Many people arrive at the end of the gardening season and wish they had planned their vegetable garden better. Often there is wasted space, and sometimes we have grown things that were not used, and perhaps couldn’t even be given away.
Now is a good time to begin planning for next year’s vegetable garden – to make sure you realize the greatest benefit from your valuable time and available space, and that you make the most of those precious 6 months of growing which nature provides us.
First you should decide what your garden is used for. Is it for casual use, with just a few things grown for fun, or do you depend on it as a major source of your family’s food? Next, decide what kinds of things are best to grow – juicy tomatoes, or that new triple-sweet corn. And then plan for how much of each thing you will grow.
How your garden is used depends on 1) whether or not you’re able or willing to devote serious effort to your garden, 2) whether you expect to feed your family just during the growing season or for the entire year, 3) what things your family likes to eat, 4) will there be supplementation from other sources, or will you be depending on your garden completely, and 5) do you want or expect to earn money from the sale of your produce.
An excellent and comprehensive database of commonly grown vegetables, with when, where, and how they can be grown, as well as how much they will produce (14 total categories of important information), is contained in The Mittleider Gardening Course book, on page 262. This document is a wonderful resource for the serious family gardener, and can be found at http://www.growfood.com/shop
I recommend growing high-value and ever-bearing crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, pole beans, zucchini, etc., to maximize your yield in the minimum space, for the least cost and effort.
Let’s assume you have a large family you want to feed from your garden, but that you only have 1/16th of an acre that can be used for this purpose. I’ll give examples of what can be grown in 30′-long soil-beds.
On 1/16th of an acre you should be able to grow sixteen 30′-long soil-beds that are 18″ wide, with 3 ½’ interior aisles and 5′ end aisles.
In the early spring you should start growing many frost-tolerant extremely healthy greens, such as Swiss chard, kale, collards, celery, broccoli, leaf lettuce, cauliflower, and radishes. Virtually the entire plant is edible on each one of these, and for the best health benefits as well as the most production, you will want to learn to prune the outer leaves of all of these – every week – and eat them. Doing this can change celery from a “one and done” crop to something you can eat for 9 months! And most of the others are the same. And they don’t take up a lot of space! Plan on having these 8 crops in just 2 beds.
Using vertical growing with the Mittleider Method (which includes “the best of organic” gardening, container gardening, “the poor man’s hydroponic” gardening, and soil gardening), your garden should produce the following amounts of fresh, healthy and tasty vegetables:
2 beds of indeterminate tomatoes – 1,500-2,000# of tomatoes from July through October.
1 bed of sweet peppers – 250-500 peppers.
1 bed of eggplant – 250-500 eggplant.
1 bed of cucumbers – 400-800 cucumbers.
1 bed of pole beans – 200-400# of beans.
1 bed of summer squash – 250-500# of summer squash.
So far we’ve only used 9/16ths of the garden, and you have more than enough vegetables to feed the family during the growing season, with excess to sell or give away. Doubling the space of these 6 crops could provide income to buy other food staples, and/or provide sufficient to dry or bottle food for the winter months.
Growing easily-stored food in the other 7 beds in your garden, such as potatoes, cabbage, beets, onions, garlic, turnips and carrots, most of which can produce two crops in a growing season, can provide the family fresh food during the growing season AND through the winter. You should be able to produce the following amounts, and if you will provide proper cold storage these can be usable for up to 6 months.
1 bed of carrots – 200-400# of carrots.
1 bed of cabbage – 200-400# of cabbage.
1 bed of beets – 100-200# of beets.
1 bed of onions – 200-300# of onions.
2 beds of potatoes – 400-600# of potatoes.
In this scenario you have one bed left to plant. Crops like corn, large squash, and watermelon should only be grown if you have ample EXTRA space, because they take much space for the yield they produce. For example one bed of corn should produce about 90-100 ears of corn – all within about 2 weeks, whereas a bed of tomatoes should produce 750-1,000 POUNDS of tomatoes, spaced over 4 months.
Take the time now for this important planning exercise. Have your family decide what they want to eat, calculate the amounts of each vegetable needed, and then plan your space so you can grow at least that much in your garden.