Wednesday, 24 February 2016
So How Big Should Your Vegetable Garden Be? Part 2
This is a follow-up to a general overview of the factors to consider in deciding how large your vegetable garden should be. (So How Big Should Your Vegetable Garden Be? Part 1) You should also consider this in conjunction with my older post on prioritizing vegetables to grow in a small garden; What to Grow in a Small, Basic Garden.
The following list of likely yields of individual vegetables, their space requirements, and likely amounts for consumption is based on my own experiences, as it has to be. Keep in mind you may have very different consumption patterns, also that yields may vary quite a bit from one garden to another. Practically speaking though, the more different vegetables you grow the less you will eat of any one particular one.
Also, if you are serious about eating mostly vegetables that you grow yourself, you will need to be realistic about their habits. Everybody loves broccoli but, no matter what type I plant or when I plant it, it all produces around the same time, and it's a big space hog for what it does. Result; I eat a lot less broccoli than I would like, and a lot more green beans than I would like, especially since they also freeze much better than broccoli.
I'm also assuming you wish to produce as much of your own vegetables yourself as possible, because that's what I'm aiming to do.
Please let me know about your own experiences with yields and requirements!
Salads & Herbs:
First off, if I was starting off gardening again I would set aside a separate bed from the main garden, in a spot close to the house if at all possible, that had a little light shade and was close to a source of water. Maybe even large containers. Here I would grow salady things; lettuce, arugula, endive, escarole, radicchio, mustard greens, miner's lettuce, watercress, and so forth, including leafy annual herbs like parsley, celery leaf, chervil, etc. The main thing with these is less that you need a lot of space for them, and more that you want to have them coming along at a steady pace all summer, if at all possible. That means consistent grooming and watching, as well as starting new plants every week or two. I admit to not being great at growing these; partly because our soil does not suit lettuce particularly and partly because I just can't find the time to fuss over them. I'd keep perennial herbs near the house as well, but in general they want a sunnier, better drained to sparse spot. Again, containers could work quite well.
Asparagus is perennial, and therefore a special case. A 3' x 3' space would hold about 10 plants; a typical recommended planting per person. We can eat a lot more than that though, and that's without making any attempt to freeze it. More info about growing asparagus here.
A plant or two in a pot will meet most cooking needs and allow a leaf or two to go into salads, but if you want to make and freeze pesto, one basil plant and one garlic head will make about 8 individual servings. Each basil plant will take about a square foot; once you have a total number wanted, plant a few extra to allow for duds.
Are you just eating these fresh or storing them for the winter? I don't love them madly and serve them somewhere between 6 and 12 times a year as a veggie, and then make a batch of Pickled Beets or two, which requires about 5' x 3' for each recipe. In other words, we would go through a 5' x 8' bed at the most, and half of that might do.
In fact, we plant a couple of rows for summer eating and then we replant beets in late July or early August in the spot where garlic came out, and get our pickling beets that way (it's fine if pickling beets are little on the small side) so we are really using mostly "found" space.
We only grow indeterminate pole beans for fresh eating, which means we start picking a little later than if we planted bush bean varieties, but they keep going until nearly frost. It also means we must trellis them. That in turn means more work to get them started and at season end clean up, but they are much easier to pick and stay nice and straight and clean.
We plant 3 double rows (so; 6) in our 5' wide beds. The middle double row is not picked but left for seed saving. We still get enough from a 6' or 8' section to eat all summer and freeze enough to eat a couple of times each week all winter until May. That's Blue Lake, which is horrifyingly productive and the best bean for freezing - other beans may produce less. We do grow small sections of other beans for fresh summer eating, just to have a little variety.
You could also plant bush fresh beans in the same spot after early shelling peas for freezing come out of the garden.
In the last few years we have taken to planting 2 beds, 5' x 24', with very early determinate peas, which are pulled for processing (freezing) before July 1st. The beds are then immediately planted with fast-maturing bush or pole beans for drying. You will need at least 150 frost-free days to pull this stunt, though.
Each 5' x 8' section usually produces about 4 to 6 cups of shelled dried beans for bush beans and up to 16 cups of shelled dried beans for pole beans, depending on the weather, the variety, and the quality of the seed. (More about that at the bottom of this post.) A not stupendously productive variety, with seeds not selected for high production may produce only about 6 cups per 5' x 8' section.
As I mentioned above, broccoli takes up a lot of space (about 2' x 2' each plant) and doesn't produce that much. If you get the equivalent of 2 heads of broccoli (most of them produce one "standard" head, followed by lots of little bite-sized heads once the main one has been cut) off of one plant you are doing better than we ever have. Which is possible; brassicas in general don't like our soil and don't do that well for us. But even in good fertile, neutral to mildly alkaline soil broccoli is going to be a lot of space for little return. If you want to grow it, it's a good idea to start eating some of the tenderest young leaves as well as the budding shoots. Still, half a dozen plants will keep us eating a serving of broccoli every week for about 2 months.
Purple Peacock, a broccoli-kale cross, has overwintered for us on one occasion, and produced very useable quantities of broccoli heads in the spring. I keep meaning to try to reproduce this feat by starting plants late in the summer and I keep forgetting. Overwintering isn't certain, either; cold and damp can kill brassicas, and even if it doesn't they are a favourite target for foraging mice.
Same problems as with broccoli, although if they do well for you, they should actually be a bit more productive than broccoli. If you leave them on the stems, trim the leaves from the stems, and keep the cut end of the stem in a bucket of damp sand you can keep them in your basement or cold cellar up until January, depending on the variety and temperature of your space. Or so I am told; I have never managed to achieve sufficiently good Brussels sprouts to try this. If it works for you, it would allow them to be much more of a staple than broccoli. Space requirements are the same per plant. If I were able to get reliable results, I would plant up to 12 plants for the 2 of us.
Cabbage & Kale:
Cabbage is one of the most reliable brassicas for us, second only to kale. Which we don't actually grow any more, because neither of us likes it that much. It just sat there growing nicely, taking up space, and being totally ignored. But we can eat about 6 stored medium sized cabbages over the winter, 3 heads in the form of sauerkraut, and about 3 medium heads during the latter course of the summer and fall. In order to get that though, we need to plant about 3 times that number of plants. That's a full 5' x 24' bed for us.
Kale is usually more compact that cabbage; most varieties can be put in a space as small as 1' x 1' per plant, although it will be happier and a bit more productive with more space. It's also a better cut-and-come-again vegetable than cabbage (although we leave the stumps of early cabbages and sometimes get another small head!) It's a lot like chard in that a small patch, well managed, can turn out consistent quantities of greens for quite a long time.
We plant a full 5' x 24' bed of carrots each year. It is both too many, and not enough. I can use a carrot pretty much every day all winter. The trouble is we have not quite worked out how to store our carrots so as to have them hold up until spring, and often end up composting a bunch then being out of carrots. We dig about 2/3 of them for late summer and fall eating and storage, a bunch go into our Canned Tomato Sauce, and we leave the rest to overwinter. We resume eating them in the spring. There are generally a good few left by the time they need to be pulled to make way for something else, and the quality by then is not good, so leftovers again get composted.
Cauliflower have done better for us some years than broccoli, and worse in others. Either way, all the same spacing and problems apply. It doesn't grow well, takes up a lot of space, and doesn't freeze well when it does produce. I wouldn't rely on it as a staple - I don't rely on it at all - but we keep planting it because we want it so badly and once in a blue moon we do get a head.
Celery and Celeriac:
Both of these require about 1' square each. We probably use 12 to 20 celeriacs per winter, and need to plant at least 50% more than that as some of them just never bulb up enough. Celery is very frustrating. It is available for such a short time and quality varies from plant to plant a lot. I get an awful lot of tough, hollow stems. I plant 12 to 20 plants again, compost huge amounts of them, and am perennially short of the amount of celery I would like to have. Again, better soil would undoubtedly improve the situation, but I don't have better soil.
A serious staple for us. I think frozen chard tastes just as good as fresh - and maybe even better. We make Swiss Chard Rolls by the dozen and freeze them, as well as bags of plain Swiss chard. Consequently we plant at least a dozen plants and don't think it too much. They need about 18" x 18" each, so not as bad as the larger brassicas, but it does add up.
It didn't take me long to figure out that if I want these I need to container-grow them. Most of these are forms of mustard and are fast growing, but not fast enough to escape the slugs and snails that descend upon them in hordes. They are good candidates for the near to the house greens bed mentioned in the paragraph on salads. Again, you don't need a lot of space for these so much as the ability to give them time and attention.
A lot of people who are aiming for self-sufficiency regard corn as indispensable, not as a vegetable so much, but to use dried and ground into meal and flour. It is also a much-loved fresh vegetable, and it dries very nicely for reconstituting as a winter vegetable. We don't grow it though.We would if we could, but we can't, so we don't. Our main problem is that nearly everything with teeth is after it: raccoons and skunks, mice, rats, squirrels, deer; only the carnivores ignore it. Birds. Birds love it. And it's got plenty of insect pests too.
If you are going to grow it, for any purpose, you do need to allot it quite a bit of space. It's wind pollinated and small patches just won't pollinate properly, leading to patchily covered little cobs. Even well-pollinated cobs don't produce that much food - my impression is that in general each square foot will produce 2 or 4 cobs, depending on the variety.
Ya pickling them? That'll make a big difference in the amount to grow. If you are just eating them fresh, 2 to 3 plants will do most families. That's 1 5' x 3' trellis section for us. If you are pickling them, you will need the same again times 2, of picklers rather than slicers. You should be able to get a dozen litres out of 4 to 6 plants. If you are battling cucumber beetles and squash bugs, expect to need twice the numbers mentioned just to get anything.
We actually use a lot of this, because we put it into Ratatouille, which we freeze by the tubful at the end of August. This year we still had some Ratatouille left from last year, so I froze a bunch of eggplant that I sautéed but otherwise left plain, and I've been putting it into pasta sauces with onions and frozen peppers. It would work to make Babaganoush too. In short, eggplant has been a surprisingly high-demand vegetable for us, and we don't find 8 to 12 plants too many for the 2 of us, depending on the variety. They do take about 18" x 18" each, so again a solid little patch.
Garlic is a bit of an oddball because it gets planted in the fall then harvested in the next mid-late summer. This does make it amenable to succession planting schemes. We used to plant Bellestar tomatoes for canning, then plant the garlic in their spot once they came out. Since the onslaught of septoria leaf spot in our garden though, short determinate tomato plants just don't work for us anymore. We are still putting the garlic into an ex-tomato bed, but it now gets planted a fair bit later. As I mentioned above, once it comes out it gets followed by beets and other fast-growing root crops such as turnips and winter radishes.
We use a lot of garlic. We plant a 5' x 16' section of it, which is actually too much even noting that some gets put aside for replanting. Still, we would probably use a 5' x 12' planting quite easily in a year. I would think that puts us at the high end of garlic consumers, but there are certainly people who use more.
Kale is the one brassica that grows very well for us. Pity we don't like it much. Most types require a 1' x 1' spot per plant. If you think you would use it the way we use Swiss chard, you should plant a similar to somewhat higher amount - I don't think Kale is usually quite so productive. But again, that may be our brassica-unfriendly soil speaking.
Most people don't eat a lot of Kohlrabi. I'd like to eat more, myself, but as usual it's a brassica and therefore a slog in our garden. If I could grow it, I'd grow at least 2 dozen plants for the 2 of us. The leaves don't keep, but the swollen stems will keep quite well in cold storage; probably at least until December. They require about 1' each way per plant.
Completely a staple for us. They hold in the ground, they store well in the fridge, and they can be picked again in the spring for an early spring vegetable. They get planted ultimately at 9" spacing, and we generally plant about 5' x 12' at that rate. We do save a number of those for seed production though. More info about how we grow leeks here.
We regard these as a treat, not a staple, and 2 or 3 of our 5' x 3' trellis sections get allotted to them. But see also watermelons.
We grow a full 5' x 24' bed of these, and we could probably use more. Some years I find space for another 5' x 4' of seed-grown shallots. In general, that's enough for the 2 of us. We also have patches of perennial Welsh onions and walking onions around, which provide spring onion greens.
First outdoor thing we do in the spring is plant 2 full 5' x 24' beds with Strike peas; the earliest producing determinate pea that we know of. They get picked over 2 times about a week apart, and pulled immediately after the 2nd picking, close to the end of June. Beans are then planted in their place, as I noted above. This should provide us with about 40 to 60 2-cup packages of shelled peas for the freezer, depending on how successful we have been at keeping the bleeping raccoons out. We have actually taken to covering them - peas, not raccoons, although I would if I could - in plastic as they near ripeness.
Then (i.e. within a few days of planting the Strike) we plant another 5' x 24' bed with a mix of taller, later producing peas that get trellised. It's a mix, because we want them to produce over a long period. It's 3 double rows down each bed again, but the middle row is the tallest, latest peas for easy picking purposes. This provides us with fresh shelling peas throughout the late spring and early summer, with excess going into the freezer. Do these 3 beds provide us with enough shelling peas for the year? No. Not hardly. Shelling peas are the one vegetable we grow that we know will always be accepted if we offer them to any of our mothers. We love them too. We don't grow more because it would throw our rotation plan right out of whack, and besides much as we love them, shelling those peas is a lot of work.
In short, the upper limit of the amount of peas we would like to have is way past the amount of real estate, time, and energy we have to put into them. Also, to save seed I need to find some additional space to grow peas just for seed. It's too hard to keep them separate otherwise, and I can't really use good selection practices if I'm trying to take them from plants we're also eating from.
Peas, Snow & Snap:
We grow Amish Snap and Sugar Magnolia (another snap pea); 5' x 4' of 3 double rows (middle row for seeds) of the Amish Snap, and 1' or 2' more of Sugar Magnolia gives us enough peas to eat fresh and freeze. Snap peas only freeze moderately well anyway. We grow a 5' by 4' section of Norli snowpeas, because they are the earliest producing pea of any type that we know of. We only eat them fresh and some of the leaves as dau miu. We also grow a 5' x 4' section of Carouby de Maussane. These produce snow peas later and throughout most of mid-summer. They are also the only snow pea we have found that freezes acceptably; NOT well, but acceptably.
We treat these the same as dried beans and they are really included in the comments about dried beans.
Actually, we are still kind of struggling to figure out the quantities and proportions of types of peppers to grow. With things like Thai Orange, a well-grown single plant may give 5 years worth of dried hot peppers. One Jalapeno a year generally does us, and 1 or 2 Long Red cayennes.We usually plant about 6 to 9 plants of Chervena Chushka though, because it does really well in our canned tomato sauce and once that's done I roast and freeze the rest. It's good to have a few plants of Sweet Banana, even though it's not my favourite pepper, because it starts producing so early. Cubanelle: we always like to have 3 or 4 plants and the same goes for Ancho Poblanos. Doe Hill is the best for eating raw, so a couple of those. Then we get into peppers for paprika. They dry down so much that I suspect I need a dozen plants every year even though I've never managed to squeeze that many in. I just run out of my own paprika. Most people won't be growing peppers for paprika though; it's a lot of space and work. Peppers do need at least 18" x 18", and they wouldn't say no to more so it does add up.
We grow a 5' x 24' bed, as well as another 5' x 16' section. Some years we have potatoes left over; some years that's not enough and we run out. Oddly perhaps, the better the harvest, the more likely we are to run out. That's because I like working with nice big potatoes; if there's a lot of little ones I get fed up with scrubbing them eventually and abandon them for something easier. Plus little ones tend to sprout or shrivel sooner. To put it another way, 100 pounds of potatoes is probably good for the 2 of us. Some people eat a lot more, though. Carol Deppe didn't think 1600 pounds were too many for her 2 person household.
Regular summer radishes are so small and so quick that if you like them you can squeeze them in wherever. The salad garden might be a good spot, since they like it cool and damp, and are ready fast enough you need to keep an eye on them.Winter radishes store well, and they should be grown more. Six inches in any direction will allow you to grow a very decent one. Use them for radish fried rice, lo-bak go, roasted, braised, or in salads. You won't need a lot of space for them even so.
There is a rapini that is ready in 40 days. The earlier in the spring it can be planted, the better, especially since it is WAY better when grown in cool weather. It then comes out and later starting things can go in the same spot. Likewise in the fall, plant it where other things have come out; a few here and there. No extra space required.
A lot of people treat these as perennials and give them their own dedicated bed, allowing any not eaten to go to seed the next year. That's great if you have the space. We seem to be growing about 5' x 2' of them each year as part of the regular rotation. We like them but they don't quite qualify as a staple. I suspect I would like to grow a bit more than that, but it's hard to find the space for them.
A 5' x 4' spot gives all the rutabaga we can eat, and more. That should be at least 18 decent sized ones, if not quite as big as the ones usually sold. Does anyone eat more than that?
We plant spinach in August, when the late peas have given up the ghost and have been pulled out. They grow enough that we can usually pick a little in late September and early October, then we cover them and overwinter them for spinach in May. They get pulled and frozen in late May, to allow for planting of the next crop around the first of June - that will be brassicas, most likely. Usually one 5' x 24' bed gives us as much spinach as we want, for both fresh eating and freezing. It could also go into the salad bed by the house, same as lettuce, for salad use.
Squash, Summer (Zucchini):
We grow a dozen plants at least. Seriously, we do. Partly this is because we have had such problems with cucumber beetles and squash bugs for the last few years that we've been doing well to get half a dozen zukes off of each plant. But they are also Mr. Ferdzy's favourite vegetable. They go into every dish of pasta made while they are in season; into salads and stir-fries, into ratatouille eaten at once or to freeze, in short, we use a lot. Keep in mind that there are also some fine flavoured varieties like Golden (yellow) and Costata Romanesca that are noticeably less productive than the standard green. Pattypan squash produce as much as the standard green, at least in number - but they get picked much smaller. And in general, summer squash are better when they are small. So, we err on the side of more plants. Most people will find one or two plants per household member plenty, though.
These are generally lumped in with winter squash, and while they are a storage squash they really don't keep past new year's, at least not well. We find 4 to 6 plants produce all we can eat in that time. They go on a trellis across our 5' bed, taking up about 1 1/2' on either side.
Squash, Larger Winter (incl Pumpkins):
We plant a 5' x 12' section of bed with about a dozen of these; they ramble all over and get in the way, and produce about twice as much squash as we can eat. Somehow we never plant less though. Don't know why not. On the principle that a picture is woth a thousand words, here's about what we can expect from that space: Squash!
We plant a 5' x 16' section of these, and eat the amount produced. We might like to eat more of them than that (in which case we should plant fewer potatoes and squash) but for us the problem is not so much the growing of them - although since we are not in the Carolinian forest area of Ontario, they struggle a bit for us - but the curing of them, which has precise requirements of time, space and energy. If you are interested in growing these, you really should get Ken Allen's book, Sweet Potatoes for the Home Garden.
I would also think that in general anyone growing them in a similar situation to ours can expect to get about half the weight of sweet potatoes out of the same space as regular potatoes.
The big question here is, are you canning them, and if so, in what form? We plant 2 5' x 24' beds with tomatoes; that's 52 plants in total. Seems right to us although we find it hard to resist planting too many eating varieties, just for fun, and inevitably they end up in the sauce, making it thinner. Oh well. We COULD probably make do with half that number, if we were willing to be more business-like about our tomato selections. Still, we expect to make 60 litres of tomato sauce (yes, we live on pasta when I'm not cooking for the blog...), dry a bunch, and can a dozen or so litres of crushed tomatoes. Maybe make salsa or ketchup, if I'm feeling ambitious. Plus eat a bunch of tomato sandwiches in season. I'm not big on putting them in salads, but the moms do.
Probably 4 plants would be more than enough for our fresh eating habits.
Some people say you can plant one and get fruit; some people say you need 2 for cross fertilization. My experience when I planted 1 was that I got some fruit, but they really do much better when there are 2. I suspect that different strains may do different things. I would also think that for most households, 2 will be plenty, allowing several batches of salsa to be made.
Small amounts of space are needed for these. Really, they are a lot like radishes. They grow quickly, and so should be watched, but they can be scattered about or grown in the salad bed.
They get a 5' x 33' bed, and also a 5' x 8' section. I'd say this is more watermelon than we can eat, but after giving a couple away we either ate it, or froze it for use in slushies. Looks like the frozen will by gone by next watermelon season, no problem. But we love watermelon, and I'm breeding it, so really, you should give it however much space you like. Much less will do.
One plant of something compact will mostly sit in a 2' to 3' x 2' to 3' spot, although I would grow at least 2 plants for cross fertilization purposes. They are self-fertile, but still, I think that doubles your odds. Some of the smaller watermelons can reasonably be trellised, I'd say anything up to 10 pounds if you have a good strong trellis - vines will support more weight than you might think. You may wish to tie the vines to the trellis just to make sure, and consider supporting your really big melons with a sling.*
*That's what she said! (Converstion in the garden a few years back: Me, "We've got melons forming!" Mr Ferdzy, "SHOW ME YOUR MELONS!" Both, *long pause, then burst out laughing*)