How much should you grow?

Happy Spring! With the mild weather we’ve been having, I’m sure many of you have already been out in your garden, getting things ready for planting season. By now, you likely have at least a vague idea of what you want to grow. Now, a good question to ask yourself, if you haven’t already, is how much you should plant.
Having a garden usually means an abundance of vegetables (zucchini anyone?). And while it’s true that nothing in natural systems really goes to waste i.e. the veggies that you don’t harvest go to flower, attract beneficial insects, and ultimately get recycled back into the soil, a little bit of attention paid to how much you grow, might minimize any wasted time, effort, and water.
The question of how much you should plant, however, is a difficult one to answer. Like so many things in gardening, the answer is, “It depends.” It depends on what your family likes to eat, whether you just want summer vegetables or want enough for the entire year, how much space you have, how good your soil is and how much of a yield you can expect. In other words, there is no easy answer. However, here are some recommendations of where to get started.

Basil, a high value crop, growing in my herb spiral.

If you have a smaller garden, I would recommend growing more of the higher value crops. For example, tomatoes, lettuce mix, spinach, peppers, garlic, basil and other herbs. To buy these, organic, at a grocery store, can be quite expensive. In addition, many of these items spoil quickly so having these fresh from your garden is a better idea.

In contrast, vegetables like carrots, parsnips, onions, winter squash, and potatoes are fairly inexpensive to buy from local growers. Here in Montana, for example, we can actually get local organic storage crops for our farmers, well into the winter. In addition, these crops typically take up a lot of space. If you have a limited growing area, I would plant less of these and more of the higher value veggies that I mentioned.

Root crops like beets and carrots take up a lot of space in a garden. If you’re limited on space, think about buying these from local growers instead.

Also, it goes without saying that you should grow more of what you like to eat. In my family, we love fresh tomatoes and also use them in salsas and sauces. I love preserving tomatoes for the fall and winter too, a tasty reminder of the garden when there are 10 inches of snow on the ground. Because of this, we plant between 40 and 60 tomato plants. We also eat a lot of broccoli and greens so these take up a lot of real estate in the garden too. Think about what you shop for on a weekly basis and multiply that by 52 weeks to see how much you might need.

We eat a lot of garlic in our family, roughly one head per week so I plant at least 55 to 60 cloves in the fall.

Now having said that “it depends,” the list below is a good starting point. These are recommendations for a family of four to five people for a year’s worth of vegetables. You would of course adjust this based on what I talked about previously. It also assumes that you’ll be spending part of the harvest season preserving your veggies either through freezing, canning, or dehydrating. So use this as a guide, take good notes this season, and start customizing it to your family’s needs.

Tomatoes are a big favorite in our family. I plant at least 40 plants every year of different varieties.
  • Asparagus: 10-15 plants per person
  • Beans (Bush): 15 plants per person
  • Beans (Pole): 2-4 poles of beans per person (each pole with the four strongest seedlings growing)
  • Beets: about 36 plants per person
  • Broccoli: 3-5 plants per person
  • Cabbage: 2-3 plants per person
  • Carrots: ~ 100 seeds per person (1/4 oz would be plenty for a family of six)
  • Cauliflower: 2-3 plants per person
  • Corn: start out with 1/2 lb. seeds for the family and adjust as needed
  • Cucumbers: 3-6 plants per family
  • Eggplant: 3-6 plants per family
  • Garlic: ~52 plants per family (one head of garlic per week)
  • Lettuce: 4-5 plants per person
  • Onions: 20-30 plants per person (think about how many onions you go through each week)
  • Parsnips: 12-15 plants per person
  • Peas: ~ 80-100 plants per person
  • Peppers: 3-5 plants per person
  • Spinach: 15 plants per person
  • Squash (winter and summer): 10 per family
  • Tomatoes: 20 to 50 plants per family
  • Turnips: ~ 1/4 lb seeds per family

If you have any recommendations to share, I would love it if you posted them in the comments below!