Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Looking Ahead: Calculating How Much to Grow to Feed Our Family

Starting seeds for herbs, fall cabbage and brussels sprouts.

I have a confession. I hate math but I love to calculate and budget things. Weird, I know, but I never said I wasn't a strange one! When Montana Man is away I like to keep myself busy in the evenings and lately I have been wrapping my head around how we can affordably, both with money and space, grow the majority of our food. If you were to look at our grocery receipts you would see I spend 80-90% of our food budget on produce (organic mostly), dairy products and animal protein most weeks. If I am re-stocking our gluten free pantry than this skews the ratio a bit... but you get my point. I can easily spend $20-$40 a week just on produce (or $1,040-$2,080 a year!). This year as I have seen positive fruits from my garden it has motivated me to solve the puzzle that is fitting all the plants we need into an affordable space within means I can actually achieve. I have now seen that properly managed intensive planting (more plants in less space) actually works and it has really encouraged me! So, I started my project with a list (of course) of all the veggies and legumes we eat regularly that I felt are practical for us to grow ourselves.

Our family eats in a year (approximately):

Tomatoes: 200 pounds
Onions: 108 pounds
Carrots: 48 pounds
Potatoes: 300 pounds
Green Beans: 30 pounds
Dry Beans: 20 pounds
Beets: 50 pounds -
Broccoli: 50 pounds
Brussels Sprouts: 10 pounds
Cabbage: 30 pounds
Butternut Squash: 50 pounds
Spaghetti Squash: 100 pounds
Pumpkin: 20 pounds
Zucchini: 20 pounds
Summer Squash: 10 pounds
Peas: 10 pounds
Peppers, Bell: 50 pounds
Peppers, Hot: 25 pounds
Parsnips: 20 pounds
Spinach: 50 pounds
Swiss Chard: 50 pounds
Kale: 25 pounds
Garlic: 50 bulbs
Cucumbers: 50 pounds

Chicken: 80 pounds +
Red Meat (beef, venison, moose, bison): 60 pounds
Pork: 50 pounds
Fish and Seafood: 50 pounds -/+
Eggs: 50 dozen+ (we already have a laying flock)

Milk: 100 gallons +
Cheese: 80 pounds
Yogurt: 20 quarts +
Other dairy: 20 pounds +

Apples: 50 pounds +
Berries: 50 pounds -/+
Stone Fruit: 25 -/+
Rhubarb: 15 pounds -/+
Bananas: 100 pounds -/+
Grapes: 20 pounds +
Melons: 50 pounds +

I am not going to list our grains simply because it is superfluous to this project, we will never have enough land or money to grow our own grains efficiently. And, honestly, we tend not to eat a grain based diet so I don't mind continuing to buy this category from the store or perhaps someday from a local mill or even online. If we were too look at this from a "survival" perspective, potatoes would be a fine replacement starch in our diet and cornmeal would once again be a staple as it was centuries ago. We would likely be healthier for it!

Each family is different and your list would likely look much different than mine. These amounts are also based on our current family size of two adults and two children who are eating real food. Once baby #3 starts eating solids as a main diet the amounts will likely increase slightly.

After printing graph paper to test fit and playing with companion and succession planting theories I concluded that with the available area with full sun around our house we can grow most of the vegetables we need in five 12' x 4' and two 3' x 20' raised beds. The two 20' beds will be along the southwest facing wall of the house and the other beds will be on the northeast side of the house beyond the house's shadow. I believe each spot gets at least six hours of sun but I will track it more carefully this summer to make sure. So, with these seven beds plus what I currently have that gives me 405 square feet. I'm sure many of more seasoned gardeners think that sounds completely ridiculous and way too small. If it is, then I guess I will find out and need to add on! But, here is how I broke it down:

12' x 4'

Bed 1:
48 potato plants (1 square foot per plant)

Bed 2:
3 zucchini
2 summer squash
4 pumpkins
4 butternut squash
4 spaghetti squash
(all have at least 24" square and vines are run over the sides, bush varieties in the middle)

Bed 3:
16 broccoli (18" square per plant)
96 pole beans (trellised, one row on each side, 3" spacing)
8 brussel sprouts (1 square foot per plant)

Bed 4:
16 broccoli (18" square per plant)
48 cucumbers (trellised, one row on each side, 6" spacing)
16 cabbage (18" square per plant)

Bed 5:
144 peas (trellised, one row on each side, 2" spacing)
108 onions (4" plant spacing, 6" row spacing)
360 carrots (2" plant spacing, 4" row spacing)- spring
48 beets (3" plant spacing, 1 row)- fall
144 spinach (3" plant spacing, 4" row spacing)- fall

20' x 3'

Bed 1:
13 tomatoes (18" x 24" per plant)
160 bush beans, for dry beans (3" plant spacing, 6" row spacing)

Bed 2:
13 tomatoes (18" x 24" per plant)
180 onions (4" plant spacing, 6" row spacing)

Four 3' x 2' beds:
swiss chard
any experimental greens

7' x 3' bed:
spring spinach
miscellaneous fall/winter crops

Topsy Turvy planter(s):
all peppers
(I have 1 and would like to get 3 more)

I used a few online charts to give me rough ideas of crop yields and such (just Google 'vegetable yield per plant') and paired that with how much we eat of what and how frequent. Not rocket science but quite a mental chore especially for my pregnant brain! Of course all this calculating and planning is well and good, but the true test of whether I am right or not will come a year after we harvest. We will either have enough or not. I did list other food categories above but I am going to keep this post to just vegetables so it doesn't become a book! In the next few years we would like to add raising a pig every spring, a milk cow and raise her bull calves for meat but keep or sell heifers and hopefully our new chickens will be hatching chicks every year for our freezer and to replace old hens. This year we will are raising 32 roosters for meat and that will give us about 160 pounds of dressed meat which should see us through a year at least plus all the chicken stock I could ever need!

I've just started a few more seeds today for fall savoy cabbage and brussels sprouts as well as herbs that I had kinda forgotten about. I don't grow many herbs right now simply because I don't have a ton of room. At the house I will be making a dedicated perennial herb garden as well as grow more annual culinary herbs probably in pots. I do use a lot of herbs in my cooking so it would be nice to grow a surplus and dry them since most are fairly expensive now. I would also like to perhaps plant some garlic in the fall but this may depend on whether I have my raised beds in or if I want to sacrifice most of my large raised bed in the greenhouse... decisions, decisions!

Alright! That's enough for today, til next time!

This post was shared at Green Thumb Thursday Bloghop.


  1. Good planning! I wish we had done more planning at the outset. We might have the worst garden layout in the history of gardens! We have 2 large gardens, 4 small-medium gardens, a blueberry patch, a small orchard, and 2 herb beds - and very few of them are near each other. I spend a good portion of the day dragging hoses around!

    1. If you can't reorganize anytime soon/ever I would highly recommend getting some Dap pro-x hoses. They are much better quality than most expandable hoses but very light and easy to use. I just got 2 a few weeks ago ( I'm pregnant and dragging hoses is not on my to do list! Lol!) and I love them. Kind of expensive but I saw it as an investment :-)

  2. I'm so not detail oriented so thank you for this post! Thank you, too, for sharing it at Green Thumb Thursday! Come back this week and help a girl out.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you for reading :-)