Work That Plan! Planning for a productive sustainable garden.

Work That Plan!

Planning for a productive sustainable garden

By ame vanorio © 2017 All rights reserved


Planning is the most important and often most overlooked aspect of gardening. Foundations are just as important in gardens as they are in houses. An architect does not just start building. They must gather ideas, put it on graph paper and then examine how they will implement their design. Like the architect, a gardener who plans will have a more successful and fulfilling creation!

PLAN! Your first and most important task for a sustainable garden is to take the time to plan and write down goals. Approach your gardens as a business. Keep track of how much money you put in and how much produce you raise. Make up an overall three year plan to reach your goals with short term yearly objectives. Gardening is an ongoing process so start slow and allow yourself to grow over the next several years. Many families can meet much of their food needs on less than half an acre with proper planning and layout. Give yourself time!!

I learned this lesson the hard way! My very first year of homesteading was a blur of home building, starting a garden, livestock acquisition, and homeschooling! Not only was I a frustrated and impatient woman but every part of the homestead was incomplete! Having realistic plans to achieve your goals is worth the time and effort spent.

If you are new to intensive gardening then you want to start small with easy to manage plots. If you are a more experienced gardener then you should concentrate of getting more production out of your garden space and ramping up your soil nutrient level. One way to increase soil fertility is too add compost and manures which we will discuss in a future blog. If you have time and money, you are encouraged to plant more BUT keep realistic expectations for how much you can accomplish. You will just get frustrated if your garden gets out of hand (Trust me on that one!).

Goals (numbers) are broad and state what you are going to do. Objectives (letters) show how you are going to do that. For example:

Overall Goal: Over the next three years, I will develop two 20x20 garden spaces to produce my own vegetables and herbs.

1. In my first season I plan to grow enough fresh vegetables to eat a fresh salad each day from May – October and some extra beans and tomatoes to preserve.

A.I will grow greens using succession planting in a raised bed 4x4 plot.

B. I will plant a 15-foot row of bush beans for fresh beans weekly and can 20 quarts of beans for winter.

C. I will plant two salad and one sandwich type tomatoes for fresh eating and six paste tomatoes for canning

 Draw out your property on a piece of graph paper – whether you have a farm or a city lot – and sketch all permanent buildings such as the house, barns, shed, fences etc. Include large trees, woods, and water areas. Include neighbor’s houses especially if they affect your sunlight. Look at the direction of the sun – what areas receive eight hours of sun a day? What areas receive four hours? A surprising number of vegetables will grow in a sun/shade mix. You may have an open sunny area where you plan to have everything planted. Consider the wind. Does it bring cold air from the north in spring or hot dry air from the south in mid-summer that will affect your plants?

I have several garden areas. I like to have small garden areas that are easy to manage and work well with rotation. One reason I like smaller plots is completely psychological. Smaller plots are less overwhelming and I can easily accomplish a task in a short amount of time.  I also have a dedicated orchard area. My soft fruit climbs on the fences outside my gardens. My gardens are fenced to keep out livestock who have free range.

Get your whole family involved in this process. Children are very willing to help on the farm when they see the long-term benefits. I still have the drawing my nine year old son made in 2006 of his goals! He is quite a sports fan, and while we didn’t put in the Golf Course or a Swimming Pool he envisioned, he can hit balls out in the field and he discovered a nice “pool” in the creek.

Start by looking in your pantry and refrigerator. What do you see? Make a list of what foods your family likes. Start with vegetables and fruits, and then list protein sources, which may include dairy, eggs, beans, nuts and meats depending on your eating preferences. Include foods that you could process or prepare yourselves such as pasta sauce, vegetable soup, and pickles. Condiments such as ketchup and mayonnaise are very doable. Raising your own food means eating lots of vegetables, fruits, and some protein sources as the bulk of your diet. 

If your pantry is full of things like soda, chips and Little Debbie’s then you may need to rethink your food priorities! Another common food issue is feeling like you have to have new and different foods at all times. Leftovers have a really bad rap. Being self-sufficient means eating foods when they are in season and finding new ways to cook the same vegetables.

From your food list determine what you want to plant over the next three years. If you are a new gardener start with those things you like to eat fresh from the garden. That said there are some good reasons to grow a variety of annuals, perennials, vegetables, fruits and herbs. A variety of foods makes meal times interesting and different species contribute different aspects of good health. Such as carrots contain significant amounts of Vitamin A and Kale has Vitamin K. Variety in the garden also ensures successful growing season. One crop may not produce as well where another produces in abundance. 

Plan garden areas for fruit trees, a strawberry patch, perennials, and annual veggies. If you have a small yard then make use of boundary and garden fences. Vertical space is often neglected but makes a great place to grow berries and vegetables that like to climb. Fruits need full sun and well-draining soil. Many fruit trees are very ornamental. If you are short on space plant a couple dwarf fruit trees in your front yard and blueberries along the south or west side of your house.

My next blog will go into choosing and purchasing seeds.

Sections of this blog are excerpts from my book Kick the Grocery Store Goodbye . An excellent book on this topic is  How to Plan Your Custom Garden. First published by Rodale in 1982 it is out of print but can be found on Amazon. 

Ame Vanorio is the founder/director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center in Falmouth, Ky and a certified teacher. We provide environmental education programs and serve as a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center.