Like I said on Monday, my favorite part of the day I spent putting together my garden plan was when I created the front and backyard layout sketches. After measuring all of the currently usable garden space I have in the front and backyard, I used the garden layout grid paper in my new planner to create templates of my yard that I could use yearly for planning. It took me three different drafts to get the front yard right, but I finally came up with a workable layout that appeals to my square foot gardening sensibilities. Each square on the grid represents a square foot. I made a few copies of the original template and got out my favorite colored pencils for the fun part. Here are a few things I considered when putting together my garden plan.
The color-coding I used on these templates is what really makes them work. Besides the fact that I enjoyed coloring like a kid, I found that the colors made it easier for me to see what crop is where. My color code is fairly obvious: green for leafy greens (I tried to use different colors for different plant families – except in the case of the front yard lettuces, but I’ll explain more later), red for the nightshade family (tomatoes), pink for root crops (beets), blue/purple for legumes (beans), orange for summer squash, and brown for the onion/garlic family.
Crop Rotation (Organic Pest/Disease Prevention)
I’ve learned that one of the best organic methods you can use to protect your vegetables from pests and diseases is to use crop rotation. I remember hearing someone say that rotating crops is a way of confusing the pests that like that crop. If you keep moving the crops to different parts of your garden, the pests have to keep searching for it rather than overwintering in the soil just to find it in the same place in the spring. The vegetables I love the most like dark leafy greens and broccoli in the brassica family and tomatoes in the night shade family should not be planted in the same spot for three years.
So, a few years ago I started using a crop rotation system in my backyard terraced garden. I started planting each raised bed according to different families:
- Solanaceae – tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos, eggplant
- Cucurbitaceae – squash (zucchini, cucumbers, winter squash)*
- Fabaceae – beans and peas
- Brassicaceae – kale, broccoli, collards, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, radishes, rutabagas, turnips, and kohlrabi
- Chenopodiaceae/Asteraceae – my salad bed (lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, beets)
I have four beds that are laid out one in front of the other in different terraced levels. After the bed has been through a season, I plant that same family in the next bed in front of it (or back at the beginning). For example, in the image above, the bed labeled solanaceae was planted last year with brassicas. So by the time I get to the bed where I started, it will have been through at least three years of different families. Plus, the bonus of this new system is that plants within the same family generally have similar water and heat requirements, so I made my maintenance work a little easier and the plants a little happier too. Win win!
Square foot gardening is a method for growing the maximum amount of plants you can grow in a square foot while also giving the plants adequate room to grow. There’s a formula for figuring out how many plants to grow in one square using the “thin to” distance on the back of most seed packets, but I’ve just memorized the ones I use the most.
- 4 lettuces
- 1 kale
- 2 beets (staggered like in the picture above)
- 4 chard plants
- 1 indeterminate (vining) tomato
- 9 spinach plants
- 9 Pole/vining beans or peas
- 8 bush beans
I plant larger plants, like summer squash, in a larger block of squares, one plant per 3′ x 3′ section.
Using the square foot gardening method, I could potentially grow 36 beets, 36 chard plants, and 54 vining peas in that one 4′ x 10′ bed alone. Not to mention the 40 strawberry plants I put in the first ten feet of the bed. Isn’t that fantastic?! That is, of course, if the slugs don’t get to it first!
Succession Planting and Light
With the beds in the front yard, I deal with the issue of light. I’ve got two beautiful maple trees that were just babies when I bought my house ten years ago and I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of them. So, I work with the existing sunlight and shade they cast on a good part of my yard. Since cool season vegetables, like lettuce, can use a little shade in the summer, I can use this edible yard design “flaw” to my advantage, especially if I strategize. Here is my plan for the lettuce.
I learned this summer that the food banks would much rather receive donations of lettuce over the abundance of kale that so many of us northwest gardeners grow (more on my food bank Giving Garden). I don’t mind eating my share of salads either, so I’m upping my lettuce production in a big way – 50 square feet of it. At 4 plants per square that could work out to be 200 lettuce plants! By growing them in two-week intervals (succession planting), beginning in early March, I will have an abundance of lettuce throughout the spring, rather than ending up with 200 plants that are all ready at once. I’ll start the earliest row, closest to the maple tree when it’s still leafing out. That will help prevent spindliness from lack of light. By the time I get to the 5th row, when the maple tree will be filling out, I will be sowing seeds where the bed gets the most light and the existing plants will be under a shelter of filtered sunlight. I will cover the entire thing with a cloche to maximize heat during those chilly, wet months of spring. I only wish I could start planting now!
In the bed by the other maple tree, which will soon get more sunlight when my neighbors and I open up the fence between our yards (Hooray for light and community!), I am planting the squash in the section farthest from the tree and the leafy greens in the shadiest part of the bed so that both plants will be happy. It should be noted that the squash and kale will not be planted at the same time. All of the seeds will be planted during the spring or summer, when the soil and night-time temperatures are just right for the plant.
A Sneak Peek
The last two parts of my plan are still a work in progress and will be the focus of much of my attention this year. Both are my main landscape projects this year – my flower cutting garden that I talked about in this post and my front yard mini-orchard.
I haven’t decided exactly what flowers I want to grow in that bed, nor which edibles and perennials I want to grow around the columnar apple trees I plan on planting this spring, but that part of the plan will come. At least, I can rest knowing that I have a draft of a plan on which to make those decisions. And that’s a lot closer to my vision than I was last week!
*A note about cross-pollination fromÂ Edible Heirlooms by Bill Thorness:
There are four major species within the Cucurbita genus: All the summer squashes are C.pepo, as are pumpkins, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, and some gourds. Hubbard, turban, buttercup, banana, and mammoth squashes are C. maxima varieties. Butternut and some cushaw varieties are in C. moschata. Green and white cushaws are in C. mixta, a species only recently created as a spin-off of C. moschata. Squash are insect-pollinated, and varieties within the same species cross easily. You can control this by hand-pollinating or by growing only one plant of each species in the same garden space.
* Garden Layout grid paper from the Northwest Edible Life Garden Planner and Journal
*This post is part of Wednesday Fresh Food Link Up