Lately, I've been spending a lot of time trying to plan out my garden for this year. Now that I've gone from just a small patio to almost a third of an acre... there's a lot more to do!! I have to see which things will be permanent, and what will be just for this year. So far, I ordered some hazelnut trees and raspberry starts from http://www.willisorchards.com/, which we just planted yesterday. I also have some seeds and rhubarb starts coming from http://www.burpee.com/, and went a little crazy at the seed sale at Fred Meyer a couple of weeks ago. And... Seattle Tilth is having a seed start sale next Saturday! (http://www.seattletilth.org/) I love them, and I'm sure they'll have some great things; it starts at 11:00, so get there early!
When you're ready to start planning your garden, there are a few things you can do before you even go shopping. First, assess your area; does it get a lot of sun, or not very much. You can grow a lot of things without all-day-long sun, but you do need some to grow most vegetables. Tomatoes did fine on my patio, even though they probably only got about 4 hours of sun a day. To see how much sun you get without sitting around, staring at your yard all day, they have some new types of sun meters that you can just leave out, and they'll give you a pretty accurate readout. I just got one from Burpee today, so I'll let you know how it works. The best reason for doing this is so that you don't waste time and money on planting things in places that they won't grow very well.
Next. you can choose the things that you would like to grow. Do they make tall plants (like corn or peas/beans that need to climb?) or are they low to the ground (like lettuce)? You should plant the taller things in the "back" of the shorter ones, in the direction that they get the most sun- so that the taller ones don't shadow the shorter ones. Figure out which plants can be planted early, and which ones need to wait; you can either rotate them in the same space, after the first plant has died back, or start some things now and newer plants a few weeks later. Do some research about which plants you might like to sprout indoors (like things that have very long growing periods, like squash) or which ones might be better to buy as a plant, rather than a seed. I've decided after several years that tomatoes are just not really worth it to start from seed, unless it's a really specific variety that I want.
Finally, look at your area, and decide if things are going in pots or in the ground. The good thing about pots is that you can move them around to get more sun, but they can be pretty heavy. This year I'm working on some raised beds with all imported soil; the idea being that you keep out the weeds, have workable soil that you don't have to test, and can reuse for a long time. I got this idea from The Square Foot Garden people, and we'll see how it goes! (I'm not as hardcore about separating things into tiny squares as they are.)
It can be hard to figure out exactly when to plant things, especially if you have unpredictable weather like we do here. I've been working out a database to tell me when to plant things, and what to plant them with.. I'll have more details when it's done!
Up next, how to read a seed label!