I spent about two days of my time off of work planning next year’s vegetable garden. Yes, I realize it’s early January, but I like to start seeds beginning in February, which means I need to get my seed orders in now! That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s too late for you to get started on your vegetable gardens for this-coming year. In fact, the perfect time to start planning is right now, and I’m going to give you some tips that will help you get started.
First, What Went Wrong Last Year
Last year, a couple of things went wrong with my vegetable gardening plans. First, I tried to go in on a giant seed order with all of my gardening friends. Although I think we saved some money on shipping, and had some fun getting together over the garden catalogs, we placed our order later than I like, it took us forever to divide up the seeds (we split single packets of seed among as many as six of us, which was kind of nightmarish!), and I bought way more seed than I needed because I wanted to try a few plants of everything my friends were trying.
The second major disaster was that one of my friends and I decided to try our hand at larger-scale gardening and rented a 50×50 foot plot from a friend here in town. That’s a lot of space. In fact, that’s about five times as much space as I have in my home garden. And I was not prepared. Again, we got things planted late, had many weed and deer disasters, and in the end, spent more time out there working than the resulting produce warranted.
Tip #1:If you gardened last year, and it didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, spend some time up-front thinking about what went wrong and what you can do about it. It’s easier to address watering issues, weeds, space, and varieties in January before anything’s in the ground than it is in July when you’ve already repeated your mistakes from last year.
How I’m Going to do Better This Year
So this year, I’m going to cut back on garden space by nearly 800 square feet. This means both renting a smaller plot (I’m going for two 10x20s at the community garden this year, I hope!), and creating some more space here at home so that it’s easier to just walk out back and care for things. I’m taking an odd triangle of space that we have in the very back of our yard and turning one section of it into a bed for cutting flowers and the rest of it into a squash/pumpkin/melon patch. It’s a good 150 square feet, so I think it will work well for this purpose and it currently completely unused space in our yard.
Moving the cut flowers to the back patch means I’m going to be able to reclaim one of my raised beds, which has had cut flowers in it the past two seasons, for vegetables. Most of the deer attracting veggies can therefore live here at our house, where hopefully the proximity of other houses and our “guard dog” will keep the deer away (we have had deer tracks in our yard since the fence went up, so this is not a complete guarantee, but it will definitely be more deer proof than the community garden).
Step One – How much space do you have?
Figuring out how much space you have is a two-fold process. Obviously, there are limitations to what you can grow on your own property based not only on the size of your yard, but on how much shade you get, whether animals will be a problem, etc. We have about 800 square feet of garden space in our yard, supplemented by a very large container garden on our patio. As I mentioned, I also supplement this space with a plot at a community garden, which may or may not be an option for you.
So step one is figuring out how much space you have at your home. If you’re new at gardening, definitely start small and build up. There’s nothing more disheartening–and I speak from experience here–than to bite off too much and watch weeds and lack of care eat up all of your hard work. Even if you have an apartment, you can have a small container garden and successfully grown everything from greens and herbs to tomatoes, beans, peppers, and strawberries.
Step two is figuring out if you can handle a bit more space. Do you have an extra bit of grass you can reclaim for a veggie bed? A sandbox that isn’t being used any more? A spot on the patio for a few good-sized pots? If so, measure out that space and figure out an approximate area by multiplying the width by the length. This is easy if the space is square, less so if you’re figuring out the area of round pots or an odd-shaped bed like my new pumpkin patch, which is going to end up being a sort of trapezoid. You don’t have to be exact here, just get a ballpark on the space you have.
If you have the option to add more garden space, a good rule of thumb is 400 square feet of gardening space for a family of four to eat from during the season, or 800 square feet if you’re hoping to preserve some for winter eating. Here’s a link to more information on figuring out how much space you need. The time to sign up for a community garden plot is now, so take a look online and see what your community has to offer.
To give you an idea of space, 800 square feet would be a 20×40 foot vegetable bed, or a combination of smaller beds. As I said, I have about 800 square feet at my house, but quite a bit is taken up with perennial food crops like raspberries, strawberries, herbs, horseradish, and asparagus. So I’m adding the additional 400 square feet at the community plot in an attempt to grow enough food for our family of four, plus enough to put by for the winter.
Tip 2: Spend some time up-front figuring out how much gardening you have time for, and how much you think your family needs. Then check in later in the week for step 2: figuring out how much of each type of vegetable you need.