The vegetable garden (minus the greenhouse) covers about 410 square metres (4400 sq ft). It is divided into 28 beds, separated by narrow paths, with a broad path running up the middle between the gates on either end.
During the winter, the chickens run in about two thirds of the garden, controlling weeds and pests, and the remaining third is devoted to winter crops.
In planning the new crops, I need to take into account when the winter crops will be over, when I’ll have to remove the chickens from the garden for the year, and what was in each bed the year before.
I also need to take into account wind, irrigation patterns, available support structures, and growth patterns. For example, corn always goes near the edges, because the irrigator can’t throw water over the mature stalks—anything on the other side of the corn dries up. Corn is also a great wind block, and I can use it to protect more delicate plants from the vicious nor’west winds. Peas and tomatoes usually go on the edges of the garden, which are bounded by deer fencing they can be tied to for support. Melons like tall plants on their south side to block any cool southerly winds.
My goal is to have every inch of the garden covered with food plants for the entirety of the growing season. For example, the early spinach will be bolting by the time the tomatoes are ready to plant out, so they will share a bed. Chopped spinach stalks will form the mulch for the newly planted tomatoes. The garlic will be harvested before the pumpkins get large, so they can be planted in adjacent beds, and the pumpkins trained into the garlic bed once it is empty. Plants with a single harvest date, like dry beans, are planted in adjacent beds, and packed in so that the plants can spill into the paths, because I won’t need to walk down them frequently for picking.
It takes several hours (and usually a cup of coffee, and a scone if I can get it) to plan the garden to my satisfaction. There are often small changes as I go, but once the plan is in place, it guides my entire spring.
I can’t prepare 410 square metres of garden all at once, but with the plan in hand, I can prepare the beds in the right order so that each one is ready when the crop is ready to go in it. The plan allows me to ignore waist-high weeds in one bed while I focus on another, knowing that all the beds will eventually be prepared and planted. It makes my springtime as stress free as possible, and gives me time to stress about the weather instead!