Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Planning An Acreage Garden: A Mixed Annual & Perennial Garden for a Family of Five

Planning An Acreage Garden 

The past 10 years I have had my suburban lot vegetable garden: six 10-sq.-ft raised beds in my backyard: small scale gardening.

After moving to our acreage in rural British Columbia, Canada, I now have a big garden to play in! I can grow corn in big sections, and a large area for trailing squashes and prize-winning pumpkins (okay that’s a bit optimistic). I can grow artichokes and watch their prickly lavender blossoms attract bees and butterflies! The possibilities are limitless.

The question is, what size garden does a family need? There are many things to consider when planning a vegetable patch for a family of five. First, we are just starting our farm and therefore need to focus on high-calorie foods that are easy to grow and are nutritionally dense (to get the ‘best bang for the buck’, or really ‘best bang for our precious time’). Also, my plan is to store a lot of it in our root cellar. That means lots of root vegetables, apples, cabbage, etc. We are not planning on selling any of our harvest at a local market. Too much to take on for our first year! Like Joel Salatin has advised to newbie farmers, “take it slow”.

There are a million and one projects we could spend our time on this upcoming season, but we’ve narrowed it down to:

Electric Fencing (because we have lots of predators and deer here)
A Big Garden (1st have to clear brush, 8 foot tall grass, and small trees)
Improving the House (some basic upgrades to the kitchen and bath)

So having a big garden is a high priority for us, since buying fresh food is expensive in our remote area. We want quality food grown right on our land.


Farm to plate distance? About 25 feet

John Jeavons (Mr. Biointensive Gardening, and his book: How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine), recommends 4,000 sq. ft of growing space per person, if you use his biointensive methods. However, that includes growing grain for yourself and for soil fertility. Jeavons has an impressive amount of charts in his book showing you exactly how many seeds you need and space requirements for all types of vegetables. For our first year, we won’t have the time to grow grains and “compost” crops, but we do plan to try that in Year 2 or 3. Brett Markham of the Mini-Farming Handbook recommends about 700 sq. ft. per person, assuming you’re just growing vegetables and high-calorie root crops for yourself, and leaving out fruit trees, nuts, and grains.

I plan to have wide planting “rows” or maybe you could call them beds, but they won’t be raised. The reason I want to do this is because having narrow traditional rows will compact the soil too much with walking and it’s harder on the microorganisms. If I have wider rows, the plants have a nice wide buffer area for spreading their roots and developing a small ecosystem that supports itself. After reading about it in How to Grow More Vegetables, I was sold on making my rows wider. I plan to build up the rows each year by adding lots of organic matter in the fall, bordered with felled trees, so over time they will become somewhat “raised” beds. Since Jeavons recommends 4,000 sq.ft. per person, but 60% of that is grain/carbon crops, then it should be actually 4,000 x .40 = 1,600 sq. ft. per person. I’m going to use Jeavons’ numbers since his educational farm Ecology Action has been collecting their biointensive farming data for over 40 years!

How Big of An Area Should We Till?

If my planting rows are 4ft x 25ft (easy to handle sizes - you can reach across into the middle of four feet easily), then we would need 16 rows per person.

4 x 25 = 100 sq. ft.
100 x 16 = 1,600 sq. ft. (enough for one person’s needs)

We are not a true family of five since we have two babies in that number, so it’s roughly four people eating.

1,600 sq.ft. x 4 (people) = 6400 sq. ft. or 64 rows that are 4 feet by 25 feet to feed my family. I’m going to round down to 60 rows. Just to give you an idea of how big that is, an acre is 43,560 sq. ft. So it’s about 14.5% of an acre, or just over 1/10th of an acre. 

Without pathways, that’s a total area of 256 ft x 25 ft. But I’m going to put rows side by side (like columns in an excel spreadsheet), so the garden will be a 25 foot bed butted up against another 25 foot bed and then continuing down to 30 rows side by side 30 rows. With 4 foot of walking space between each them. Then you have 240 feet by 54 feet (total tilled area).

What Foods Do We Eat Regularly?

I think it’s important to list all of the foods that we eat on a regular basis, that way we’re not adding too many frivolous crops to our seed list. Joel Salatin suggests this too! We are in Zone 6-7 in our area and our growing season is about 4 months long.

Herbs: Parsley & Dill
Greens: Lettuce, Chicories, Bok Choi, Mustard, Arugula, Cabbage, Kale & Chard, Spinach
Root Crops: Carrots, Kohlrabi, Potatoes, Parsnips, Sweet Potatoes, Sunchokes, Rutabaga & Turnips
Alliums: Spring onions, Leeks & Storage Onions
Tomatoes (Cherry & Sauce Tomatoes)
Beans: Drying Beans (Cassoulet, Taylor, and Black Turtle varieties), Broad Beans (Windsor variety)
Vines: Zucchini, Pole Beans & Peas, Butternut Squash & Pumpkins
Edible Flowers

Plants we use for healing: Arnica, Echinacea, Mushrooms, Garlic


Asparagus (Mary Washington variety)
Egyptian/Walking Onions
Chinese Yam
Sorrel (lemony greens, very  tasty!)
Turkish Rocket

Fruit: We already have apple and cherry trees + lots of blackberries here, so that will be enough fruit to manage for Year 1

I’m gonna be honest with you: I have a much longer list of plant “wants”, but I have to put aside my desires and focus on practicality. Just my list of herbs is probably a page long! But for now, that is my short list of foods that we use and eat regularly, and nothing more. I think I’m ready to make my seed order for 2019!

My Favorite Canadian Seed Sources

West Coast Seeds

Salt Spring Seeds

The Incredible Seed Company 

Hawthorn Farm

Richter’s Herbs 

What are your tips for starting a big garden?

Rosemary Hansen is an Author, Homesteading Mama, and a Chef. She has spent the last 10 years “homesteading” in the city. She and her family have just started their off-grid homestead in rural British Columbia, Canada. Her books, Grow a Salad In Your City Apartment and Rosemary’s Natural Cosmetic Guide are a great way to ease into a healthy, pure lifestyle. You can connect with Rosemary at her website: or on her YouTube channel.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

12 Considerations for Farming with your Partner: Making A Living While Building a Life


You’ve fallen in love and you’re daring to the to do the unthinkable.  After talking about it, interning or WOOFing on other farms, managing operations, or even jumping in without any previous growing experience at all - you’re going to start a farm.  Who better to start it with than the person that you love so much? After about a decade of gambling this way myself with a handsome farmer man of my own (successfully and not so,) I’ve whittled it down to 12 considerations for farming with your partner.


The Vision

If you’re going to start a farm with the person you love, odds are you’re doing so because both of you feel called to be in nature, support a local community, grow nutritious food, and or become a hermit in some capacity and this shared passion is important.  Maybe both of you care about different aspects of this mud laden lifestyle, but coming up with a unified vision that paints the picture of the life you hope to share together is step number one. It will determine the type of operation you start and the great thing is, the vision can and will adapt as you age.  The reason behind why you choose this path can be as basic as disappointing your parents who had hoped you would go into brain surgery, but it must be shared and it must represent both of you, equally.

50% Compatible

My dad gave me this gem of wisdom and tends to remind me of it every so often when my relationship wobbles and stresses abound.  In his opinion, your ideal partner is actually only 50% compatible with you as a human being. That means that they will give a crap about only 50% of the things that you do and the other 50% will be interests that are almost unrelatable to you.  This sort of goes in the face of the idea of a “perfect soulmate” who you connect to deeply and romantically on every level, but the truth is you don’t want to marry yourself and you definitely don’t want to go into business with yourself. You need to partner up with someone who has strengths that complement your own and fill the gaps where your weaknesses wreak havoc.  Maybe you can’t get down with dressing up as a Game of Thrones character on the night of the season premiere, but their marketing skills may just save your business when your broccoli skills are exceeding demand.


Who’s In Charge

This one is a tough one.  I’m not going to lie, this single thing has been a huge hurtle from time to time in my own experience and it has taken us years to truly figure this out, (if we even have, yet.)  Delegation is such an important part of a functioning business and this element is made especially difficult when it involves a romantic partnership. In farming there are so many ways to do things, so many opportunities for innovation and progress, that we are often spoiled for choice.  This doesn’t even count all of the ways we as individual growers attune systems to our own styles and needs and this specialization is what makes your operation work for you. What doesn’t work for you, is battling out every decision, model, system, and purchase with your partner because you haven’t compromised or properly separated out tasks.  It is so important that each of you is heard, validated, and respected when ideas are brought to the table and even more important that the best idea wins. It may feel cutthroat and you won’t always choose the best concept first, but true evolution comes from conceding for the greater good and sometimes literally dividing the farm into individual pieces can save the operation and relationship in the same swing.


Blame Game

Oh, blame.  It is so satisfying and easy in the moment and so destructive over the long term.  This is especially insidious in situations where tasks have been divided and something goes wrong in the area that was not your responsibility.  In farming there are so many variables that can destroy the profitability of the business. This can be weather, disease, pests, Whole Foods, food trends, and numerous other dangers that can creep up on you and ruin months of work in a moment.  While it may feel like a relief to push the mistake on your partner and not take any ownership of it yourself, the farm is a team game, not a competition. You aren’t farming to win an award, you are hopefully farming to share in a unique version of life with your loved one.  

Choosing to process loss and mistakes and learn from them together as opposed to being separated by them at every turn will not only improve the functionality of your business, it will provide the friction necessary for both of you to evolve and grow as human beings, giving your relationship and lives deeper purpose. 


The Off Farm Job

Most anyone who has been or is an entrepreneur knows how important it is to make money.  Sometimes that means taking on additional work while the business gets afloat, sometimes it means keeping a secondary income forever to level out the cost of living.  It is the ultimate farm dream for both partners to be able to derive their living entirely from the farm and so many people pull it off every season.

For some families though, this just doesn’t really work.  It could be that the farm is located in an area where people aren’t as fired up about local food.  It could be that the farm is located where many other farms are competing for the same dollar. It could be that raising kids on the farm salary just isn’t quite secure enough and someone needs to step out of the dream and use their other passions as support.  Whatever the case, there ain’t no shame in that game. There is no rule book that spells out what being a farmer really is and there is no commitment-time-minimum for tending to your fields. If both partners being on the land together is the goal, I know you can achieve it.  If flexibility leads to a happier life, I accept your well-roundedness and eat your carrots all the same.

Quality Time

There is one thing that farming land with your partner guarantees, and that is quality time.  You’re going to spend so much time with each other, it is going to be so cute. It will be so cute until you are weeding baby beets one day and that thing he said earlier in the day mixed with the mansplaining you are receiving right now explodes into a fiery rage that finds you at the washstation questioning the meaning of everything.  My best advice for all of that quality time? Podcasts. Music. Head-freakin-phones. There is so much good audio out in the world these days that will allow the mind to escape the current scenario and explore things, places, and people your sedentary life would never allow. Put your headphones on, smile, and go weed something by yourself.


All of that quality time does actually pay off when you get a look at how much you’ve accomplished midsummer when you’ve just barely survived Spring and are rearing up for Fall.  It may not seem like it to you, especially when you’ve just spent months with your face to the ground, but what you are making with your land is probably beautiful and probably should be shared with others.  There are few things more rejuvenating for two people that have been toiling away with crops and livestock than inviting people who don’t farm and other farmers alike to come enjoy the views. They will think it is magical, even if it is weedy.  They will see your heart on full display, even when you feel vulnerable sharing it. One thing I’ve learned about preserving a relationship tied up in a farm is to invite friends, family, and locals over, accept volunteers, and celebrate what you’ve made with people who absolutely appreciate it.


Any of you who actually know me, know that I am a childless vagabond who treats two dogs as if they were my children.  My unhealthy relationship and attachment to them serves as enough added stress to the whole growing system and I cannot even imagine for the life of me how difficult and rewarding this farming experience must be while also raising children.  This shout out goes to all the moms and dads out there bringing humans into this world through this lens; you are total warriors and I have no advice for you at all. You amaze me, confound me, inspire me, and most of all are accomplishing something that few humans could ever imagine pulling off.  I send you all of my love and thanks-the world needs and celebrates you.

You Do You

As a competitive person myself, I can say for a fact that I have sometimes inserted myself in places within our business that I had no place being.  Both of us are guilty now and again trying to fill every role on the farm and appearing to each other and the world as all knowing beings. There is a level of maturity that hits you at some point where you realize not only do you excel at certain things on the farm, but there are things that you are bad at and actually hate doing.  We all want to be everything to everyone, but the truth is we were all molded on this Earth with certain talents and we will get much farther in life celebrating those over trying to cultivate gifts we were never given in the first place. Finding your own niche in the farm may feel limiting at first, but eventually it serves as the cozy nest where the best of you is able to hatch.



Sometimes as farmers we suffer serious burn out because we’ve done a crappy job planning.  Sometimes we suffer burn out because the season was extra special and weeks of rain or drought wreaked havoc on our awesome plans.  A lot of times we suffer burn out because we’ve become so focused on selling vegetables or meat that we forget that life is supposed to be joyful.  Play is the all important and never prioritized element of life that must be executed frequently on the farm for it to succeed. You must be goofy and blow off steam.  You must make delicious meals and talk in weird voices when overworking leads to deliriousness in the fields. You and your partner must enjoy each other’s company even during the thickest work week or the whole thing is serving everyone but yourselves.


Chances are when you start your farming operation you will be a much different person than the one you become after farming for a few years.  Farming is a difficult path and it not a career that should be undertaken by anyone who is afraid to look deeply into themselves. Farming with your loved one has the added challenge and benefit of someone standing right beside you, growing and receding, facing heartache and facing their shadows within the funny house that is the natural world.  There will be times when the mirror of the other person is so critical and intense that it will be hard to get through the day. The choice to live this life together, to struggle through the cycles of life, death, and transformation is not the easiest choice out there. In making this choice you are agreeing to be present for each other, at their best and worst, as they discover what truly makes them tick, and deciding to support one another throughout the changing seasons of life.



The most important consideration, in my opinion, is mindfulness.  In farming it is so easy to write a list of tasks, get super organized, and then go out and knock em dead, day after day, without ever pausing to experience the moment as it is.  You will reach a point in your life when you can scarcely remember what it was to be new in farming, fresh in the soil, or maybe even a few more years down the road when the pitch of activity peaks and the system becomes a tired, old friend.  These seconds, minutes, and hours are the actual unfolding of your life and there is so much benefit in pausing within the stillness of nature and truly internalizing her deep, omnipresent consciousness. The memories you make were once experiences lived out, moment by moment, and you will never get them back.  Write down your first chicken egg, celebrate your first victorious tomato crop, and never forget the hard times when the weight of the farm brought you closer to each other. While one goal should be to grow lots of food, another should be to spend as much of your day in the present as you can so that life doesn’t have the opportunity to pass you by.

That’s twelve of my biggest considerations for going into farming with your loved one.  To my own partner I want to say, I’m sorry.. And you’re welcome.. For everything.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Garlic Growing Tips for Your Garden

Garlic bulb 500x667 

Img Via:

For gardeners who still want to plant something even though winter has come, garlic may still be an option. Garlic is great for planting in the Fall/Early Winter so that it can mature over the Winter and Spring seasons to be harvested in the summer. 

Garlic is a root vegetable that’s a staple in most recipes. Gardeners who are serious about usable recipe gardens will include garlic due to its versatility in cooking. Plus, it stores well and can be given to friends and family. Who doesn’t want some garlic as a gift?

Growing garlic is a bit of a challenge, so we need to be mindful of its preferences. The key to great garlic is allowing it to mature. All plants have things they like and don’t like: when they grow, where they grow, soil type, seed spacing, storage, etc. Without knowing about what we plant, our gardens will never grow. So, let's learn! 

When They Grow

Pro-tip: Fall planting usually yields larger bulbs.

Gardeners in higher number USDA hardiness zones - which means you are in the lower regions like Florida, Gulf Regions or Southwest coastal areas - you will still have time to plant garlic into the beginning of winter depending on the weather. If temperatures stay cool and don’t drop below 40 degrees consistently, then garlic should be okay to grow. IF winter is already upon you in the lower USDA hardiness zones - located in the central and northern regions - you may have to wait until spring. Your garlic can still be harvested in the summer, but it may not be as robust in size and flavor.

garlic bulb sizes

Where to Plant Garlic, Soil Preparation, and Seed Spacing

Pro-tip: 9 cloves of Garlic per square foot, and plant them pointy ends up.

Square foot gardening plant spacing minimizes the area a garden takes up and maximizes the amount of plants that can be grown in condensed areas (e.g. Raised Garden Beds). For gardeners who want a good harvest of garlic, plant 9 per square foot. Ensure that the garden receives frequent daily sunlight (4-8 hours), and that a layer of mulch or compost keeps the soil and seeds within it warm. Just because plants prefer cooler temperatures does not mean they can survive in blatantly cold temperatures.  

Garlic prefers soil that is well-drained, full of organic matter, and loose enough for them to grow without resistance - again Raised Garden Beds provide an easier way to create this ideal type of growing medium. If you are really into soil and want to dial it in just right for garlic, use soil with a pH balance of 6.5 to 7.0 – near neutral.

Plant Spacing Garden Grid watering system

Harvesting and Storing Garlic

Pro-tip: Garlic is ready for harvest when the leaves turn brown.

In the summer, the leaves will begin to brown, and that’s when harvest is ready. Loosen up the soil around the bulbs, and pull them upwards delicately. Place them in a warm, dry, and airy location protected from the rain and direct sun for about a week. This ensures they dry properly and can be stored afterwards. They are stored at 50 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit in a cool, dry location and can last for 4 to 8 months.





Make the Most of Your Garden with the Garden Planner

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Dejan_Dundjerski

Using the Garden Planner to Make the Most of Your Garden

Our Garden Planner can help you plan your garden efficiently so you can make best use of the space you have and avoid wasting time or resources.

When you set your location the Garden Planner looks up your local frost dates and uses this to recommend ideal planting dates and estimate harvest times. If necessary, you can also edit the frost dates to more accurately represent your garden’s microclimate. Hot climate gardeners can split the growing season into two to avoid growing cool-season crops during the hottest part of the year.

Layout your garden with paths, beds and containers, include compost bins and water barrels, and mark the location of irrigation lines and plant supports. Choose from hundreds of different fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers. The Garden Planner calculates how many plants can be grown in the space you have without overcrowding. As you add plants, the Plant List makes planning your sowing and planting accurate and simple by displaying precisely how many plants are in your plan, and their recommended spacings and planting times.

A Parts List of equipment is also shown in every plan that includes ‘Garden Objects’, which is very useful when planning, for example, irrigation, which has lots of component parts.

The Garden Planner makes it easy to grow using the Square Foot Gardening method too. Click on the SFG button and add plants. The planner will automatically calculate how many plants may be grown in each square foot.

You can plan SFG plants and plants with standard spacings, for instance fruit bushes and larger vegetables, on the same plan. Click on the SFG button to switch between SFG and normal spacings.

Planning succession planting is easy with the Garden Planner. Double-click on the plant in your plan, then set its in-ground dates. Use the calendar drop-down to view your plan month by month to check where and when gaps appear.

To quickly find out which plants can be sown or planted during a particular month, click the Custom Filter button to the left of the plant selection bar. You can also filter crops by crop family, or by characteristics such as easy to grow, shade tolerant or suitable for fall planting/harvesting.

Plan for an even longer growing season by adding a cold frame, row cover or other protection over a plant in your plan.  This will extend sowing and harvest dates for that plant, and is very useful when planning early or late-season vegetables and fruits.

The Garden Planner helps you to avoid problems with pests and diseases by providing crop rotation warnings in follow-on plans in subsequent years. Your plan will flash red when you try to place a plant in an area previously occupied by plants of the same crop family.

To create a follow-on plan, open your current year’s plan then click on New Plan in your plan’s toolbar. Choose the follow-on plan option and any elements you wish to copy across, then click OK.

The Companion Planting tool takes the strain out of find perfect matches for your plants. Select a plant and click on the heart-shaped Companion Planting button. Suitable companions are then displayed in the selection bar for you to choose from.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

13 Steps to Planning your Vegetable Garden


Chard is a reliable insurance crop.

1. Before planning anything, be clear about your garden goals 

Are you growing for your household, mainly for your household with some sales on the side, or to make a living and feed your household? Are you growing vegetables for the whole year, or mostly salads and tomatoes? Have you got one hour a week or 40 hours a week? Have you got 500 square feet or 5 acres? If you're not selling anything, skip to step 4.

2. How much money do you need to earn? 

What are your living expenses? What are your farm expenses? What do you want to save for old age, rainy days, raising children, and college funds.  Do you have other sources of income? Once you've determined how much money you need to make for your efforts, look at how you might earn that. Jean-Martin Fortier in The Market Farmer shows how his family met their goals and fit their resources.

Setting prices is another side of how to make enough money. See the Iowa State University publication Determining Prices for CSA Share Boxes. Vern Grubinger in Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-up to Market explains how to make an enterprise budget for each crop. These calculations compare one crop with another, while not delving into overhead costs.

3. Which markets to sell at? 

Consider CSA, farmers' market, sales to neighbors or work colleagues, sales to restaurants. How many weeks of the year do you want to be selling? 20? 26? 35?

4. Which crops to grow 

Choose vegetables based on demand balanced with the practicalities of growing in your climate, whether or not you are growing for sale. In Market Farming Success: The Business of Growing and Selling Local Food, Lynn Byczynski identifies and explains aspects of market farming growers need to tackle: you need a diversity of crops, not just a few profitable items; you need not only early crops, but critical mass for the whole of your chosen season. Grow what yields well for less labor, grow what sells best at the highest price, and also grow what fills gaps between your major crops.

Kale and other leafy greens give high yields for the area they occupy. Photo by Wren Vile.

Some crops offer more money per area (mostly the leafy greens); some are more profitable in terms of time put in. See Richard Wiswall’s Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, which includes crop enterprise budgets for 24 crops. He makes spreadsheets easy and clear. The book includes a CD you can use to create all kinds of farm worksheets. Ben Hartman in The Lean Farm reports that of the 25 crops they looked at, heirloom tomatoes gave the highest dollar per square foot and bulb onions the least. But that did not account for the time each crop occupies the space. Nor does it matter, if what you need are onions to store for the winter.

Some crops are easy to grow, some that sell for high prices are more challenging. Some crops are valuable in providing a good crop rotation, or something fresh to eat in spring (try garlic scallions). Crops which provide multiple harvests from one planting are valuable, as are crops for winter storage. It's good to have some easy-growing resilient "insurance crops" which will provide harvests even if other crops fail. Chard is my favorite example. It reliably grows. Harvest leaves when you want them, ignore the plants otherwise.

5. How much of what to harvest when:make a Harvest Schedule 

Be realistic. How much salad mix do you really want each week? The average person eats 160-200 pounds of fresh vegetables per year (USDA). I hope we're all better than average! The average CSA share feeds 2 or 3 people.

Decide which crops you want to harvest when, how often and over what length of time, including quantities. Multiply that up, add a margin for culls and failures (10%?), and list how much of each crop to have ready for harvest each week.

6. How much to grow to achieve your harvest goals 

Now you know how much you want to harvest, turn your attention to how much to plant to get that. The table I provide in Sustainable Market Farming lists 48 crops, with likely yield, quantities required for 100 CSA shares, quantities we grow to feed 100 people year-round, and lengths of rows needed to grow these amounts.

Some seed catalogs have tables of likely yields. Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En Sharing the Harvest and John Jeavons How to Grow More Vegetables both have charts too.

7. Calculate sowing dates to meet harvest dates: Field Planting Schedule 

The Field Planting Schedule is the calendar of when you plan to plant out in the garden (direct sowing or transplanting). Work back from each target harvest date, subtracting the number of days to maturity (from the catalog or seed packet), to give the planting date. Be clear about whether the number is from sowing the seed to harvest or from transplant to harvest.

Days to maturity in catalogs are generally for spring planting once conditions have warmed to the usual range for that crop. When growing in late fall, winter or early spring, add about 14 days - plants grow slower when chilly. In winter when the temperature is below 40F (4C), plants don’t grow much at all – ignore those days from your calculations.

Decide whether you want to direct seed or transplant each crop. There are the pros and cons of each method. Draw up your list of outdoor planting dates, along with varieties, row feet, spacing, notes and space to write down what you actually do. Make a spreadsheet or a worksheet and be sure to leave room to write what actually happens when, not just what you plan! Sort it by date order, for ease of use when busy.

8. When to sow for transplants: Seedlings Schedule 

If the crop is to be transplanted add the time to grow the transplant. See Sustainable Market Farming. In future years you will have your own records to customize your calculations. Calculate the dates to sow for transplants, and make your Seedlings Schedule – another spreadsheet or worksheet. Sort it by date order.

9. Where to plant each sowing of each crop: Maps 

Draw up garden maps, and decide where in the garden to plant each sowing of each crop. Start filling your map with your major crops (the ones needing the most space), remembering crop rotation and cover cropping considerations. Note the spaces leftover for squeezing in other crops.

10. Packing more in: interplanting, relay planting, double cropping, season extension, succession plantings. 

Promptly clearing short-term crops like beans or cucumbers helps with pest and disease control and opens up the space for double-cropping or for cover crops to replenish the soil. Fast-growing crops like lettuce, radishes and greens can be interplanted between or alongside slower-growing crops to provide more veggies. We grow peas with spinach, peanuts with lettuce, okra with cabbage.

A row of snap peas interplanted in a bed of spinach makes good use of space. Photo by Kathryn Simmons}

Season extension requires putting in more time and/or money than main season growing, to gain extra production. Find the balance point at which time, money and energy put in are still definitely worthwhile.  It’s easier to get extra harvests for a month or two in fall from mature plants, than to get harvests a week earlier in the spring. A small investment in rowcover can easily pay for itself and help you harvest more produce.

Beans, edamame, cucumbers, melons, squash, sweet corn can be produced through the frost-free period, if you sow several times. Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, spinach can be grown in spring and again in the fall in mild climates.

11. Adjust to make your best possible plan and tweak 

Once you have your plans made, look them over for chances to make improvements, or for glitches. It helps to have someone else willing to talk this through. This could be a good winter task for your local garden group.

If you can’t fit in everything you want, drop some crops, change your quantities, or tighten up your planting schedule. Keep your highest priorities in mind: crops for your best markets, the signature crops you are famous for, and food for your household.

Perhaps the old crop is not so worth keeping, if pulling it helps you establish a new crop in a more timely way. Check the timings of your sowings for transplants — do you have enough germinating capacity? Is it physically possible to do all the transplanting you plan in the time allotted?

Sometimes it helps to simplify planting dates, e.g., squash and cucumbers on the same day. Other times it helps to spread the workload over several consecutive days, to give you time to harvest, eat lunch, do your other work.

12. What to do if something goes wrong: Plan B 

Be ready to think on your feet and adjust your plans as the situation changes. Have a brainstorm list to help deal with disasters:

• Do immediate damage control to stop the problem getting worse

• Ask for help,

• Salvage anything you can and process it in some way to use later.

• Some greens and root crops mature in 60 days or less, which is useful if a crop fails.

• Write down what went wrong and why, so you don’t have the same problem next year. 

13. Record results for next year’s Better Plan

Make recording easy to do. Minimize the paperwork. Have a daily practice of recording planting dates and harvest start and finish dates on the planting schedule. Allow time to do that, without losing your lunch break.

If your records suggest adjusting a date next year, adjust it to halfway between last year’s plan and what seems ideal - gradually zero in on the likely date without wild pendulum swings based on variable weather.

Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs, as well as sustainable agriculture conferences. Pam also writes for Growing for Market and other magazines. Her books, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, and The Year-Round Hoophouse are available at Her blog is on her website and also on

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Plan a Low-Cost Vegetable Garden

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/aluxum

Read on or watch our video to find out how to plan a low-cost vegetable garden that won’t break the budget...

Budget Seeds and Plants

Try local seed and plant swaps. Remember, you’ll need to have something to swap in return.

Look out for special offers on seed supplier websites, both before and towards the end of the growing season.

Save your own seeds from heirloom (open-pollinated) varieties of vegetables such as tomatoes, beans and lettuce.

Feed Soil for Free

Make your own compost. Set up a compost pile in a sunny, sheltered, out-of-the-way corner of the garden. Use recycled pallets to make sides to keep it tidy.

Collect leaves in fall to make leaf mold, which is a fantastic soil amendment. Ask friends and neighbors for theirs too – most people will be delighted to let you have them!

Approach farms and stables to source manure. Make sure the animals haven’t been feeding on plants treated with herbicides that could damage your plants, and make sure it's well rotted down before using.

Grow Plant Supports 

Bamboo canes are free if you grow your own!

Hazel, buddleia and any other trees or shrubs with strong, straight woody stems make excellent poles for climbers such as beans.

Free Crop Protection 

Use old clear plastic bottles to make mini greenhouses, polythene stretched over homemade hoops to make mini hoop houses, or recycled glass doors and windows to make cold frames.

Use old tulle, laid double thick for extra protection, to provide shade for crops that can’t take the heat in summer.

Shade newly-sown beds of cool-season crops like lettuce with cardboard until the seedlings germinate.

Protect transplants with upturned pots for one or two days until they settle in.

Cut down plastic bottles to make collars to protect seedlings against cold, drying winds earlier in the season.

Natural Pest Control 

Grow nectar-rich flowers in your plan to attract pest predators such as hoverflies and ladybugs. Try coreopsis, cosmos, poached egg plant and alyssum.

Flowering herbs such as dill, fennel, parsley and coriander are loved by beneficial insects too.

Leave some carrots and onions unharvested to flower early the next season and feed beneficial bugs.

Recycled Containers

Use your imagination to select containers for plants – just make sure to punch holes in the bottom for drainage.

Start seeds in old yogurt pots, soft fruit trays or mushroom trays.

Make your own pots using toilet tissue tubes or newspaper. Toilet tissue tubes are great for deep-rooting seedlings such as corn or beans.

Inexpensive Boundaries and Paths

Lay thick cardboard and cover with bark chippings to create a path fast and inexpensively. You’ll need to top up the bark from time to time.

Opt for salvaged slabs, bricks or cobbles instead of new. You can make hard landscaping go further by infilling with cheaper materials such as gravel.

Buy bare-root hedging plants in winter, as they’re cheaper than potted plants. Make it productive too - plant trained fruit trees or fruiting hedgerow plants so you get a return on your investment.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Growing a Garden from Seed


I would like to preface this article by saying: however you want to start a garden is the best way to start a garden! I hope to inspire you, or any one person, to start a garden no matter how grand or how small it may be. The more people we can get growing, the better, in my opinion.

So now that you have gardening on your mind, consider starting your garden from seed! Sure you can go to your local plant nursery and buy fruit or vegetable starts, seedlings or nearly mature plants that you just ‘plug and play’. However, doing so is much more expensive and it REALLY limits the varieties available to your garden.

Flipping through seed catalogues is one of winters great pleasures, daydreaming of warmer days to come and is the perfect time to place your seed order. Starting a garden from seed does take some planning- you’ll want to start your seeds much earlier to get them ready to plant out after your average last frost date for your spring/summer garden. You’ll also want to become familiar with your plant hardiness zone as some plants do better/worse in certain areas, or you just have to be creative on when you start your seeds so that you can maximize your growing season. Here in my part of Northern California, I’m in zone 9a, which means that our average annual minimum temperature is between 20-25 degrees (F). Which means I’ll start my first seeds indoors (like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) in late January. So you can see why right now is a great time to get to planning! You can find your plant hardiness, or also known as your growing zone: here.

So what about planting dates? When to start seeds indoors? When to transfer seedlings outdoors? When to direct sow seeds outdoors? So many questions- don’t get overwhelmed! It’s all a learning process and a great lesson in patience. But if you can trust the process you’ll reap the rewards, I promise! Most counties will have your local university extensions planting guides online. This is written by people who live in your region and know what plants thrive, you can google your county’s planting online guide. Or you can also search your zip code with The Old Farmers Almanac here for specific dates for starting seeds indoors, transferring seedlings outdoors, and when to direct sow seeds outdoors. They even have preferred planting dates if you follow the moon cycles, pretty interesting!

Back to the really fun stuff- seeds! How about black tomatoes? Check out these Black Beauty Tomatoes from my garden last summer- they are one of my favorites. Or maybe these Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomatoes- these blew my mind last season. SO MUCH FLAVOR! I can promise you that you won’t be finding these beauties at your local supermarket. You have to grow them from seed! Or these fun loofahs that go from garden to shower for the whole family. Even flowers- you can buy so many different flower seeds {or tubers, bulbs etc.} from seed catalogues that you rarely find at a nursery. How about purple potatoes or pink lettuce? The possibilities are endless people!

So now that you want to grow a garden from seed, how do you keep all of those seed packets organized? There are many methods of storage such as an old shoe box, a ziplock bag, in a drawer- but are those really organized and functional? Not really. My favorite way to store and organize my seeds is this photo organizer you can find online. I have different types labeled so I know right where to go when I want a specific seed. It keeps them dry, safe and I currently have over 100+ different packets in here with room for more.

I don’t have a greenhouse (but someday I hope!) so my garage serves as my modified ‘greenhouse’. I can roll the door up during the day so the plants get real sun (which can help prevent ‘legginess’ in your sprouts) and they get real wind and weather, which I have found to produce much sturdier plants overall and much easier to harden off. At night when it is much colder, I close the door and tuck them in for the night. Heat mats can also be key to good germination rates and time.  A seed just isn’t usually going to sprout in 40 degree (F) weather. I set my seed mat thermostat to 80 degrees (F) and see germination within days (depending on what seeds we are talking about). You can also use a heat lamp, but this tends to dry the soil faster. You’ll need some form of light- either actual sunlight or grow lights for germination, and when it’s time to ‘harden off’ the seedlings you'll want to go slowly, over the course of a week or so if they have truly been indoors. If you do all this, plus keep the soil moist at all times, you are well on your way to having a garden from seed!

To recap and to list some of the benefits of growing a garden from seed:

1. A seed packet may have anywhere from 10-300 seeds each, the cost savings doing it this way is significant and if you save your seeds from year to year, you may only have to buy one packet and be set for life!

2. The varieties available in seed form is exponential compared to what will be available to you at any plant nursery.

3. It’s a fun winter project. Especially if you suffer from winter blues or similar- it may be just what the doctor ordered to get your mind off the dull and dreary days.

4. The wonder and excitement of seeing a brand new sprout through to a mature plant is nothing short of amazing. The fact that these little seeds hold so much information in the form of DNA and morph into these lush plants that produce so much food will blow your mind. You will have a new appreciation for produce as a whole.

5. Growing from seed is one more layer of knowing where your food comes from. You know the soil, the nutrition and the care that went into the food you will harvest.

What a lesson for kids and adults alike. In a world full of instant gratification, planting a seed forces you to slow down, be patient and nurture. That change in perspective is huge.

Happy sowing and growing!

Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale farmer in 2015. Since then she has run California based Flicker Farm to accommodate meat pigs, mini Juliana pigs, pasture based poultry and sells goats milk soap and lotion on Etsy. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters