Let me introduce you to the garden tool that trumps all garden tools: The Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner. I’ve been playing around on it almost non-stop for the past few days.
If you’re a would-be gardener at any stage, you really need to give this a shot. The web-based program lets you plot the planned square footage of your garden and then create layouts with real-time information about local weather trends, plant needs, spacing, even succession planting.
It’s also FREE.
Well, for 30 days.
But the free trial gives you access to every tool offered. If you opt for full-year access, the $25 subscription saves your plans, lets you create multiple plans, and emails out reminders for planting times.
Other perks? The program is entirely web-based. I love that, because nothing irritates me more than having to download some special program that requires me to mine up all of my computer passwords.
Here’s how it works:
This is the page you’ll come to when you first go to their webpage. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s pretty simple.
See how that little window pops up that says Selecting plants and varieties for your country…? That’s probably the smartest feature of the whole program. When you initially sign up, you enter your zip code and it automatically loads all the weather data for the past 10 years — including the ever-useful first and last frost dates — plus the most commonly planted fruit and vegetable varieties. It saves that information from the get-go, giving you automatic access to your region’s information every time.
I just want to show you this option if you’re a first-timer. Like I said, with the free version, you get just one plan. So you pick a name and specify a size, and off you go. The largest garden you can make is 1000 x 1000 — which is HUGE. Mine is 60 x 30.
Along the top section of the window is a strip of letters and corresponding plants. To add a plant to your garden, simply select the plant and drag the mouse along the acerage. It automatically spaces everything for you according to the general needs of the plant, and because the program knows exactly how big your garden is, you can test the limits of capacity and know exactly how many plants you can fit into a certain amount of space. See how the melons require way more room than the bok choy? Way cool.
Some people have gorgeous vegetable garden designs, which I’ll get to eventually. I chose to organize my crops in boring old rows because I have a really straight-forward drip irrigation system and my goals have nothing to do with making the thing look pretty. I’d also like to point out that my crops are rather spaced out. This is because, from what I’ve been reading, you shouldn’t lump all of your crops together if you practice organic gardening because it’ll draw the bugs into one concentrated area and obliterate your crops. I learned this sorry lesson last year with my cucumber and melons.
As you can see, we’re going to be eating a lot of tomatoes. LOTS of tomatoes.
Speaking of tomatoes, have I mentioned variety labels? Yeah. You double click a crop and this window pops up, which allows you to scroll through their encyclopedic inventory of plants. Out of my zillions of seeds, only three or four were not in their index, which is amazing. You can set parameters like spacing and planting dates, too, which triggers those handy emails when the time comes.
Here’s another cool detail. You click on the little italicized “i” next to a crop and this window pops up to deliver information about the sun needs, frost limits, and companion plants for friendly growing and amplified flavor. So convenient.
If you’re nosey and somewhat insecure about your garden, like me, you can view other people’s gardens in the Garden Plans Gallery. This section of the program features garden plans from users around the world who opt to share their locations and gardens. Here’s one from a nice Okie from Muskogee:
It seriously took me hours for me to plot my garden in the garden planner, and it ain’t got no frills. I took a lot of time trying to make sure I got at least a few plants from every one of the seed packages I bought, and then there was a lot of coordination with companion planting, etc. I wish my garden plan looked prettier, but it just doesn’t. I just… don’t have that kind of energy.
But here are a couple of really, truly beautiful looking vegetable garden layouts to inspire you: