January 27, 2012

How To: Plan Your 2012 Veggie Garden

Posted by Kristin

Featured on Mass Appeal

Well folks, its January and you know what that means? Time to plan this years vegetable garden. "Hold the phone!" you may be thinking, "Yeah, its January, as in snow, ice, and cold. Where the heck are you thinking I'm going be planting tomatoes right about now?" While it may be a bit too early to expect to bite into the amazing sweetness of a Sungold, its not too early to start thinking about where their gonna go and who their neighbors will be.

Everyone should experience a Sungold tomato at least once in life. via

So, break out your pens and paper, your ruler and measuring tape...because its time to map out your 2012 veggie garden!

First things first, dream a little dream...
To start out, spend a little time daydreaming about what you want to put in your garden this year. Think through what you planted last year, what was successful and what wasn't. Think about what things you want to try and what new seed varieties you're interested in. Look through some seed catalogues and gardening books for inspiration or scour one of the many informative seed websites out there. Some of my favorite sources for reference and seeds include:

Gardener's Supply Company (A VT Company close to my heart...I used to be their Nursery Supervisor and they've got great products!)

Decide what kind of garden you want.
There are a number of different options out there for gardens. Container gardens are great for apartment dwellers or those with limited yard space. Raised beds are a great solution on older lots where lead contaminated soil may be an issue. (Contact your local university agricultural extension service if you think you may have lead soil. They often do soil testing for a small fee). Or a traditional garden plot in the ground may be the best choice for your yard.

That's alot of tomatoes this Boston rooftop!

Forever Raised Beds
Raised bed kits are available (such as these from Gardener's Supply)...

...or can be easily made. via

A traditional garden may fit the bill for your yard. It all depends on how much space you have. via

Hone in on what you want to grow and determine how much space you have.
Once you know what kind of garden you want, its time to really narrow in on what you specifically want to grow and how much space you want to dedicate to your garden. If containers are your thing, figure out how many you want to fit on your balcony, patio, or stoop. Raised bed kits come in various sizes, such as 6 feet by 8 feet, 3 feet by 3 feet, or somewhere in between. If you're making a raised bed yourself, you can make them as big as you'd like.

A word of wisdom though- soil compaction is a garden's worst enemy so make a bed that is longer than it is wide (more like a rectangle than a square) so you can access the bed from the sides and not actually have to walk in it to weed, harvest your veggies, etc. The same principle applies to a garden bed in the ground. If you need to make your garden work with the shape of your yard, just leave 10 inches of walking space between plantings for easy access (like in the picture above).

Create a plan.
Its time to pull out the colored pencils, markers, a ruler and some graph paper. Calculate the exact size of your garden space by measuring your beds or the diameter of each container. Now its time to use that graph paper. Graph paper is useful because you've already got a grid drawn out for you and you can assign a specific measurement to each block to make a scaled, measurable drawing. For example, on my 2012 veggie garden plan below (which is imaginary, I only wish I had that much room!), I assigned each block to represent 6 inches. I found it useful to use a small unit of measurement per block because some seeds can actually be planted as close as 8 inches apart. Using a small unit of measurement allows the plan to be drawn at a larger scale, or a zoomed in view, so you can get more detailed if need be.

My imaginary 2012 veggie garden. So people dream about planning
their vacation. I guess I just dream about planning gardens.

Once you know your bed or container measurements, draw them out on the paper and start figuring out what can grow where. For example, if I want to grow three tomato plants, and they each need about 4 square feet to grow, I know that I can plant them in a row that is 2 feet deep by 6 feet long. Plan out all your veggies this way and then you'll know how much you can actually fit in your beds or containers. Those gardening books, seed catalogues and websites can come in handy at this point as well, since they'll have a lot of good information on the spacing of various veggies and herbs.  It can be fun throw some color on the design and if you're really color happy and anal organized like I am, you can even color code it.

Go shopping!
Who doesn't love shopping? Well, some don't but shopping for seeds is a little different than sitting outside the dressing room while your girlfriend tries on 50 different pairs of jeans.  I recommend going to a local nursery or garden center, where they'll most likely have knowledgeable staff on hand who can answer various questions on seed selection, planting techniques, etc.

This is what you'll be greeted with at most garden centers: a wall of seeds.
Hence the importance of knowledgeable staff to help you choose from
thousands of options. via.

Now is a great time to go seed shopping, as any good garden center will have their seed racks chock full of all different varieties. Avid gardeners sometimes even start seed shopping in December because they know- the early bird gets the worm. If you wait until April or May, the seeds you're looking for may be long gone (and you'll have missed the planting window for a good number of seeds).  And one more tidbit- once you have your seed packs, hang onto them like gold. There's alot of good, helpful information on the back of the packs and it will come in handy throughout the growing season.

Once you've got your seeds and your plan, you''ll be armed and ready when spring comes rolling into town! And a plus to growing your own veggies? You can make cool things like this:

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