. LABEL EVERY SINGLE PLANT! Don’t think for one second you will remember what plant this is! Seriously, trust me.
That’s pretty much it! I know it’s a lot but the biggest things to remember is this. Only plant what you will eat, unless you are using it as a companion or sacrificial plant. Leave plenty of room for your plants to grow. Start your own seedlings so you have more options and save money. And last? Remember, playing in the dirt is good for the soul.