Planting without a plan is a mistake. The crops you plant earliest like lettuce, potatoes and peas get the prime locations and the later-planted peppers and tomatoes, which actually need more sun, end up shaded for a couple of hours a day by a neighbor’s pine trees.

It is a mistake I have made many years. I have to avoid it this year because our strawberry bed is getting less productive and needs to be replaced. That means that for two years we will have rows of both the strawberries of the future and the strawberries of the past – garden space will be at a premium.

The planning should begin now, when you are deciding what seeds to buy. Unless you have plans to donate lots of produce to a food pantry, don’t plant more than you can eat.

My wife Nancy and I have decided we want about four meals of green beans each summer. We like beans – mostly the long, skinny French ones – but they are not our favorite food. So we want a few plants that will produce over a long time. Last year we grew Castandel, from Renee’s, which we liked, but this year we are trying Maxibel, and they should produce enough beans in a small space.

We need a lot of room for peas, a family favorite. We plant snap peas, early peas and late peas, so that will be three or four rows.

We make the most of our space by putting our cucumber and squash seedlings in among the peas. They get full sun once the peas have gone by. This method works better now that the grandchildren are old enough to avoid stepping on the seedlings while picking the peas.


We need room for peppers and tomatoes, but we can cut down on the peppers. We still have plenty cut up in the freezer from last summer, so we need only enough for grilling and salads. I’ll plant just bell-shaped peppers, skipping banana-shaped ones, and just four types of tomato, Sun Gold, Sweet Million and both an early and a late slicing variety. That will save space.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth.

I know we can buy potatoes cheaply, but we love Red Thumb, which aren’t widely available. I’ll grow others as well. The real reason – and I’ve never said this aloud or in print before – is that I love the treasure hunt of discovering them underground while digging every fall.

We’ll also need a full row of onions, leeks and shallots.

I’ll grow lettuce, carrots and beets – giving extra room to carrots because we haven’t had enough the past few years. None of those take a lot of room, and the later plantings can go in where something else has been pulled out. These I plant in blocks rather than rows.

We have to find room for flowers, too – definitely dahlias, gladioli and zinnias. Though I know the poppies and baby’s breath will self-seed, I pretend they aren’t there in my plan.

This is how you decide which seeds to buy. For you and your family, your list of crops will be different, but you can figure out if you need more or less of any of them.


If you remember where you planted things last year, don’t plant the same things in the same spots this year. Avoiding that is easy if you have raised beds or separate plots, tougher if you have one plot. And it’s why you should save each year’s plot plan.

To make planning easier, keep different types of crops together. The five common types are legumes (beans and peas), cucurbits (squash and cucumbers), alliums (onions and leeks), solanaceae (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes), brassica (cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc.) Beets and carrots aren’t in groups, but they can go almost anywhere in the garden.

Legumes are nitrogen-fixing and solanaceae are heavy feeders, so it makes sense to put legumes where the potatoes were last year. Brassicas attract lots of disease and insects (which is part of the reason we don’t grow them), so those should be moved as far away from last year’s crop as possible. I do wonder – and I’ve never gotten a good answer – how much good rotating crops really does if you have just a 10-by-16-foot garden, which is the size commonly recommended for beginning home gardeners.

If you use rows, the literature says you should place them north-south, to take better advantage of light. I didn’t know that decades ago and have the raspberry, asparagus and strawberry rows going east-west. A lot of what we do now is square-foot gardening – between the permanent rows – in four-by-eight-foot rectangles. That method makes better use of space.

If you grow corn, pole beans or other trellised crops, put those at the north end of the garden so they don’t block sun to other plants.

That’s my advice to you. I am now going to put pencil to paper and follow it myself.

TOM ATWELL is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]

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