Planning an Efficient Garden

I am a master garden planner. I have sketch books, graph pads, notebooks, lists, calendars and homemade schematics of all kinds. When your garden is small, or your season short, planning is everything.

Oh, wait. No, there’s one more mildly critical factor.


I don’t think I have ever followed a single one of my 10+ years of garden plans. I mean, I sort of follow them. I start out good, with rows of pots germinating just the prescribed number of seeds. But then messy, messy life gets in the way, and pretty soon my garden beds are a jumble of unmarked varieties, empty spaces filled with whatever seed I had on me at the time. Nevertheless, my gardens still manage to be pretty productive, if only because I just change my diet to suit the harvest.

Everyone gardens for a different reason. Some people just want the opportunity to see plants growing. I can dig that, I do adore on some primal level the sheer visuals of gardening. Some people want to relax with a trowel at the end of their office day. That’s cool, I appreciate dirt as much as the next earthbound heathen. But for me, nothing trumps filling my kitchen and dinner table with food. I want to grow as much poundage, or at least nutritional value, as possible.

Our first two years here in New Orleans I cut myself some slack. In such a radically new climate (coming from Alaska) I figured successfully growing anything would be good. And I wanted to indulge the opportunity to grow things I can’t back home. Melons, squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant! How truly thrilling for a freak like me. I took my focus off of efficiency and just played. It was good, it was fun (though certainly depressing in no small measure to try to grow anything here in the bug infested swamp). I dabbled, and I don’t regret it.

Now that our last long growing season is approaching (summer is the dead season here– fall, winter and spring are the growing seasons) I feel a return to my more classic gardening moral. Production. For our third winter, I want to be kicking ass with my garden.

I know that for the majority of my readers, talking about garden planning now is irrelevant, possibly rude. But plenty of you live south of the equator (a surprising number! Are there a disproportionate number of Aussies and New Zealanders on blogs in general, or is it the subject matter? And if so, how do I sign up to emigrate?) so you might be right about where I’m at, facing “spring” and the soon-to-be crush of planting.

There’s a weird alchemy about garden planning. By necessity it occurs ahead of the plantable season. Back in Alaska, garden planning happened in February or March, when the world was still hilarious inhospitable looking. Here in the sultry south, after poking around the wilty garden beds in late August under the hot iron of our sun, coming back inside to plan out the planting of peas and cabbage sounds absurd. You have to have faith that the time will come, that the world will be transformed and become genial to your little green starts.

You also have to have some concrete information about when exactly one could reasonably expect that transformation to occur. Of course every year is different, blah, blah, blah. But when we moved here, and the weather system and seasons were an enormous blank slate in my head, I realized just how important regional knowledge is. I had to base my garden plans on a calendar put out by the Extension Service for all of Louisiana, which is of course, much too general. Fortunately I had made a very savvy gardening friend here before we even moved (that’s how I roll, baby). He was the director for the community gardens, helped secure me a space, and even delivered a stack of scavenged materials for me to build my bed with. Yea for him, my guardian garden angel!

Through his expertise and vague recommendations (true experts will always give you vague recommendations), the Extension Service’s dates, and my little experience here, I put together this crudely detailed calendar:

I considered re-writing my calendar more legibly (and in pen) for you, but that’s just not my style. Also, I don’t have that kind of time. Anyway, this is not for you to print out and use, this is just to demonstrate a useful regional gardening calendar. The crops are listed on the left, and the months up top. The big dots are planting dates, the brown lines are the time each crop spends in the dirt, and the green are harvest windows. Note, this is an extreme guessing game! But, you gotta start somewhere.

This calendar is especially useful in a climate like this, with a 9-12 month growing season (depending on how hard you want to fight in the summer). Planning gets very complicated with ‘winter’ and ‘summer’ crops overlapping twice/year, and endless succession plantings twisting your brain up in knots. With the calendar, I can just look down each column and see what needs to be planted in any given week. This is a general calendar, I won’t be planting everything on it, but I can make a detailed schedule for each particular season and proceed from there.

And this year, this year! I swear I am going to follow that planting schedule. I will not plant all 6 cabbages at once just because I have the seeds in my hand. I will not spread 4 square feet of arugula. I will not plant once and then forget all about my calendar. I will practice restraint, organization, timeliness, perfection!

And then maybe the weather/pest/disease gods will look down on me with favor and not take out half my garden.

May my sowing be devout, may my harvest be bountiful.



9 thoughts on “Planning an Efficient Garden

  1. You’re not going to follow that planting schedule. Ok, maybe you are. But really, you probably aren’t. Because as you mentioned we never do, not by the end.

    Like you I start off Little Miss Organized but now – with garden fatigue starting to pull me down and an increasing hatred for zucchini growing in my heart and an apparent butternut squash crop failure staring me in the face whenever I walk outside – well, I just can’t work that hard anymore. I’ll just shove the latest round of greens – hardy frisee and arugula and stuff – where ever I can and call it good. Let’s be honest: half of them won’t get out of the pot because I’m just tired at this point. Thankfully, I know this rhythm and I know my late January I’ll be all rosy cheeked and full of enthusiasm again and I’ll make yet another plan. Which, like you, I will absolutely follow 100%.

    Until I don’t.

  2. or you can say to each of the grandkids – here’s your 10×10 – plant whatever you want……
    Gotta say, it was interesting!

  3. Oh my, a 9-12 month growing season??!! No wonder you get garden fatigue. I mean I get tired here with constant harvesting, weeding, canning etc every night, but its all of 3-4 months and the rest of the time is enjoy the fruits and plan for next year. The season has that wind down feeling already with nights in 50s and days now 70s only. Trees have started changing color.

  4. Beans? Peppers??? TOMATOES?!?
    You. Are. Killing me…
    Wow. Enjoy it while it lasts, eh? It’ll be one hell of an adjustment, coming back to Alaska, I bet.
    I hope you’re growing some of those amazing heirloom tomatoes, that are supposed to taste heavenly- ALL of which seem to require a much longer season than we Alaskans can do anything more than dream of.

    1. don’t worry. 12 heirloom tomato plants later, i still have yet to taste a GDMF ripe one! it all sounds so appealing, until literally half of your garden is dead and dying from unknown scourges…. i almost look forward to gardening in alaska again, where things grow very slow, but at least they more or less make it to the table!

  5. This warm season, I don’t have a planting plan or schedule, not compared to other years anyway. I am just going by instinct!! I am going by what grew well, what we ate well, what preserves well & less of the throw-6-million-varieties in, like I grew last year. We’ll see how that turns out for me…

  6. My intentions are always so good. I decide I’m going to have baskets of tomatoes, salad every day, potatoes to last me through the year and then I beat myself up when it doesn’t happen so I’m cutting myself some gardening slack and just working little by little this season (which, yes, it is starting – the grass is starting to grow and I’m going to have to take off the feather duvet). And come winter I WILL mulch my unused beds. I will, will, will. And then I won’t have to deal with the deeply rooted, disgustingly healthy winter weeds, which is what I’m staring at now!

  7. Rhonda, at down-to-earth mentioned that her readers are about half Australian/half USA too. And you can spot it in the comments of the various blogs I follow. What is the connection? I feel it too, but can’t put my finger on why. I thought maybe it’s because we get to look at their gorgeous garden shots when there is snow or sleet outside our windows. Maybe that’s part of it, but there’s something else. I just haven’t pinned it down.

    Do others feel it too? Why do you think we have that tie? Puzzling.

    Except for being far from family, I imagine I could be just as happy in Australia as here.


    brenda from arkansas

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