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Tips for Deciding How Much to Plant Per Person in Your Garden

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Basket full of many different kinds of fresh summer vegetables.

When you’re getting ready for the new gardening season to start, one of the important things that you have to figure out is how much to plant per person in your garden. Whether you’re trying to decide how many seeds to buy and start indoors or whether you’re trying to figure out how many seedlings to buy from your local farm or garden center, it’s helpful to have a plan for how many you actually need.

In previous years, my garden was always primarily a hobby garden. I love being able to grow unique heirloom varieties for their historical significance and because I think fresh, garden-grown vegetables taste SO much better. Over the past year or so, though, I’ve been really evaluating my garden to work towards actually growing more food to feed my family and not just as a hobby and seeing how much money I can save on food by planting a garden.

So this coming year I’m doing a lot more planning and thinking through how much of each type of vegetable we usually eat and how many plants I would need to grow in my garden per person for the year (for some crops at least.) I realize that I have to be realistic with my garden space and growing conditions, and I know that I probably wouldn’t be able to grow 100% of all of the vegetables that we eat in a year. But I think that I might be able to grow a year’s worth of at least some of them, and I can also grow a good amount of some of the “extras” that aren’t staple crops we eat year-round but are seasonal vegetables that we enjoy fresh for part of the year.

There are a lot of different factors that can effect the decision of how much to plant, including your family size and food preferences, your garden space and climate, etc. so the number of plants that you need per person will vary a lot in different households and in different parts of the country. But thinking through these different factors can help you to come up with a good estimate so you know how to plan more accurately when you’re figuring out how much to plant per person.

9 Factors to Consider for Deciding How Much to Plant Per Person in Your Garden

1) Are You Growing Just For Fun Or to Feed Your Family For the Year?

This is one of the more important considerations because there is a huge difference between growing a few varieties of vegetables as a hobby and actually trying to feed your family on your garden harvest.

If your garden is a hobby garden, then you may be growing vegetables primarily because you love the taste of fresh vegetables in season, because you enjoy the act of gardening, and because you like being able to try unique varieties that you can’t find in a grocery store among other reasons. If your garden is a hobby garden like this, then the vegetables that you grow are delicious and high-quality supplements to the other food that you buy from the store or farmer’s market and you won’t need to grow as many plants per person.

If you are actually trying to feed your family for the year with your garden, though, you will need to grow substantially more plants. Depending on the size of your garden space, this may not be realistic, or at least it might not be realistic for all types of crops. My family eats a lot of carrots and potatoes as staple crops, for example, and with the size of my garden it just wouldn’t be realistic for me to expect to grow all of the carrots and potatoes that we would eat for the entire year in my garden space. I might be able to do it if I devoted all of my garden space to growing just those two vegetables, but then that wouldn’t allow me to grow any of the other vegetables I love to grow like beans and tomatoes and squash, etc.

So, if you have a lot of land and a big garden space, then it might be do-able for you to grow a year’s worth of vegetables, but if you have a smaller space, then you will probably have to pick and choose which vegetables you are going to grow.

2) Family Size

The size of your family will make a big difference in the amount of food that you grow in your garden, too. A family of 2 or 3 would need a much smaller garden than a family of 5 or 6 would, for example. You can also consider how much food each family member typically eats and whether you eat the majority of your meals at home or whether some of your family members regularly eat out instead.

3) Foods You Like to Eat

The kinds of foods that you and your family like to eat will affect the amount of plants that you would need per person. It also makes a difference how many of your family members like a particular food, too. So if you are the only one in your family who likes broccoli but the rest of your family don’t like broccoli, then you wouldn’t need nearly as many broccoli plants as you would if your whole family were broccoli lovers.

4) Do You Want to Eat Your Vegetables Fresh or Preserve Them?

The amount of vegetables you will need to grow will depend on how you want to use them, too. If you are only interested in eating fresh tomatoes in season, for example, and you plan on having them in salads and sandwiches and maybe cooking with a few of them occasionally, you won’t need nearly as many tomato plants as you would need if you were planning on canning tomato sauce for a year’s worth of spaghetti and pizza, etc.. And if you like using some fresh basil in your cooking in the summer time, you wouldn’t need nearly as many basil plants as you would need if you want to make lots of pesto to keep for the future.

And, again, your family’s eating habits would come into play here, too. If you eat spaghetti and pizza and other tomato-based foods several times a month then you would need a lot more tomatoes than you would need if you just ate them a few times a year.

It’s also good to think about how much time and space you actually have for preserving your garden vegetables, too, as well as how long each one will typically last in storage. Most root vegetable crops along with cabbages and winter squashes will keep for several months throughout the fall, winter, and early spring if you store them properly and plant varieties that are designed for storage. But other vegetables won’t keep very long at all unless you do canning or freezing or drying etc. to preserve them.

5) Expected Yield for Your Individual Garden Space

This one is a big one for me to consider in my own garden. Whenever I’ve seen planting calculators and charts online, the information they give isn’t usually very realistic for my garden because my yard has very little space that would actually qualify as full sunlight. I’m expanding part of my garden into a slightly sunnier spot in the yard this year, but the majority of my garden space struggles to get more than 5 hours of sunlight a day, so I have to be realistic with the amount of yield that I can expect from my garden.

If a plant planning chart suggests planting so many number of tomato plants for each person with the expectation that each tomato plant will yield a certain amount of tomatoes, I need to scale down that amount a bit because I know that with my lower sunlight it’s not likely that I will get as many tomatoes as someone growing them in full sun would be able to get.

The same thing goes for soil quality, too. If you have very good quality, fertile soil, you can grow a lot more vegetables than you can if you have poor quality soil. So, depending on your soil quality and the amount of sunlight that you get, you might have to adjust estimated yields per plant to reflect the conditions in your garden space.

6) Expected Yield for Your Particular Climate

Your climate is another thing to take into consideration because some types of vegetables do better in certain climates more than others. So, if you are growing a vegetable that really prefers a warm climate and you are trying to grow it in a cooler climate with a short growing season, you probably can’t expect to get as high of a yield from that plant as you would if you were growing it in a more ideal location for that plant. The same thing would apply to growing cool-weather crops in a warm climate with very hot summers. And some crops also prefer drier conditions or more humid conditions, too. So climate is something else to think about when estimating how much you expect to harvest from your plants at the end of the season.

7) Are You Planning On Saving Any Seeds from Your Harvest

Another thing to consider would be whether you are planning on saving any seeds from your harvest to plant in next year’s garden. This wouldn’t matter as much for vegetables like winter squash where you would be scraping out the seeds before eating the squash anyways. But for other vegetables like peas where the seeds are the peas themselves, you have to factor in the amount of seeds you want to save when you are figuring out how much to plant. If you buy all seedlings or if you grow hybrid varieties and you purchase all of your garden seeds new each season, though, then you wouldn’t need to designate part of your harvest for saving seed.

8) How Much Do You Normally Eat of Each Type of Vegetable?

If you eat a specific vegetable on a weekly basis, then you would need a lot more of that type of vegetable than you would of one that you eat only occasionally. In order to figure out how much you actually eat of eat type of vegetable, it’s helpful to keep track of your family’s eating habits to see what your typical consumption of each crop would be.

One way of doing this is to save your grocery receipts for several weeks and take note of how much you are buying of each type of vegetable. If you typically buy and use a 5 lb. bag of potatoes every week, for example, and you typically eat potatoes during the fall, winter, and spring months, then you would multiply 5 pounds of potatoes by 32 weeks (as an estimate), and you would need to grow about 160 pounds of potatoes in order to average 5 pounds of potatoes for September through April.

9) Expected Yield Per Plant

It’s hard to really accurately estimate an expected yield per plant because there are so many factors that can effect that yield like your soil quality, your growing methods, sunlight exposure, the weather, etc. There are also a lot of differences in the yields of specific plant varieties, too. So the best way to know the expected yield per plant in your individual garden would be to keep track of how much you harvest from each type of plant in your garden and then use those notes to help you plan how much to plant per person in future years. But I know that that’s not exactly helpful if you’re trying to decide how much to plant for this year’s garden.

If you have been gardening for several years already, then you might already have an idea of an estimate of how much you usually harvest from each type of plant per year on average. If you know that you usually get around 10 full-size tomatoes from each tomato plant in your garden, for example, then you can use that as an estimate to plan how many plants you need.

Some plants are really easy to figure out the yield that you can expect to harvest from them. With garlic, for example, you will get one head of garlic from each individual clove that you plant. So if you plant 20 cloves of garlic, you can reasonably expect to get 20 heads of garlic (assuming that they all grow without any issues.) And if you are growing crops like carrots, parsnips, onions, etc. you will get one carrot per plant and one parsnip per plant. The size of each carrot will vary, but it’s still more straightforward for figuring out yields than a plant like beans where it’s harder to estimate how many bean pods the plant will produce.

If you’ve never gardened before, or if you haven’t ever really kept track of how much of each type of vegetable your garden has produced in the past, you can use garden yield estimates as a starting point. Here are a few different charts to help to give you an idea of estimated amounts to plant per person. I’ve found all of these websites and YouTube channels to be very helpful with gardening and homesteading advice, and I’ve used these some of these estimates to create my own adjusted plan for how much to plant by factoring in my own garden space and family food preferences. (Note: The YouTube videos on some of these pages are really helpful, too, if you’re looking for more information on this topic.)

Putting It All Together

So, in order to figure out how much to plant per person in your garden, you can use all of these different factors to figure out a good estimate of how many seedlings you should buy or how many plants you should start from seed. You’ll never have an exact amount, but over time you can get an idea of a reasonable estimate.

You can start with the expected yield from each type of vegetable (using either your past garden experience of one of the charts I linked to above), and then you can adjust that expected yield as needed based on your garden.

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Basket full of many different kinds of fresh summer vegetables.
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

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