Planning a New Vegetable Garden

What you’ll need

  • Pencil
  • Graph paper
  • Paper

step 1: Select a Location for the Garden

Vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day, and more is better. Pick a place that’s convenient to the tool shed or garage, and not too far from the kitchen. Your first garden should be no larger than about 100 square feet—you’ll be amazed at how much you can grow in that space—but there should be room to expand later if you wish.

step 2: Make a Long List of Vegetables

Collect a few vegetable seed catalogs (gardening magazines are full of ads for them in December) and settle down to make a list. Concentrate on salad makings for your first garden, and list all the vegetables that look good to you. At this point, don’t worry about how much room you have.

step 3: Make a Short List

Now comes the hard part: paring down the list to what you actually have room for. Use the information in the catalogs to know when to plant each vegetable and how much room it will require. From the long list, select vegetables to fit both your garden space and your family’s appetite for that vegetable. Don’t plant more than you’ll actually eat.

step 4: Lay Out the Garden

Make a map of your garden on graph paper (4 lines to an inch is a good scale) with each square representing a square foot of garden. Make several copies of the map for different seasons. Draw little circles the right size for each vegetable in the garden, using the spacing recommended in the catalog description. Now you have a planting plan.

The last thing to do is make a planting schedule. Again using information from the catalogs, decide what date to plant each vegetable. The dates are usually given in broad terms like “after the last spring frost” or “when days are warm.” Make guesses about when these events will occur in your garden. You can adjust them later, as you see how spring is progressing.

For plants you will only use in small numbers, such as tomatoes, it may be simpler to buy a few plants from a garden center. For most others, it works better to plant from seed. Order your seeds from the catalogs and you’re ready for your first garden.