With 40 years of off-grid homesteading under our belts, we can sincerely say that one of the keys to self-reliance is a successful vegetable garden. A well thought out, well planned garden can save time, effort and aggravation come spring and summer so why not spend some time this winter while the cold north winds are howling planning your vegetable garden for this coming season.
Factors to Consider
If you’re a seasoned gardener, begin by looking back and assessing the previous year’s garden. This is where record keeping can be of real value. Refer to your notes to see what worked and what didn’t. What would you like to do differently? Would you like to try a new technique – maybe trying to grow cukes or melons vertically for instance? Perhaps you want to try a new variety of something or maybe even a completely new vegetable you’ve never grown before such as Witloof chicory or mache. Did you have a shortfall of any item and if so is the shortfall consistent from year to year? It’s normal in any given year to have an over abundance of an item while the next year it may not do as well but if you consistently run short of an item you may want to plant more this year. On the other hand, do you consistently have too much of something. So much that it goes to waste. If so, reducing the amount planted may be called for.
If you’ve never gardened before now is the time to figure out what your goals are. In other words do you merely want fresh vegetables for the table during the summer months or do you want to grow enough to feed yourself and family for the year. Be sure to take into account how much time you can devote to the vegetable patch. The bigger the garden the more time and effort it will take, but the greater the return provided you keep it maintained. This takes discipline and determination once hot, humid weather hits.
To ensure success, we recommend newcomers start small so they can get a feel for what is involved in raising a successful garden. Starting small gives you a chance to learn the growing requirements of various vegetables. Quite possibly less may mean more as frankly, a small, well managed garden can yield more than a poorly maintained large spread that’s over run with weeds. To that end you would be wise to keep your enthusiasm in check and not plant more than you can take care of.
Accounting for the time spent outside working in the garden is only part of the time investment you need to consider when planning your vegetable patch. Preparing fresh foods for the table takes more time than throwing a frozen pizza in the oven for example. If you plan on trying to preserve vegetables for the winter by canning or freezing be aware this also takes time that must be taken into consideration. The more stuff you plan to grow and preserve, the more time will have to be spent in the kitchen putting it up. Canning jars, freezer bags and containers don’t magically fill themselves. There’s no such thing as kitchen elves that perform food preservation duties while you relax on the porch swing sipping lemonade. For me, the month of August is extremely busy. I’m canning, freezing or getting something up to dry practically every day while at the same time trying to keep the garden weeded, watered and get the “fall garden” planted with crops such as lettuce, spinach, curly endive and Chinese cabbage, all items that thrive in the cooler fall days. Yes, August is a hectic month here on our homestead. But this is all part of being self-reliant in which we take so much pride.
What Should I Plant?
What to plant may be a question upper most in a new gardener’s mind. Each garden will be as unique as the person growing it since what you grow should be governed by what you like to eat. Think about what you buy each week from the grocery store. What are your favorite vegetables? If you only buy 2 cabbages a year, planting them may be less of a priority. On the other hand if you buy broccoli every week then it should be prominent in your garden.
If you only like a few kinds of vegetables, you will need to grow more of each one to meet your needs than someone who likes a wide variety of vegetables. We like a large variety of different vegetables but the quantity I grow of each is quite variable. We certainly have our favorites such as corn, potatoes and tomatoes. As a result we grow large quantities of these as compared to parsnips or kale which are far from favorites but do add variety to our winter menus.
How much space you have may determine what you plant too. Many vegetables can be intensively planted meaning they can be closely spaced or even grown in containers, but others such as potatoes and corn need more room.
How Much Should I Plant?
Once you have figured out what your goals are the next step is to determine how much to plant. For first time gardeners this may be a real puzzler. Perhaps the easiest way to proceed is to think about how much you buy and consume in a week or month and extrapolate that amount to correspond to the length of time you want to be free of the supermarket. If your goal is to raise enough for a year then you will need to do your calculations with that in mind. If you only want to have enough to last 3 months then use that number to do your ciphering.
I will use carrots as an example of how to proceed. Let’s say you’ve determined you use about 1 pound of carrots a week and you want enough carrots to feed the family for the entire year, roughly 50 to 60 pounds of carrots in total. Using the chart below you can see that 1 foot of carrots should yield about 1 pound of roots. Therefore you should plant somewhere between 50 and 60 feet worth of carrots. Then you say to yourself, “Whoa, I don’t have room for a 50’ row of carrots.” Well you don’t have to. Carrots can be intensively planted in beds with the rows spaced as close together as 4” to 6”. A 7’ length of bed that’s 42” wide will accommodate about 7 rows of carrots spaced 6 inches apart. If the soil is well prepared, the yield from that patch of ground should meet your yearly needs. I know because that is exactly how much I plant to meet our yearly needs of 50 pounds.
Caution! The yields below are rough estimates and can vary considerably depending on soil condition, climate and other growing conditions such as rainfall or the lack of it.
Bush beans 5#/4’ or 20 pods per plant
Shell beans(such as Limas) 2½#/10’ of row
Pole beans 2 to 3 times the amount of bush types
Beets and Carrots 1#/foot of row
Broccoli 1 head per plant plus smaller side shoots
Brussels sprouts 40 to 60 sprouts per stalk
Cauliflower 1 head per plant
Cabbage 1 head/plant but size varies-early varieties 2# to 3#/head
Cabbage – late varieties 8# to 10#/head
Corn 1 to 2 ears per plant
Cucumbers 8 to 10 per vine
Lettuce 10 oz. to 16 oz./plant depending on variety
Onion bulbs 5#/6’ row
Peas 2# to 6#/10’ row
Potatoes up to 5# per plant
Pumpkins 2 to 5/vine
Spinach ½#/foot of row
Radish 2# to 3#/10’
Summer squash up to 10# per plant
Winter squash 3 to 4 per vine
Tomatoes as much as 10# per plant
Now that you have completed the preliminary planning you are ready to proceed with the next step, that of sitting down with pencil and paper and mapping out your vegetable garden plan on paper. We’ll pick up with that topic in part 2 of planning your vegetable garden.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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