How big a vegetable garden do you need to feed a family? How big would your garden need to be? How much should you plant? Let’s contemplate the possibilities!
To answer these questions, here are a number of factors. For example, where do you live? If you live in a southern state (example, Georgia), you may be able to grow year-round. If you live in colder region, however, you may not be able to depend on a full winter harvest and will instead need to can or freeze part of your late-summer yield.
- According to a UK study, to sustain one person on a vegetarian diet for an entire year, you’d probably need about 4000 square feet of growing space. This excludes access paths. That’s a big! Clearly, this amount of real estate will require a major committment in terms of your labor, too.
- For a non-vegetarian individual, however, we’d estimate that you need about 200 square feet of garden space to allow for a harvest that feeds everyone year-round. So, for an average family of four, plan for an 800 square-foot garden—a plot that is 20 feet by 40 feet in size. It can depend on what you plant, of course; some crops take up more room than others.
Perhaps it’s better to back out how many people are in your family and what you actually like to eat. There’s no point in growing asparagus if you are the only one who will eat them1
Look at your normal diet and note how much you eat per week. Example: If you ate 3 pounds of potatoes a week (!), that’s 12 pounds a month and 144 pounds a year!
Common Vegetables to Grow
Let’s look at common plants families eat and how much garden space is required per person. Some crops, such as tomatoes, produce many vegetables or fruits per plant, so you’ll need fewer of these plants to obtain a large harvest. Others such as carrots produce just one vegetable per plant and require correspondingly more to be sown.
Below are examples based on one individual’s habits (yours may be different).
As mentioned above, let’s say you ate 3 pounds of potatoes a week, that’s 12 pounds a month and 144 pounds a year.
Assuming 75 to 200 pounds per person, that translates to:
- Yield per 10-foot row: 10 to 20 pounds
- Row length needed: 75 to 100 feet, which is about 85 plants
Assuming 15 to 65 pounds of tomatoes a year per person, that translates to:
- Yield per 10-foot row: 15 to 45lbs
- Row length needed: 10 to 15 feet, which is 6 to10 plants
Assuming 7 to 20 pounds of carrots per person per year, this translates to:
- Yield per 10-foot row: 7 to 10 pounds
- Row length needed: 10 to 20 feet, which is about 30 to 60 plants
The Almanac Garden Planner makes it easy to work out the row length required for a certain number of plants! It spaces the plants for you and calculates the number of plants you need.
So, for other crops just continue this process of working out how much you’ll eat, researching how much each plant yields, and how long the row will need to be.
How to get the most from your space
There are some tried and tested growing techniques which help you to get the most from any garden, no matter how big or how small.
Use different varieties
Where possible, plant early, mid and late varieties of your crops. This will provide a steady flow of produce spread throughout the season, and can also help to reduce losses due to pests and diseases as your plants will be in different stages of growth at different times.
For example, if you’re growing potatoes you could choose 3 different varieties: one each of first early, second early and maincrop varieties. Many other crops have seasonal varieties too, including peas, beans, apples, onions and corn.
Succession planting is all about maximizing the space you have available, ensuring that there is always something growing in the ground. As you harvest your first early potatoes in June, you could then plant a quick growing crop such as some beets. The Garden Planner can help to keep track of this – set the dates that crops will be in the ground and select a specific month to see what space will be available, then pop in a few rows of your chosen succession crop.
Extend your season and protect your crops
Use greenhouses, cold frames or a hoop house to add an extra few weeks at the start and end of the growing season. In cooler climates this will ensure you are much more successful with tender crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and melons. They will also help to protect your crops from unseasonal weather such as wet summers and from some pests such as birds, small mammals and deer. Plus, it’s always welcome to be able to harvest fresh produce early in the season.
Grow calorie crops
Calorie crops are those which have a high calorie content per weight of crop. If you’re growing lots of your own food, you’ll want to include the top 5 of potatoes, corn, beans, winter squash and perhaps grains such as wheat. These crops fill you up, are generally much less work than other crops and are very versatile – they store well, for long periods and are endlessly useful in the kitchen.
Growing any fresh food in your garden is a great way to feed your family – it doesn’t have to be about being totally self-sufficient. Whether you have a few containers by your back door or have a 2 acre plot you’ll be able to add fresh ingredients to your meals and reduce your grocery bills, and if you garden organically and sustainably you’ll be reducing your environmental impact too.