Being the nomadic little family we are, last year’s vegetable garden and all others prior to that, have been one year affairs with little planning. We literally moved to a new rental house at least once a year if not twice depending on the circumstances.
Before moving to the Midwest, we enjoyed high-elevation mountain living in Flagstaff, Arizona. At 7500 feet, Flagstaff has a growing season that lasts barely 90 days. If you blink, you might miss it! Transplants couldn’t hit the soil until late May (snow that month wasn’t out of the question) and you had to hope you’d have something to harvest by late August before the first frost set in. It was an incredible challenge and consequently we chose to always keep the veggie garden on the small side. It ranged from just a few potted vegetables at our townhouse with a 10×10 foot patio to a 4×8 foot raised garden bed at our biggest rental house.
Here in southwest Indiana we’re strangely in the same USDA climate zone as our old home in Flagstaff but our growing season is double what we’re used to. It feels like you can grow half the year and that is awesome! Because we were renting the house we just bought, we kept the vegetable garden small and spontaneous. I planted a strip about 4 feet deep and 20 feet long against our northern fence. It was originally lawn space so I crudely turned the heavy clay soil with a pitchfork, tried to get rid of as much grass as I could and plopped in some transplants from the local farm market.
Now that the house is officially ours and we plan to stick around for awhile, I decided to actually plan this year’s garden space as most experts recommend. Our 80 square foot planting space last year included about 6 tomatoes, 2 zucchinis, 2 lemon cucumbers, 6 regular cucumbers, 6 collard greens, 2 eggplants and about a dozen stalks of sweet corn (which didn’t do very well because there were so few of them). We packed a lot in to that tiny space and we didn’t have to buy produce the entire Summer.
- Working in the small, unplanned 2009 vegetable garden. It wasn’t pretty but it sure produced a bumper crop!Realizing how inefficient last year’s space truly was gave the impetus to help plan something bigger and more refined. Working around our air conditioning unit, a water spigot and a gate, I finally settled on expanding the 20 foot long space out from it’s original 4 foot width to about 12 feet. That will end up being a little less than half of our small gated in backyard. If you think that sounds like a lot, we want to have plenty to eat and then some for sharing and storing. The space would also lend itself to using pre-built picket fence sections to gate off the space and other common measurements like 3-foot aisles.
I then began to lay out different ideas on graph paper. I tried different sized beds and layouts until I came up with a design that I liked and that maximized the amount of space I had to grow in. When you come up with your design, make sure to list your priorities before you get started. I wanted to plant as much space as possible yet keep it accessible and pleasant to look at.
After mulling several different designs for a day or so, I didn’t like anything I came up with so I started drawing a few more. I simply tweaked the designs I had previously come up with. Finally one I put down on paper felt right and I knew I had a winner. I opted on a central aisle that is 3 feet wide, big enough to roll a wheelbarrow up and down. Branching off the main aisle will be wraparound aisles for harvesting that are about 2 feet wide. That’s less than recommended by Bartholomew but I think it will be okay since I don’t plan to roll a wheelbarrow up and down those aisles and don’t mind to brush my vegetables as I walk by.
Planning the raised beds on graph paper also made estimating cost and materials a lot easier. I was able to quickly come up with how much lumber I needed and calculated the formulations of soil mixes I’ll need to buy to fill the planting beds. I’ll also make photocopies of the full-size garden plan so I can actually plot out what will get planted where.
Over the past two weekends I bought the lumber and built 6 of my raised garden beds. I still need to build 3 more beds but that will take just a couple hours of time. To make sure I was still on track with my plan, I laid out the finished beds to see the full-scale look of garden 2010 and I like what I see so far! I’m exited to start putting in my soil mix, mulching my aisles and building the gate and arbor that will serve as the entryway to veggie heaven.
Stay tuned for our next installment as I put the finishing touches on the raised beds and get to growing!
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