Now is the right time to start planning your vegetable garden. Winter is still here, but spring is peeking its head around the corner. If you have yet to start a vegetable garden, it’s time to renounce your dependence on supermarkets and grow your own food. Even if you started a vegetable garden in previous years, there is still plenty of planning to do.
There are so many benefits to keeping a vegetable garden. You get to be more self-sufficient. You can teach your children to be self-sufficient . You and your family have access to fresh produce for many months out of the year. You will be more likely to eat fresh vegetables more often if you grow them yourself. Think of how rewarding it will be to harvest, eat, and preserve the fruits of your labors.
Keeping a garden of any significant size, however, is not easy. Growing food requires commitment and hard work. Get the whole family involved in planning and executing your garden so that everyone contributes and everyone enjoys eating the food they helped to grow. Making a detailed plan for your garden now is an activity you can do together as a family and one which will make the whole process of gardening easier in the long run.
Location, Location, Location
The first thing to consider when planning your garden is the location. If you have a lot of property, you will have a lot of choices. There are many factors to keep in mind and that will help you narrow down your possibilities.
- Soil. You need a spot with soil that is conducive to growing vegetables. You can always enhance the soil  in the location you choose, but it is best to start with a good foundation. Your soil needs to be well draining. To test this, get your hands in the dirt on a day that has not seen rain or snow. If the soil is moist, it is probably not draining well and will be too wet for your garden. It should be dry and crumbly. Test a few spots until you find the right soil.
- Slope. If your land is completely flat, you are in luck. Any spot will do if the other conditions are right. If you have sloping land, find the flattest patch possible. If you must garden on a slope, be sure that your rows of crop go across the slope, rather than up and down.
- Sunlight. Your vegetables will need about eight hours of sunlight each day. Observe your target locations throughout the day to be sure they get adequate sunshine. If a nearby tree or shrubbery throws a shadow across the area for a big part of the day, find a different spot.
- Water. Obviously, your garden will need ample water. For some plants, rain may be enough, but others, especially when still young, will need to be watered. Make sure you can easily access a hose from your garden location. Lugging a watering can back and forth will probably not be feasible.
- Convenience. Make sure the location is convenient for working in the garden. You should be able to access it easily. There should be space for you to get your equipment to the garden without too much struggle. And, of course, as stated above, watering should be easy.
Arrange the Space
Once you have identified a good location for your garden, plan the space within that spot. As a homesteader, you are not gardening just for fun. This is serious business for you and an important source of food and nutrition for your family. That means you need to plan your garden space well. You need to make sure you will have adequate room for all of the plants that you want to grow. Your space should be efficient, producing the maximum amount of vegetables in the minimum amount of space.
You can plan one section of the garden, for instance, to grow an early vegetable like lettuce  or radishes . When you have harvested all of the early vegetable, that space can then be used for a late-growing vegetable, such as spinach . If you live in a warmer climate, you may even be able to get three growing seasons out of your garden. Learn about the vegetables you hope to grow and determine which you can plant earlier and which can be left for summer or even fall. Make sure you know how many days it takes for each plant to come to maturity so that you can time your garden most efficiently.
Use trellises and stakes wherever possible. Certain plants will grow vertically, which saves you space. Growing plants up a trellis also increases your harvest yield because it will protect the vegetables from ground-dwelling pests. Squash , cucumbers , zucchini , tomatoes , and beans  are all good vegetables for trellis growing.
Don’t forget to plan the spacing of your vegetables. Although you want to be efficient with your space, your plants need a certain minimum amount of spacing for maximum health and yield. Crowded plants can grow fungus or mildew and may not produce as many vegetables or fruits.
Plan for Pests
In your plan, consider how you will protect your vegetables from pests. If you have rabbits, groundhogs, deer, or other critters that frequent your property, they will be thrilled to eat from your garden. Know what you need to protect against and consider using raised beds, fencing, or maybe natural repellents.
If you are new to gardening vegetables, be sure to read up on the smaller pests  that may attack your plants and how to deal with them. Be aware of the diseases  that may strike your vegetables, how to identify them, and the best ways to prevent or treat them.
Choose Your Plants
Take time to carefully consider what plants you will grow and how many of each you will need. Think about what your family likes and what they need for nutrition. Your best bet is to go with a wide variety of plants. The more variety, the more healthful your family’s diet will be. Also important to consider is what plants grow best in your climate and location. Don’t waste time or money trying to grow a plant that is not suited to your environment.
Once you have selected the vegetables you hope to grow, you need to choose the variety. There are many different types of each vegetable. A cucumber  is not just a cucumber. Pick your varieties based on factors such as disease or pest resistance, growing time, and climate.
Get the Tools
If you have not created a garden in previous years, you will need to be sure you have the right tools for the job . Take a trip to the gardening or hardware store to pick up supplies. You should have the following:
- Spade. Spades are used for planting and turning the soil. Consider having a few on hand so more than one person can work at a time.
- Rake. Rakes are great for smoothing out soil and for clean-up.
- Hoe. A hoe is a great tool for turning the soil, digging up weeds, making holes, and covering seeds. With its long handle, a hoe is great for your back.
- Cutting tools. You will need some type of cutting implement for trimming and harvesting.
- Ties and trellises. Ties help fasten your plants to stakes and trellises.
- Fencing. If you need to protect your garden from large pests, you will need to create some type of fence. For rabbits and groundhogs, eighteen inches is an adequate height. For deer, your fence should be eight feet tall.
Make a Visual Plan
While planning your garden together with your family, put it down on paper. A visual plan for your garden will help you solidify your ideas and make sure that they will work. Don’t be afraid to try several plans and throw out the ones that don’t work. Making a map of the new garden is a great way to get your kids involved. Working on the garden can become a part of their lessons . You can help them use math, drawing, and logic skills while mapping out your dream garden.
With the right planning, you will be able to grow a spectacular garden. It may seem like a lot of work now, but having a good plan will save you time and effort in the long run.
©2012 Off the Grid News