This Growing Season Try Out a Low Cost Garden Planning Guide
Whether it’s in our heads, on the back of a napkin, or laid out to scale over the entire season, we need a plan for our garden. We’ve found that gardening with a definite plan cuts down on impulse buying, allows us to allocate space for succeeding crops, and helps track our victories and, yes, our defeats. Next year, we’ll know better how and what to grow–especially, if we take notes as we go along. Even simple ones like star rankings next to each crop are quite helpful.
The Good news is – It’s never too late to plan!
Some people prefer to physically write, plan, track and journal their gardening process. For that, a popular book on Amazon is The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook: Make the Most of Your Growing Season by Jennifer Kujawski.
GardensAll.com investigated a few online options ranging from freebies to 30-day free trial subscriptions. We’d traditionally gone the pen and graph paper route for our Square Foot Garden. But circumstances had changed and we needed to garden beyond the square foot way. Step out of the box, so to speak. We launched into Straw Bale Gardening, Hugelkultur, and a variety of container and vertical garden methods.
So, here’s what we’ve checked out so far. If anyone out there has experience with either the ones we mention here or any other, garden planner, please share your experience.
There’s bunches of hardcopy garden planners and journals available. One of the best sellers is the long-titled The Garden Journal, Planner and Log Book: Repeat successes & learn from mistakes with complete personal garden records. 28 adaptable year-round forms, … (The Garden Journal Log Books) (Volume 1) by Joy L. Kieffer. Other books of this type are numerous as listed here.
Our goal was to employ more of a technical interactive planning tool so we bypassed the journal/planner category. Many of our favorite gardening books, like Joel Karsten’s Straw Bale Gardening and Mel Bartholomew’s classic Square Foot Gardening include plot layouts and scheduling and would be useful for doing a basic (static) plan. In the slow winter months, we spend a lot of time reading, garnering what we can prior to plugging the next seasons crops into our new layout.
We asked our Facebook readers what gardening books they would recommend and here’s a brief listing of their favorites, all available on Amazon:
- Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate by Wendy Johnson
- 4 Seasons Harvest by Eliot Coleman
- Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte
- Gardener to Gardener Seed Starting Primer and Almanac by Viki Mattern
- Farmers of Forty Centuries by F. H. King
- The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier
- Turn Here, Sweet Corn by Atina Diffley
- Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter
An earlier article focused on how picking veggies for a garden is ideally akin to the way value investors pick stocks. In order to select a wonderful crop, research matters. Books, magazines, online sources (like ours truly), and checking in with your fellow gardeners will greatly enhance your planning capabilities.
Next up is a simple and free online planner from VegetableGardening.com.1)http://vegetableplanner.vegetable-gardening-online.com/
You can plug veggies in the spaces, but it seems not to account for the space a plant like zucchini might occupy. You have just the basic list of vegetables but no varieties or delineations such as winter versus summer squash. The dimensions are limiting as well. This might be good for laying out a very simple “draft” of a garden (and it is a freebie) but not much use for getting into the details-which a good planner should actually do.
Another simple planning tool available is Clyde’s Planner. It’s $5 for the hard copy chart and $5 for the iOS app. It reminds us of a cross between a slide rule and a calendar. Looks to be quite useful as a quick all-at-a-glance rendition of the garden: when to plant, grow, and harvest. Like the first planner, this chart also lacks specificity and has a limited selection. Oh well, it does what they say it will do and no batteries or WiFi are required.
The third planner has many more bells and whistles. After years of creating plans by hand, we’re loving this. Next, we’ve added a screen share tutorial showing you how simply it works.
The Garden Planner Pro is a more sophisticated—yet fun and simple—application you can use on your computer. (NOTE It has a mobile app version that, according to reviews, is clunky and not nearly as capable–so best wait for them to work out the kinks there.) We so enjoyed using it during the 30-day free trial that we signed up for the reasonably priced yearly subscription. (We are NOT affiliated, but love and recommend this!)
As of this writing, that’s currently $29 for one year, or $45 for two years. That’s actually reasonable considering how much it does and how much we’re using it—referencing and tweaking it virtually daily—plus enjoying looking at the big picture of our garden. The Garden Plan Pro helps you do so much more than just arrange your garden. It also offers companion planting, spacing you’ll need to account for and seasonality recommendations, and perhaps the biggest bonus is a plant list that builds as you make your selection of plants and identify the varieties. As a bonus, you’ll receive timely newsletters that are fitted to your unique garden plantings. Sweet!
After years of creating landscaping plans by hand, it’s amazing and awesome having it all on a computer display versus paper, and It’s so easy to add or substitute items, to scale the size, making a different garden plan for each season, and separating your different beds, such as vegetable garden and herb garden. The plant list also has an assortment of fruit bushes and trees.
A familiar feature to graphics users is the separate layering for plants, structures, irrigation, and layout which are easily seen as a unit by clicking “All”. (In addition to a standard garden template, there’s a “Square Foot Garden” mode that sets the parameters for spacing per plant.)
With the Garden Planner Pro, you’ll have all the references you need pretty much in one spot. You may even add varieties that are not on the list and write in the spacing and care requirements.
Here’s an example of our home garden. There’s a lot more to remark on the features, but bottom line, this program towers over any of the others we’ve seen. We’ve used it for over a year now and, frankly, we’d be hard-pressed to do without it.
This video is a virtual tutorial, covering many of the features and is long at almost 33 minutes, so you may want to scan through to parts that pique your interest.
Early on we had a few missteps and glitches that the on-line support cheerfully resolved:
- The printing feature didn’t work right with our page setup. Finally did a work around by using the screen capture and printing that image.
- It would be nice to have more ornamental type plants built into the plant selection options, but that’s more the “landscaping” side of things and it’s easy enough to grab a circle, expand it and call it a dogwood.
- It’s a virtual planner that runs off a cloud, so it does require an internet connection.
Let us know what you use and we’ll add it to this article to help folks. GardensAll is about a community of gardeners learning from each other and sharing information. So feel free to share on the GardensAll Facebook Page, or send us an email.
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson
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