Proper planning for a garden takes patience, research, and if you’re type A like me, a spreadsheet or two! The first consideration is to figure out what we would like to grow and we had a list a mile long. As this was to be our first garden in Georgia, and we would be planting in red clay soils and harvesting in much hotter temperatures, we decided that hardy heirloom vegetable types that were noted for performing better in the southern climate were the best choices. Another consideration for us was that the garden space was previously home to invasive kudzu. We did not want to invest a large amount of money and time into planting in a space that might be rendered unusable if we were not able to effectively eradicate the kudzu. So small, hardy, Southern garden it was!
When I design a garden, I try to maximize space and yield as much as possible. This means taking into account planting recommendations and squeezing them a little, and companion planting and inter-planting so that plants help instead of hinder each other. I created a spreadsheet with small squares to represent a square foot of garden and colored the squares accordingly as I moved plants around. I prefer the spreadsheet method but there are many excellent garden planning apps and software on the market that can be used as well. There are a number of things we’ve planted that aren’t pictured, such as onions; plants such as those get tucked between other things where there’s room.
Tomatoes prefer to be planted near carrots and peppers, and they like to be in the same soil year after year. I picked a permanent spot near the eastern edge of the garden for them. Cucumber, peas, zucchini, pole beans and luffa gourd were to be planted along the north fence so that an additional trellis would not be required, and space in front of those plants was free for things such as turnips, radishes, and greens. I planned to inter-plant sweet and spicy peppers with okra to serve as a wind break. Each square on the spreadsheet, with the exception of carrots and herbs, would be home to a single plant.
Potatoes and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli like each other, so they became neighbors. We plant our potatoes in wire cages to maximize yield (more on how to plant potatoes in cages in a future post). Winter squash prefers a trellis but as I was running out of space along the fence, it became a ground plant and maybe we would add a trellis later. Peanuts are new to me so I plopped them in a free area, taking into account paths between plantings for ease of maintaining and harvesting.
Sweet potatoes and sunflowers were new to me as well. Sunflowers were destined for the north fence, so they would not overshadow their neighbors. Bush beans were planned in two dense rows. Melons and pumpkins need quite a bit of space, so each plant received its own 25 square foot area.
Finally, sweet corn! Corn is wind pollinated. This means it does best when planted in dense, square blocks instead of long rows in the small home garden. The original plan for sweet corn was a 20′ x 20′ plot on the west side of the garden, where the land gently slopes upward. The west side is a few feet higher, and I wanted to preserve soil in this space instead of having it wash downhill during Georgia’s heavy rains. Densely planting corn in this area would serve as a bit of erosion control. The area next to the corn I left empty for kids’ plots if they chose to have their own gardens. The south side of the garden, not pictured above, is still full of roots and stumps and has to be leveled nicely to become a usable planting area. Once this is cleared and prepped, it will double the garden. But, baby steps!
Now, this was the plan for our first summer garden. We only have a few years of experience under our belt with gardening, but that experience has taught us that a plan is merely a suggestion and not a firm one at that! Our garden certainly did not turn out the way we planned, and that’s okay. Flexibility is key and of course when things get changed around, planting recommendations such as spacing and companions must still be kept in mind. In a future posts, I’ll discuss what changed, why, and how the garden fared after planting!