I know you’ve felt it too, even though its still cold- the days are longer, the sun is stronger and the birds have started singing again! Time to dig in and start turning our garden dreams into garden goals. Now is the time to ensure those mouth watering harvests!

There are as many goals for a garden as there are gardeners. There are also as many ways to plan a garden as there are gardeners.

Think about what you want from a garden and go from there.

Peppers, Tomatoes, Beans and Pak Choi

  • Fresh herbs- most herbs do well in containers
  • Salsa garden- that will take some space and extra happy soil
  • Root crops-  to grow and store through the winter a cold frame might be worthwhile
  • Child’s Learning Garden- a raised bed will help in keeping little feet off seeds
  • Space to Relax– Seating and scents, gain privacy with vertical gardening structures

And those of us that like to spend a majority of our Summer’s free time in the garden; honestly assessing what worked and didn’t work from last year’s efforts will go a long way to make this season even better.

Goals for my garden this year include:
Learning how to play more with Mother Nature ~ Grow first successful celery and cauliflower crops ~  Harvest + Preserve healthy food.

Plan to Enjoy

I grew more food than I knew what to do with that year, with this simple plan.

Garden Plans can be as simple as you want them to be.  Back in 2014  I  filled a 30′ x 80′ garden plot with so much food we ate mostly homegrown that year! And as you can see, it wasn’t much of a technical plan. Disclaimer *This was a newly tilled space on great soil.

Whatever the garden, turning your ideas into reality starts with a plan. Be honest about how much you want to put into your garden. While there are tons of shortcuts and time-saving tips, but in general the bigger the garden, the more time it requires to be productive.

One of my goals with Forks in the Dirt is to inspire people to make small changes that add up over time. On that note, dreaming big and starting small is smart if gardening is new to you. I pinky swear to keep you up to date with all the best Farmers Markets and CSA’s if you’d rather support our local growers than grow your own!

Here are a few Ground Rules and terms that get tossed around the garden:

Crop Rotation

Crop Rotation is the most important habit to get into for organic gardeners. This practice of moving plants to different locations each year will help keep bugs and soil born issues at bay. There are two main ways of rotating; by family or by nutrient demands. This can get very involved; for more information here’s a great Old Farmer’s Almanac article and video. I use Niki Jabbour’s rotation by nutrient demand which is roughly roots (carrots, beets) -> beans/peas -> Fruiting (tomatoes, squash) and potatoes -> leafy greens and the brassica family.

Companion Planting

“Jewel” Nasturtium

This practice uses the fact that every plant has its own growing habits, and finds ways to use those differences to grow more and better crops. This could mean planting deep root plants next to shallow roots, or a plant that repels pests or attracts beneficial insects next to a vulnerable neighbor. This is about creating one big happy neighborhood. Rodale’s Organic covers it in depth HERE. I started by adding nasturtium and calendula flowers to entice more pollinators and beneficial bugs.

Succession Planting

My Garden boy helping plant greens after the midsummer harvests

This mean getting rid of the plants that are done producing so you can plant new crops to keep producing. Certain crops mature more quickly than others; the fast-growing ones (radishes, greens, peas are typical) can be removed after harvest and then that same space can be replanted with a variety of fall loving vegetables (kale, root crops, greens). Our own University of MN does a bang up job as usual giving practical info on their WEBSITE.  The plants that did best for me in last season’s second planting (early July) were Pak Choi, Arugula, Kale and Broccoli.

Nothing like bright green turnip tops in the Fall garden

Basic Garden Planning Steps

  1. Make a list of all the plants you want to grow in your vegetable garden.
  2. Draw an outline of your garden on a piece of paper, include fences + fixed garden beds.
  3. Draw  where you want to plant crops and where the paths will be.
  4. Revise! Once on paper you’ll be able to better ‘see’ the garden in August.
  5. Keep in mind crop rotation practices.
  6. Add in companion planting ideas.
  7. Add in succession planting ideas.

I used some form of this process through many years of garden planning and it served me well. My plants may not have all been in the perfect spot, but they had all the compost they could dream of. Or if I forgot to follow best practices for crop rotation, I had grown select flowers to entice in enough beneficial bugs to balance it all out. Gardens are our wonderfully imperfect attempts at working with Mother Nature, and remember- Mother Nature WANTS to grow!

“Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the Spring and ends in the Fall is missing the best part of the year… for gardening begins in January, with the DREAM.
Josephine Nuese

This year we are going to attempt more in our yard’s gardens than ever before, and I can hardly wait!

Last Fall after the new beds were layered with compost, leaves and soil.

There’s nothing like the clean slate of a new garden bed, and I have FOUR new 4’x8′ raised beds! Last Fall we more than doubled our vegetable growing space.  And yes, I went overboard with my seed order despite my best efforts. But there is something magical about this time of year, with dreaming in full swing and the whole growing season ahead of us!

But, I felt a little overwhelmed trying to figure out my much larger garden plans using the same techniques that have served me well in the past.

An earlier version of most of my back veggie patch.

Because of my doubled space and previous years of growing in the same beds this Winter I’m diving into something that I *think* will help me keep my sanity and increase harvests; I subscribed to an online graphic garden planner. There are a few versions out there. Please don’t waste your time with any of the free versions, better to draw your own than get frustrated with those. After looking around, I chose the GrowVeg.com version, it has A LOT of really specific settings that overwhelmed me until I remembered: that I didn’t have to use them all, along with that “Mother Nature Want to Grow” quote from above. It does not have an app that works on my android phone, iPhones are OK.

With the GrowVeg online planner, you start by adding your exact location, and you can switch from ‘Square Foot Gardening’ to ‘row planting’, put in dates for succession planting – and, this was what made it worth the annual fee for me: Crop Rotation assistance! It does this by keeping track of what you planted where so when you plan next year’s garden it alerts you so you can avoid planting a vegetable in a place where the soil needs amending before it can best grow that plant. It also shows a list of best companion plants. It even generates a master plant list for purchasing. Genius!

It’s pretty intuitive, and totally worth checking out- PLUS they give you a FREE one-week trial, and you can print your plan to plant off without paying anything. Click on the Garden Planner link in the top navigation bar HERE.

Planting nectar + pollen sources makes everything happier!

SO Fun, and SO addicting! And, no, I’m not getting anything in return for mentioning them- I just wanted to share! Let me know what you think if you find time to play with the online planner! 

The best part of planning your garden early is being able to start your own seeds; we’ll cover starting seeds indoors with the next blog post.

I’d love to hear your tricks to help plan great gardens, or what you still have questions about for future blog post ideas 🙂

Looking forward to digging in the DIRT!