How to Plan A Successful Vegetable & Herb Garden

First of all, I am SO excited about gardening! Full stop. But also, I love planning! I do process design by day, which now means that any time someone mentions an end goal, a project they want to start, or anything that potentially at some point may in theory require a process, I start thinking in timelines and process flow cycles. So of course I’m going to design a process flow and timeline for my garden. And I have to tell you, I am having an absolute ball.

The good news is, if you’re already rolling your eyes (how can you read like that?!) I’m happy to tell you that I will proudly share my process with you! Of course, the process is flexible. Just like Grandma said about cooking, “when you’re the cook, you control the recipe.” When you’re the gardener, you get to choose how and what you plant. If you love browsing through seed catalogs and making wish-lists and then you win the lottery, order everything right there!! Or if you follow the process end to end, well that’s awesome and we are in this together 🙂 Plus, I’m sure I missed a few steps that more seasoned gardeners say are critical – let me know what you think!

Garden Planning 2017

The template! I don’t know how to link to it unfortunately, but if you search Microsoft Excel for “garden planner” or “plant inventory” it pops up!

Growing your own food and herbs is not only fun and incredibly cost-effective, but it’s excellent for the environment. Also, have you ever met a grouchy gardener? Not likely. Or if she is grouchy, maybe someone ate all of her tomatoes. But gardening is one of those multi-beneficial hobbies, and if I’m totally honest, one of my favorite benefits is the calm that settles over me as I take part in gardening. For me, the act of gardening includes everything from greedily paging through the early-January Burpee Catalogs, circling everything I want (usually about everything in the catalog) to covering up dormant beds with compost and leaves for the cold New England winter, and all of the related activities in between. Each piece of the gardening process takes focus, so just like with many other hobbies, the troubles of my day fall away and all I can see is my garden. Like building furniture for my husband, gardening is all mine and it turns into a type of therapy for me whether I’m stressed or happy as a clam. However I go into my gardening activity, I tend to come out of it satisfied, soul-filled, and usually pretty dirty – the signs of an excellent, productive time.

Reality check: it’s January 24th and COLD out. Like, since yesterday morning, it’s been snowing/raining/snowing/raining and wicked windy. So clearly I’m not planting anything outdoors today or tomorrow. But I realized yesterday that our winter means time is on my side! This will be our third spring in Hopedale, and I’ve gardened each year. Each year, I’ve become increasingly intentional, but in a way gradual exploration was my process. I discovered by accident where the leafy greens grow the best (NOT where I thought they would, but okay, I can learn) and that gardening takes a lot of water (three cheers for rain barrels!!) and time. I have also discovered, and will remember this year, that I do NOT remember where I planted what. I must label. I must label. I must label.

So this year, I am planning!! I’ve heard “a minute of planning is worth an hour of work” and with gardening, it also means a lot more and better production. Also, it makes things easier for the gardener (see my notes-to-self about labeling). Wherever you are in the process, I cannot recommend this (The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible) book any more highly. It remains one of the best gifts I’ve ever received, and contains SO MUCH GOOD STUFF! I’ve had it for two years now, and just yesterday really dug into the plant index in the back. It’s a beautiful complement to any garden plan, but for me the detailed descriptions of each vegetable (indoor/outdoor sowing timelines, fertilization & soil preferences, seed vs. plant starting, plus species recommendations) helps me plan out when to plant, what to plant it near, etc. so I’m not haphazardly throwing seeds in the ground and then standing there with a watering can saying “man, where did I put the tomato seeds?” I have done that, and it’s worked out alright, but not great. I don’t think this is the only way to garden, but it’s the 2017 in the Happy Home way to garden and I’m sharing it with you in hopes that it brings you delicious and fun gardening times ahead.

As with any project I undertake, I plan fun right in there with efficiency. So the first thrilling component of a solid garden plan is to receive a seed catalog, grab a snack, and settle in for a no holds barred plantasy (plant-fantasy, of course) session.

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How to Plan A Successful Vegetable & Herb Garden

  1. Make a first draft of your plants list. Do this almost like you’d free-write; no editing, minimal second thoughts, leave logic pretty much at the door, and let your heart go wild with plant dreams. Make your list your own! Maybe you love circling the plants you want with a big red marker, or writing them down with a pen and paper, doodling tomato vines in the margins. I captured my list in the Evernote app on my phone and recorded details like species of each plant, annual or perennial, any companion planting notes, and any additional growing tips provided by the catalog. Yes, I’ll refine that information later with the help of the Vegetable Grower’s Bible, but that treasured tome doesn’t include non-vegetable plants and each catalog knows the specific type of each plant it sells, so why not document their recommendations for the best possible outcome?
  2. Research companion plants and timelines. With your drafted plant list, go through a research platform of your choice (for me, duh, it’s… THE VEGETABLE GARDENER’S BIBLE!) whether it’s Pinterest, your own garden records, or a trusted gardening-expert family member. For each plant, as appropriate, add notes about who it likes to be planted near, and who it disagrees with. Take note as well of timing: whether to sow indoors first or direct-sow into the ground outside, when (after all signs of frost are gone, or as soon as the soil is workable in early spring?) and any other plant-specific notes like pruning, fertilization, etc. This will help inform your garden design, and what you end up actually putting into the ground, when. Also, the more intentional the planning piece is now, the better harvest you’ll have (MORE FOOD!) down the road.
  3. Draft planting timeline. Again, do what feels best for you – this process isn’t fun if you force it! You may find that you prefer drawing out a timeline and writing plant names in small print alongside it. I found a beautiful template in Microsoft Office by searching for “garden planner” and have been spending time this week slowly inputting my list, plant by plant, into the template. It has 4 tabs: Plant Inventory, Seed Starting Log, Task List, and Garden Planning Grid. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for more! With this much detail, organized so well, I have a comprehensive garden plan to work from all season long, but I can also search quickly for anything I need, like how many lettuce plants I’ve dreamt up (this helps with the next step). Also, it has pretty flower designs on it 🙂
  4. Revise plant list. Reality here! Go through your plant list or spreadsheet with a more critical eye. Take a look at how many similar plants you have, and think about what you’ll actually consume or share. If you like zucchini but don’t love it, and don’t have tons of neighbors/friends/family/chickens to share it with, I’d stick with one or two zucchini plants tops. Remember, each seed packet usually contains 50-200 seeds, so you probably don’t need to order more than one packet. Of course, variety is the spice of life, so you may decide that you’d like to grow salsa ingredients only, featuring multiple species of tomatoes and peppers! You do you. One other element to consider here is space. Where will you be putting these fantastic plants? Read the spacing needs and visualize (or draw, add in a template grid, or paint) your garden. What will fit, and where should it all go within the garden (use your companion planting notes to guide you). Have fun with this – think about the fruits (and vegetables, and herbs, and flowers) of your labor.
  5. Validate existing seed inventory. Now that you’re almost ready to grow, take a look at what you already have. Maybe you’re in a Facebook group or local gardening group that does a seed-share program. I have a big Tupperware in our basement full of seed packets and bulbs, so I’ll bring it upstairs and compare what I want to grow with what I have “ingredients” to grow. Make a note on your list of what you have so you don’t order more than you need.
  6. Research distributors. I’ve been very loyal to Burpee for years, but I also like the Grower’s Exchange for herbs. If you’re starting with plants (tomatoes & peppers especially) start to check out where you want to source them. I always prefer to shop local, and there’s a wonderful family farm in Upton called Kelly Farm where we buy both plants and produce as long as they’re open. Where will you source your seeds and plants from? If you’re using the Microsoft template I mentioned above, enter the sourcing details there for ease of ordering.
  7. Order! Remember fertilizer, if you don’t have any. Burpee sells a great one made of seaweed emulsion that’s worked well for me in the past. And while you’re waiting for your shipment to come in, make some plant markers. I’ll be attempting these for the first time, and will definitely share the craft tutorial when they’re done!
  8. Plant away! Use your template or planner as a guide, and get ready, get set, GROW!

I’m still in stage 3, and am about to go lovingly fill in the rest of my plants in the seed starting tab on this fabulous Microsoft Excel template! Ok – what did I miss? What do you think? It’s wild, I know, but welcome to my life 🙂 I have so much fun with this stuff, and I hope this pr0cess helps you plant! Or at least makes you chuckle at my love of planning!

So, off to continue my planning for the Happy Home garden. I am SO excited… we’re going to try a grape arbor this year! That’s a thing!! Ahh, what a life 🙂 Sending growing vibes from our house to yours, with love!


A Happy Wife

Happy Wife, Creative Life

Happy Wife, Creative Life

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