Garden Q+A:  How Many Plants Do I Need?

Garden Q+A: How Many Plants Do I Need?

Hello, my gardener friends! A reader recently asked me: "How many plants should I plant for my family so that we can eat from the garden every day?" 

Today's topic is something that I have been asked many times and have always struggled with answering myself. How many plants is enough to feed your entire family every day during the growing season? It was something that before, I could only guess at. When I started our kitchen garden last year, I winged the entire thing. Honestly? I am grateful that I did! I learned what we didn't enjoy eating, what I wasted crucial growing space on, and what I needed to plant more of in the following year. Of course, this year we will be planting on a much larger scale, but that doesn't mean you still don't want to do the math like a farmer. You see, I found a great method that helps you decide how many plants you need, which is determined by the size of your plot and how many pounds of produce you will be consuming each week. It's pretty nifty. Below I am sharing some results for how much a family of 2 to 4 people typically consumes within a week or purchases from the grocery store. Check out the chart below to see how many plants you'd need to produce enough food for your family.

Now this is subjective, and it does not work for every family. For instance, maybe you really love garden tomatoes and hope to produce enough to make salsa, canned tomatoes, and paste? You'd have to figure that kind of expectation in. Here's a little more about the chart to break it down:

  • Serving Size. This is the average serving size that one person consumes at a meal. It also factors into the weight of the vegetable. For example, one head of lettuce can typically feed a family for one week and weighs an average of about three quarters of a pound... however, an individual usually eats only 4 ounces of that. You can see how the serving size can affect each person in your family. How much lettuce do you eat a week? Onions? Broccoli? How many servings will each person consume?
  • Pounds Per Week. Take the size of your serving, along with your knowledge of average vegetable weight, and figure out how many people it will serve. Now, I figured within the chart for the highest amount of people, which in this case is 4. This amount of vegetables will produce a lot for just two people, but it's good for two people who cook most often at home! Pounds per week can also vary. Some of these plants (the ones with the *) will produce the same amount of pounds, on average, every single week. You do not have to plant new ones over time. For example, you can get about a third of a pound of kale out of one plant each week for 5 months. That's a lot of kale! On the other hand, root plants like onions and carrots may need to be planted over and over again within the space of your growing season... Our growing season this year is estimated at 166 days. If we want to produce 8 carrots every single week, that would be a total of 192 carrots for the entire growing season (24-ish weeks). While that sounds like a lot, it helps you figure out where you will need to create space in your garden for all of your roots and other plants that only produce one cutting!
  • Number of Plants. Here is where you get your results! The number of plants is, again, subjective. My calculations for the chart are the bare minimum, plus a little extra. Technically, a family of four could be satisfied with only one tomato plant, but two will produce a better amount and satisfy you in case one plant fails. As for the plants that cannot continually produce throughout the season (i.e. full lettuce heads, leeks, onions, carrots, cabbage, beets, etc) then look at this guide as to how many you want to harvest per week. For instance, I have listed 8 carrots per week. That means you would want to harvest 8 roots a week, so you would want to grow as many as you'd like to produce over a 24 week period. Now, this can be tricky and feel complicated because 1. that's a LOT of carrots! and 2. in my zone 5b, you can't grow carrots in the middle of the summer. You get one spring planting and one autumn planting. However, carrots can be planted in succession during those times, meaning I can plant a set of carrots every 21 days in the spring, until probably the summer equinox is how I view that. 

Have more family members than just 4? That's okay! You can still follow this chart; either figure out the math yourself or look at it as maybe adding 1-2 more cut-and-come-again vegetables and 2-3 more root vegetables per person. That makes it a little easier on you and ensures that everyone gets fed! Remember, these charts are sharing the minimum amount of plants so that you can have a more realistic view of what you may want. There are other factors as well that go into planning an efficient garden like this such as succession planting, interplanting, and companion planting. I think one of the hardest crops to grow is lettuce, not because of germination or caring for the plant, but because if you'd like to be able to eat a fresh head of lettuce every single week, you don't want to plant 20 lettuce plants on the same day. Then you'll be harvesting them all at once and wasting a lot of it! The most efficient way to plant lettuce in order to have your one head a week is to plant 2 heads every week all season long. See? That's harder to wrap your mind around, and puts you in the garden quite often. But that's okay. Maybe you only want lettuce every two weeks, or even more lettuce every week. It's all unique to you, but this can give you a decent idea of what to expect out of your production. 

Have fun garden planning!

xoxo Kayla

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