As I sit here looking at the seemingly absurd amount of plants I have sitting in starter pots around the house I begin to wonder, just how much do I need to plant for a year's worth of food?
When we moved to Colorado, self-sufficiency was always part of the plan. The first year we lived here, we lived with my mom and as spring came I insisted she teach me some basic gardening skills. But, I came to find out that she had been having many years of less than ideal crop production so I did what I do best, I dove into the research.
We had a copy of Storey's Basic Country Skills (not an affiliate link) and I began researching soil conditions and what we could do to improve things. I started a worm farm to manage composting as we waited for time to plant and we added lime, blood meal, coffee grounds, topsoil, peat moss, manure, and ground eggshells to the soil. In the end, we managed to get her soil back to being a nutrient-rich home for thriving plants, and together we managed the largest crop she had ever produced. And, from that point, I was hooked.
This is our first season of homesteading and will be my first year managing a garden without my skilled mother to oversee my every step. She is of course still available for questioning but since we don’t live with her anymore I’ll be on my own a bit more, so again with the research.
Determining What to Plant
A lot of variables go into deciding what you will grow. You’ll need to factor in each family member's food preferences, food storage options, as well as how and what will be supplemented from grocery stores or farmer's markets. Other considerations will include, your climate, weather and growing season, gardening skills, soil conditions, and your ability to control known garden pests.
Will My Family Eat This?
A good place to start is by determining if your family will happily eat what is being grown. Everybody has different tastes and food preferences. If you are growing something only you like, you won’t need to grow as much. A huge crop of cabbage doesn’t do you any good if no one but you will eat it. If you are growing something that the whole family likes and gets used regularly, you’ll need to grow a larger amount.
Will This Grow in My Area?
Some vegetables don’t grow well in certain climates or in certain types of soil. When considering your crop options, always know what zones they are best suited to. If you aren’t sure, each seed packet should have its zones listed and you can view the USDA Heartiness Zone Map for reference. Make sure that you have or can simulate the ideal growing conditions for your plants. For instance, if you want to grow celery, but live in a hot dry climate, you’ll need to create a cool moist growing area. With the use of greenhouses, indoor container gardening, and careful planning it is possible to grow most crops but it won’t happen by chance so do your research.
How Will My Family Consume This?
Another consideration is how you plan to utilize each plant. Will it be grown fresh and consumed through the season until gone? Will it be frozen, dehydrated, or freeze-dried for storage? Can it be canned and preserved for soups and stews through the winter? If it is a crop that won’t store well, you’ll need a smaller amount to get you through the season, but for crops like tomatoes, you can plant an abundance to be turned into sauces and canned for storage.
Do I Have The Space for This?
When garden planning, you need to think not only about your growing space but your storage space as well. Do you have enough space to store your harvest or will you need to create or arrange for extra space? Whether your food is canned, frozen, dehydrated, or put in cold storage, you need to make sure that you have enough space to store everything properly.
Planning Out Your Garden
If you are new to it, garden planning may seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. How exactly you plan your garden will depend on the size, your zone, growing conditions, and garden location. But, here are a few key best practices to head you in the right direction. Start by arranging your crops in a way that makes the most efficient use of space and light.
Group taller plants together in an area where they won’t shade shorter vegetable varieties. For instance corn, sunflowers and tomatoes can grow rather tall and will cast shade on smaller crops stunting their growth.
Plant vine crops near a fence or trellis and again make sure that your vines will not place other plants in shadow.
Group vegetables according to maturity rate, this makes it easier to replant after removing an early crop such as lettuce or radishes.
The truth is, planning a vegetable garden to perfection takes years of experience, but each season, as you gain more experience the process becomes simpler. I find it is best to sketch out my garden space and make a few copies to play around with until I get just the right configuration.
How Much to Plant for a Year's Worth of Food?
Again, there are variables here, but below is a rough estimate for some of the most common crops. Each year as you grow, keep track of what was planted, what you ran out of what you ended up with too much of. The key to success here is keeping notes and keeping in mind that some years you will use more of certain items than others.
Arugula - 4 to 5 plants per person
Asparagus - 5 to 10 plants per person
Beans - 4 to 8 plants per person
Beets - 20 to 30 plants per person
Broccoli - 2 to 4 plants per person
Brussels sprouts - 1 to 2 per person
Cabbage - 2 to 4 plants per person
Carrots - 25 to 35 plants per person
Cauliflower - 2 to 4 plants per person
Chard - 2 to 3 plants per person
Corn - 10 to 15 plants per person
Cucumber - 4 to 5 plants per person
Eggplant - 1 to 2 plants per person
Garlic - 15 to 20 plants per person
Kale - 3 to 5 plants per person
Kohlrabi - 4 to 8 plants per person
Leaf Lettuce - 4 to 6 plants per person
Melons - 1 to 2 plants per person
Onions - 12 to 20 sets per person
Parsnips - 5 to 10 plants per person
Pea (shelling) - 15 to 30 plants per person
Pea (snap/snow) - 3 to 5 plants per person
Pepper (sweet) - 3 to 5 plants per person
Pepper (hot) - 1 to 2 plants per person
Potatoes - 5 to 10 plants per person
Pumpkins - 2 to 4 plants per person
Radishes - 15 to 25 plants per person
Sweet Potato - 4 to 5 plants per person
Spinach - 5 to 6 plants per person
Squash (summer) - 1 to 2 plants per person
Squash (winter) - 1 to 2 plants per person
Tomatillo - 1 to 2 plants per person
Tomato (cherry) - 1 plant per person
Tomato (slicing) - 2 to 4 plants per person
Take every new season in your garden as a learning experience. The more years you spend, growing and persevering the better you will be able to tune in how much you need to grow to feed your family.
What We’ve Got Growing On
This year will be a big roll of the dice and a learning curve for sure. I’m digging into unfamiliar soil with no knowledge of what beds held which foods in the seasons before. I’m facing unknown pests and garden predators, and I’ve never grown in a place that had an active bear population. It will be interesting to see how the season goes. But, starting out I’m optimistic that I’m up to the challenge. I invested in heirloom seeds from some of my favorite Etsy sellers, Heirloom Seeds R Us and Smart Seeds Emporium (not affiliate links) and have all my indoor starts ready and sprouting.
For this first season, I’ve gone with 5 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, 4 varieties of squash including pumpkin, 2 cucumber varieties, 3 types of melons, 3 varieties of lettuces, a whole host of microgreens, spinach, Swiss chard, beets, carrots, potatoes, Anasazi beans, green beans, bush beans, snap peas, hot peppers, strawberries, raspberries and a whole host of herbs. Plus we have established apricot, apple, and plum trees on our property.
This used to be a way of life. Back in the days of the pioneers when homesteading was a way of life, most families grew some of their own food, relying solely, or almost solely on what they'd grown and preserved to feed themselves throughout the year. Growing up, we grew and processed almost all of our own food, so for me, this is quite literally going back to my roots. Stay tuned for updates on how our garden grows.
What do you have growing on this season? Tell us in the comments!
Until next time,