Learn the Factors to Consider When Deciding What to Plant
It’s that time of year again, when all those colorful, enticing seed catalogs start flooding your mailbox. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve received 7 seed catalogs (that I’ve kept to look through) and at least as many others that I’ve thrown away.
Once you start pouring over those catalogs, you’re going to be tempted to buy All. The. Seeds. But, is that realistic?
I mean, it might be tempting to get that celeriac from High Mowing Organic Seeds, but do you even know what celeriac is, or whether it will grow in your area? Maybe you’d LOVE to grow all 200 tomato varieties from another catalog, but who’s going to eat them all?
So, what factors should you consider when deciding what to grow, and how much of each variety should you plant?
How Much Space do you Have?
Notice I didn’t say garden space….we’ll get to that in a minute.
First off, how much actual garden space do you have? For instance, I have a 20 x 40 foot vegetable garden, plus two 4 x 15 foot boxes, two raised 3 x 4 foot boxes, and five 3 x 8 foot boxes. It sounds like a lot, but if I don’t plan well, it really isn’t!
So, first, measure your garden space. BUT, there’s more to it than that. Let’s say you measure and decide you don’t have enough space, or maybe you don’t really have any traditional garden space at all. What to do? Just give up and don’t grow food for your family? NOPE! There are other options.
Do you have a sunny patio or deck? Lots of veggies grow really well in containers. Need some ideas? Check out my Container Vegetable Gardening post here.
Do you have flower beds, but no traditional vegetable space? Why not intersperse some veggies in with the flowers? Many vegetables benefit by the added number of bees and pollinators that are attracted to the flowers.
I do this the opposite way and intersperse flowers in my veggies, which has the same benefit of bringing in lots more pollinators. The only “bad” combination I’ve found so far is marigolds and sweet potatoes. For whatever reason, the sweet potatoes grown near my marigolds didn’t do well at all last year.
FUN FACT: Keep in mind that it’s widely accepted that in order to feed a single person entirely with vegetables from a garden for an entire year (assuming that person is a vegetarian) would require 4000 square feet of garden space. That’s a garden 200 x 200 feet, just for one person!!!
Obviously, that’s not realistic for most of us, but many of us aren’t vegetarians either. This is not to discourage you, but rather to help you understand that you can’t realistically feed an entire family just from a veggie garden unless you have unlimited space and you’re superman (or woman!)
How Much Space do your Chosen Veggies Need?
Closely related to how much space you have is how much space your chosen veggies will take up.
For instance, radishes are relatively small, can be planted close together, and grow quickly, so can be harvested and replaced with another crop or replanted partway through the season.
In contrast, butternut squash or watermelon grows on large, sprawling vines that take up a significant amount of space in the garden, and they take a long time to grow and fruit.
You can get around this somewhat by growing on a trellis or fence, assuming you have access to them, but be sure to grow smaller varieties of watermelon if you’re growing vertically so the plants can support the fruits.
By the way, if you need plans for a super easy garden trellis, be sure to sign up for my FREE Resource Library here, and you’ll get those plans, plus lots of other goodies, too. By the way, what you won’t get is spam, and I NEVER share or sell email addresses, so your info is safe with me!.
What Veggies do you and your Family Like to Eat?
This may seem obvious, but so many people see a pretty new variety of eggplant or hot peppers in the catalog and buy the seeds, only to discover that NO ONE eats eggplant or hot peppers!
You’ll find other tips like this for beginning veggie gardeners in my post here.
Another consideration closely related to this is choosing which veggies you want to grow and which you’re ok with buying. Because you’re not realistically growing everything, prioritize what you really want to grow yourself. For me, that’s tomatoes, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and peppers.
I prioritize tomatoes because there’s nothing better than garden-fresh tomatoes. For beans, sweet potatoes, and peppers, it’s because we use a lot of them. For potatoes, it’s because conventional potatoes are loaded with herbicides and pesticides and they’re just too expensive to buy organically in the quantities we use them.
However, I don’t tend to grow a lot of the salad greens unless I have extra room because they’re relatively easy to buy inexpensively, even as organics.
So, what’s your priority?
Is it taste, like it is for me with tomatoes? Maybe it’s price, as I consider when deciding to grow potatoes. Or maybe, you’re like us and you eat so many green beans and use so many peppers that it just makes sense to grow them yourself.
This will be different for each individual and each family, but it’s worth sitting down and thinking about as you make your growing decisions.
Particularly if you’re new to gardening, I would suggest making a list of 5-8 veggies your family really likes and starting with those. Peas, beans, leaf lettuce, radishes and cherry tomatoes are all good beginner choices, as they tend to grow easily without a lot of pest problems.
If your priority is which vegetables are “clean” and which are “dirty” in regard to pesticides and chemicals, you may want to base your growing list on the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. (Please note: These lists are from 2019, the newest available as of this date).
Are you Going to Eat Everything Fresh or Preserve it?
As I mentioned, my family loves green beans, and I preserve several dozen jars a year. Therefore, a good chunk of my garden is devoted to green beans.
My family also loves homemade spaghetti sauce and salsa, so another large chunk of my garden is devoted to tomatoes, with a slightly smaller chunk devoted to sweet peppers.
There is a chart with (very rough) estimates of how many plants to grow per person in your family at the end of this post. The general guideline is that if you’re going to preserve your harvest, you’ll want to grow 4 times as many plants per person as are listed in the chart for preserving purposes.
What Grows Well Where you Live?
If you’re a total beginner, you may not really know yet what works well in your garden. In that case, I’d suggest growing a few of each plant and seeing how things go, understanding that different years may give you vastly different results.
Different varieties may also give you varying success rates, so growing two varieties of one vegetable isn’t a bad idea either. For instance, I have lots of luck with Coccozelle zucchini, but I’ve grown a round variety that did absolutely nothing.
Another option would be to check with your neighbors and see what they have, or don’t have, success with and give those veggies a try. This isn’t foolproof either because each yard will have different soil and different sun amounts, but it’s a good place to start.
For instance, 2017 was a banner year for tomatoes for me. I grew over 315 lbs of tomatoes that year and I don’t believe I had to water them once. The bushes were so tall they were taller than my 6 foot hubby!
Then came 2018. UGH! It rained, and rained….and rained some more. Other than the cherry tomatoes, all my tomatoes rotted on the vines before they had a chance to ripen. If I got 10 pouns of tomatoes that year, I’d be surprised.
And then, 2019. *sigh* NO RAIN AT ALL! Seriously, nothing. I irrigated and irrigated and just couldn’t keep up (particularly because we’re on well water and I have to be careful). If you’d like some suggestions for irrigation systems, you can check out my Watering your Garden post here.
So, I now know from previous years’ experience that I should probably plant extra tomatoes, as their success is really variable based on the season.
But, in contrast, my beans do well no matter what. They don’t require a ton of water, and they don’t seem to care if they get lots and lots of it either. I do grow mostly pole beans, so they’re up away from the soil, and I think that makes the difference. So, I can estimate pretty well what I need to plant for beans every year.
After several years of growing, as long as you make notes, you’ll have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t in your garden too. You can document your gardening year to year in lots of different ways. Two that I use are a garden journal (you can find my printable one for sale here) and Trello (an online resource I LOVE! And it’s FREEEEEE!!!)
What Bug and Disease Problems do you Have?
Be realistic. You’re gardening organically and that means there will be bug and disease issues. It’s just the way it is.
I don’t care if you’re a pro at companion planting and you pick every stinking squash bug off your plants. They’ll STILL find a way to get some of your crops. That’s just life.
And no matter how good you are at crop rotation, you’ll still have some diseases. Again, it’s just life, and something you’ve got to adjust for.
My garden is a popular meeting spot for the entire squash bug population of the Northeast. Ok, maybe not, but it seems that way!
At the beginning of the season, I’m a really good little gardener and I go out and find every last one of the little buggers and squish them, and I squash all the eggs too. BUT, then it gets really hot out and there are 637 other things to do and I forget for a day or two. Suddenly, I have 3.3 million squash bugs, and they start to damage my plants.
I know this will be a problem, so I react in two different ways. First, I get my squash started early inside and try to get it planted as soon as the weather permits, so I can beat the worst of the bugs.
Second, I plant extra squash plants because I know I’m going to have some losses. As squash plants are also prone to powdery mildew (a problem here many summers), I have to factor this in as well. Powdery mildew doesn’t tend to hit here until later in the season, so again, getting the plants in and growing as soon as possible helps, but I know there will be losses from disease as well.
But I Want to Plant New and Different Varieties!
Of course you do! If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be a gardener! I grow new varieties or even entirely new veggies every year.
However, I don’t devote huge amounts of space to these new and different veggies. For instance, last year I grew Chinese red noodle beans for the first time. One of my smaller boxes was empty anyway, so I grew them there. They did really, really well and were super prolific. Great, right? Um, yeah, except that only one of us liked them! Oh well, cross that one off the list!
Will I grow something (or several somethings) new this year? Absolutely! But again, I’ll grow my tried and true in the majority of the garden, and a few new things in a small area until I’m sure they’ll grow well and we like them. That’s what makes it fun, after all!
Below you’ll find a chart with rough estimates of how many plants to grow (per person) for your family for fresh eating. Again, if you’re planning to preserve any varieties, you’ll want to plant as much as 4 times as much per person for preservation purposes.
Because I used information from a number of sources for the below table, some vegetables had vastly different recommendations. Therefore, numbers in parentheses ( ) indicate a high estimate given by a single source.
Vegetables with a * after their name are ones where the estimates given are good for 1-2 people, so the number given should only be doubled for a 4-person family, not multiplied by 4 (unless you absolutely love them, of course!).
|Vegetable||Number per person|
|Beans (bush)||5-10 (15)|
|Cucumbers*||1 vine or 2 bushes|
|Leaf Lettuce||24 (Head varieties ~ 5)|
|Peas||15-20 (30) ~ shelling; 3-5 ~ snow|
|Peppers||3-5 ~ sweet; 1-2 ~ hot|
|Zucchini & Squash (summer)*||1-2|
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s post and that it’s been helpful. You’ll find some pinnable images below. Please pin them to your Vegetable or Gardening boards for future reference!
As always, thanks for reading, please feel free to leave a comment, smile and have a crazy organic day!
Posts Related to What to Plant for your Family
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- Printable Garden Journal
- FREE Resource Library