Steps to planning a fantastic garden:
1). Map out the footprint of your garden - how much square footage do you have? Once you make a map of the area, start filling it in with the crops you want to plant. Remember to leave room for walkways between the rows. don’t squish the plants - they will reward you with more yields and less disease if each variety has enough space from plant to plant within and between rows. If you’re not sure of space requirements of each plant, check on the back of a seed pack or in the paper or online seed catalogue.
2). Now that you’ve made a map of your garden in two dimensions, imagine what it will look like in 3 dimensions. How tall are the plants going to grow? Put the tall ones in the back, on the north side of the garden. Sunflowers and corn, for instance grow tall as do all the crops you have to stake, like tomatoes and tall peas or pole beans. The height of many of these crops will vary depending on which variety you plant. For instance, Luther Hill corn, which we offer here at Ox and Robin, will reach only about four feet at maturity. Whereas, Golden Bantam Improved, another sweet corn variety we offer, can grow up to 6 or 7 feet. As you develop your 3D map, you also want to plan out what trellis system you will be using for vining plants. Here are just a few different options for trellises: poles tied together at the top; hardwood stakes with twine strung between them; or a woven metal fence supported by wooden posts. Before making that decision, take a look at what materials you already have on hand that can be repurposed as a trellis for your plants.
3). Rotate crop families from year to year. This is really important. If you don’t rotate, you’ll end up with diseases that live in the soil and infect your plants from year to year. No fun! The classic example in the Northeast is tomatoes. Tomatoes grown up here often get early blight, and in some years, the much more devastating late blight. People who garden in small backyard spaces tend to put the tomatoes in the same spot each year, only to watch their beautiful plants turn to mush (if they get late blight) or develop blotchy fruits (early blight) year after year.
If you don’t have much space, consider growing a smaller number of plants in containers. A neighbor of mine grew one tomato plant in a very large container beside her front door, and had a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes all season long.
In general, you should rotate crop families so that you don't plant anything of the same family in the same spot for 3-4 years. Keep your garden maps from year to year, rather than trying to rack your brain to remember what you planted in every corner of your garden two years ago. You can look back at the old maps as you make this year’s map to ensure you are planting in accordance with the rotation schedule.
A couple of general principles to keep in mind as you plan a rotation schedule: 1). Follow heavy feeders (like corn) with light feeders (like endive) 2). Follow shallow rooted crops (like chives) with deep rooted crops (like carrots).
Here are some commonly planted crop families:
Onion - onion, garlic, chives
Squash - winter, summer squash, pumpkins, cucumber
Mustard - mustard greens, cabbage, radish, broccoli, brussel sprouts
Tomato - tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, potatoes
Pea - beans, peas, cowpeas
Grass - corn, sorghum
Spinach - beet, spinach, swiss chard
Lettuce - lettuce, sunflower, endive, radicchio, tarragon
4) Focus on timing - You can get more out of your garden space by planting crops in succession, For instance, if you plant peas early, just after the ground thaws, they may be done by mid July. You can easily plant mustard greens such as the Green in Snow variety we offer, which will provide fresh greens long into December, or lettuce which you can harvest in the fall. Just be sure to work your second plantings into your crop rotation schedule.
You can also divide your supply of bean or lettuce seeds into several smaller plantings, spaced a couple weeks apart. That way, you get a constant supply of ripe vegetables throughout the summer.
5). Now that you know what you want to plant, where you want to plant it, it’s time to order seeds!