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7 Steps to Market Garden Design Success

Lets look into the steps required for designing your very own vegetable garden! Design is the most important aspect of Market Garden efficiency, by implementing a design that incorporates our onsite parameters while flowing with our work areas, work style and products we ensure an operation that fits our needs. By the end this design will be what you follow to turn your yard from grass to greens, my advice is to spend as much time on this document as you can afford. You essentially want it to be so detailed you can walk around with marking pegs and a measuring tape and put everything on that paper straight onto your production site.

7 steps to design success:

  1. Look up, look down, look round and round and note everything
  2. Draw up a map stating all fixed and variable elements using the notes above
  3. Simplify your design
  4. Decide which crops to grow for the season
  5. Put the crops in their paper beds
  6. Create a materials list
  7. Create a running task/priorities list

1) Look up, look down, look round and round and note everything.

Walk the entirety of your yard during as many periods of the day as you can. Take notes on sun tracking, shading, water availability, water flow, land contours, wet/dry spots, weeds, wind direction and fixed elements. For Nature Cycle Market Gardens initial site pre-checks we made up a checklist of all the different elements and parameters that needed to be identified. This can be as simple as 'full sun from 7am-4pm, shade from the west from 4pm due to neighbors gum, town water available to growing area, land slopes gently to the north at ~5 degrees, clover and cobbler peg weeds along fence line, dominant winds from the west, site shed in far eastern corner'. Having a checklist is vital if you aren't living onsite during the planning phase, it will simplify the identification process and allow you to focus on the parameters on the list. Your checklist should also include an aerial overview of the site, history of the land, soil pH, soil compaction, soils analysis/identification and growing area volume quantification. Remember, the more initial information you have on hand the easier it is to justify decisions that need to be made later!

As an example here is the very first section off the Nature Cycle Market Garden backyard plan:

Plot 1 Bed Plan

  • Rows running East – West, Row 1 to the South, Row 18 to the North
  • Rows 1-6 are affected by the west fence/tree line shadow, the garden shed causing the loss of a bed in each row and a large tree in the back west corner (shadow=~3.8m from the fence line).

2) Draw up a map stating all fixed and variable elements using the notes from above

This will give you ideas for placement of needed fixed items (outdoor taps, shade house, irrigation pump, water tank, windbreaks etc) and allow for pretty immediate identification of suitable and unsuitable vegetable growing areas. Using the crop notes you will be able to begin a layout for their position within the field. We started the Nature Cycle Market Garden by hand drawing on A3 paper using the onsite observations cross-referenced with an aerial site overview to create a standardized layout for the growing area. It became quite apparent that the backyard be segmented into 3 plots. An equilateral rectangle, segmented into longer season crop beds and an orchard, at the back and a smaller square close to the house for intensive vegetable production. We also wanted our beds to be placed on contour with the land, run East-West and have the footpaths on a 2% camber towards the eastern side of the house were a permanent swale was already placed.

3) Simplify your design

Essentially what you want to do here is place correlating elements together to ensure an efficient and ergonomic workspace. For instance, locate your garden beds near a water source, place your tool shed centralized around the main working area, place high maintenance crops close to the house, place crops that require shade in the shade etc. It becomes worthwhile to consistently review this design, as you begin to grow you don't want to move a concrete foundation or permanent shed due to inconvenient placement. Setting up an easy to replicate and maintain pattern pays dividends during growing as it ensures seeding, amending, harvesting and maintenance can be kept quantifiable and ergonomic. Using the limits of your body in conjunction with your ideals is an easy place to start. Write it down too, do a little bit of math and justify what you quantify.

For instance, my height is 177cm, my reach is ~1m and my foot size is ~25cm. My design criteria is:

  • Ergonomic design to ensure longevity
  • Maximize my production areas
  • Be able to access all areas with a wheelbarrow
  • Comfortably harvest my crops

With these parameters in front of you go out into the growing area and put some strings on the ground to represent an access footpath and a growing bed, try a few different design options by standing in the 'footpath' and pretending to harvest from the 'bed'. If you overstretch to reach the far side of the bed or are too cramped in the footpath, relay the strings. Eventually you will come to a design that works in conjunction with your body. Working in conjunction with your body is vital for Market Gardening business success, you are your biggest asset! We are all slightly different with various strengths and weaknesses so it makes sense to run your business aligned with your strengths while allowing it to round out your weaknesses. The design pattern we came to at Nature Cycle Market Garden is rectangular block beds 75cm wide, running the distance of the plot with 45cm wide pathways adjacent to each bed.

4) Decide which crops you will grow for the season

Crop and cultivar selection is vitally important to the simplification of the design and placement of the crops. Our crops are rated against specific criteria and 'scored' based off their performance. Some of the criteria ae; planting density, plant coverage, expected yield, favorability, consumer preference, market competition. You will most likely have an idea of crop selection and preferences before the research phase even begins, if not though don't stress, take some time to reflect and visualize what you want to see on your dinner plate. Let yourself become immersed in the feeling of self control and self sufficiency. This can be one of the most exciting periods of the start-up phase! If you aren't the biggest vegetable consumer but you thoroughly enjoy a home-made pumpkin pie or sauerkraut, than select crops that you can utilize in those condiments like Butternut Pumpkin or Wombok Cabbage. Limiting your crop selection to produce that you know how to utilize is very handy during periods of excess. Waste is a big NO, NO in the Nature Cycle Market Garden, so limiting how much waste is able to be generated is one of the easiest ways to increase onsite sustainability measures. By growing a crop that you can later preserve should its sales diminish, you are able to enjoy things like beetroot sauerkraut as a condiment on salad or you can give a few bottles to the people you appreciate as a way of showing gratitude while keeping the Market Garden waste near neutral.


5) Put the crops in their paper beds

Crop placement should be judged by their relationship with the outside elements and each other. When first starting out use a process we will 'bed elimination' to set the correct crop into its most favorable onsite position, increasing the chance of its success. Look at your map, look at the preferred crop parameters from your spreadsheets and cross out the areas you are unable to grow a certain crop. In the Nature Cycle Market Garden when choosing placement for an herb bed for instance; a full day of sun in plant terms is 6 hours, in Ipswich we get 14 hour days of harsh sunlight so we want to focus most of our herbs in dappled or brightly shaded areas to avoid sunburn and excessive evapo-transpiration. To minimize startup costs this could be under the tree line, the eastern side of a hedge or a shade clothe along the western fence. Herbs are high maintenance until mature, they need regular watering so placing them close to a reliable tap is necessary and to ensure a decent product they need to be paid close attention so placing them close to the house becomes apparent.

6) Create a materials list

Justify the materials by quantifying the costs associated with the design vs. the amount of equity that will be received over time. So, investment cost for all the Market Garden materials may be around $50,000, however the Market Gardens income expectation for the season may only be $5000. If your are only expecting $5000 for the season it would be quite detrimental to the business to spend $50,000 buying all the materials at once. It will become an immediate stressful battle to recuperate that equity, keep a house running with food on the table and meet the business needs while growing the business. After the season your ideals or views may have changed and you may not want to continue growing those crops or even be in the industry, now you are $45,000 in deficit (+ interest if you had to take out a loan) and also have to figure out storage solutions for the equipment or sell it all for a significant loss.

7) Create a running task/priorities list

This will allow you to focus on what is vitally important to getting seeds in the ground and begin self-sufficient living/making money. This will be incredibly important to fast tracking the project. During the set-up phase it is easy to be distracted by all the possibilities and opportunities, wanting to undertake new projects as they come to mind. However, allowing these practices to continue uses up a great deal of time and energy when the focus needs to be on completing tasks that will fast track the business to making an income. Once an income is being generated and the business is validated through customers, then work on the tasks that make the growing area aesthetically beautiful and formal. When Nature Cycle Market Garden began it was a typical backyard covered in grass with deficient soils that had been placed during the estate construction. There was a lot of hard work to be completed and it often felt overwhelming just figuring out what tasks where the priority. So to make this process more fluid for a few full days my wife and I would write down every task we thought would be needed to get the Market Garden up and running, this became the master task list. The master task list was ordered as a running sheet, so the first tasks needed completion before the next tasks could be undertaken. For instance, there would be little point fertilizing the growing area if the beds haven't been formed. This was very useful for understanding budget restraints, leveraging the budget to prioritize tasks, mitigating double handling and increasing the efficiency of subsequent tasks.


To learn more more about Market Gardening and projects to get your Market Garden up and running be sure to check out;

  1. The First 5 Step to Market Garden Success
  2. DIY Bokashi Bucket
  3. Building an Upcycled Compost Pit
  4. Composting in the Market Garden
  5. DIY Bug Hotel