Gardening gives me life. Planning sets my soul on fire. Combine the two and put them into one giant post about creating how to create a vegetable garden plan and what do you get? One epic evening of writing about some of my favorite subjects and sharing with the internets.
I’m entering my eighth season of veggie gardening at this home and I hit a pretty impressive milestone this year, one that Colby will be glad to hear. Drum roll please…the vegetable garden did not expand. I repeat, the vegetable garden did not expand! However, we are planning a brand new garden space this season to be Rowan’s cut flower garden.
After seven seasons of vegetable gardening, expanding the crops each season, and learning as I go, I wanted to share my insights with others. Here’s hoping a nugget of wisdom on how to create a vegetable garden plan can help you this season.
Vegetable Garden Layout
The very first step to every good vegetable garden plan is to decide on your space. If you’ve been gardening for awhile you probably have a pretty well established area, but if you’re just beginning, think about the space you have available to you. Is there enough sun? Is it accessible for watering? Some people have very limited space and rely on container gardening. The space available to you really defines what you can and can’t do when it comes to gardening.
I am extremely grateful that when we bought our home it came with acreage. When we were house shopping I knew I wanted a large garden space that could expand as my skills, time, and knowledge grew. One of the trickiest parts for me in deciding where to put our vegetable garden was factoring in the slope of the land. We live in Vermont, which is notorious for its mountains and hills. There are really only two spots on our property that is flat enough, definitely not completely flat, to easily define a garden space. Here’s what my vegetable garden space looks like for 2023:
My garden consists of (42) 4′ x 8′ and (6) 4′ x 12′ raised garden beds. I also have four, 60′ in-ground rows to the right of the raised bed space that I use for vegetables that don’t grow as well in beds. Some of my usual in-ground vegetable varieties are shelling peas, snow peas, corn, and potatoes.
Garden Layouts Take Time
This garden space took us seven seasons of growing to get to. Last year was the first year of gardening here that I finally felt like the garden space was just the right size for me and our family’s needs. I know this garden seems ridiculously ginormous to many people, but it works for me and that’s what matters. I’m a person who is trying to grow most of the food we consume so every inch of this space is used and at capacity. We’re also a family who cans, freezes, and stores our vegetables so not all of this space is used for fresh eating, although that’s our favorite.
When it comes to your vegetable garden space, don’t feel like you have to figure it out all at once. Gardens morph as we grow and learn. If you’re new to gardening, start small and build upon your space year after year. Even an experienced gardener will have many things to learn about gardening in a new space. The more you observe, take notes, and learn what does and does not work in your space, the more successful your garden will become.
One of the most important considerations when you’re determining your vegetable garden plan is sun mapping. On the back of most seed packets, you’ll find information for the amount of sun each plant needs. Full sun is considered six hours or more of sunshine. Some plants, like peppers and tomatoes like even more sunshine and are happier with 8+ hours of sun. Other plants, like spinach, don’t need as much sun and can tolerate partial shade. Sometimes, a shadier location can extend the growing season of cool weather crops, like broccoli and spinach, and prevent them from bolting too early. This is why sun mapping can be one of the best tools to help with your vegetable garden plan.
There are very elaborate ways to do a sun map of your garden. If you’re looking for details about sun mapping, try the MI Gardener sun mapping video on YouTube. I subscribe to the good enough rule and keeping things simple. To create a simple sun map, go out to your garden space several times throughout the day and mark when sections start and stop receiving sun. The amount of sun your garden gets shifts throughout the year, so try sun mapping a few times throughout the growing season. It’s important to do this when there are leaves on the trees since foliage would shade your garden. If there’s snow on the ground and you need to plan, still sun map your garden since you’ll get a general idea. Just be sure to do it again after spring to fine tune your sun map.
Combine Sun Mapping With Garden Layout
After sun mapping, take the layout of your vegetable garden plan and mark up how much sun each area gets. I prefer using just three types of shade density: shade (less than 4 hours of sun), partial shade (4-6 hours of sun), and full sun (6 or more hours of full sun). Also, partial sun and partial shade are basically interchangeable. Here’s how my vegetable garden plan looks after incorporating sun mapping.
We have quite a few trees surrounding our garden along with some hills and mountains that shade the space. Before I sun mapped our garden I expected most of the garden to be partial shade or shade but was surprised by the results. Because of how our garden is shaded by trees, I didn’t think any areas on the left side would receive full sun. Our peppers like that section on the left better because they still get full sun but also get some morning and afternoon shade. It helps our beds retain moisture which keeps the peppers happy.
Choose Vegetable Varieties
Now that you have a garden layout and a sun map, the next step in creating your vegetable garden plan is deciding what vegetables to grow. Think about what your family eats regularly and make sure those vegetables are in the mix. I always like to throw in a couple of new to me plants or varieties since I’m always trying to learn. When you’re first starting out, try to keep it simple. The very first garden I grew consisted only of shelling peas, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, and rhubarb. As a new gardener, even that felt overwhelming.
If you have your seed packets for the year, sort them by vegetable type, grouping all the different varieties together. When I think about what our family eats I think in terms of “we need this many cucumbers for the year.” I don’t think in terms of “we need this many silver slicer cucumbers, this many muncher cucumbers, this many cucamelons…” Although if you ask our kids, we always need more cucamelons and ground cherries because they will sit in my garden for hours snacking on them.
Here’s what my list looks like this year:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Swiss Chard
Choose Plant Locations
Armed with a sun map and seed packets, the next step in creating a vegetable garden plan is to plug in where the vegetables will go in a super rough plan. Take your list of vegetables, decide how much sun they need, then pick a spot according to your sun map for that vegetable. It’s that easy!
So much of this is trial and error. As you learn more about what grows best and where in your garden space, you’ll be able to adjust your vegetable garden plans year over year and fine tune plant placement. For example, celery is a vegetable that requires full sun. I’ve planted celery in both a full sun location and a partial shade location. For me, celery grows best in the shadier location but typically bolts early in the sunnier spot.
There was a time when I would create a super detailed vegetable garden plan, right down to the exact number of plants in each bed. Don’t do that. Gardening tends to be relatively unpredictable and learning how to roll with the punches might be a gardener’s most important lesson. Some years I can’t get a single pimento pepper to germinate. Other years a rodent eats the tops off all my banana pepper seedlings. Both true stories. Start with a rough plan and start more seeds than what you need. You can always gift extra seedlings to friends and neighbors
Some of the garden beds also pull double duty, housing one vegetable variety in the spring and another in the summer. Mark those out in your vegetable garden plan as well. It can be as simple as marking one garden bed as “broccoli/beets.” Broccoli in the spring and beets in the fall.
Recommendations As You Plan
As you plan out your garden, there are a few things to always keep in the back of your mind. Most of these things aren’t hard and fast rules, but will definitely help you along.
Consider Fussy Plants
Some plants like tomatoes and eggplants can be super fussy about where they are located because they crave so much sun. Make sure they are in your sunniest location.
Some plants will absolutely take over your garden and cannibalize other plants. For example, winter squashes and pumpkins vine out and expand, often beyond their raised bed. I always try to put these varieties on the edges of my vegetable garden plan so they have extra space out towards the lawn to expand into.
Other plants prefer to climb so factor in any permanent garden trellises you have in your garden. One of my favorite plants to grow are the Cherokee Trail of Tears black beans because they are a great storage bean and they are prolific. Because they are such great climbers, I always make sure they are planted on one of the three trellises I have in my garden. Other vegetables, like cucumbers and peas, also like to climb so make sure they are located in spots where supports can be added.
Different plants like different amounts of water. Some vegetables can stomach drier conditions while others, like celery and onions, won’t tolerate it. Learn the areas of your garden that retain moisture better than others and make sure to plant accordingly. Adding organic matter to your garden can help the soil retain moisture better but sometimes that takes time. Also make sure that your garden can easily be watered during drier conditions. Watering by hose is so much easier than lugging gallon after gallon of water by hand.
While some vegetables will grow all season long and have long growing periods, others have shorter growing seasons. There are all kinds of strategies for succession planting. Try a few this season and see what works for you. Some of my favorite succession planting combos are spring broccoli/fall beets, spring greens/fall broccoli, spring radishes/fall kohlrabi.
While it is beneficial to rotate your crops from year to year as it can help with soil nutrition and pest control, it is not absolutely essential, especially for a home gardener. Vegetables in the same family tend to use up similar nutrients and attract the same pests. Moving them year to year can help. But so can amending the soil each year to make sure your plants have the nutrients they need. For example, I almost always plant my tomatoes in the same location because I have so few garden beds that get 8+ hours of sun. I make sure these beds get hearty amounts of compost each year and I fertilize my tomatoes. I also battle tomato hornworms but I expect them each year and I put up a good pest control fight.
Adjust As You Plant
Sometimes I feel like once planting outdoors gets started the vegetable garden plan gets thrown out the window. Your plan will change, it always does. It truly depends on what seedlings germinated, what didn’t, last minute additions, or plants not taking up nearly as much space as you anticipated.
I typically sketch my vegetable garden plan in a bullet journal I use for gardening notes. I draw out my garden layout in pen, then make my plan in pencil. As I plant, I erase the pencil markings from the plan and write out in pen what is actually planted there. This helps me see how the garden is getting planted and lets me know what I can and can’t shift around.
I know this was alot of information and yet simultaneously also not enough. The most important thing when it comes to creating a vegetable garden plan and growing a garden is to keep it fun. Enjoy the process, roll with the punches, take notes and LEARN. Happy gardening friends!