Whether you’re just building your first vegetable garden, or thinking of changing or expanding on an existing vegetable garden, there are certain factors that need to be considered when thinking of how to plan your vegetable garden.
Where do you begin?
Don’t start by chipping away at the ground, hoping for a plan to formulate as you go.
Start with a plan.
Write down all your garden “must haves” first. Then begin to draw out the layout of the garden, followed by what you would like to see in there.
In this post, I will guide you through 10 factors you should consider when planning your vegetable garden, showing you the importance of having a vegetable garden plan. This plan will save you time and frustration in the garden, helping you to get back to what you enjoy doing most, gardening and reaping the rewards of a great harvest.
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Where do you begin?
The following 10 steps will create a foundation for your vegetable garden and help you design a plan. I recommend using a journal to document all your thoughts, plans, ideas or anything else that comes to mind.
Record all 10 questions in your journal (Here is one that I like.), then answer each one. After all 10 questions have been answered, you will have a better understanding of what you want out of your vegetable garden. Then use these answers to draw out your future vegetable garden on a grid or garden design app. There is a garden design grid available for you in my store too.
- Step #1 – Where will your garden be located?
- Step #2 – How large will your garden be?
- Step #3 – Will you be walking on the garden soil?
- Step #4 – How much sun/shade will your garden have?
- Step #5 – What do you want to grow?
- Step #6 – Will your garden be easy to water?
- Step #7 – Do you want to have a seating area in your garden?
- Step #8 – Do you want a water feature in your garden?
- Step #9 – Would you like to have a compost bin in your garden?
- Step #10 – Would you like a greenhouse or tool shed in your garden?
Let’s start with the easiest step first.
STEP 1: Where will your garden be located?
This step only applies if you don’t have a vegetable garden.
You’ve been wanting to build a garden, but haven’t yet. The first step is to decide on the best location for your vegetable garden.
Things to consider:
- Is it close enough to your kitchen or back door for easy access?
- Do you need to walk a distance?
Distance is important because you want it to be convenient for easier access. What if you’re in the middle of cooking and need to grab an additional ingredient? A closely situated garden makes it easy and convenient for you to run out, harvest that ingredient and pop back into the kitchen to continue cooking. A garden that is far from the kitchen may be inconvenient to get to, making gardening inconvenient when time is short.
This step may also apply when wanting to expand on an already existing garden. Perhaps you already have a vegetable garden, but would like to build another one? If your garden is far away, consider creating a smaller cooks or kitchen garden near your back door, with several key crops, like herbs, cherry tomatoes and salad greens. Use the further garden to grow larger vegetable crops like squash, pumpkins, zucchini and corn. Location is a very important factor to consider when planning out your vegetable garden.
STEP 2: How large will your garden be?
This step applies to both an existing garden or a new garden build. If your garden currently exists, but you would like to add to it, consider the current existing size and how much larger you would like it to be.
If you don’t have a garden, consider these questions:
- What size were you thinking of?
- Will it be one large bed, planted directly in the ground?
- Will it be a square or rectangular shape?
- Maybe it will be a collection of smaller beds?
- If that’s the case, how many garden beds would you like to have?
Consider all of these questions when planning out your future garden.
Another option is to build raised beds. If that’s the case, draw out the raised beds in the configuration that you would like. Feel free to be creative when designing your garden beds. You may design a kitchen garden layout with a circular bed for herbs, add other beds for lavender and flowers, plant dwarf fruit trees within the beds and even create a beautiful design reminiscent of a french castle garden.
There is no limit, so feel free to be creative and have fun!
STEP 3: Will you be walking on the garden soil?
It’s important to consider whether you will need to walk on your garden soil or not?
This consideration is important for both raised beds and vegetable gardens planted directly in the ground. Walked on soil becomes compacted. Compacted soil has poor drainage and few air pockets, causing water to stand on the soil and rot delicate plant roots. Air pockets are very important in the soil and walking on it will close them.
If planting in raised beds, build your beds no wider than 4 feet, allowing you to reach in from either side without stepping on the soil. The bed may be as long as you’d like, but no wider than 4 feet. If the beds are built against a wall, make sure they are no wider than 2 feet. Since the bed is only accessible from the one side, a 2 foot wide bed will allow you to reach the other side of the bed without stepping on the soil.
STEP 4: How much sun/shade will your garden have?
When choosing the location of your vegetable garden, a full sun location is best. Most fruiting vegetables, like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and corn require a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of full afternoon sun.
If you don’t have a full sun location to build your garden, don’t give up. Many vegetables will grow in a partially shady/partially sunny environment as well. Vegetables like salad greens, arugula and endive, herbs like parsley, dill and cilantro, cabbage, brussel sprouts, radish, swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and berries (like currants and raspberries), will all grow in a location that receives a minimum of 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight. Check out my post on the 10 must have herbs for your vegetable garden, for more information on herbs.
Once you’ve chosen your location, be sure to plant the appropriate vegetables or fruit that will grow in your garden’s light conditions.
STEP 5: What do you want to grow?
Do you have a vegetables wish list?
Depending upon the size of your garden, you may only have room to grow your kitchen staples. Or perhaps you have extra room to try a new crop every year. In creating your plan, list your “must have” vegetables from most to least important. For some people, tomatoes may be at the top of the list, while onions may be at the bottom. The benefit of a fruiting crop is the more you pick it, the more vegetables your one plant will produce. Root vegetable crops only produce 1 root vegetable per seed. Decide how you would like to use your space, then add it to the plan.
If you only have limited space, it might be more effective to leave your space for your favourite fruiting crops and purchase carrots and onions from the farmers market. You may also want to leave a patch in the garden for unusual crops or ones that are difficult to find at the grocery store. Is your goal to preserve your harvest for the winter? If so, then consider the space needed to grow enough crops for storage. You may also want to consider adding herbs to your garden and flowers for bouquets.
Finally, consider leaving a spot to try a new crop every year.
Consider all these ideas when planning what you will grow.
STEP 6: Will your garden be easy to water?
Once your garden is planted, how will you water it?
Will your vegetable garden have a water source or will you need to cart in water with watering cans or install a rain barrel?
This is an important consideration.
If your garden is close to the house, it shouldn’t be a problem to stretch a hose to the garden and either water using a watering wand or drip irrigation. However, if your garden is far from the house, you may need to pipe in water under the ground and set up a tap directly in the garden.
In my case, my vegetable garden is located 400 metres from my house and was very difficult and inconvenient to water. I tried to cart the water in at first, but it became tedious and frustrating. So we had water piped in under the ground and set up a tap. Since then, watering hasn’t been a problem.
If your garden will be located far from the house and far from a water source, think about how you will be watering your garden before deciding on a permanent location.
For more information on watering, check out this post.
STEP 7: Do you want to have a seating area in your garden?
As we move further down our list, we begin to look at our garden wish list. These are the added bonuses which personalize our gardens and make them aesthetically pleasing and inviting. Having a seating area in the garden may be part of that list.
Consider adding a nice bench or a couple of chairs and a small table.
In my garden, I have a picnic table under a pergola. I chose this seating area in order to enjoy meals in the garden with my family and give my children a place to play. How would you use your sitting area? Would you sit there with a cup of tea/coffee or a glass of wine and enjoy a nice book? You could add a seat and place a plant on top or create an outdoor dining room. The sky is the limit with options.
STEP 8: Do you want a water feature in your garden?
A water feature in the garden, like a pond or a fountain, can be aesthetically and audibly pleasing. Water attracts frogs, who will help to reduce the mosquito population in your garden and any nutrients from fish or frog waste in the water, will nourish the garden if used for irrigation.
Adding a water feature in the garden will also attract birds and pollinators, by providing them a drinking source on a dry day.
If you don’t want to build a pond, you could simply add a small plug in fountain. The running water creates a relaxing sound and a beautiful environment. Here are a couple simple ideas; option 1, option 2.
STEP 9: Would you like to have a compost bin in your garden?
A compost bin can be as simple as a 4 x 4 wooden box with an open or closed top and front, built to collect garden waste, fallen leaves, and other materials. Or it can be a store-bought round bin, that either sits stationary or rolls to move the interior contents and help to break them down. This bin can collect kitchen scraps and is latched securely to deter predators, like raccoons, from opening it.
I like the convenience of having three compost bins directly outside my vegetable garden walls. I use three bins to rotate the materials I add to them. The first bin will have the oldest materials and the last will have the newest materials. This gives me the flexibility to have one bin’s contents ready, while the other two continue to age.
To these bins I add any weeds, plant material or collected debris, so long as it’s disease-free, including trimmings, pruned bits, left over straw, or anything else. It’s a lovely and convenient place to dispose of materials, avoiding the use of a city green bin. Then in a year or two when the materials have broken down sufficiently and developed into compost, I remove some and place it on my vegetable garden beds. There is nothing healthier than this beautiful black soil!
If you would like to include a space for compost bins, be sure to draw them into your garden design plan.
STEP 10: Would you like a greenhouse or tool shed in your garden?
Finally, consider adding a greenhouse and/or tool shed to your vegetable garden plan. Neither one is necessary, but either one will make your vegetable garden more convenient and enjoyable.
A tool shed is a great place to store your garden tools, gloves, buckets, potting soil and any other materials used in the garden. Some people add a seat or bench to sit on and a spot to make tea. If your garden is away from the house, you could hide in there if it rains, or store your seasonal clothes like a bug jacket, hat, sweater or rubber boots. It’s convenient and saves you time and the hassle of having to carry your tools from one place to another.
A greenhouse is a wonderful place to start seeds, grow out seedlings and extend the growing season. It warms up during the day and can make a pleasant escape on a cool afternoon. You may build a small greenhouse in the brightest corner of your garden, but it’s not a necessity. If a greenhouse may be a future consideration, plan for it in your garden design and leave that space open until you’re ready to build it.
These are the 10 steps that I followed when designing my vegetable garden. Prior to selecting the location, I observed the landscape during the changing seasons and watched the light levels, wind direction and the animals that walked through our property. I didn’t want to rush into building the garden, before knowing exactly what my chosen location was going to face.
I first decided on the location of the garden, followed by the size, whether or not I would be able to water it and the design and configuration of the raised beds. I then decided on a fence, location of the compost bins, what I wanted to grow and how much of each crop. The garden was then drawn out and after I felt satisfied with my plans, construction finally began.
I feel happy with my garden today because it has all of the features that I wanted. Although it does need some minor repairs.
Using these 10 Steps, I believe they will give you a good foundation for planning and designing your own vegetable garden. The first 6 steps are important in the general design of your garden. Location, watering, sun availability, garden size, what you would like to grow and how much are all important foundational factors to consider in your design. The remaining 4 steps are optional and wish list factors that may be considered in beautifying and personalizing your space.
Designing your vegetable garden is fun and satisfying.
Take your time, enjoy the process and be rewarded with a bountiful harvest.