In this 224th Episode of the Small Scale Life Podcast, I discuss vegetable garden layout design and planning.  I have always said that there are three elements for successfully growing plants: light, water and nutrients. It is time to take these three elements from theory to reality as I show you how these three elements impacted my new vegetable garden layout here at The Landing.  

My hope is that you can implement some of these ideas and concepts in your own garden, whether it is a brand new garden or one that has been around for a while.

Now, there is a lot to do before I begin planting in my new garden.  I have a lot more prep work on the future garden area including adding my new Wicking Bed Gardens and Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow Systems, placing mulch and erecting a fencing and gates. I provide a status report of the Garden Build Project at the end of the article.


Vegetable Garden Layout Element #1: Light

Vegetable Garden Layout Planning and Design; Small Scale Garden, Gardening; Garden Design

Unless you are growing mushrooms, you need to have light to grow plants in your garden (inside or outside).  I grow a lot of tomatoes and peppers (for my award-winning salsa), and I need more than seven hours of sunlight to grow tomatoes and peppers.

I evaluated different areas on this property for the garden.  I watched how the sun crossed over the property and where the shade from the house and from several big maple trees and pine trees landed.

It was tricky, but I believe I found the optimal place for the garden after observing this property for almost a year.  The garden is located in the northeast quadrant of the lot.  The garden will essentially be on the shores of the Willow River, and the sun will shine unobstructed on the garden for most of the day, particularly in the morning where the sun isn’t quite as intense.

When the sun and the heat are the highest, the sun will be behind trees that line the western edge of our lot. The garden will get adequate sunlight and get some relief in the late afternoon heat.  I am pretty excited about that!

When we lived in Illinois, I was always a little jealous of my neighbors square foot garden beds.  While my beds were completely exposed to the summer sun and heat all day long, my neighbor got some relief from the afternoon sun.  His plants always looked less stressed, and he watered less than me. It seemed like I was ALWAYS watering my square foot garden beds (and praying to the gods that the plants would have enough water and produce fruit for us).

Fortunately, I have a property that will give plants some relief from the hot summer sun and the wicking beds and hybrid rain gutter grow systems will help with providing water to plants whenever they need it.  I won’t have to water everyday.

Vegetable Garden Layout Element #2: Water

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At Driftless Oaks Farm, getting water to the various flower gardens and vegetable garden was very difficult. The farmhouse did not have a faucet to connect a hose, and while we were supposed to have two working hydrants (one in the yard and one in the white shed), only the hydrant in the yard worked.  We had to drag hoses everywhere if we wanted to water flower and vegetable gardens.  Fortunately we had a loamy-clay soil that retained water.

Here at The Landing, we have sandy soil.  That means that the soil drains well, and plants and flowers in our gardens will need to be watered more than at Driftless Oaks Farm.

We also have a newer house with modern fixtures.  This house was built in 2003, and when the previous owners built this house, they installed two hose bibs.  There is one near the front side of the house (west side of the house) and one in the back of the house (in the center of the back of the house).  The hose bib in the back of the house is operated by a shut off valve in the utility room of the house.

The backyard hose bib will get a good workout with the new garden, shoreline restoration, hot tub and cold plunge tank.  I will be running the hose to the garden area to fill up the Wicking Beds and the Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow Systems, and fortunately filling those systems is once every two weeks or so, depending on the weather.  At the same time, I use that hose to fill the hot tub and the cold plunge tank for routine maintenance.

The real task will be watering wildflowers and perennial plants along the shoreline.  We are removing invasive species such as thistle, common vetch, and creeping Charlie while managing/reducing decorative grass and stinging nettle.  Once these invasive species are under control I am going to be busy planting wildflowers and other plants that we can use here at the Landing.  I foresee that this backyard bib and hose are going to be well used this summer and fall!

While some people in Wisconsin use the water in lakes and ponds to water their gardens and yards, we will not be doing that.  Pumps can be finicky, especially when you need to drain them and store them in our harsh winters.  For some reason, pumps hate me, and the feeling is mutual.  Besides, I have a feeling that the DNR might say a thing or two about a pump drawing water from the Willow River.  Granted, it wouldn’t be much in the grand scheme of things, but the DNR is the DNR.

Vegetable Garden Layout Element #3: Nutrients 

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No matter how good your light and water are, plants still need food just like we do to grow.  Unfortunately, a lot of our native soils here in the United States are nutrient poor, hence the wide use of fertilizers on lawns, planters, gardens and agricultural fields.

The good thing about Wicking Beds and Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow Systems is that I will be manufacturing the soil for these systems.  As a seeker, I have looked into the following soil mixes for my gardens:

I will be combining compost, vermiculite and peat moss for the base soil.  My mix tends to be more like Mel’s Mix from Square Foot Gardening.  It is simple and straightforward, and best of all, it works.  This admission would probably get me banned from the Rain Gutter Grow Systems Facebook Page, but then again, sometimes you have to break from the rules and the dogma and do what works for you. I HAVE been banned from garden groups on Facebook before because I am not, and never will be, afraid to try something new or modify something. That’s just who I am…but I digress.

One deviation I have from Mel’s Mix as presented in the Square Foot Gardening Book is that I do not use 5 different types of compost. That is not necessary, especially if you use worm castings, epsom salts, worm casting tea, comfrey tea and/or used coffee grounds to supplement the nutrients in your soil.

We will be experimenting with worm castings, various teas and natural supplements this year in my garden.  More on that in future posts and videos here at Small Scale Life, but you can see how I used coffee grounds to fertilize my plants (and they had GREAT production)!

In 2024, I have plans to improve my “tea” production using molasses and air. More on that soon!

Small Scale Garden Progress to Date

Vegetable Garden Layout Planning and Design; Small Scale Garden, Gardening; Garden Design

At the time of this article and episode of the Small Scale Life Podcast, the Small Scale Garden is not ready for prime time. I have made a lot of progress, but I am not ready to plant my precious seedlings yet.

This month, I was pretty busy on the garden PLUS other landscaping projects here at The Landing.  Here are the tasks completed on the Small Scale Garden to date:

  • Removed the cardboard and tarps
  • Recut the edges of the garden with a sod cutter and removed the sod
  • Installed a plastic border around the perimeter of the garden
  • Installed landscape fabric in the whole garden area
  • Moved and reconfigured the split rail fence to accommodate the new garden

That was a lot of work, but there are some big steps left to do before we get to planting the seedlings.

Next Steps

Looking ahead, here are the tasks I need to complete (perhaps not in this order):

  • Dig 13 holes for the fence posts for the garden. We have a lot of deer that come through our yard at night, and I want to protect the garden from these lovely, but hungry beasts.
  • String the fence around the perimeter of the garden.
  • Build two gates for the Small Scale Garden.
  • Create a level surface for the Wicking Beds. The garden is on a hill, so I will need to have a level surface for the Wicking Beds (watering troughs).
  • Set up the Rain Gutter Grow Systems.
  • Add soil to all the planters.
  • Plant the seedlings in the garden.
  • Set up the birdbath and other perennial plants around the garden.
  • Mulch everything!

The list might not be in order, but that doesn’t matter too much.  It all has to get done, and at the end of the day, there is a lot to do.  I am going to be focused on getting this garden up and running in late May and early June 2024.


Documenting the Vegetable Garden Layout Design and Build

I have a couple of videos on the Small Scale Life YouTube Channel where I discuss the new garden space.  I created a new Playlist called “Small Scale Garden Design and Build,” and that is where the videos for this project will go.

Here are the videos in that Playlist to date.

Small Scale Seedling Sale

Vegetable Garden Layout Planning and Design; Small Scale Garden, Gardening; Garden Design

If you are behind and procrastinating on starting your garden OR the cost of plants at the big box store has been too much for you, we need to talk.

For those of you in the Twin Cities or Western Wisconsin, the Small Scale Seedling Sale is on!

I am selling extra seedlings this spring.  I have extra tomato and pepper seedlings for you to purchase for $2 a seedling.  

Since I started the seedlings in March, they are a little smaller, but the price is good compared to the $5 per seedling at the big box stores or at a greenhouse.  I am using these seedlings in my own garden this season, so you can be assured that if I am using them, I have confidence in these plants.  Give them time; they will produce.

These seedlings were grown in coir and worm castings or potting mix and worm castings.  They are grown from heirloom seed suppliers like Seed Savers Exchange (they are my favorite seed supplier).  Varieties include the following:


  • Beefsteak
  • San Marzano
  • Amish Paste
  • Opalka Roma
  • Wisconsin Chief
  • Yellow Pear
  • Yellow
  • Black Cherry
  • Large Red Cherry


  • Jalapeno
  • Beaver Dam
  • Poblano
  • Chilli
  • Sweet Red
  • Sweet Orange

If you are interested in some, let me know at


In Closing….

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As we close this episode of the Small Scale Life Podcast, remember to keep going.  It might seem like an impossible thing to achieve your goals (like starting a small business,  losing stubborn weight, tackling your debt or becoming that person you always wanted to become), but it is achievable.  

You can do it!  

You need to put one step in front of the other, but you have to begin that journey by making a decision and taking that step forward.  

So….Start. Take that step. You can do it!  We are here to help.

This is Tom from the Small Scale Life Podcast reminding you to learn, do, grow and be a little better everyday.  We’ll be back real soon; take care, everybody!

Listen to this Episode!

Vegetable Garden Layout Planning and Design; Small Scale Garden, Gardening; Garden Design

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Special Thanks

For Small Scale Life Podcasts, I would like to thank Sean at Osi and the Jupiter for the intro song "Harvest."  Sean wrote this specifically for us, and I really enjoy all of his work.  You can find more Osi and the Jupiter at their Bandcamp site:

I would also like to thank Austin Quinn at Vlog Vibes for the intro and outro music. For more information abut Austin and Vlog Vibes, please see the Vlog Vibes YouTube Channel:



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