In order to plan, organize and care for a garden and its output, I think a garden needs to have a purpose. Or, as I learned during a class given by the good folk from Troy Gardens, a vegetable garden needs to have a mission. There are several possibilities, to name a few:
to supplement grocery store vegetables from the garden. This type of garden could easily be accomplished in containers or a small plot of sunny dirt and include a few of the gardener's favorite vegetables; perhaps a Topsy Turvey tomato plant or patio cherry tomatoes, maybe a small herb garden in a planter.
small space gardening. If you have limited space, this will dictate what you can grow. Many vegetables grow well in containers, while others require dirt but are ok in small spaces. The one thing to remember here is that spreading plants such as squashes, pumpkins and cucumbers (unless you train them to climb) won't do well in small spaces.
to be the major vegetable source over the summer. This garden would not necessarily require huge volume but greater variety than a supplemental garden. It would most likely need to be in the dirt versus container gardening, and would require some planning and good timing so that food could be harvested in the spring, thoroughout the summer and into early fall. This kind of garden could include early, mid-summer and late-summer/autumn bearing vegetables, and could also include herbs such as basil, dill, chives, oregano, and other favorites, many of which will winter over if properly prepared in the autumn.
for preservation such as canning or freezing. This type of garden has production in mind, and will likely have lots of a few vegetables. Favorite canning vegetables are tomatoes (stewed, or as soups and sauces); pickled beans, candied beets, pickles. Good freezing candidates are broccoli, spinach, corn (if you are lucky enough to have the space), brussel sprouts, etc. There are books and online references for all of these preserving methods.
for long-term winter storage. Some vegetables do not need to be consumed or preserved immediately. These tend to be the later-arriving vegetables such as onions, garlic, potatoes and hard squashes. One woman from Troy Gardens told us that her goal is to grow so much garlic and onions so she has enough until the next season's crop is harvested. For her family of two, that meant several hundred garlic plants, and another several hundred onion plants. This is a great idea if you have lots of garden space, and somewhere to store the vegetables.
What's the mission of your garden? Please leave a comment, we'd all like to know what inspires you to get into your garden.