Planning out the raised garden beds we are going to dig is one of the first steps I'm taking while biding my time until Spring. If you're looking for a place to start, this is where it's at: schematics. Just get yourself some graph paper and have at it!
First, you have to consider what kinds of vegetables and fruits you and your family eat on a regular basis. Do you make lots of chili? Consider growing onions, tomatoes, and peppers. Do you buy watermelon and cantaloupe at the store when they're in season? Try growing your own! If possible, grow vining varieties of plants to trellis up, creating a 3rd dimension to your garden. This saves more space than if you were to plant bush varieties. So, instead of planting bush beans, try to find pole beans. Instead of tomato varieties that bush, find ones that vine.
Next, consider how much space you have to grow your plants. Do you have a small front or back yard? You'd be surprised how much you can fit into a small space! We have a very tiny yard on rented land, and we manage a 6'x4' garden. Why this measurement? Because, any more than 4 feet deep, and we wouldn't be able to reach inside all the way to the middle without compacting the soil. Compacting the soil destroys air pockets within and decreases the yields of your plants. If you are planting varieties that you plan to trellis, such as pole beans, it is best to limit your garden to 3 1/2 feet deep if your length exceeds 6 feet, because again, you don't want to have to step inside the garden and compact the soil.
Once you know the space you have to work with and the varieties of plants you want to grow, the next step is figuring out the alignment of your garden beds to make sure they all get optimal daylight. The long sides of the garden should face North and South, with the vining varieties of plants placed along the North side. Why? To prevent them from shading the shorter plants. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sunlight beams in at a slant from the South. In the Southern Hemisphere the sunlight beams in at a slant from the North. Therefore, if you live in Australia or New Zealand, you'll want to trellis your vining varieties along the South side of your garden beds.
What types of plants do best when planted next to each other and what types of plants negatively affect each other and should therefore be kept apart? This is called companion planting, and a quick search on the internet will bring up many guides to help you figure out which plants do well with which. For example, tomatoes do well when planted with carrots. Peas hate to be planted with anything in the onion family. A lot of gardeners have figured out which plants do well with others by simply observing plant health and crop yields and jotting down these observations in their gardening notebooks. This is why it is also important to keep a detailed journal of your garden - to figure out what works and what doesn't so that you can improve your garden from year to year!
Lastly, you have to give your plants the necessary spacing they need to grow and get enough sunlight. Looking at the seed packages, use the "thin to" measurement for your plant spacing in the garden. Disregard the row recommendations, as mini farmers do not plant crops in traditional rows. In fact, as long as you leave the appropriate "thin to" measurement all the way around the plant, you can space them much more closely than in a conventional garden.
Here is the plan for our small, 24 square foot, 6'x4' raised garden bed. Each square on the grid represents 3 square inches. Therefore, 16 squares equals one square foot.
The tomatoes, eggplant, and squash are all being trellised along the North wall to prevent the sunlight from blocking the shorter plants. Also, I am keeping the peas away from the onions, since they negatively affect each other's growth. You may also notice that I am not planting using a square configuration, but a triangle. This allows me to space plants closer. Carrots, lettuce, and radishes need a minimum of 3 inches between plants. Onions, beets, spinach, and peas need 4 inches. Celery and the various herbs need 6 inches. Potatoes need 12 inches. I am trellising the tomatoes, eggplant, and butternut squash, so they will not need as much space to bush out.
Feel free to use, distribute, and circulate these plans. I claim no rights to any of them, because that's just silly. However, don't feel constricted to them. You can lengthen the garden to 20 feet long, for example. You can also add varieties such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. It's all up to you!
On the families' properties that I am helping to set up raised beds this year, I aimed for about 100 square feet of double dug beds. I created a schematic that utilizes four 8'x3.5' beds which equals 112 square feet and planned out where to plant each crop variety.
Notice that the walking paths are 3 feet wide between beds. You can make them whatever width you'd like, of course. The garden beds and walking paths would be a total of 19 feet long and 10 feet deep, for a total space used of 190 square feet.
Once I made a rudimentary map of the beds and plant varieties, I made more detailed plans. Here's Bed 1 through 4 in greater detail. Bed 4 is the only one that will not need to be trellised on the North wall. This is because I am companion planting the green beans and corn close enough that the pole beans can climb up the corn stalks for support. The corn benefits from the beans which put nitrogen back into the soil that the corn heavily utilizes. The squash nearby attracts beneficial insects to the corn and beans, reducing pest populations.
You may have noticed that I did not include any broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower in the above garden beds. This is because these vegetables have to be space 1 foot apart, and I don't personally use these plants in a lot of my cooking. The following beds have been amended to include these veggies.
I made these plans that extend the length of the garden to 10 feet, still with 3.5 feet of width. I also included cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Any questions? I know I threw a lot at you, so feel free to ask. I'm in a bit of a hurry today, as it's almost time for me to go teach student drivers in the car. I'm also trying to make sure my son gets a bite to eat. Multitasking has it's drawbacks, but I hope I helped to get you off to a good start.
Having plans helps you to know how many seeds you need to buy and how many plants you're going to start in flats indoors to get a head start on the growing season. Next post, I will talk about soil blocking. Happy planning!