Growing your own fresh fruits and vegetables in a summer garden can be so rewarding! There’s nothing like the feeling of walking into the yard to grab some farm-to-table ingredients for dinner! But what if you want your garden to be a more substantial food source for your family? What if you are looking for more food security in your life, and you don’t know where to begin?
That is exactly why I developed this in-depth gardening workbook. This step by step guide will help you to figure out how much food to plant in order to get the harvest that you desire. Sure, you can just throw some plants in the ground and hope for the best. However, if your family is depending on that garden to feed them for the year, you’d better be ready to do a whole lot more planning than that!!!
I’m going to break down my plans into manageable steps for you. Although it takes some time to set up, your chances of success will increase EXPONENTIALLY if you plan ahead! I like to make my charts in an Excel spreadsheet. I use different tabs to keep track of different things. Let me walk you through how I set this up…
A-Z List of Plants
I use the first tab to make an alphabetical list of everything I want to grow. (I actually grow over 100 different things, but for the sake of simplicity, I just chose a few popular ones to demonstrate how to set things up.)
Plant Quantities List
I use the second tab to determine how many plants I will need to start in order to get the harvest that I want. I highlight the background with different colors, just to make it easier to read without mixing up the rows. I put my A-Z list in column A, and after I finish my calculations, I put the number of seeds that I need to start in column B. Feel free to rearrange the columns however you like. I just like having the “# of Seeds to Start” category right next to the names of the plants, because those are the only two columns that I need to reference at planting time.
Figuring out how many seeds to start takes a little processing…
First, I decide how much of each type of produce I would like to eat fresh. In order to determine that, I think about how long that plant is likely to produce. Let’s take tomatoes, for example. My earliest tomatoes usually ripen sometime in late July. So, let’s say that I have roughly 2 weeks in July, 4 weeks in August, 4 weeks in September and 4 weeks in October to be able to harvest fresh tomatoes. That adds up to 14 weeks.
Now I decide how many fresh tomatoes I would like to eat each week. In my household, no one will touch a raw tomato except for me! I might go through one slicing tomato per week for sandwiches or burger toppings. So, at one tomato per week for 14 weeks, I need 14 tomatoes for fresh eating (column E, bottom row of the chart below). Now I need to determine how many tomato plants I will need to grow in order to produce 14 tomatoes over the course of 14 weeks. That answer is one plant (column F, bottom row).
Next, it’s time to figure out how many plants I will need to preserve the amount of tomatoes I want for the year. Now, I know that some people go all out with their tomatoes and preserve spaghetti sauce, salsa, tomato sauce, tomato paste, ketchup, diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, etc. In our family, we grow so many other crops, that I can’t possibly find the time to make all of those tomato variations. I mostly just stick to canning spaghetti sauce.
When determining how many jars of something I want to preserve, I think about how often I plan to eat it. There are 52 weeks in a year, so if I want to eat something once a week, I will need 52 jars to get through the year. If I want to eat it once a month, I will need 12 jars, and so on.
Each year, I aim for canning 104 quart jars (column G, bottom row in the chart below) of spaghetti sauce. That way, we have enough to eat it twice a week all year long. Based on our harvests from previous years, I can estimate that we should be able to get our desired harvest from about 30 plants. If you do not have previous year’s harvests to go by, you have 2 options. You can either take a guess at how many plants you’ll need and adjust the numbers the following year, or you can do a little more math to estimate the number of plants that you will need for your desired harvest.
We have already determined that I will have about 14 weeks of fresh tomatoes to harvest. Let’s say I harvest my plants once a week. That means that each one of my plants will give me about 14 harvests. Now with my Roma tomatoes, I might get about 15-20 tomatoes per plant, per week. Since Roma tomatoes tend to be on the smaller side, it would probably take 1 harvest of about 3 plants worth of tomatoes to make 1 quart jar of sauce.
So, here’s where the rest of the math comes in. I want 104 quarts of sauce. Since I need to harvest 3 plants to equal 1 quart, 3 x 104 = 312. That means, I could either plant 312 plants and harvest them all only once, or I can divide 312 by the number of expected weekly harvests (which is 14), and I can see that planting 22.3 plants will give me enough harvests over the course of 14 weeks to equal the same amount.
Now, because you will always have some loss, whether due to pests, disease or just plain bad weather, ALWAYS plant more than you think you’ll need! That is why I decided that 30 plants would be a good number to start out with (column H, bottom row).
Now, if you are not planning to sell any of your produce, you can skip this next part. We set up a stand at our local farmer’s market, so we want to plant some extra to make sure we have enough to sell this summer. Depending on the weather, we expect to be able to sell our tomatoes at the market for about 8 weeks or so, and we figure we can sell about a half of a bushel each week. Therefore, we need about 4 bushels to sell, which we estimate we can get from about 10 plants over the course of the 8 weeks.
Now comes the part where you add all of these numbers together. This will give you the total number of plants you will need for your intended harvest. We need 1 for fresh eating, 30 for preserving, and 10 for selling.
1+30+10= 41 (column C, bottom row).
Since we know we want 41 plants, we need to decide how many seeds to plant. I buy most of my seeds from Burpee.com because they have the best germination rate of any seed company I’ve used. With Burpee seeds, I usually have close to 100% germination. To be on the safe side, though, let’s count on 75% germination. At a rate of 75%, we would need 55 seeds to get 41 to germinate. I like to throw in a few extra just for good measure, so the total number of tomato seeds I want to plant is 58 (column B, bottom row).
Whew! That was a lot of math!!! Are you all still with me? Now you see why most people just throw plants in the ground and hope for the best! But if you really want to be prepared to feed your family for a year from your own garden, it takes time and LOTS of planning!
I won’t walk you through this same process for all of these crops, but I do want to make a few comments about the peas. Peas are a cool weather crop, so they grow best in the spring and the fall. In column B (third row from the top in the chart above), I wrote S:340 and F:385. The S refers to the number of seeds I intend to plant in the spring, and the F refers to the number of seeds I wish to plant in the fall. If you notice in column D (third row from the top), I only have about 400 peas for seed on hand. I can remedy this by saving some of the seeds from my spring crop and planting them in the fall.
The third tab helps to answer the question of “How much space do I need for all of these plants?” Let’s use our sweet peppers as an example for spacing. The instructions say to plant them 2 feet apart. (Again, you can find planting information on the seed packet or on the seed company’s website.)
So for a 2 ft. by 2 ft. square, 2 x 2 = 4 square feet per plant. Since we already determined on our “Plant Quantities” worksheet that we want to have 36 sweet pepper plants, 36 x 4 = 144 total square feet required for our sweet peppers (column D, second row from bottom).
The square footage of some plants is a little more difficult to measure. Take peas, for instance. If you look at their planting instructions, you need to plant 2 rows 6″ apart from each other, and then leave 24″ in between each set of 2 rows. This makes it very difficult to estimate the square footage that each vine will take up, so in this case, I look at how many linear feet I need for all 680 peas. Since they need to be spaced 2″ apart, I can plant 6 peas per linear foot. 680 peas divided by 6 peas/foot = about 114 linear feet. Now, since peas grow best when you plant them in sets of 2 rows, let’s divide this number by 2, giving us 2 rows that are each 57 feet long. Allowing for 6″ between the rows and a 2 foot buffer on the outside of the plants, we take the length (57 feet) times the width (2.5 feet) to get a total of about 143 square feet of space needed for the peas.
*Note: I plant my peas along the exterior fence of my garden, so I don’t need to allow for space on the other side of the rows. However, if you plant your peas in the middle of the garden, you will need to allot 2 feet on either side of the set of rows, in addition to the 6″ in between rows, so your width will be 4.5 feet instead of 2.5 feet.
The final tab on my garden planning worksheet is for the planting schedule. I find this to be the easiest way to keep track of when to plant my crops. Depending on the types and varieties of fruits and veggies that you grow, they may all follow a different schedule as far as when to plant them. Some seeds will need to be started indoors in early spring, while others can be planted directly into the ground after the last frost of the season. This information should also be on your seed packet or on the company’s website.
Once I enter in the timing for planting, I put my plant list into chronological order. This makes it easy to see at a glance which plants need to be started during the current week.
There is one last category that we haven’t yet explored. That is the harvest amount. I plan to make a new tab on this same worksheet to list how much of a harvest I receive from each type of plant in this coming season. Amounts can be measured in one of many ways. You could measure by the bushel, by weight, by number of fruits or veggies, or by how many jars or bags you were able to preserve. This will help you to know whether or not your harvest was successful and how much to plant in future years.
Well, it’s time to wrap up this post so you can all get going on your own garden planning! If you’re new to gardening and could use some guidance on how to get started, check out this post: “Tips For Starting Plants From Seed.”
I hope that you all find this post helpful, and as always, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments you may have. If you would like to be notified when new information is posted on the blog, please sign up under the “Stay Connected” heading to receive email alerts. (This is located at the top left of your screen if you are viewing on a computer, and is at the bottom of the post underneath the archives if you are viewing on a phone.) Happy gardening everybody!!!😄