How much should you plant in your garden to provide a year’s worth of food for you or your whole family? How do I know if I’m growing enough food? What size of garden does it take to feed a family of four? A good general guideline is to create 150 to 200 square feet of growing space per person. But it's more complicated than that so let's look at this important question in detail.
If you're serious about growing all of the vegetables you eat in a year, know that it is not easy. This is especially true if you are growing in a small garden. To succeed in this, you need to interplant, grow plants in succession, and also grow vertically as much as is possible.
I will post regular updates here on the blog (but especially on my Instagram page) as I absolutely love to calculate the costs of things. I'm obsessed with the economics of the home, and gardening is no exception.
I also love to experiment.
How much should you plant in your garden to provide a year’s worth of food?
This is the question I find myself faced with. Not because it's imperative I actually plant that much this year successfully — we won't die in the coming winter or anything dramatic — but because I need to know the answer for the sake of knowing.
And because we moved out here to become as self-sufficient as possible.
I have a family of four (as of this writing!), and the babies are growing fast.
How many raised beds does a family of 4 need anyways? And are the benefits of raised beds substantial?
I love "what if" thought exercises like imagining how I would prepare for food shortages, or a coming famine, or another great depression (side note: I'm not the only one who does this, right?)
This year we finally build our annual garden and start our permaculture food forest.
I grew up gardening with my mother and aunts; later on I had a large community garden plot when my husband and I lived in our city condo. I've also grown food in containers on my balcony and indoors under grow lights.
The type of gardening I've evolved to practice is a system I find to be the least amount of work for the most amount of rewards. What I practice is a mixture of Charle's Dowding's no-dig organic method and Mel Bartholomew's intensive square foot gardening.
The techniques are very complementary.
Both methods focus on soil health and fertility and allow for intensive cropping in your garden.
In my opinion, no-dig/no-till intensive square foot gardening that focuses on vertical growing is the absolute best way to garden. And if you have a small garden but want big yields? It's pretty much a requirement.
For example, in my square foot raised bed garden, I can plant 18 carrots in a single square foot of space.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here. This is about growing food to feed your family for the year, or as close to it as possible.
Let's take a look at some basic facts and guidelines.
You need about 150-200 square feet per person to grow enough food to feed a family for a year.
What would that look like in practical real world terms?
Well, I made an example plant chart from some simple research:
Example Planting Chart
- Artichokes 1-4 plants per person
- Asparagus 10-12 plants per person
- Beans, Bush 10-20 plants per person
- Beans, Lima 10-20 plants per person
- Beans, Pole 10-20 plants per person
- Beets 10-20 plants per person
- Broccoli 5-10 plants per person
- Brussels Sprouts 2-8 plants per person
- Cabbage 3-10 plants per person
- Carrots 10-40 plants per person
- Cauliflower 3-5 plants per person
- Celeriac 1-5 plants per person
- Celery 3-8 plants per person
- Corn 12-40 plants per person
- Cucumbers 3-5 plants per person
- Eggplant 1 plant per person
- Lettuce 10-12 plants per person
- Melons 2-6 plants per person
- Onions 40-80 plants per person
- Peas 25-60 plants per person
- Peppers 5-6 plants per person
- Potatoes 10-30 plants per person
- Pumpkins 1 plant per person
- Rhubarb 2-3 crowns per person
- Spinach 10-20 plants per person
- Summer Squash 2-4 plants per person
- Winter Squash 2 plants per person
- Sweet Potatoes 5 plants per person
- Tomatoes 10-12 plants per person
Obviously, all of this will vary based on your family’s size, tastes, allergies and climate.
We love sweet peppers so I'm going to grow a lot of varieties of peppers and many plants of them (like shishito peppers) but if you don't like something — don't grow it.
I'm growing in Zone 5 or Zone 6 (depending on who you ask.) This means I start my seeds indoors late February and plant towards the end of May.
My garden is winding down in September and then I have to consider if I'm going to grow cold weather crops under row covers and extend my season as far as possible.
11 Tips & Considerations To Grow Enough Food
Here is a list of things to get you started with thinking about your own gardening plans and goals.
1. What Do You Eat?
Maybe this sounds like a "duh" moment, but if you're a gardener I bet you have seed packets of things you've never eaten! We've all been lured by beautiful and exotic fruits and vegetables, trust me.
I have never eaten a cardoon, and yet I have two varieties.
So start with the practical things. And actually write them down.
Make a list of the fruits and veggies you and your family eat regularly.
2. Best Bang For Your Buck
Where I live I can buy organic celery regularly for a great price.
And since celery is so available and kinda tough to grow to boot, I'm not going to bother planting it even though we eat a lot of it in all of the soups, bone broths, and stews I'm always making.
They are extremely expensive. Especially tomatoes and local strawberries. And we LOVE them.
So in my garden we plant a ton of tomatoes of all sorts of varieties. And I have a raised strawberry bed devoted exclusively to that fruit.
3. How Big Is Your Garden?
How many square feet of growing space are we dealing with? I have 3 acres full of possibilities. In practicalities You may have less or more.
Get out there and calculate the actual area. If you're growing in raised beds, get a figure of exactly how many feet of space you're going to have.
For a family of four, 600-800 square feet should be enough, but you may need less or more depending on your needs.
Writing things down (keeping a gardening journal) is a great idea.
4. Growing Vertical
Whether you have a large garden or a small garden — growing vertically on a trellis makes just sense.
For example, cucumbers grown on a trellis are less prone to disease and fungal infections while also being easier to harvest than if you were to let the plant sprawl all over the place like crazy.
But if you have a small garden — vertical growing is a must. And it's not expensive or difficult to make your own trellises either.
5. Climate & Growing Season
What is your climate and growing zone? I'm growing things that do well in zones 5 and 6. Calculate how many growing days you have on average — pick vegetables and fruits that do well in your zones and in your specific climate.
6. Canning & Preserving
Are you planning on eating fresh or do you want to also freeze, water bath can, pressure can, ferment, dehydrate, freeze dry, or root cellar your crops?
We can, ferment, and are getting into pressure canning too!
7. Age & Lifestyle
An active teenager eats more than an active toddler.
The "per person" planting guides above don't apply equally across all families.
8. Methods & Upfront Costs
What method will you use? We do no dig intensive square foot gardening in raised beds and think it's the best choice.
Do you need raised beds to do this style of gardening if you can't afford them? No. Charles Dowding lays down 6 inches of compost and starts planting. That won't work on our land, but it is an option.
Seeds cost money, so do raised beds, irrigation systems, soil, compost and other things.
The good news is that over the lifetime of your garden, those costs will amount to a mere pittance.
The bad news is that those upfront costs can be high.
One of the reason we chose metal raised beds over wood is that the metal raised beds will last well over 20 years.
Maximize the best use of your garden beds by intercropping.
Intercropping (different from companion and succession planting) is where you grow one type of vegetable crop amongst a different variety. Sometimes the specific types are chosen because they come to maturity at different times and thus you're maximizing space.
For example, planting radishes, which are a fast growing crop, with something that grows slower like peppers. Or growing tomatoes with garlic.
10. Succession Planting
Succession planting means planting another crop immediately after harvesting the first one.
Carrots are a great example.
11. Don't Forget Perennials
Perennials are incredible. You plant them and they just pop up on their own year after year.
My favorites are asparagus, lovage (unsung hero of a herb you need to grow) and rhubarb.
Not long ago, people had to think about how much to grow for the year.
They had to plan ahead, save seeds, plant enough for their family, preserve enough, etc. It wasn’t just a hobby.
It didn’t take up a 4 foot by 4 foot square in their backyard, next to the beautifully fertilized lawn. It was their yard. Their backyard, their front yard.
It didn’t take a back burner in their spring and summer plans, after camping trips, barbecues and swimming parties.
These are all good things, but people had to think about survival first and foremost. Partying came after the harvest.
Now days, most of us party first, fertilize our lawns second, go to the grocery store and depend on other people to grow our food (and demand that it be cheap), and then we think about gardening, maybe, if ever, as a cute hobby.
In many parts of my home country growing food is still an integral part of life. And I don't believe I have ever even come across a house there that doesn't have a garden.
Even the apartment dwellers frequently have large allotments (community gardens) that are much bigger than any I've seen here.
When we first came to this country my mother was amazed at how much land the houses would sit on but have such bare yards with only grass growing.
She was amazed at how rich everyone was that they didn't grow any of their own food.
Of course, that is not the case. It's just that gardening here is seen as a fun hobby for privileged people (and there is nothing wrong with gardening as a hobby) rather than an integral part of the life and culture or a real way to help alleviate some food insecurity.
We’re all a part of agriculture.
Even if our part is just being a consumer, getting kale and rice at the grocery store and a carton of eggs, never once thinking about where they come from or who picked them.
We would not survive without agriculture. I, personally, want to be more involved than that. I want to know how much my family eats and how much we need to grow to supply that need.
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