Your garden design will depend a great deal on the space you have available. If you have a large yard, you have nearly unlimited choices as to the layout of the garden. If your yard is small, you will have to be a little more creative, perhaps using an edible garden landscape approach. If you live on a steep hill, you will need to terrace.
Things to keep in mind while planning:
• Where does the sun shine the most? Though some crops do well in partial shade (lettuce and spinach, for instance), most of them require plenty of direct sunlight.
• What do you intend to grow? Plant the fruits and vegetables that you eat regularly – particularly if this is your first experience with growing your own.
• When do you intend to grow it? Gardens can be planned for all four seasons, if you intend to plant a winter cover crop. This is succession planting. You need never have a bare patch in your garden. Draw a diagram of what you intend to put where each season.
• How much do you intend to grow? Don’t be the annoying neighbor with all that extra zucchini to give away. Research the expected crop yields of what you intend to plant. Check with local nurseries, seed catalogs…even the internet. Of course, if you intend to can or freeze some of your produce for the winter, you can plan for that, too.
• How will you arrange your plants? Make sure your corn doesn’t block the sunlight to your tomatoes…or you might want to use the corn to shade your lettuce. Make sure your creeping pumpkin vines have plenty of creeping room away from the other plants so they don’t get choked out. Group plants together that benefit each other (this is called companion planting) and that require similar watering amounts and techniques. Make sure you space your plants so that they are accessible come harvest time and you’re not reduced to hacking blindly with a machete to reach anything under all that tangled mess.
• How will you rotate your crops? You need to research what each plant does to the soil and rotate accordingly so that you are alternately building and depleting nutrient levels – whether you are succession planting for 3 or 4 seasons or just growing for the summer. Make sure you move them to an entirely different section of the garden each year.
• How high do you want to raise your garden beds? Raised beds are preferable, as it provides good drainage and gives the roots plenty of room to spread out. You can raise your beds anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet if you’d like. I once met a woman with multiple sclerosis, whose husband raised her garden beds to about 2 feet (low, stacked stone walls enclosed the beds). She could easily reach her vegetables without having to bend over very far…and she could sit down on the stone walls if needed while harvesting.