Mary's Veggie Garden

March 26, 2012

Garden Planning II: the Garden Map

Filed under: Gardening,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 10:01 am

I must have a plan before I start planting. If I had to stand in the garden and figure out where to put everything, nothing would ever be planted.  I want to have a design I feel confident about and to make sure I’ve considered all the pros and cons before I plant. It is easier to make these decisions at my desk with all sorts of information available.

A good plan cannot be hurried. I don’t start my garden layout unless I know there is time to complete it. For my two big gardens, that means 3 consecutive days with 3 to 4 hours each day to devote to garden planning.

Once I find the time, I gather all the inputs to my garden layout. These include:

  • My garden spreadsheet containing the list of what and how much to grow and when to plant it. I discussed the spreadsheet a few weeks ago.

    Templates for annual vegetables.

  • My garden templates. These are scale (1/2″=1′) drawings of the gardens showing the layout of the beds, and the perennial plants.
  • Templates of some of the annual vegetables. For example, a couple of 2″x2″ squares with a big X represent pole bean trellises. A 1.5″x10″ strip represents 20′ of carrots in an 18″ wide perimeter bed (200-240 carrots @ 4 carrots/foot in 3 parallel rows.) I also have templates for favorite combinations such as an early planting of peas and spinach followed by cucumbers in mid-June.
  • My 3-ring binder containing all previous garden plans.
  • My rotation plans. Both gardens are following 3 year crop rotations.
  • A companion planting chart which contains a list of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ for each vegetable. My gardens are thickly planted. When I put two different vegetables side by side in a bed,  I want to be sure they grow well together. Although I will try to put vegetables that ‘like’ each other side by side, I make sure I do not place two together that ‘dislike’ each other.  I did that once, when I planted onions beside the peas and got the worst pea crop ever.
  • Several sheets of blank paper, a ruler, a pencil, and a good eraser. Although I use plain paper, 1/4″ grid graph paper might be a better choice.

Now that my desk is covered with paper, it’s time to plan.

  1. First I copy the garden template to blank paper for this years map. Although I could simply scan and print the template, drawing the copy gets me psyched to plan. Incidentally, my garden maps contain the beds, but often leave out the paths. This way, I can fit a 20′ wide garden on an 8.5″ wide sheet of paper.  This occasionally results in unmapped space in perimeter beds – but that is OK. I can use that extra space for unexpected plants.

    2012 plan for a 20'x 40'plot in the community garden at Vassar Farm.

  2. Next I update my rotation plan which gives me a general idea of what goes where. My home garden is divided into 3 sections, and the vegetables are grouped by families. Each group uses about 1/3 of the garden. In 2012 I’m using the general layout last used in 2009, with  beans & squashes in section A,  small stuff in section B, and tomatoes & peppers in section C.  Each section contains 3 beds roughly 20’x4′. (In truth, there are beans in several sections, because I’m using them as a cover crop in shady areas.)
  3. Next I layout each section of the garden. I check the map from 3 years ago, and try to swap things around – so I place the tomatoes where the peppers were 3 years ago and visa versa. I place the vegetables using the most space first, then fit in smaller things. In this step I use the mini-templates of the annuals. I can move each group of plants around in the section, checking against previous maps and the companion planting chart. I check what plants the vining crops will overrun and whether it is acceptable.  I try to place cool season/early harvest vegetables near squashes so they will be gone by the time the squashes run.
  4. After all sections are laid out with templates, I copy the information from the template to the map beneath.  While copying I figure out which variety goes where and the exact spacing. For example, I try to put the cherry tomatoes in easy reach for daily harvest. The beefsteaks take a bit less room and are not harvested very often so they go in the middle of the bed.

    2012 plan for my L-shaped garden at home in Poughkeepsie, NY.

I keep the finished plans and a pencil in 1 gallon seal-able plastic bags. The plans go to the garden with me, and plants are spaced with a yard-stick according to the space on the map. After planting, I mark the planting date on the map and any changes such as new plant varieties. An accurate map means there is no need for labels in the garden.

The causal observer may notice that I plant much more closely in my plot at Vassar Farm than in my home garden. The reason is the Vassar Farm garden gets full sun all day from sunrise to sunset. Trees surround my home garden and some parts get barely 6 hours of sun.



  1. I am doing better this year, 3/4 of my garden is mapped out. One of these days I will be half as organized as you are. Thanks for all the help and advices.

    Comment by Norma Chang — March 26, 2012 @ 10:37 am | Reply

    • Once the decisions are made, the planting is easy. I was late with the plan this year, (waiting to hear what was happening with community plots at Vassar), so I finished the plan 3 days before planting peas.


      Comment by marysveggiegarden — March 26, 2012 @ 11:13 am | Reply

  2. I to don’t do much planting with out a plan. I used to try to just wing it but I never seem to be able to remember what was where from year to year, so now I keep a map of all my plantings so that I can get my crop rotation correct each year!

    Comment by Rick — March 26, 2012 @ 11:27 am | Reply

    • A map is a necessity. The bigger the garden the harder it is to remember. And I’ve been in the same place for 14 years now, so the gardens are blurring together.

      Comment by marysveggiegarden — March 26, 2012 @ 2:03 pm | Reply

  3. Oh my gosh to be so organized! i really need to get better at record keeping and planning ahead!

    Comment by maryhysong — March 26, 2012 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

    • I’m only organized in some areas. I must still figure out how to weigh & record the harvest weekly without going loony when I sometimes harvest 3 times a day. You know – tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and supper. It’s local vitamin C.


      Comment by marysveggiegarden — March 26, 2012 @ 6:28 pm | Reply

  4. I used to have a three year rotation plan, but when I could no longer eat the solanum family things changed. I used to divide it up among families. Rotation 1 was solanums – tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, potatoes, and eggplants. Rotation three was the three sisters, corn, cucurbits, and beans, Rotation 3 was everything else, Peas, onions, carrots, brassicas, greens, herbs. Now I don’t have a good rotation system at all. But I’m going to make sure I don’t put anything in the same spot two years in a row. My biggest problem are the brassicas. I plant so many of them. And they stretch over all seasons and I rotate between seasons. So they are only going to get a two year rotation because they just take up so much space.

    Comment by Daphne — March 27, 2012 @ 6:47 am | Reply

    • I used to have that problem at my community plot because almost half the garden was cucurbits – squash, cantaloupe, and watermelons. My first year I got a great crop of watermelons, but they’ve gone downhill – got none last year- so I eliminated them plus I cut back the squash because I was growing too much – still have about 60 pounds in storage. I’ve increased my area of sweet corn, sweet potatoes, and edamame soy. The nice thing about those three is they are not closely related to anything else in my garden.

      A two year rotation requires more attention to pests and fertilizer but your blog shows you do that with all the soil amendments and extensive use of row covers.

      I hope your garden made it through the freeze last night. Its now warm enough to uncover my bush fruits – new transplants, already blooming – I didn’t want to stress them by freezing leaves.

      Comment by marysveggiegarden — March 27, 2012 @ 8:07 am | 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: