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diagram for a vegetable garden bed plan

Planning Your Vegetable Bed

Jude Jude
14/04/2022 · 10 minutes reading time

What the heck? You’ve watered your plants as instructed, you’ve painstakingly weeded and fertilised everything diligently, and yet your yields are so low that you can’t even feed the snails in your garden. We will show you how you can plan your vegetable garden to make sure it produces healthy plants and high yields. Get ready, massive bed-planning tips are incoming!!

Here’s what’s ahead:

The Most Important Principles for Planning Your Vegetable Bed

Nobody likes pests. And we all want big, juicy tomatoes. So when we talk about maximising our veggies and avoiding diseases or pests, people often point to pesticides and fertilisation as the solution. But what if there was a simpler, healthier, more natural and more sustainable solution?

Oh, we’ve got you covered.

You see, very few people consider that the best solution may lie in the way your vegetable bed is planned. If you take your time and pay attention to a few simple things, not only can you keep diseases and pests away, but you can also harvest more delicious plenty goodness with less work.

How can you do that? Crop rotation and mixed culture are two possible approaches to bed planning. The most important principles to consider both in mixed cultivation and in crop rotation are the nutrient requirements of plants and the plant families in the bed.

So let’s dig a little deeper…so to speak…

Crop Rotation or Mixed Culture?

Crop rotation and mixed cultivation are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary: It is advantageous to pay attention to both principles and to integrate them into your bed plan.

Bunter Gemüsegarten
The secret to a healthy, productive vegetable garden lies in its diversity: Crop rotation and Mixed Cultures two possible approaches to keeping your garden soil healthy and hospitable to your plants.

Just to avoid feeling overwhelmed at first, it is best to make a simple bed plan: Start with a rough division according to the nutrient requirement (e.g. 4 fields) and do not combine too many different plants in the mixed culture. Keep it simple and consider what your plants will need.

Creating Your Bed Plan

If you have already read our articles on good/bad neighbours and mixed cultures, you can get started straight-away with implementing these principles into your garden plan.

We'll show you how to proceed if you want to create your own bed plan for your future veggie friends.

1. First, create a true-to-scale drawing of your garden. You can work in the classic way with paper and pen, or you can create your plan with a graphics or calculation program, depending on your personal preferences. The latter has the advantage that you can easily make changes. If you are working with a drawing, you should make slips of paper with the individual types of vegetables and put them in your plan. As soon as you are satisfied, maybe after a bit of rearranging, you can stick the corresponding vegetable note in its place in the bed you’ve drawn.

Gemüse wird von Gärtnerin mit einer kleinen Hacke eingepflanzt
Before you start planting, we recommend mapping out a drawing of your area and planing the sowing.

2. Next, divide the area into about four beds of equal size. In smaller gardens, "beds" can also be four segments in a single bed. You shouldn't draw in the rows yet, because a zucchini plant takes up much more space than a carrot, for example.

3. Make a list of the plants you want to include. You can then insert these vegetables into your plan. You will also want to consider how much of each vegetable you will need. In the paper version, you can write notes that are about the same size as a “row” of the vegetables, to help you get a feel for the space required. At a scale of 1:20, a row of carrots gets a 2 cm wide label (distance in the bed approx. 40 cm), a row of courgettes a 5 cm wide label (distance in the bed approx. 1 m).

Verschiedenes Gemüse in einer Reihe auf hellgrünem Grund, Gartenwerkzeuge
So many vegetable options, so little space! It can be tough. We suggest that you concentrate on the types of vegetables that you really like and only grow as many of them as you actually need. This will free up space for other varieties.

4. Now sort your desired vegetables according to heavy-, moderate- and weak-feeders, as well as those that need green manure. Then subdivide the groups again according to plant families. Try and strike a balance between plant families and nutrient requirements. Make sure that you don't choose too many heavy-feeders, and be ready to erase a few of them if there are too many. Heavy-feeders need too many nutrients and quickly deplete the soil. Your list should contain about as many heavy-feeders as weak- and moderate-feeders.

Pro tip: If you don't want to fiddle around too much later, each plant family should only appear in one of the beds. For example, cruciferous plants only appear in the heavy-feeders bed.

5. In one of the four segments or beds, heavy-feeders should be grown in the first year, in the next, middle-feeders, in the third, weak-feeders, and finally, in the fourth you can grow plants that require green manure. Don't have green manure on your list? No problem, there are many plants that are great for this and will also help promote an ecosystem for the insects in your garden. Plants like phacelia, red clover and marigolds are great for this. According to the concept of four-field management, the heavy-feeders go where the green manure-feeders was the year prior, the moderate-feeders go to the former heavy-feeders’ bed, the weak-feeders go to the middle-feeders’ bed, and the green manure-feeders take up the remaining spot. Assign the plants from your list to one of the four fields based on their nutritional needs, and you’ve got a solid plan for mixed culture and crop rotation!

6. Perennial plants such as rhubarb or asparagus should be entered first in the plan and appear as an integral part of each of the four fields.

7. When arranging the rest of the vegetables in the bed, be sure not to plant vegetables from the same plant family in the same spot within the rotation cycle. This is because diseases and pests specialise in a plant family, and infect them more easily when they live in the same place year after year.

This break in cultivation is particularly important for cruciferous vegetables, as they are very susceptible to specialized pests. So be careful with green manure: rapeseed or mustard are also cruciferous plants and can transmit pests to your vegetables.

So let’s say in the first year you grow cauliflower in one row of your heavy-feeders’ bed. In the following year, this bed should become the bed for moderate-feeders. You must then no longer plant cruciferous vegetables in that row, because as a cruciferous vegetable itself, cauliflower has opened the door for diseases and pests that prey on other cruciferous veggies. For the former cauliflower row, use a vegetable from a different plant family. Do the same for all your beds, and you will avoid inter-generational problems with your plant-friends.

Now that may sound a bit intimidating, but here’s a tip to help simplify things: Just make sure that each plant family only appears in one bed in the plan as a whole. For example, if there are cruciferous plants in the heavy-feeder bed, no cruciferous plants are grown in the moderate-feeder bed, in the weak-feeder bed or as green manure. Restrict each plant family to just one bed, and your crop rotation plan will be a breeze.

Hochbeet in vier Felder unterteilt, im ersten Salatpflanzen, im zweiten Kohlpflanzen
You can also try out cultivation methods such as crop rotation and crop rotation in raised beds as well. In this picture, the raised bed was simply divided into four equal segments. If you have several raised beds, you can also divide them into high, medium and low consumption beds to help you maintain a healthy crop rotation for your plants.

Feel free to experiment a bit – in the end it's well worth the effort for a healthy garden and high yields!

8. The last important step when distributing your vegetables: Pay attention to "good neighbourliness" within the beds and, if possible, do not place representatives of a plant family next to each other. In our article on the topic "Good Neighbours and Bad Neighbours", you will find a list of favourable plant combinations that, for example, can promote growth or keep pests away. Many herbs, for example, distract pests from vegetable plants with their essential oils. Marigolds and calendula promote plant health. So put good neighbours next to each other, and you will have a happier, more peaceful garden community.

10. Finally! (Almost) all your desired vegetables have found a home in your bed. Only now should you consider open-pollinated seeds.

11. If you want, you can also make a note on the edge of your bed plan indicating which vegetables you wish to sow and when. This way, you always have an overview and can more easily keep track your work / play.

You can also add to and complete your bed plan during sowing and planting. Something will always come up in your garden – and that’s one of the things that makes it fun and exciting! For instance, maybe your neighbour gives you a box of seedlings for your birthday. It would be rude not to plant these guys, right? We agree! Being flexible and willing to alter course whilst keeping a healthy environment for your plantfriends will be a huge asset in your garden.

For more advanced gardeners:

If you are a bit of a seasoned veteran and really want to make optimal use of your bed space throughout the gardening year, you should make a note of when each type of vegetable is in the bed right from the start, and then map out your crop rotation throughout the season. Put the main crop in the rows first, for example tomatoes for the heavy feeders and lettuce for the moderate-feeders. Pre-culture is usually possible in spring, since the heat-loving plants only come into the bed in May. During this time you can grow radishes, for example. And even after the main crop has been harvested, a second crop is possible: perhaps spinach after tomatoes in the fall. After early carrots are harvested in June, you can also plant "large" crops for the winter, such as kale or chicory. The same applies here: Members of a plant family should not go in the same row within a growing season or over the four-year cycle.

You also have to pay attention to good neighbourliness and a healthy mixed culture here, but don't get too discouraged if you can’t fit all aspects of crop rotation and mixed culture into your bed at the same time. As hobby-gardeners, we are absolutely allowed to make compromises from time to time, rather than spending hours agonising over our bed plans.

If you would like some help, or maybe just some garden inspo, here is a sample bed plan to get you started:

Sample Bed Plan

The beds in our garden are rectangular, each 3 m long and 1.20 m wide. In our plan, a table row represents 10 cm wide rows. We have given some vegetables a little more space per row than others, and stuck to the distances provided for each vegetable as closely as possible. Of course, you can change the plan as you like or add one or the other row if you have a little more space. You can also exchange members of a plant family as you wish.

The plan shows our crop rotation over an entire growing season. In the next year, heavy-, moderate- and weak-eaters, as well as green manure-feeders, each move one bed over, and the crop rotation per bed remains the same season after season.

And to help you adapt the plan a little, we’ve also included a table with the vegetables for cultivation, including information about the nutritional requirements and the plant family. We have also created a list of sowing times for you, so that you always have an overview of the garden year.

So there you have it. Now get off your phone and into your garden!