11 Tips To Grow a Year’s Worth of Food For Maximum Self-Sufficiency

How much should you plant in your garden to provide a year’s worth of food for you or your whole family? How do you know if you’re growing enough food? What size of garden does it take to feed a family of four — or more?

There are many questions, but the answers are not very clear.

A good general guideline is to create 150 to 200 square feet of growing space per person. But this question is much more complicated than it may seem, even if the actual growing part doesn’t have to be. Let’s take a closer look at this common topic of self-sufficiency in the homesteading community.

How much should you plant in your garden to provide a year’s worth of food?

Photo Credit: The Peasant’s Daughter.

If you’re serious about growing all of the vegetables and fruits you eat in a year, know that it is not easy. This is especially true if you grow in a small garden. To succeed, you need to interplant, grow plants in succession, and grow vertically as much 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 of four 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

Photo Credit: Envato Elements.
  • 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

All of this will vary based on your family’s size, tastes, allergies, and climate.

Here are the important considerations to take into account.

1. What Do You Eat?

Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

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 and don’t know if you like! Trust me, we’ve all been lured by beautiful and exotic fruits and vegetables.

I have never eaten a cardoon, and yet I have two varieties.

So start with the practical things. And actually, write them down — list the fruits and veggies you and your family eat regularly.

2. Best Bang For Your Buck

Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

When aiming to sustain your food needs from your own garden, a practical strategy involves prioritizing crops that are typically expensive to purchase.

By focusing on cultivating high-value produce such as specialty herbs, heirloom tomatoes, gourmet salad greens, and fruits, you can make a significant dent in your grocery budget while enjoying top-quality ingredients.

These crops not only offer potential savings but also contribute to a more diverse and nutritious diet. By strategically selecting crops that are costly to buy, you can maximize the yield and value of your garden harvest, ensuring a more sustainable and cost-effective approach to food self-sufficiency.

3. How Big Is Your Garden?

Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

How many square feet of growing space are we dealing with? I have 3 acres full of possibilities. More than enough to sustain my family.

Calculate the actual area you will be using. If you’re growing in raised beds, figure out exactly how many feet of space you’ll have.

600-800 square feet should be enough for a family of four, but you may need less or more, depending on your needs. If you’re organized and plant in succession you will be amazed at how little you need.

Writing everything down and keeping a gardening journal is a great idea.

4. Growing Vertical

Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Whether you have a large or small garden, growing vertically on a trellis makes sense.

But if you have a small garden — vertical growing is a must.

Vertical gardening and trellises offer practical solutions for making the most of limited gardening space, allowing you to grow more food in less area. Instead of spreading out horizontally, plants climb upwards, using structures like trellises, fences, or stakes for support. This vertical approach not only saves space but also improves air circulation and sun exposure, leading to healthier plants and better yields.

Vertical gardening isn’t just practical; it’s also versatile and creative. You can incorporate trellises into various garden setups, from raised beds to containers, or even attach them to walls or fences. This flexibility allows you to adapt your garden to suit your space and preferences, whether you’re gardening in a small backyard or on a balcony.

Read More: 20 Veggies & Fruits You Should Grow Vertically

5. Climate & Growing Season

Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

For optimal results, tailor your garden plans to match your local climate and growing season. Choose plant varieties well-suited to your region’s temperature, humidity, and sunlight levels.

To make the most of your growing window, opt for short-season crops or those with continuous harvests, like salad greens or herbs. Consider using season extenders such as cold frames or row covers in areas with shorter seasons to protect plants and prolong the harvest.

You may also want to consider buying or building a greenhouse.

Read More: Back To Eden Gardening Method {Everything You Need To Know}

6. Canning & Preserving

Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

If you’re serious about self-sufficiency, you’re probably serious about water bath canning, pressure canning, fermenting, and other methods of long-term food and meal storage.

Invest in basic equipment and follow safe practices outlined in reputable sources. Experiment with various preservation methods such as water bath canning for high-acid foods and pressure canning for low-acid ones. Grow high-yield crops suited for preservation like tomatoes, peppers, and berries, and process them promptly at peak ripeness.

By incorporating preservation into your gardening routine, you can enjoy homegrown flavors year-round, save money, and reduce food waste effectively.

7. Age & Lifestyle

Photo Credit: The Peasant’s Daughter.

An active teenager eats more than an active toddler.

The “per person” planting guides above don’t apply equally across all families.

Tailor your garden to match the needs of your household, considering factors like age and lifestyle. Families with young children should focus on growing kid-friendly crops like cherry tomatoes and snap peas, which they can pick and eat right off the vine.

For households with teenagers or active individuals, prioritize nutrient-rich foods to support their energy needs. Choose low-maintenance crops for busy lifestyles and experiment with diverse herbs and spices to enhance culinary experiences. By customizing your garden to suit your family’s needs and preferences, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest that nourishes and satisfies everyone.

8. Methods & Upfront Costs

Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

What type of gardening do you do? Have you ever thought about this? We are part of the rapidly growing group of gardeners who have adopted the no-till approach. It’s not new, but many people have not heard of it.

Consider adopting no-till gardening for a more sustainable and productive approach to cultivation. Unlike traditional tilling methods, no-till gardening minimizes soil disturbance, preserving its health and structure. This method conserves moisture, reduces soil erosion, and promotes healthier plant growth while requiring less labor. While transitioning to no-till may require adjustments, the long-term benefits for both your garden and the environment make it worth considering, regardless of your current gardening practices.

Read More: No-Till Gardening {Everything You Need To Know}

9. Intercropping

Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

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; thus, you’re maximizing space.

For example, planting radishes, a fast-growing crop, with something that grows slower, like peppers, or growing tomatoes with garlic.

10. Succession Planting

Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Succession planting means planting another crop immediately after harvesting the first one. This is crucial for maximizing the productivity of small gardens.

Succession planting involves timing your plantings to ensure a continuous harvest throughout the growing season. You can maximize garden productivity and minimize wasted space by staggering sowings or transplants. For example, planting fast-maturing crops like lettuce or beans every few weeks ensures a steady fresh produce supply. Or follow your spring-sown carrots with a fall planting of carrots for maximum yields.

Learn more: The 12 Essential Steps to Self-Sufficiency in the Garden

11. Don’t Forget Perennials

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Perennials are incredible. Unlike annuals, which complete their life cycle in one season, perennials offer long-term benefits for the garden. They often require less maintenance and can provide continuous harvests for years to come. Popular perennial crops include asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, and various herbs like thyme, oregano, and mint. By incorporating perennials into your garden, you can enjoy a reliable and sustainable source of fresh produce with minimal effort.

Many perennials are high-value and expensive crops like asparagus and berries.

Learn More: 19 Edible Perennials To Grow For Self-Sufficiency

Don’t Get Overwhelmed

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In the past, growing food wasn’t just a hobby—it was a necessity. Families had to plan meticulously, saving seeds, planting enough to sustain themselves, and preserving what they grew. Gardening wasn’t confined to a small patch in the backyard; it was an integral part of daily life, prioritized even above leisure activities.

Today, many of us lead busy lives, prioritizing parties and other pursuits over tending to our gardens. We rely on supermarkets for our food, often without considering its origins or the labor behind it. However, in many places, including my home country, gardening remains deeply ingrained in daily life. Even apartment dwellers often tend to sizable community gardens.

Upon arriving in this country, my mother was struck by the vast expanses of land around houses, contrasted with their barren yards. She marveled at the abundance of resources but was surprised by the lack of homegrown food. Yet, gardening here is often seen as a leisure activity for the privileged, rather than a vital aspect of culture or a means of combating food insecurity.

Regardless of our roles, we are all connected to agriculture. Whether as consumers or cultivators, we depend on it for our sustenance. Personally, I strive to be more involved, joining a growing movement of individuals reclaiming self-sufficiency and growing their own food. After all, agriculture isn’t just a sector of the economy—it’s a fundamental part of life, and I want to be an active participant in it.

That doesn’t mean anyone has to be 100% self-sufficient or do it all right away. Enjoy this process; it’s an incredible one full of lessons you will carry with you into other aspects of your life. Don’t let this turn into a source of constant stress or anxiety.

Take it slow; take it day by day and season by season.

Garden Myth-Busting

Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Learn More: 18 Pervasive Gardening Myths Busted

Your Best Tomato Year Yet

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Learn More: 15 Secrets To Growing Killer Tomatoes This Season

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