Planning Vegetable Gardens

spring garden preparation for sowing vegetable seeds and planning. Pumpkin, coriander with labels, peat pots and tools on note book. Seasonal garden work.

Winter and spring are exciting for gardeners: We receive seed catalogs, look at beautiful photos, and imagine that bounty filling our kitchens. But with all the choices available, how can we plan a vegetable garden that ensures enough bounty for our needs? When planning gardens, take several things into account: Climates, your family’s needs, preferences, and space.

  • Consider your goals: Do you want a productive hobby, a healthier diet, and a family project? Or do you aim for self-sufficiency?
  • Record your family’s preferences, so you don’t waste time and space on food they won’t eat.
  • Measure your gardening space, including in-ground areas plus opportunities for container gardens.
  • Compare costs at the store. Is this crop cheaper to purchase vs. the time it takes to grow?
  • Choose fun and colorful varieties to keep your garden exciting!

Learning to plan a vegetable garden comes with some trial-and-error. After that first year or two, you may find that you overplanted zucchini and gave away more than you ate. Or you chose cabbage and Brussels sprouts before learning that your family hates brassicas. After those experiences, you may wonder if gardening is actually worth it financially. Taking a few factors into account, before ordering seeds, can reduce frustration and disappointment for 2024.

First, consider your goals. Perhaps you want to spend less money at the grocery store. Or you want to educate your children about where your food comes from, choosing exciting varieties that they can help start, cultivate, and cook.

Adding more nutrition and variety to your diet can mean choosing some more colorful crops to grow. Those goals make garden planning much easier; if you aim for more self-sufficiency, you will need more gardening space and plans for staple crops as well as colorful, nutritious vegetables. Sit down with those who will help with the garden, seed catalogs in hand, and talk about what you want to accomplish. This may be one of the most exciting times as you plan a vegetable garden.

mobile planner

One solid rule of gardening is to “plant what you eat.” Don’t start broccoli if your family won’t eat broccoli. Many other green, leafy crops offer comparable levels of vitamins C and B6. If your family loves orange carrots, how would they feel about trying purple or yellow varieties? And, if you receive an abundance of specific crops, do you have the ability to preserve them in a way that your family will eat? As an example: Tomatoes are considered one of the most popular crops within “https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/kitchen-garden-zm0z11zalt/utm_source=OgdenNews&utm_medium=article&utm_campaign=Syndication” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>kitchen gardens. Children love cherry tomatoes. Homegrown slicing varieties taste much better on sandwiches than store-bought counterparts do. And, if you have a surplus, any tomato variety works well for making sauce ó though paste varieties work the best. If your family loves spaghetti, then paste tomatoes and some Italian herbs should top your list. For quantity, read the seed packets or research the variety to determine the average harvest per seed. Many sweet corn varieties produce two large ears per stalk. Hot peppers are extremely abundant might provide more than enough with just two plants. Asian eggplant varieties, such as Ping Tung Long, tend to produce more fruit per plant than Italian varieties like Black Beauty. And, when considering quantity, look for “cut-and-come-again” crops. This means that certain plants, like Swiss chard and loose-leaf lettuce, grow back after you cut the leaves you need. (Be sure to leave the roots in the ground plus at least one leaf for photosynthesys.)


You can only grow what you have room to grow. If you live in an apartment or townhouse, this may limit you to large containers and just a few choice crops. Or, if you have acres, you can plan

staple crops such as potatoes, corn, beans, and cereal grains to fill your pantry. Measure your in-ground space, then consider areas where you can add large planters of potting soil. Specific crops, like corn and pumpkins, work best in-ground. But nightshades like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant do great within larger containers. Cut-and-come-again crops tend to have very short roots, so you can keep harvesting all spring – for lettuce – or spring to fall ó for Swiss chard – in 12 inches of soil. When assessing your gardening area, also keep your climate in mind. If you dream of sweet cantaloupes, remember that you need long, warm nights, so a back garden might not be the best if you live in a northern climate. But placing large containers on a driveway, where the pavement can release heat at night, might solve the problem so you can grow multiple melon varieties. In locations overrun by squash bugs, the time it takes to mitigate this pest might make the crop less worthwhile, in lieu of onions or garlic which have almost no pests.

When assessing area, climate, and needs, you may become overwhelmed. But modern garden planning apps can help. Consider downloading one, such as the Mother Earth News Garden Planner. With so many app choices out there, read the reviews and opt for versions with free trials to be sure you get the value that you pay for. A garden planning app can graph out your area, provide recommendations, and even include articles with tips for specific crops. They’re like having a garden mentor on your cell phone.

Podcasts can also provide free and valuable advice on preparing a garden for spring. When listening to a garden expert, try to learn where they garden, so you know if their advice will work for your area.

While some crops may make sense to grow, consider your budget. Those staple crops, such as russet potatoes, may sell for $2 for 10 pounds at the grocery store, vs. $10 for a pound of certified seed potatoes. Cereal crops require a lot of room plus milling equipment, so you may also prefer to stock up on flour and cornmeal instead. But for other crops, the retail varieties cost much more. For instance, store-bought organic leaf lettuce

is exponentially more expensive when compared to how many harvests you can get from a $3 pack of seeds. Conventionally grown hothouse tomatoes can be very cheap, but they also lack flavor; but organic heirloom tomatoes can top $5 per pound,

even when in-season, so growing your favorite varieties is a win.


One of the most fun aspects of seed catalogs is discovering new varieties. A full-color garden can be a joy from start to finish. Painted Mountain corn, a flour variety bred for short seasons, starts with seeds that look like gemstones. Then shoots sprout up: red, yellow, green, and purple. Red, yellow, and purple tassels bloom over multicolored silks. And the cobs are brilliant in their variegated beauty. If you enjoy gardening in full color, also consider the many types of tomatoes, peppers, and even eggplant available in various hues, often with striping. Rainbow chard, speckled leaf lettuce, purple and orange cauliflower, and ornamental pumpkins can also brighten up a garden. While dazzled by these gorgeous seed options, pay attention to the “days to maturity” in the seed catalog, to ensure that you can watch the crop come to fruition.

It doesn’t have to be tedious work to plan a vegetable garden. By considering your goals, planting what you eat, focusing on exciting varieties, and using a garden planning app, you can turn this step into an exciting way to spend winter days.