Immediately after you have your garden beds prepped you can then start planting your vegetables. Planting in this context refers to sowing seeds and transplanting the seedlings into the garden beds.
This is a task that you’ll be repeatedly performing throughout the growing season, as ideally you want a garden that produces a fresh supply of vegetables all year round.
To start planting your vegetables you’ll need to know two important things: WHAT to plant WHEN, and HOW exactly to plant it. In Part 1 of this guide you’ll find information on the former and, in Part 2, the latter.
You’ll also get a plug-and-play spreadsheet that was specially prepared for the purposes of this guide.
PART 1: 10 minutes
PART 2: 10 minutes per standard bed
Part 1. Planning
STEP 1: Split your garden into two types according to growing seasons
If you want to ensure a continuous supply of vegetables throughout the year you’ll need to be strategic about it. On a basic level this means looking beyond the spring planting window and recognizing that there is another one, in summer, that sets the stage for the late fall and winter harvest.
So, although we talk about a “growing season”, in reality we can divide it into two – SPRING/SUMMER and FALL/WINTER, and focus our planting efforts around them. You’ll be planning your spring/summer garden around the last frost date and in turn your fall/winter garden around the first frost date for your area.
–>Action step: None. I’ve done this step for you. In the spreadsheet, you’ll find that it’s already divided into these two garden types – so you can just put a tick for this step and move on to Step 2.
STEP 2: Select the vegetables you’ll be growing in each garden type
Next, you’ll have to determine what vegetables you’ll be growing in your spring/summer and fall/winter gardens. You already have an overall idea of what you’ll grow, now place these vegetables in the appropriate type of garden based on the classification below.
There are three types of vegetables: cool season crops, warm season crops and cold season crops, each adapted to thrive in specific climatic conditions.
Cool Season Crops (semi-hardy vegetables)
Cool season crops are the ones that grow the best in spring and autumn when air and soil temperatures are cool – between 40 and 70 °F (5–20 °C).
In spring, you can start sowing the seeds of these crops as soon as the soil and air temperatures reach 40 °F (5 °C). Most of them can easily withstand a light frost and survive in temperatures near freezing without protection. With a little protection, you can enjoy them well into winter.
For the best results, you’ll need to grow them to maturity in cool weather; otherwise, they can turn bitter tasting, or bolt to seed rather than producing edible parts. Once daytime temperatures reach 80 °F (26 °C) or higher, they usually stop producing.
- Celery & Celeriac
- Chinese Cabbage
- Pak Choi
Warm Season Crops (Summer vegetables)
Warm season crops are the ones that grow the best in the heat of the summer – when the temperature is 75 °F (24 °C) or warmer and there is plenty of sunlight.
You can plant them when the soil and air temperatures are above 50 °F (10 °C). Unlike cool season crops they don’t tolerate frost, and they’ll die with even the slightest frost. Unless you’re using some kind of protective structure (a greenhouse, a cold frame, a row cover…), don’t plant them until all risk of frost has passed.
These crops can be quick growing (e.g. bush beans) or long-season crops (e.g. tomatoes). You can direct-seed the quick growing ones but you’ll have to buy the transplants of long-season crops or start them in time indoors under the growlights.
- New Zealand Spinach
- Sweet potato (needs long, hot, frost-free season)
- Annual herbs (Basil, Cilantro, Dill)
Cold Season Crops (Hardy Vegetables)
Cold season crops tolerate cold temperatures the best – their seeds will germinate in cool soil and they will grow when the daytime temperature is as low as 40 °F (5 °C).
Unlike cool season crops (semi-hardy vegetables) they can survive hard frosts and many of them can stand in the garden all winter long with little protection. Cold season vegetables are the first crops that you can plant in a late-winter and early-spring garden.
You can also grow them in the cool seasons of spring and autumn, but these are the crops that will help you survive that long, dark winter.
- Brussels Sprouts
To help you shortcut this crop-selection process, in the template spreadsheet there is already a list of the most common vegetables that you might want to grow in your spring/summer and fall/winter gardens. You just need to delete the rows that are redundant and shuffle them around according to your preference.
–>Action step: Update Column B [Crop] on the spreadsheet with your preferences. Delete the rows containing crops that you won’t be growing in a spring/summer or fall/winter garden. Move the rows around until you are satisfied with the layout of the column.
STEP 3: Determine whether to plant seeds or seedlings.
Once you know what crops you’ll be growing in your gardens, the next step is to determine how you’ll have to plant each crop; whether that’s going to be from seeds or seedlings.
You can sow most vegetable seeds into seeding trays or pots, and then transplant them into the garden. This way you can start your crops indoors earlier, where you have protection from the frost and elements. This is a strategy that is especially important for the long-season crops such as leeks, tomatoes, etc., which need more time to mature.
However, there are some vegetables that don’t respond well to root disturbance and transplanting, such as carrots, and then there are some crops that are actually easier to grow from seeds, such as lettuce. You’ll have to sow the seeds of these crops into the ground where they are intended to grow.
You can find out whether you’ll need to direct-sow or transplant a vegetable on a seed packet by searching online. In the template spreadsheet I’ve performed this search for you and already listed the best ways to plan for a specific vegetable.
–>Action step: None, the data are already in the spreadsheet. Now you just need to determine whether to plant your crop from seeds or seedlings as that will define your next steps.
STEP 4: Figure out when to plant your veggies
Now that you know whether you are planting seeds or seedlings you’ll need to figure out when exactly to plant your veggies.
You already know what crops to plant in what season (Step 2), but you must also know the correct month and possibly even the date to do so. What you can plant changes from month to month, which is why you’ll need a planting calendar that shows what to plant and when.
You can find out this by using various online calculators (links included below) but for ease of reference I’ve created a calculator that’s integrated into the spreadsheet. All you need to do is put in your average first and last frost dates for your area and the calculator will show you the exact dates on which you should be starting your seeds outdoors, direct-sowing them in your garden beds, or transplanting them.
–>Action step: Enter the first and last frost dates into the spreadsheet cells F1 and F2. Use the hard dates to time your planting.
Part 2: Planting
STEP 5: Gauge soil temperature (optional)
Prior to putting anything into the ground, it’s a good idea to check the soil temperature with a soil thermometer.
Planting seeds or transplants at the right soil temperatures increases your odds of successfully growing any type of cold, cool and warm season crops. Each vegetable has an optimal soil temperature range for planting. You can find the data online on websites such as Gardenate.com but I’ve already extracted the information for you and entered it into the spreadsheet.
All you need to do is check the temperature with the soil thermometer and cross-reference it with the data for that particular vegetable in the spreadsheet.
–>Action step: Take your soil thermometer and measure the temperature at the recommended planting depth (see column J). Compare the soil temperature to the ‘best planted at’ soil temperature range in the column H on the spreadsheet.
STEP 6: Determine Spacing
You’ll need to plant your vegetables the correct distance apart. If you plant them too close, they’ll have to compete for resources and they won’t grow as well as they should. On the other hand, if you plant them too far apart you’ll waste your garden space and in turn produce less food.
The spacing between the plants is different depending on the vegetable in question – you’ll be able to find this information in the template spreadsheet.
–>Action step: Determine the spacing of the vegetable you’re planning to plant. Look up the spacing information in the column I on the spreadsheet.
STEP 8: Cover with soil
After you’ve planted your seeds and seedlings in the ground, cover the hole back up with soil.
–>Action step: If you are planting seeds, gently cover the seed in the hole/furrow by pushing the surrounding soil over it, making sure that it is firm but not totally compacted. If you are transplanting seedlings, push in the soil all around them, pressing the soil firmly so that the seedlings stand firmly upright.
STEP 7: Dig a hole
Now you are ready to plant your seeds and transplant your seedlings. Transplanting seedlings is relatively straightforward as the vegetables have already established their form in the seedling trays. However, when planting seeds you need to make sure to plant them at the right depth.
If you plant seeds too deep, they won’t be able to push through the soil and they’ll die. On the other hand, if you plant them too shallow they could be washed away by heavy rainfall or your watering.
The general rule for planting seeds is to plant them 2-3 times as deep as the size of the seed. Note that most seeds will need to be buried into the soil, while some will need light to germinate, and you’ll need to sow them directly on the soil’s surface.
You can find the exact planting depth information in the template spreadsheet. There is no need to be mathematically precise with this, just try to get it fairly close.
–>Action step: Look up the planting depth information for the particular vegetable in the column J on the spreadsheet. Dig a hole of the appropriate depth and place the seeds or seedlings into it.
Planting tip: When planting large areas with seeds, make a shallow furrow, and then sprinkle the seeds along the furrow. This will save you time and energy.
Also, when planting individual holes with seeds, always place two or more seeds in the hole just in case some of them don’t germinate.
STEP 9: Mark your newly planted beds (optional)
It’s a good idea to mark your beds so you can keep track of where you planted everything. It’s easy to forget what’s where when there are no visual indications to remind you.
–>Action step: Place markers with vegetable names at the ends of your beds.
STEP 10: Water your beds
Finally, water your newly planted seeds and transplants.
–>Action step: Use a watering can or a garden hose to soak the entire garden bed. Be careful not to wash out the seeds. Keep the soil moist until the plants come up or the seedlings take hold.
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- The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, 2nd Edition: Discover Ed’s High-Yield W-O-R-D System
- The Urban Farmer: Growing Food for Profit on Leased and Borrowed Land