Tools for (Over) Planning Raised Garden Beds

The law of diminishing returns reigns supreme around here.  Every minute over 30 spent making dinner, for example, leads to 5 diminished units of consumption enjoyment. (For the record: Taco Night yields the optimal ratio of minutes spent-to-units of consumption enjoyment.)  Projects I find most satisfying, like the catio portal, come together with minimal hassle and no last-minute trips to The Home Depot.  Therefore, the risk of spending so much time and money on the raised beds I built is that I’ll be disappointed if they don’t produce a bounty of food.  What do you do to ward off disappointment?  Excessive, exhaustive planning!  Bring on the graph paper.

Square foot gardening seems like the right option for the space I have available.  There are a lot of guides online – basically, for each square foot, you plant 1, 4, 9 or 16 plants, depending on mature size.  Tomatoes and broccoli get their own squares, whereas lettuce can be planted four heads to a square.  This approach also seemed like the easiest way to sow seeds at different times – one square will be planted with lettuce now, another square in one week and so on until the end of May – extending the harvest and increasing the likelihood that at least one square of each crop will survive.  Once lettuce season has passed, that square will be filled with a second season crop, like bush beans.

Square Foot Gardening Plant Spacing(Image via MySquareFootGarden.net)

Download some free graph paper (I like the customizable PDF options on this site) and nerd it up on your ride home from work.  I myself take the #2 from Hyde Park – it would take a lot more than some graph paper to be a stand-out nerd on that bus.


Garden Planning Graph Paper

After this initial draft, I discovered the Kitchen Garden Planner on Gardener’s Supply Company’s website and put together a couple of plans.

Gardener's Supply Company Kitchen Garden Planner

Middle garden bed:

Gardener's Supply Company Kitchen Garden Planner

Back garden bed – I modified this one in Photoshop to show the single row of lettuce and spinach I planted along the front of the bed:

The best part of this planning tool is that it generates a gardening plan with instructions and tips for each of the plants you selected:

Gardener's Supply Company Kitchen Garden Planner

I placed an order through Burpee for an assortment of vegetables and herbs. My shopping process was heavily swayed by product proclamations like “Customer favorite!” and “It doesn’t get any easier!” and “If you kill this you should probably just quit.”  My selections included tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, snap peas, green beans, cucumber and zucchini.

Burpee Vegetables

It is with some shame that I confess that I made a spreadsheet in Google Docs to record and track the plants I plan hope to grow:

Garden Planning Spreadsheet

Sorry, clicking this image won’t make it any bigger. I reserve the right to confine the
width of my embarrassment to 590 pixels.

Jarrod and I also hit up Gethsemane Garden Center to pick up some transplants.  Buying and planting loose leaf lettuce that is nearly harvest-ready seems like cheating, like letting loose dozens of quail in front of your rifle and calling it hunting. But I was anxious to see some green in the garden beds and know that I’m starting a little late on my cool season crops.

Garden Plants

Back Garden Bed Plants

Back Garden Bed Lettuce

I’m experimenting with interplanting (planting a fast-growing crop in between a slower-growing one).  Broccoli and spinach, in this case.  I don’t have high hopes for that kale – I think it will get too hot before it matures.

Middle Garden Bed Plants

Do you have any tips for a first-time gardener?  Favorite can’t-lose vegetables?  I’d appreciate any advice!