Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How to Determine Garden Size

This is part two of a gardening guidelines series. To read part one, please click here.

Remember last week, when you sketched out a list of what you wanted to grow this year? Well, today you get to pare it down to what actually makes sense. Doesn't that sound like fun? I always love exercises that curb what I want down to what I need...not.

Fortunately this won't require you to take a red marker and cross off things of your own volition--your garden allotment will do that for you. So today we're going to dig in to garden size.

There's a few components to this. The first one is the inevitable kind: what limitations do you have to work with? If you're in an apartment, you might need to think in terms of container gardening, which would dictate to some extent what you can plant, and certainly how much. (Not as much as you might think, though; just do a quick search on Pinterest for "apartment gardening" and you'll be overloaded with ideas.) If you're on a suburban lot, there are a lot of options you can play around with, all dependent on your preference. And I don't just mean replacing flower beds with garden beds. If you're enough of a gardener already to know that you love it, then I'm a total advocate of going crazy: rip out your lawn and use that space for something worthwhile! Lovely as lawns are, I might have to write a post someday on the ridiculousness that is Muggle suburbia...

Moving on. If you're a beginning-ish gardener who doesn't really have any particular attachment to a specific garden size, then here's a few things to think about.


Any blog post or book you ever read about beginner gardening will tell you to plant less than you think you can handle, because our gardening eyes are bigger than our gardening stomachs. Most folks inevitably end up getting overwhelmed on their first garden, and often don't try again.

This is a great piece of advice, and if it clicks with you and what you know about yourself, TAKE IT. But before you do exactly what all the books say, here's another perspective to consider: Ours.  :-)

See, the thing is, I (Kirstyn) never liked the idea of starting small. To me that seemed like a waste of a year, and a waste of my effort. My whole goal in gardening was to be more or less self sufficient for the vegetal areas of our life, and starting off with a small plot and some salad makings was more frustrating than productive to me. I was really into this, and so I started big. I used our entire 25x40 plot and planted the dickens out of it. Was it a lot of work? Yup. Did I get way behind and end up with a jungle of weeds? Yup. Do I wish I had started smaller? No. I was just as enthused for the next year, and just that much more determined to make a success of it. Now each year is getting better (and bigger).

And Kara? Oy, if you think I was crazy for starting with a thousand square feet of should see what she's doing. She already has a garden plot in her yard (it came with the house), and it measures somewhere in the realm of 2000 square feet. Twice the size of mine. I'll grant that she is planning wide walking paths, but honestly, talk about starting big! Apparently my mentality is a genetic one...

The point here is that you should start with the size that works for you. If you're prone to starting projects that get set by the wayside when they take more effort than you expected, maybe you should start small. If you get overwhelmed by unknown territory, you might want to start small. If you're gung-ho about wanting to get wrapped up in doing things the old fashioned way (...guilty...), then starting small might actually be counter-productive to maintaining enthusiasm and learning momentum. Just sayin'.

How many and how much you want to plant.

Your "want to plant" list is probably pretty long, but let's just take a stab at this, generically. Are you just wanting to plant a few things for a home-school project and not really go crazy with it? Try your hand at a salsa garden? An herb garden? Then a small plot sounds pretty great for that, and you can make it easy on yourself by going the container route, if you've a mind to, or a small raised bed. Are you wanting to plant some of everything because you can't figure out what to cross off? Obviously you'll need a bigger plot, even if you only want to plant a little of each. Or do you want to plant what you'll eat, in amounts big enough to provide your family's allotment of each crop for the year/season? It's a no brainer that this will require the most space of all.

How much time you have for keeping it up.
This isn't quite as black and white as it sounds, because you can choose how high maintenance your garden will be. Drip hoses and mulch will make for a lot of flexibility in your time calculations. I spent about zero time weeding last year because I went crazy with the straw mulch, and oh my goodness it was amazing! I'm never going back. My weeding commitments always start out well, but they just don't continue, because it's never ending, and just plain not fun. (For some people it's therapy, so here again, know what works for you.) I'm attempting to teach myself the value of work instead of fighting it, but I must confess that weeds always find a hole in my armor of self-discipline. Mulch is my favorite solution thus far.

So how much time should you allow even for a low maintenance garden? I'd say four or five hours a week, although how that breaks down per day might vary. It'll take a few hours to set up drip hoses and spread out mulch, to be sure, but after that it's pretty minimal. If you do raised beds your weeds will be minimal as well, but you'll need to allow for watering more often because raised beds dry out more quickly. (This can be done by drip line as well if your beds are shaped for it; my square 4x4 beds don't work well with a drip hose.) You could get by with less hours if you plan well.

Obviously this is completely dependent on your situation-- what plants you choose (high or low maintenance), your climate (we still have to watch for frosts, even in June, and baby plants accordingly) and your watering/weeding choice of set up. And how many people you have helping you do it. :-) Sometimes just having company makes it less of a chore, so think outside the box and invite your best friend over for a coffee the garden...with a trowel.

The Final Decision

I realize this isn't a black and white "how to" for planning your garden, but honestly, such a thing doesn't exist. When you do find books that attempt to make it black and white, it's a pretty sure bet that you'll do things differently than they suggest, just because of your own situation, backyard layout, or whatever other factors you have to deal with. I'm not trying to discourage you by leaving this gray instead of black and white, but I am trying to lay out the things you might want to consider that can help you come to a conclusion.

As such, hopefully now you've got a decent idea of what your garden plot will look like, whether it's a nice neat square of plowed earth in the backyard, twenty pots around the deck, several plants tucked in to flower beds scattered around the yard, or even a few raised beds. Or all of the above, if you're ambitious.

Draw this out on paper. You can do it in first draft form on any paper, but we strongly recommend eventually getting it down on graph paper, to scale. This makes it so much easier to know exactly what you have to work with, because what looks like soooo much space on paper ends up being not very much when you start setting down plants and accounting for walkways and such. This is where you'll seriously start chucking out veggies that you just plain don't have room for, and you'll find that the weeding out of options pretty much takes care of itself.

And that leads us to...designing your garden.

This post is hosted at the Growing Homemakers, Tutorials & Tips, Maple Hill Hop, Backyard Farming Connection, Tuesdays With a Twist, The Gathering SpotAmaze Me MondayHomestead Barn Hop, Natural Living MondayBackyard Farming Connection, Real Food Wednesday, Down Home Blog Hop, Wildcrafting Wednesdays, Wow Us Wednesdays, The HomeAcre Hop, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Home & Garden Thursday, Green Thumb Thursday, UnProcessed Fridays, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm, Home Sweet Home, and the Maple Hill Hop blog hops.


  1. My first gardens on the "wet" side of Oregon were SO WEEDY (and I had small children) that I threw my hands up and vowed to never garden again! Moved to the "dry" side of Oregon, tried again (with no-longer-toddler children) and LOVE it. :D

    I've thought about mulching with straw, but to my way-of-thinking, it doesn't necessarily have all the seeds extracted from it, so I thought it would add more seeds that I didn't want into the soil. It doesn't sound like you have had that problem?

    And I'm curious about your drip hoses and drip lines. Have you used them? Last year, my saved-from-the-previous-year soaker hoses plugged up and wouldn't stay unplugged no matter what we tried. It was very frustrating (not to mention expensive, if we have to replace them every year). This year, a commercial farmer friend is going to let me use some kind of commercial-grade drip line that he uses in his fields. I'm looking forward to seeing if that works any better.

    1. I didn't have the least bit of weed trouble with straw...the thing is, they spray it, so it's pretty much sterile. That does mean it's not organic or necessarily clean, but there are sources of organic straw if you care to search that hard...from the little bit of research I've done, some folks avoid it just for purity's sake, and other feel that it's a minimal risk since most of the spray will be long time by the time it's bundled into bales and used.

      I used soaker hoses, not drip, so it's almost impossible to clog them...too many pores! I haven''t had any problem with them biggest problem has been that they split, because we have to bend them back out of the way for mowing. :-) I'm starting to get smarter about that...but someday it'd be nice to be a little more exotic and use pvc pipe with holes. But at this point we change our rows every year, so we don't want a permanent set up.

  2. It helps to have a lot of enthusiasm for the project and you seem to have plenty! Great points. I appreciate you joining The Maple Hill Hop!

  3. How much and how many has been the bane of my garden planning this year. There is no set formula and it kills me. I want to have enough, but not so many that I'm swimming in veggies. We'll see how my numbers fare this year...

    Share with me! Blog Hop every Friday (entries accepted until Thursday at noon).

  4. Over the years, we have moved around several times, always to different zones and gardening options. It is amazing how the amount of space you have (and the time available to take care of it) really determines what you are going to ultimately put in it and how much. My last garden had so much space I planted corn, with watermelons under them, just to use up space in my allotment in the community garden. My garden now has such a lack of room I would never consider wasting space to plant corn. It has really made me pare down the choices to the things I consider most important, and then think outside the box for everything else - hanging baskets, removing non-fruiting plants and replacing with fruiting bushes or trees, etc.

  5. Great post! Perfect timing as spring will be here one of these days, as soon as all our snow melts! So glad you shared your post on the HomeAcre Hop! Hope to see you again tomorrow! - Nancy The Home Acre Hop