We provide about 65% of our own food, all of it in the form of fruits and vegetables. We don’t raise any animals. So from a vegetable standpoint, we provide well over 90% of what we eat in a year. When I’m teaching classes or just generally talking with people a common question is, “how much do I plant to feed my family?” The answer, of course, varies on so many factors, but let’s break that down:
First, there are all kinds of charts and ideas online and in some of my favorite gardening books. The thing about those charts is that they tend to be generic and not always suited for your family’s particular tastes, climate, space, and desires. When thinking about how much to plant, answer these questions and use those answers as a guide to planning the garden.
How Much Space is Available?
I keep very a large garden close to 7,000 square feet. Obviously, not everyone has that kind of space or inclination. When planning your garden, space needs to be one of the first concerns. You may not have room to grow long vines of winter squash, even vertically so that might be something that has to be scratched from the list. Make maximum use of space by succession planting things like radishes and greens whenever possible. Also grow plants that are good rapid producers – many beans will produce quickly and often with regular picking.
How Long is the Growing Season?
If you live in zone 4b like I do, you’re not going to be able to grow peanuts. You will, however; be able to grow lots of greens and root vegetables and other things that ripen in about 90 days. While you can push the season with covers and cold frames, it’s best not to do that on a huge basis. Save the season extending for a few choice or prized things and plant the rest of your garden in what you can reasonably expect to grow between frosts.
Remember to keep track of varieties grown, days to harvest, and yield in a gardening notebook. These notes are invaluable as the garden is planned each year.
What Do You Eat?
There’s no point in planting a hundred foot row of asparagus if no one likes to actually eat asparagus. Plant only the fruits and vegetables that will actually be eaten. It’s good to try new things so plant small experimental rows of different vegetables and varieties each year. If it’s successful and tasty increase it in forthcoming years.
Is it Good Preserved?
When you keep a large garden, it’s good to keep an eye on things that will be eaten fresh versus things that are good preserved. For instance, peas are much better fresh in my opinion, but beans are just fine canned for the winter. That’s generally how we use what we grow. It’s impossible for us to eat everything as it comes ripe without preserving some of it. We decide what to eat fresh or preserve based on that fruit or vegetables particular tendencies. Some examples:
- Rutabagas don’t do well canned or frozen. We don’t have a good root cellar so Rutabagas get eaten fresh while beets are tasty canned.
- Zucchini is much better fresh but can be frozen or dehydrated with delicious results (and it grows well most everywhere).
- Winter squash is a good keeper even in an unheated guest room and so it can be kept well with minimum work for a long time.
These are of course my favorite tips but I have no doubt I could have missed something, so when you’re planning your garden, how do you decide how much to plant?
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