Tonight I played around with Mother Earth News’ Vegetable Garden Planner, an online tool that allows you to “design your best garden ever.” It’s a versatile tool that allows you to figure out every detail of your garden.
After an easy login and email verification process (and it seems most reputable sites require this these days), I’m off and planning!
The tool asks for my address, which allows it to remind me of frost dates, and, I presume, planting dates — receiving email is an option during registration. Based on the weather station in Woodstock, Virginia, where I do the bulk of my shopping, my last average frost date is May 5 and my first average frost date is October 6. I can’t recall about May, but the October date is pretty close. We had our first killing frost out here a week ago. The tool allows me to change options if the dates aren’t accurate, so after I talk with my local extension office, I may adjust the dates.
Now I’m ready to start planning, so I click “New Plan” in the upper left and I fill in the information for our main veggie garden, which we jokingly refer to as “the back 40.” Unfortunately, the garden is shaped like a baseball diamond, and I’m only given the option of length and width, so I’m using approximate size. (I’m looking for an excuse to expand the bed into a big square anyway.)
The reason I am almost never happy with paper plans is because I can’t erase pen, and multiple pencil erasures mess up the design. I get frustrated if I start to graph out an area and I realize the dimensions are off by “one square.” Why do squares matter so much? Well, I generally garden by the “square foot gardening” method. (Google it — there’s a lot of info.)
If there is a frustration so far with Mother Earth News’ tool, it’s that the number of plants per foot/spacing between plants is predetermined. Square foot gardening is more intensive than traditional gardening, so less space is needed. If I only planted one bean plant per square foot, I’d waste a lot of space. (UPDATE — there’s a way around it. Just edit the plant! Keep reading below.)
The planning display presents you with a graph and a row of fruit and vegetable icons. Filling in the graph is as easy as clicking a veggie, moving the cursor to where you’d like the plant, and clicking again. Clicking the small italic ‘i’ symbol brings up an information box on each plan.
I can also fill the color in the background (green for me, since I plan grass between the beds) and draw boxes and circles (again, good for raised-bed gardening).
Double clicking a plant once it’s on the graph brings up a window that allows me to specify more information, including variety (once added to a master list), the growing season for the plant (whether season or a specific period), and other notes, which is especially helpful in planning. Ah-ha! Here is where I can customize plant spacings and sow/plant/harvest times. I am loving this tool!
Another tab in the document lists the plants, the number I need, spacing, and sow/plant/harvest dates. There’s also room for individual notes.
I can print both pages. I look forward to finalizing my gardens in December and using the printouts as a checklist to order seeds, build fences, and get the garden ready.
I’m a long-time subscriber to Mother Earth News (six or seven years now, I think), and I’m so glad I visited their site on a whim tonight. This tool is one of the more flexible I’ve seen, and I’m excited to start planning next year’s garden.
Let me know if you try out the tool or if you can share some tips on using it. Thank you, Mother, for giving me yet another way to organize my organic garden planning!
Now to delete the practice plan and get on to the real planning. Spring is only 6 months away!*** This personal blog is comprised solely of the opinions, views, projects, and travels of its author, Stacey Morgan Smith. She is lucky enough to have loving family and friends whom she drags along with her on her adventures and whom she puts to work on her little farm. She uses this blog to help promote living in the mountains of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, from Roanoke to the Potomac River.**