When I start thinking about my garden plans (usually in the cold of winter) I figure out where everything is going to go, and how I am going to do it by asking a serious of questions. (And making an excel spread sheet because I'm that person).
First thing I ask myself is "What do I want to plant this year?".
I make a list of all the things I'm interested in. I pick things for all different kinds of reasons, from "I just want to see if I can do it" to "I want to make jam or wine from it" or, "its pretty"
For example, my list this year includes some of the following:
Now that I have my list, I think about each plant, and ask myself, "What am I going to do with it?"
Tomatoes - make ketchup, salsa, & sauce
Potatoes - table food
Peppers - salsa, and freeze for stir-fry
Watermelon - table food .... maybe make some popsicles
Sunflowers - see if I can make sunflower Oil
Black beans - can them
What I want them for is going to be indicative of how many I need to grow. I've never made sunflower oil before, but I'm willing to bet that I need a whole lot of sunflower seeds to get any useful amount of oil, whereas I only need so many watermelons to be used for table food. So, this brings me to the next question,
"How many am I going to need?"
Tomatoes - make ketchup, salsa, & sauce - 10-15 plants
Potatoes - table food -4-5 plants
Peppers - salsa, and freeze for stir-fry - 6-8 plants
Watermelon - table food .... maybe make some popsicles - 2 -3 vines
Sunflowers - see if I can make sunflower Oil - 25-50 flowers
Black beans - can them - I've never planted them before.... let's try 20
So now I know how many plants I want. That is not however, how many seeds I will plant. I always plan for failure of some sort. If the plant starts indoors and gets transferred outside, whatever number I determined I need, I will plant double that many. The worst thing that can happen is I have extra plants in my garden, or to give to my neighbors. Not all seeds with sprout, so I will need 3 times as many seeds, as the number of plants I am growing.
I will need for my seed order:
15 Tomato plants = 30 seedlings = 90 seeds
5 potato plants - I will put 3 spuds in each bag = 5 bags 15 spuds total
8 peppers = 16 seedlings = 48 seeds
3 watermelon = 3 mounds with 3 seeds each = 9 seeds
50 Sunflowers = 150 seeds (direct sow)
20 Black Beans = 60 seeds (direct sow)
Now that I know how much of everything I need, I place my order for seeds. Once the seeds come, I read all the packages, or go online to find out about each individual plant's requirements. I add this information to my list.
The information that I am looking for is when do I plant them, where do I plant them, and how often should I water them.
Tomatoes - Full sun & lots of water - plant early indoors and transfer in late spring
Potatoes - shade tolerant - plant in early spring direct sow
Peppers - full sun & lots of water - plant early indoors and transfer in late spring
Watermelon - Full Sun & Lots of water - plant in late spring direct sow
Sunflowers - Full sun - careful to not over water - plant in late spring direct sow
Black beans - Full sun & Lots of water- plant in late spring direct sow
Now this gives me a schedule
February: Plant Tomatoes and peppers indoors
March: Water seedlings, and plan out outdoor garden
April: Plant Potatoes outdoors. Start bringing peppers and tomatoes outside during the day to harden off.
May: Plant Sunflowers, Watermelon, and black beans. Transfer Peppers and tomatoes.
Understanding the plant requirements, allow me to figure out where they would thrive best. Below is a crude layout of my garden.
I note where there is full sun all day long, and areas that get some shade.
Then add where the irrigation system is, and where the most water is distributed.
I add my plants to it accordingly. Full sun with water for the tomatoes, peppers, watermelon and black beans. Shade tolerance for potatoes. Sun flowers full sun, out of the reach of the irrigation.
I mark where I plant everything on a spread sheet and rotate the plants the following year. I rotate in 2 different groups - partial shade plants, and full sun plants. Everything shifts over 1 spot in its respective category, so no plant will be in the same plot for several years.