1. Make your layout. Draw a scale (like 1/4in. = 1ft.) drawing of your garden space on a piece of notebook paper and put an arrow pointing North. Mark rows and pathways on your sketch. If you don't already have permanent (or raised) beds and walk ways I highly suggest you plan them into your garden this year especially if you are dealing with limited space. Then you can make a master plan of your garden that you can just make copies of each succeeding year to use for your layout. Thus eliminating this step from here on out. To learn of all the benefits of permanent bed gardens and how to achieve them read Gardening for Keeps and Build Permanent Beds & Paths.
2. Decide which plants you want and how much space they need. Now it is time to get out the seed catalogs if you plan on ordering seeds. If not just write down all the plants you think you will want to grow this year. When dealing with small spaces you will want to take into consideration which vegetables and fruits cost the most at market. For instance don't waste you time, space and money on potatoes when you could be growing tomatoes. Once you have an idea of which plants you want to grow you need to find out how much space each one needs and how many days to maturity. If your not sure you can check out this seed spacing chart and this maturity chart for the most common vegetables.
3. Choose each plant's spot and determine quantity needed. Determine how much space you want to devote to each plant from you total sq. footage (including your garden rows only). Using the information from the previous steps you can mark in pencil where you want to plant each vegetable. For larger plants such as tomatoes and peppers you can mark where each plant will go using your scale to place them at appropriate distances from each other. For your other smaller plants (such as onions, lettuce, spinach) you can just mark their boundaries. Here are few tips to keep in mind when planning a small garden:
- You can plan to plant your early maturing plants around your late maturing plants (see my garden plan above).
- Place your tallest growing vegetables on the North side of the garden to keep them from shading you shorter plants.
- Grow as many plants upward as possible to conserve on space. Good plants to grow on supports are pole beans, indeterminate tomatoes, squashes (as long as their fruit don't become to heavy), cucumbers, peas and melons. To read about growing vertical check out Tower Power and How to Build an A-Frame Trellis. This year I plan on building all my garden supports out of branches from the woods near our house and lumber salvaged from pallets (except for the tomatoes cages that I have left over from last year). A little imagination can go a long way. I'll let you know how they turn out.
4. Order seeds, build supports. Between now and planting time you need to order the seeds you are going to start indoors and those you are going to sow directly outside. I normally start scouring my seed catalogs in December and order the end of January or beginning of February since I need to start my tomatoes and peppers in March. If you plan on buying your plants then you can buy your seeds at the same time or a month before you last frost date order from a catalog. At this time you might also want to consider marking a calendar for any succession planting you want to do. I highly recommend succession planting for crops such as radishes, onions, lettuce and spinach so you don't get them all at once. For more information read How to Plant Succession Crops. Be sure also to build those supports or purchase them before you begin planting. By erecting your supports when you plant you can avoid damaging the roots once the plants are established.
Now you are one step closer to a highly successful garden season. Stay tuned, I plan on posting next week about my seed prorogation from our one small south facing window-- it is possible!