One of the best tools I’ve come across since I became a serious gardener isn’t a shovel or a hoe—it’s an online tool called the Vegetable Garden Planner.
Some people love playing games like Farmville on Facebook wherein you layout a cool-looking “farm” digitally, but the Garden Planner is WAY better because it’s real, practical and still super fun. It allows you to enter the dimensions of your garden beds, and then you choose a crop (there are dozens in the system, including vegetables, fruits, herbs and cover crops) and add it to your plan. Click on the corner of the plant you just placed, and you can drag it to create a row or even cover the whole bed. When you do so, the Planner automatically calculates plant spacing.
I think the best thing about the Garden Planner is the way it helps you with planting dates. I’ve never really enjoyed the process of looking up my frost dates and then looking up the planting info for every crop and then counting backward to see when transplants and seeds needed to be planted indoors or outdoors. The process isn’t rocket science, but it does take quite a bit of time and research every growing season. When you use the Garden Planner, it creates a customized planting chart/calendar for you based on your exact ZIP code and the crops you’ve added to your plan. For instance, if you’ve added tomatoes to your plan, the chart will show you the window of time in which you can start your tomato seeds indoors and the window in which you can plant transplants out in your garden. The way I use this chart is this: If it’s the last week in February, I just skim down the whole February column and see what I need to do. Any planting windows that overlap that week mean an item for my to-do list. It’s so cool and easy!
Using the Garden Planner also helps with off-season blues. I always feel antsy all winter, longing for when I can get back outside to play in the dirt—but the Planner gives me something productive to do. It’s sort of like playing with a gardening puzzle and getting your layout just right. You can even get elaborate and draw in your shed, stepping stones, paths, etc. A bonus is that getting your garden plan drafted in winter means you have a handy shopping list from which to order your seeds (seed companies sometimes sell out of unique varieties, so the earlier you can order, the better).
Try the Vegetable Garden Planner and let me know what you think. (The links included in this post will take you to a page that details even more features of the Planner and tells you how to sign up.) Happy growing!