Jessica and I normally do our permaculture design plans the old fashioned way, on paper, but this year I wanted to try software based planning (along with paper.) I ran across an online garden planner called Smart Gardener which seemed to have many of the features I wanted to see in a garden planner.
I don’t intend for this to be a comprehensive review of the program since I’ve only been using it for about a month, perhaps a more detailed review will come next fall after I see how our gardens did. I mostly just want to point out some of the features I like, and my initial impressions about it. They offer the basic planner for free, and then have paid add-on’s such as: Smart Shapes, Shade, Succession Planting, Harvest Calculator, Vertical Vegetables, Berries, Smart Squares, and Notes & Calendars. I paid for most of the add-on’s so some of what I mention here aren’t available in the basic free version.
As you can see from the image above, the planner allows to you specify your total yard size, draw your garden beds, and add in other objects like your house, garage, bushes, trees, etc. It also allows you to mark areas of partial shade (with a paid add-on.) I believe the shade add-on basically just allows you to mark where you have shade, and then the software can offer suggestions on which plants are shade tolerant.
What drew me to this online garden planner is that it offers a harvest calculator, succession planting, and it calculates the available garden space and tells you how much planting space you have left as you plant things. During the setup for your garden plan, you can even enter the number of adults and children you wish to feed.
Planting space is calculated by the plants in your plant list, and not the little icons you drag & drop on your layout. That confused me at first since I assume it was calculating when you dropped a plant icon on the garden bed. In the image above you can see I’m using the Smart Squares add-on and planting my Arugula more tightly per square foot. You adjust the number of plants you want, which then adjusts the number of square feet required. This is where the planted space is calculated. Pretty easy once you get the hang of it.
In the image above for Arugula, you’ll also notice that there is basic planting calendar which shows when to seed, when to succession plant (with the paid add-on), and approximate harvest dates. This info is based on your location and frost date info when you set up your plan.
This screenshot shows the Journal section where you can click on a plant in your list and get a good deal of information from the various tabs. You can also see the additional dates for seeding later in the season for fall and winter harvest. I haven’t really looked into this part enough, but it is a nice option since we grow in a low tunnel in the fall and winter.
Since I bought the Harvest Calculator add-on, that shows up in my tabs. The add-on offers info on: ripening, when & how to harvest, suggested plants per person, approximate yields per plant, and some basic nutrition info.
In the notes section of the journal you can enter your harvest information, and if you sell at market you can add your market price to keep track of the value of your crops. This was another reason I chose this planner, and look forward to using it to track our harvests this coming season.
So far I like what I see with this planner. It has most, if not all the functions I would want, and since I’m a more visual person I like the garden design function. I believe it has size limitations, so it may not be viable to use on for a working farm, but it could work for a small market gardener. It is also pretty easy to use, although I did need to ask support a question or two, and check the forums for other answers.
Since I mentioned using this as part of our permaculture design tools, while I think this could be a tool that permaculture designers could use, it is not permaculture specific but could be a helpful tool for parts of the planning.
More on this after growing season begins!