Mary's Veggie Garden

March 5, 2012

Garden Planning: What to grow? and How much?

Filed under: Gardening,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 3:24 pm

Every garden needs a plan. My planning starts in late December with a seed inventory and continues in January when I shop for varieties to grow in the coming season.

I use a spreadsheet for a large part of my garden plan. If you don’t know how to use spreadsheets, you can do a similar plan by drawing columns on a piece of paper. I’ve been gardening a long time and I tried several ways of tracking garden data. I started using a spreadsheet in 2001 and I’ve only made minor changes since then. The information in the spreadsheet has built up over time.

I was going to put a few rows of the spreadsheet into this post, but it is too wide and was incomprehensible. So you’ll need to click this  link to my garden spreadsheet file and bring it up on another tab or save the file. If you decide to download this spreadsheet for your own use, please leave a comment; I’d like to know if anyone finds it useful.

This picture shows a small part of my plan, and there are columns missing from the right side.

Scan of my 2012 garden plan. Some of the right side columns are missing.

This is my planning process.

1) Copy last year’s spreadsheet to a new file for this year ‘GardenPlan2012’.  Leave all of last year’s data in place because much of it is useful.

2) The first column is used for seed planning. Delete any data in the cells. The second column is the vegetable type, ‘Peas’, ‘ Tomatoes’, etc. and the 3rd column contains a variety name. Many vegetables, tomatoes for example, have several lines, one for each variety. The last column contains comments on how the variety performed in the previous garden. There is also a column with information about the seed I used last year,  showing the year of purchase and the vendor’s name.

3) Now I’m ready to examine my seed box, checking each packet, one at a time. I ask myself ‘How did it taste? Did we like it? Did it grow well? Have a good yield? Any serious problems? Do I want to grow it again?’ I take a look at the Comments column because I sometimes note problems, yield or flavor.

If I want to grow this variety in my next garden, I check if there is enough seed, and if the seed is new enough. The seed of many vegetables is viable for several years, but seed life is reduced by improper storage. If I have plenty of seed, but it is nearing the end of its typical storage life, I put it aside for germination testing. Often I count the seed and write  the number on the packet.

The seed planning column of the spread sheet is used to summarize the answers to all these questions. ‘Plenty’ or OK  with the seed count says I have enough of the seed and can use it, ‘buy’ means its time to shop.  If I want to plant the vegetable but didn’t like the variety I’ll mark it ‘buy’ but blank out the variety name. I delete the lines of anything I’ll never grow again (for example, broccoli raab.)

By the time I get to the end of the seed box, every line should have something in the seed planning column. If it’s still blank, I probably emptied and discarded the seed packet after the last planting. Those lines usually get a ‘buy’.

3) Now the fun part: shopping for anything marked ‘buy’. I like to shop from catalogs because I can compare varieties and look for disease resistance. Don’t place seed orders until after your germination testing is finished.

4) Late January: my seed orders have arrived. As I check each packet, I add it to the spread sheet or update existing data for the Year Purchased and Vendor. For new varieties I add the days to maturity, spacing information, and the time to start transplants/transplant or direct sow. The seed packets contain generic timing information, ex. plant after last frost, start transplants 4 weeks before planting out, and the spread sheet has columns for the generic information. I abbreviate ‘last frost’ as ‘lf’ so it is very terse.

For anything new, generic timing terms must be translated to local conditions. The generic information says to plant peas in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. In Raleigh, N.C. I planted snow peas Feb.7 but in Poughkeepsie, NY I plant the same variety on April 1. Half my vegetables are grown in a community garden whose plots are not plowed and available until mid-April. So I time my lettuce transplants for transplanting 4/21 even though they could be planted earlier. While thinking about planting time, consider when the harvest will start by adding Days to Maturity to the planting date. If your harvest will start the first day of your two week traveling vacation, consider delaying planting time by 2-3 weeks.

5) After I have a complete list of everything I want to grow, my next step is to figure out the quantity of each vegetable to grow. Factors influencing this decision are the quantity still in the freezer, in the root cellar and on storage shelves, the fact that we are not eating as much because my daughter is away at college, and the amount of garden space. Sometimes I express the quantity as the number of plants and sometimes as an area. As an example, I can plant 4 rows of beets with 6″ between rows and 4″ between plants in a space 4’x2′. Those 48 beets will be harvested over 2-3 months. When I create my garden map I’ll block in a space 4’x2′ for those beets. The planned quantities may change when I map out the garden, and again when I see how many transplants survive.

6) Schedule: Save the spreadsheet. Then sort all the rows of vegetable data, by the column ‘Date to start Xplants’. This gives a week by week schedule for seed starting.  If you sort using the Date to Plant in Garden column, you will have a week by week schedule of transplanting and direct seeding.

Note on Planning Dates: Its easiest for me to use ‘generic’ dates for the first, second, third and last week of the month, such as 4/1, 4/7,4/15, and 4/21. (That last date should be 4/23 but habits die hard. It simply means at the beginning of the last week of the month.)

Detailed explanation of spreadsheet column headings: the spacing and timing information is found on seed packets, in catalogs, and in the Cornell Growing guides. This sample contains a bit of my information for 2012.

  • Seed Planning – explained above
  • Type and Variety – add the name of your specific selection(s), a spreadsheet row for each.
  • Days to Maturity – from the seed packet or catalog description of your selection.
  • Actual Maturity – Do NOT Modify. –  contains a formula that calculates the  actual maturity in your garden by subtracting the  Date of first harvest from the Actual In date.
  • Source – year seed was purchased and the vendor name
  • # home, #VF – I have two gardens and these columns contain the quantity to plant in each. Sometimes the field contains a plant count  –  the number of plants I’ll grow.  Needed before buying or starting transplants. For direct seeded plants this column might indicate the amount of space in the garden; ex. for beets a 2’x4′ bed, or for peas a 2’x20′ row. Explained above.
  • Spacing  – recommended spacing between plants in a row, from seed packet, etc.
  • Packet Xplant start – generic timing information from the seed packet, etc. Usually expressed relative to the last frost date or relative to the date of transplanting. For direct sown plants leave blank, or enter DS.
  • When in garden – generic timing information from the seed packet giving the time to plant seeds or transplants outside. Usually given relative to the last frost date, sometimes given in terms of soil temperature.
  • Date to start transplants  and Date to plant in Garden this is a calendar date based on the last frost date for your garden.  First figure the date for planting outside then work backwards for the date to start transplants. These two fields are your schedule.
  • Actual start, and Actual In: plans change and most of us don’t do things on schedule. Note the date you really started your transplants in Actual start. Actual In is the date the plants or seeds went into the garden. You can change next years plans based on this years results, but only if you know what you did this year.
  • Date first harvest – used to calculate maturity in your garden.
  • Date of last harvest – for future planning.
  • Comments – anything you want to remember for future reference such as flavor, weight of harvest, diseases, etc.


  1. Mary,
    I am going to try to download your spreadsheet and see if I can use it. Will let you know how I manage.

    Comment by Norma Chang — March 5, 2012 @ 5:39 pm | Reply

  2. I”ve downloaded your spread sheet as it looks quite comprehensive. I’ll play around with it a bit and let you know how it works out.

    Comment by maryhysong — March 5, 2012 @ 11:02 pm | Reply

    • Because you are in Arizona you’ll probably need to change the dates to start transplants and to plant in the garden to match your conditions. It should make an interesting comparison.

      Comment by marysveggiegarden — March 6, 2012 @ 6:39 am | Reply

  3. great post, very informative! thank you so much for sharing your planning process

    Comment by terry — March 6, 2012 @ 2:39 pm | Reply

  4. Thanks for sharing your planning process and info, Mary – This is brilliant! Nothing like a spreadsheet to capture info like this… and then to be able to sort by dates, to keep a busy person on notice! Will look forward to starting on a small scale in 2013… Chris

    Comment by Chris Ferrero — November 12, 2012 @ 3:50 pm | Reply

    • It helps keep me sane, come spring. Though, as you saw by today’s post, I’m still making changes to my fall planting times. I started growing for fall about 4 years ago, and I’m still working out the timing.

      Comment by marysveggiegarden — November 12, 2012 @ 4:38 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: