When planning your annual garden, a big question looms. How much do I plant? It seems simple enough to just go to a website and look up the recommended amount, but more than likely, the information won’t apply to you in any more depth than rough guidelines. At HHH, we talk about growing enough to eat regularly.
Why is that?
Most of these numbers assume a family of four, specifically as two adults and two young children. It’s important to note that the author may be living in a different climate than you, have a different diet, different nutritional requirements, and lack the potential food allergies you may have. They also may not have any actual experience growing their own food and may be parroting numbers from other sources. They may not even be growing what you want to grow or growing the same way you plan to. These are just a few factors that can affect those “simple” numbers for growing enough to eat.
So how do you know how much to grow enough to eat?
Keep records (click for a template). Start by tracking your groceries every week for a month. This gives you a rough idea and if you’re impatient, enough information to start your gardens. Tracking for a few months gives you a better picture but I try to track for a year, minimum. Tracking for a whole year may seem tedious, but it shows you the seasonal variations. Otherwise, you miss trends when you only track for a month. This is especially important for long term planning of fruit or nut trees and berry bushes.
Tracking for a year also shows you adjustments to make to the garden plan if you suddenly discover a food intolerance like I did. No sense in growing several pounds of something you can’t eat! You can even track for more than a year. I do this for two reasons: so I can see our year over year difference in consumption versus production and adjust the gardens accordingly. To clarify, it shows me the difference between how much I bought, if any, and how much I grew so I know to grow either more or less of something the next year.
The easiest way to track those numbers is by weight because it is simple to do. It translates over to the weight of what you grow, and only requires some basic calculations to get the number of plants. You just need a kitchen scale to weigh things.
You can also track the amount of money you spent on food and the gardens. This is tedious due to sales and price changes throughout the year. I only suggest tracking this if you must as a business expense.
Once you know the average weights of various crops, you can start to figure out how much you should plant for your final yield. Several factors affect this yield, with both water and nitrogen being the most common limiting factors. Remember there will always be losses that cannot be controlled, so it’s good to round up your numbers.
Also, be realistic. If you don’t have space for 100 pounds of potatoes all at once, try to spread out the harvest by planting early, mid-season and late varieties. If that’s not possible you can always use succession planting. Succession planting is planting the same thing at 3- or 4-week intervals so they have a staggered ripening time. This technique is very useful for people with limited space to grow food.