Before you can start a food garden, you need to consider what you’d like to grow. The best way to approach this is to consider the foods you and your family enjoy eating the most: not just what grows well in your region. Instead of growing unwanted vegetables that’ll just go to waste, you’ll allot precious garden space to the foods you love.
Plan a Food Garden You’ll Enjoy Eating
Whether you’re a seasoned gardener, or you’re planning a family food garden for the first time, it’s vital to create a plan prior to planting. Otherwise, you may wind up with more zucchini and cucumbers than you know what to do with.
Knowing how much, and what types of foods are the best and easiest to grow in your area is extremely helpful. You can increase the amount of food you produce, cut your grocery bill down considerably, and help your family live a self-sustaining life.
While how much and what you grow is widely determined based on your family’s eating habits, use the following as a guide to help you plan your family food garden (no matter how many people you need to feed).
List out the vegetables you all enjoy the most, and take note of which grow well together. Think of this as your grocery list of produce for the year to help you plan season by season. Don’t b
e afraid to grow more of your family’s favorites, especially if you enjoy a certain variety over another. The main goal is to enjoy the garden.
Types of Veggies
Yes, you’ll base your family food on favorite species, but make sure to include a healthy variety of options. Mixed gardens are appealing both visually, and in terms of flavor. With a wide variety, you can harvest plants at different times and continue harvesting if one crop falls victim to pests.
You may also want to consider selecting the type of crops to grow in your food garden based on location. plant Additionally, you’ll have different options whether you’re cultivating a raised garden bed or a traditional vegetable patch. If you’re growing veggies in a raised garden bed, for example, the five best vegetables that will grow well include:
- Root vegetables such as carrots, beets, radishes, and parsnips
- Leafy greens like spinach, lettuce, and kale
Many people with smaller spaces stick to growing common summer foods, such as lettuce, onions, tomatoes, carrots, and cucumbers. These are easy crops to grow in a variety of ways, including container gardening and raised beds.
Select a sunny location that you can easily access with a water hose or water source. Next, do your research to ensure that the plants you’d like to grow will thrive in that location. Take note of which crops grow productively in your area.
Look at Your Grocery Spending
Are you unsure of what types of foods you buy the most? Just check out your grocery receipt. Find the produce you spend the most money on (or the crops that cost the most). Consider growing these foods yourself to cut back on what you spend at the store.
If your family eats green beans at least four times per month, for example, you’ll need no fewer than 48 servings for the year. Consider whether growing this much is possible for your garden. You can either grow enough to get your family through the summer months, or grow extra and preserve the harvest with proper (and safe) canning methods.
Keep a Food Garden Journal
Adjust your garden from previous years and plan for the future with a garden journal. This is a powerful tool to help jog your memory about past harvests, and a vital reference guide for the future.
If, for instance, last year’s lettuce died or went mostly uneaten, you can plant less this season. In contrast, you can grow more of a vegetable that performed well, and that you really enjoyed. Gardening records for your own family will always look different than another’s needs.
Plan Veggie Rows Based on Yield
Planning charts are widely available online, and they’ll help you to figure out the right number of plants per person you want to feed. Think about how much each plant yields, and add more crops if you want to preserve food for the winter.
Create a plan based on the space you have available, and chart out the garden placement to calculate the correct yields you need.
If you’re not sure how to plan your food garden, consider trying out a pre-planned design. Various options are available for free from gardeners around the globe, and they’ve usually been tested and proven to work.
Grow Fresh Food Longer
Gardeners often use greenhouses, row covers, container planting methods, and cold frames to keep plants frost-free and grow them year-round. You can also use succession planting to help grow more food faster during the summer season.
Succession planting allows you to maximize the space you have by planting a new crop immediately after harvesting another. This process keeps some type of vegetable growing in the space at all times. Many gardens use succession planting with potatoes and beets, planting an early potato harvest for June and then quickly planting beets in their place.
The aforementioned garden journal or planner is a great tool to help you know what dates the crops would need to go in the ground. It can help you remember when you can expect to harvest each as well.
Grow Extra for Preserving/Canning
Growing vegetables that can be canned easily allows families to eat from the food garden all year. Tomatoes are a great example, as they can be used to make pasta sauce or salsa. You can even dehydrate them.
In contrast, low-acid foods require you to add acidity (e.g. pickling) or use pressure canning methods. Do your research and learn about best canning practices while you’re planning your garden. If you’re a newbie canner and you’d like to grow extra to preserve, follow tried and tested canning recipes to start out with. The Bell Blue Book is a great resource, as is Putting Food By.
The following veggies are great options for beginners:
- Pickled vegetables (cucumbers, carrots, beets)
- Jams and jellies
Preserving foods by freezing them is another safe option. Most vegetables are easy to freeze, but they typically require you to blanch and boil them prior to freezing for the best results.
Choosing the Right Food Garden Size
The size of your family food garden depends on several factors:
- How many people you need to feed
- The garden space you have available
- Whether you’re growing food for the entire year, or only for summer meals.
Different crops will yield different amounts of food, so you’ll need to gauge whether your garden size is large enough for your needs. Additionally, how much food you can grow is also based on your skill level.
As a general rule of thumb, you should account for around 100 square feet of garden space for each person you plan to feed. Use the following guidelines based on how large your family is to start:
Family of Two
Beginner gardeners, for example, may start out with a 10 x 10-foot (100 square foot) garden. This offers space for around 3-5 plants from 3-5 different veggies. A harvest of this size is great for small families and small spaces as well.
With a small vegetable garden plan, square foot gardening can help you make sure you grow the largest yield of crops you desire. Raised garden beds are perfect for this task, as you can nail a couple of 2 x 4 boards across the top to divide the square into around 16 small, equal squares. Each square helps you plant as many crops as you wish and keep track of the garden’s progress.
Family of Four
If you’re more intermediate, you can take on a 300-500 square foot garden patch to feed a family of four throughout the summer. This vegetable garden size calculator can help you determine how much of each type of plant you’ll need to feed a family of four throughout the year.
Large Families of Six or More
Advanced gardeners can take on a more ambitious, year-round food garden to feed a large group of people. To feed six or more people, your garden will need to be at least 600 square feet in size. However, you can split up the spaces to grow more by using an assortment of cold frames, raised garden beds, hanging baskets, and traditional garden rows. By using techniques like succession planting or vertical gardening, you may also grow a larger yield.
You can freeze around half of your harvest for meals in the winter months. Additionally, when winter strikes, continue to grow lucrative crops in cold frames or using containers inside. Selecting veggies that are easy to freeze, can, or preserve is helpful as well.
Care for a Family Food Garden as a Family
Do you want to grow enough food to feed the entire family, but don’t have time to care for the garden alone? That’s absolutely okay: just enlist the entire family for help. Get one person to spend a little time caring for the crops each day. This is especially easy if you have a large family to help. Thirty minutes per day is more than enough to weed and water the garden, as well as harvesting mature crops.
A Final Word:
Don’t forget to also account for the crops you may lose throughout the growing season! Expect to lose approximately 1/3 to disease, pests, inclement weather, or other issues. Grow a little more than you planned to account for the unexpected, and all should be well.