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Garden Planning 2

Part 2 of 2

Before we get to part 2 of garden planning, I realized I neglected an important part of part 1…

Your plants won’t survive for very long without water so figuring out how to that is very important. Traditionally, most irrigation has been from above with some type of sprinkler system. Watering can be done this way and it may seem the easiest way to do so, but there are a number of reasons not to do it.

A lot of water is wasted in overhead irrigation because you are watering your whole garden, even where your veggies aren’t. Also, the leaves of your plants get wet with overhead watering which you want to minimize. Wet leaves can make your plants more susceptible to many diseases, especially fungal ones. Yes, I know that plants evolved being watered from above, but nature seldomly delivers the amount of water needed to optimize plant growth and all you have to look at last year’s tomato blight to see what can happen when leaves are wet for too long.

Soil-level watering is better and there are two basic systems, soaker hoses and drip irrigation. Soaker hoses are simply hoses made out of a porous rubber that allows water to seep out of the hose. The hoses are then laid along the rows of plants in your garden and so they deliver the water only to your plants and not your weeds. The hoses come in a variety of lengths (mostly increments of 25’) and multiple soaker hoses can be linked together if needed. Don’t link together more than about 150’ of soaker hose together because by the end the water will be coming out too slowly to get the right amount of water to the plants.

Drip irrigation is a just a more sophisticated version of soaker hoses. Instead of a hose where water comes out along the whole length, in drip irrigation the hose is mostly solid, but there are places where the water comes out through holes know as drippers. Drippers can either be built into the hose or they can be attached to the hose. In either case the water only comes out exactly where your plants are located. Drip irrigation is somewhat more involved to install than soaker hoses, but it also last indefinitely, while soaker hoses will wear out in a few years.

Developing Your Garden Plan
OK, so you know where to put your vegetable garden, which veggies you want to plant, how to water them and many other elements from the first stage of garden planning. Now it’s time to figure out exactly how to place your vegetables in your garden. Because there are a number of factors to think of, I recommend actually drawing up a plan or using a graphics program (which is what I do). Your plan doesn’t have to be a work of art but it needs to be clear enough for you to understand it and it should take into account…

Vegetable height
Tomatoes are taller than onions. If you put tomatoes in front of your onions, relative to the sun, your onions will be shaded out and not grow well. So figure on putting your taller veggies at the back of your garden. Also if you get most of your sun either early or late, rather that evenly through the day, the tall plants should be on the side where they don’t shade the short ones.

Plant Tall Vegetables Behind Short Ones

Tall Plants (Tomatoes) Planted Behind Short Ones (Onions, Beets & Cabbage)

Vegetable families
Just as both tigers and lions are cats, your vegetables fall into families. For example broccoli, kale, turnips and mustard are all in the cabbage family while tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes are all nightshades. Knowing what plants are related is important because plants in the same family generally take the same nutrients out of the soil and are often susceptible to the same diseases/pests. Therefore, if you have enough room in your garden, you don’t want to plant vegetables from the same family in the same spot every year. Changing where you place your vegetables from year-to-year is called crop rotation and is one of keys to maintaining healthy soil and getting a good harvest.

Families for 4-year crop rotation
Beet Family Beets Spinach                                Swiss Chard Onion & Carrot Families
Onion Family Garlic                  Leek                   Onion                                Shallot Beet & Carrot Families
Carrot Family Carrot                Celeriac               Celery                Fennel                 Parsley                             Parsnip Beet & Onion Families
Nightshade Family Eggplant                             Sweet (Bell) Pepper            Chili (Hot) Pepper Potato          Tomatillo                        Tomato
Squash Family Cucumber Melon                             Summer Squash Pumpkin                           Winter Squash
Cabbage (Brassica) Family Bok Choy Broccoli                        Cabbage   Cauliflower                 Kale          Mustard                       Radish     Turnip                          Rutabaga Pea & Bean Family
Pea & Bean Family Alfalfa                                  Bush Beans                          Pole Beans                     Runner Beans                    Shell Peas                           Snap Peas                           Snow Peas Cabbage Family
Miscellaneous Corn                                    Leafy greens not already mentioned Any other family

Companion Planting
In nature you will often see certain plants living together. This is because the plants benefit each other in various ways. This is the idea behind companion planting, where you plant particular vegetables and herbs together either because they help each other grow/taste better or because they help pests away. For example, onions grown among carrots will help repel carrot fly and basil grown with tomatoes help each taste better. Companion plants can be ones you don’t harvest. I plant nasturtiums and marigolds around my butternut squash to deter squash vine borers (it really works I harvested 84 lbs of butternut squash last year and had no borers).

Companion Planting- Squash & Nasturtiums

Companion Planting- Squash & Nasturtiums (nasturtiums are circled)

On the flip side, some plants inhibit each other such as peas grown near members of the onion family (onions, chives, garlic, leeks, etc). Carrots Love Tomatoes is a good book to get you started on companion planting.

Different plants need to be planted specific distances apart. Mostly this depend on how large the veggie will eventually grow. Most guides you’ll find mention a range of distances such as tomatoes being planted 24”-36” apart.  I tend to plant my veggies at the closer end of the scale because then I get a larger harvest. These same guides will also usually give a greater distance between rows of the same vegetables than for ones in a row, but I have found no reason to make the distance between the rows any different than between plants in a row. Square Foot Gardening has a lot of good information about vegetable spacing.

There are occasional exceptions to the above rules. This year I am going to plant my tomatoes at the far end of the distance scale. I’m doing this because of last year’s tomato blight. Although the blight is not supposed to be able to survive the winters here in New York, I suspect that some probably has survived and will be around in a greater amount than usual (though hopefully not as much as last year). By planting my tomatoes further apart there will be more air circulation to dry off the leaves quickly after they get wet which will decrease the likelihood of my tomatoes getting the blight.

Now you can put together your plan, Like mine below for part of my garden.

Sample Garden Plan

Sample Garden Plan

I like to color code the different vegetable families so I can tell them apart well. I planted the corn as a companion for the cucumbers to try to keep cucumber beetles away from my plants. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, unlike the companions for my butternut squash. The numbers along the outside of the garden represent feet, this also helps me keep track of how much of each veggie I want to plant.

There is no one correct way to put together your plan, but having one is a really help you have a successful garden.

Happy planning.

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