Develop a Seed Plan for Your Vegetable Garden, Part 2: Design Your Plot on Paper

Reader Contribution by Sheryl Campbell The Lazy Farmer
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Beets planted with peas.
Photo by Sheryl Campbell

You’ve taken the first steps in developing a seed plan and know what seeds you want to plant. It’s important to get it on paper since it’s difficult to remember everything when you’re in the midst of planting, harvesting, and battling weeds.

Plot Out Your Garden Using Graph Paper 

I created graph paper templates of all my vegetable gardening plots. One square on the graph equals one square foot in my garden. Each winter, I get out all my seeds, determine what I want to harvest in what months, and plot out when and where to plant each type of vegetable.

I’ve opted for a small enough template to fit into my gardening notebook. To make the small squares work I’ve developed abbreviations and codes to designate different plants. Each graph is in a plastic sheet protector so I can remove it from the notebook and carry it into the garden with me.

Garden template

Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Determining What to Plant, When and Where

Most vegetables have a range of times in which they can be planted successfully. So decide when you want to harvest them and then go backwards on the calendar to figure out when to plant them.  I use the following categories to determine what to plant…when…and where.

 Most critical harvest

  • These are the vegetables that caused you to garden in the first place
  • They are necessary for your harvest preservation plan
  • They taste significantly better than what you can buy locally

Main crops

  • These are long season producers, planted once in a growing year
  • They often take up significant space either due to size, sprawl, or the number you need

Early crops

  • Planted in the early spring, these are cool season crops
  • They are fast maturing varieties to give you a quick and early harvest
  • You’d be willing to harvest them young if an especially cool spring delayed their growth and you needed the space for your main or critical crops

Late crops

  • These are many of the same cool season crops you planted in spring
  • But now, varieties that can be planted late summer to mature late fall or into winter
  • They are particularly cold hardy varieties, or are ice-bred lines
  • They include a greater variety of root crops than you planted in the spring

Figure out which beds to put your most critical, main crop, and space hogging plants in at the very beginning of your space planning. Once you know where these will go, and when they need to be planted/sown, then you can fill in other plantings for those same beds.  Other things you should think about in planting successive crops include:

Pepper seedlings in lettuce bed 
Photo by Sheryl Campbell


  • Crop rotation within the same year/same garden bed
  • Plants that use a lot of soil nutrients, like cabbage, corn, and nightshade family crops, should follow light feeders such as legumes, root crops, and greens
  • Reverse this process by planting light feeders after heavy feeder crops
  • Fall vegetables that need shade from summer sun can be planted at the feet of tall summer crops which will be harvested before the fall crops grow large

Harvest timing

  • If your first crop provides ongoing harvests, don’t plan to replace them too soon with another crop
  • If you absolutely must have a particular vegetable, leave some wiggle room in the planting schedule before planning the next crop for that space
  • Should you need the space for fall crops, plant determinant tomato varieties which set fruit in one big rush rather than indeterminate plants which produce over long periods.

Location in the garden is important to consider

  • Plant tall crops where they won’t shade your other sun-loving plants
  • Sprawling vines should go in wide beds where they won’t grow into your paths or overwhelm other plants.

Put It on Paper

I start by penciling in all of my critical and main crop vegetables on my garden plan, along with the approximate timing of the plantings. If they are seeds that I start indoors, then I make a note as to what week I’d need to start them in order to have seedlings ready for planting on time.

Now I can write in all the early crop plantings, making sure that I’ll be able to harvest them before putting in main and critical crops in the same space. Since I garden intensively using lots of homemade compost as top dressing, I typically make 2-3 separate and successive plantings in each space.

Late crops are handled similarly. When I have individual beds, or even small spaces, open up via harvesting, I plan to pop in cool season seedlings for fall and winter harvest. The trick to doing this is to start your own seedlings so you have the varieties you need available when you want them.


Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Write Out a Seeding Plan

I use the form below to input every planting action I need to take for each month. I print out blank pages and then fill out a page (or more) for each month. Codes tell me whether the action is direct seeding, starting seeds indoors, or transplanting seedlings. I break down timing for each month into early, middle, and late month. Using the graph of the garden, I notate on the seeding plan the individual garden bed I’ll be doing the planting action in. The column for “real date” is where I check off the date I actually did the action.

Annual Seeding Plan

Legend: T = transplant; DS = direct seed; SI = start inside; after numerical month indicator: E is early, M is middle; L is late

Remember: Plans Let You Know What You’ve Changed

Each January starts out with pristine graphs showing what I’ll plant, when, and where, throughout my garden beds. Cold springs, surprise heat waves, and wet summers all make unplanned changes to my gardening expectations. By the fall, my graphs have lots of lined-out entries, and scribbled new ideas.

No garden plan remains entirely the way I envisioned it when designing it earlier in the year. But I know what I’ve changed, and why. I know what I’ve given up, and why. I know what I’ve substituted, and why. I can make informed decisions rather than haphazardly responding to changing circumstances.

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth GardenerandGrit and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here.

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