If you’re just getting started gardening, start here. At the bottom of step eight, I casually mentioned, “Do your research and create a map of your space so you know where to place each plant.” As a first year gardener, you might even overlook this sentence due to the excitement of getting those seeds in the soil. Don’t.
Why You Should Have a Garden Map
When the next season rolls around, you are going to want that information. You want it for the next three years, in fact. So, take it from me AND your future self, DOCUMENT where you place your plants.
This may not seem super important right now but next season it will be what you use to determine your planting placements. Why? It’s important to rotate crops because
- pests return year after year (many overwinter in the soil)
- diseases return year after year (there are several soil-borne diseases)
- plants take specific nutrients up from the soil, so replanting them in the same spot continuously depletes the soil of those nutrients
Just about everything I read suggests to wait 3 years before planting the same plant in the same area again. If you have a small growing space or mix up all of the plants in your beds, it will most likely be difficult to rotate. Don’t worry too much. Here’s what you can do:
- focus on moving around nightshades, brassicas, cucurbits and alliums
- get your soil tested, or test it yourself with a kit and make amendments, as needed
- only plant a few families at a time
How to Create a Garden Map
Now, here’s a look at how. You can document on paper, using a gardening app, a Google spreadsheet and the list goes on. I’m going to show you how I plan out my garden as an example.
Create a Spreadsheet, Including All Gardening Space
I use Google spreadsheets and since I use the square foot gardening method in my raised beds, I create one cell per square foot. I estimate a bit on my in-ground beds because their borders can shift around a bit but you get the idea.
Type in What is Growing in Each Section
To start, I type what I plan to grow in each square foot of each garden bed.
If this isn’t your first garden, this part can get tricky going from one season to the next. You will have to think about what plants will still be around when the next season is here as well as which spots will be available for future plantings.
For example, sage and oregano are perennials in this bed, so they will remain in the same spot. The cilantro, leeks and spinach that I planted in the fall will also still be there during the spring. The collards, mustard greens, cabbage and arugula that were there in the winter are no longer in the bed because they didn’t survive our dips into the teens.
Color Code It Based on Plant Families
Then, I color code it based on its plant family. Sign up below to get a FREE copy of my Google spreadsheet with color-coded fruit and vegetable families.
Label With Useful Info
Since I use the square foot gardening method in my raised beds, at times, I type out how many of each seed or transplant will go into each square foot. I didn’t in the example above because most of the nightshades will be planted with one per square foot. Additionally, I sometimes type notes about companion planting in terms of which plants should be kept away from others. Get creative with what information you do and don’t want to add. The best part of creating your own spreadsheet is that it is YOURS.
Consecutive Years Spreadsheet
Create a New Spreadsheet for Crop Rotation
After creating the original spreadsheet, I create a duplicate spreadsheet with three columns. The cells no longer represent a square foot in the garden bed. One column is for the year and season, one for the plants and another for the family name. This allows me to quickly scan each bed to see which family hasn’t been grown in it yet. For example, I might do a command/ctrl F and search the document for nightshades, discovering that I have never grown nightshades in raised bed 3 and making it a great candidate for them this upcoming season. The color codes in this document simply allow me to see, at a quick glance, which years go together.
Regardless of what system you use to document, you will be happy you did. As an added bonus to managing pests and diseases and not depleting your soil of too many nutrients, you can look back at what you planted in the past. Trust me, you’ll want to – it’s more fun than it sounds!