How to Plan Your Vegetable Garden

It’s that time of year in the winter when gardeners are longing for the warm spring sun, looking longingly out at their frozen garden patch, and itching to get started. The good news is – you can! If you’ve done any gardening before, you know that winter is planning time. If you are new to all of this, well, let’s come up with a garden plan together. Read on to learn the four easy steps to plan your garden, which include:

  1. Locate the space
  2. Sketch it out on paper
  3. Decide what to grow (based on what you want to eat)
  4. Order seeds, or buy seedlings in the spring

Don’t forget to leave me a comment below and check out the video at the end.

First: Locate the Garden Location

Locate the space where you want your garden to be. Pick a spot near the house, if possible. If you have a big yard, it’s harder to go far to maintain your garden than it is to go just outside the door. However, if your only option is far from the house or even in a community garden, then do what you gotta go. Growing food is the goal, even if it’s not right next to your house.

Building the raised beds last spring
Building the raised beds last spring

Make sure you choose a spot that gets at least six hours of sun a day. Any less, and vegetables will struggle to thrive. There are some vegetables, such as cruciferous vegetables, beans, greens, and herbs, that do fine with 4-6 hours of sunlight a day. Choose vegetables based on your growing conditions.

Determine whether you want to plant directly in the ground or in raised beds. If it is winter, you can plan the location now, and amend the soil and/or build the raised beds in early spring before you are ready to plant. Or, if it is the fall and you already have your area picked out, you can amend the soil now so it’s ready for spring.

Second: Put it on Paper

An important step to planning any project, gardens included, is to put it on paper.

Sketch out your garden on paper. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but try to get the dimensions correct so you can have an idea how much space you will have to plant. This will help determine what types of plants to choose.

My 2022 garden plans (each square equals one foot)

Third: Determine What You Want to Eat

In thinking about what to plant, it’s a good idea to ask yourself – what do I want to eat? You can think of it in four ways. A garden can give you produce for:

  • Fresh food
  • Dried food
  • Canned food
  • Frozen food
  • Fermented food

I typically think first about fresh food. What do I want to enjoy throughout the season? My favorites include salad greens, radishes, tomatoes, herbs, eggplant, and zucchini.

My garden salad
Growing vegetables to eat fresh

Then I think about what I want to dry and store for the winter. Herbs are my first thought. I use a lot of herbs in cooking, and I want to grow enough to dry and have through the winter. This year I plan to grow herbs to make an Italian seasoning blend, which is my favorite. Other vegetables that are good for drying include hot peppers, zucchini, kale, and berries.

Growing herbs to dry
Growing herbs to dry

The next method of enjoying your garden harvest is through canning. I already know I want to can tomato sauce and salsa, so I am planting vegetables specifically for that purpose: roma tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, bell peppers, and herbs. Other fruits and vegetables that can be preserved through canning include winter squash, carrots, cucumbers, and fruit jams.

Growing fruits and vegetables to preserve

There are many vegetables that I would freeze, but not can. Why? I think they taste fresher. Corn, peas, Brussels sprouts, and beans all taste better to me when they are cooked from frozen rather than canned. But my absolute favorite thing to freeze is basil, in the form of pesto. You can use up any old jar you have, make some pesto, fill your jar (leaving 1 inch at the top) and freeze it. I have a good, steady supply of pesto in my freezer for the whole of winter.

Growing herbs and vegetables to freeze, such as this pesto.

Lastly, a category that many people may not think of is fermentation. This year I hope to ferment pickles (as opposed to canning them) to enjoy the probiotic benefits. I also hope to ferment eggplant, carrots, and watermelon rind.

Fermentation is another way to preserve the harvest, like this sauerkraut

Fourth: Take Stock, Order Seeds, or Buy Seedlings

If you’ve gardened in the past, you may already have a stash of seeds. Start there. If there are vegetables you liked, plant them again! If you didn’t like them so much, or if you don’t have the right growing conditions for them, pass them on to a friend. Most seeds last for about two years. If you are unsure whether your seeds are still good, you can try this test. Sprinkle some seeds on a damp paper towel. Roll it up and put it in a plastic bag. After 5-14 days, the seeds should sprout. If they don’t, you will know your seeds are too old.

Ask your friends who garden if they have any extra seeds. You can organize a seed swap with fellow gardeners to get more variety.

Now you get to go shopping for what you need for your garden. In addition to seeds, you will likely need a seed starting mix. You may need grow lights and heat mats if you plan to start your seeds indoors. Or, you can choose to buy only direct sow seeds, which you will plant directly in your garden when the weather is warm enough.

Seedlings are an easier, though more expensive, way to start a garden

Some gardeners like to start their garden from seedlings. This is more expensive, but it can be a good option for beginner gardeners.

Some other things you may need include:

  • Seed packets
  • Fruit or nut trees
  • Seedlings

When starting a garden using seedlings, you can plan out your garden in the winter, but wait until spring to buy the seedlings. When starting a garden usings seeds and/or trees, be sure to put your orders in early because oftentimes things sell out.

Your Turn

And now, what will you grow? Where will your garden be? I can’t wait to hear about it in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!