How big should I make my veggie garden?

winspiffAugust 17, 2006

We have a very large family and people are always coming to visit. While at the moment there are only three of us at home, our sister lives closeby and often brings friends home to visit. We also have two married older brothers who often visit, plus tons of nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, and guests!

We assume that, although we are only there, that probably over the year we average about 4-5 people a meal. We'd like to grow enough to eat and freeze for the winter - to be as self-sustaining as possible. Space is not an issue. We probably eat salad once or twice a day (although the spinach leaves themselves and the herbs we can grow on the porch), along with vegetables at lunch and dinner; we have quite a bit of fruit every morning, and our mom is known for her huge, elaborate brunches with fruit.

I'd like to err on the side of caution. I'd rather have too many and have the rabbits eat some and give some away rather than have too few. I also plan to do companion gardening.

So, the big question - how many boxes?

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We are also only three but usually have up to five at the dinner table. we have three 4'x 8' beds (not counting the 2 permanent beds for asparagus & artichokes) that keep us in fresh veggies & salads, but don't leave anything for freezing and canning.

This is my first SFG year and I'm now strategizing for next year. I think I'll keep my three beds, but do away with some space-takers that don't produce well for me (cabbage, bok choi, pumpkins, & maybe peas - not sure).

I had figured on 1 bed per person, but may have to up that figure.

I'd like to hear how others came up with their garden bed/person ratio.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2006 at 8:56PM
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I've been starting small and extrapolating what I would need to be 100% self sufficient. The main problem is that I don't really know what I need, since I buy things from the grocery store all of the time.

Note that I'm meaning 100% self sufficient for all food, assuming I'm on a vegetarian diet so I'd need a large range of things to get proper nutrition.

These numbers are for zone 7, you being in zone 4 would change things significantly I think.

My numbers are based on succession planting, ie peas in the early spring, something else in the summer, another started in the fall.

At 4x4=16 square feet per bed, I estimate I would need 24 of these beds to support one person for their vegetable supply in one year. That includes some SFG compatible fruits like blueberries, currants, and other small bushes.

384 square feet just in the beds.

You also need to add space for walkways, making sure that trellises aren't shading other beds, compost bins, fallow beds, losses to pests.

So I would say about 500 square feet per person.

This does not take into account larger fruit trees like apple/plum/peach. I've never grown them so I don't know what kind of space or harvest they produce.

BUT!!! I am just a beginner and I've been making a lot of assumptions. Hopefully someone with more experience can post details.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2006 at 5:14PM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

--So, the big question - how many boxes?

There is only one answer - NOT more than you are willing and able to take care of.

When it comes to it - it really does NOT matter how large the family is or how much you eat, if you can't take care of what you have the garden will become a burden & failure.

The best thing is to make a list of what you want as a starting point. If you keep it small the 1st year, you will be much happier. Remember you can always expand next year and/or the year after. You may decide to move the beds or change something after the 1st year. Most everyone makes changes (improvements) each year. Plus, you may be surprised just how much you can fit in the space you have.

Not what you wanted to hear but hey that is my opinion. Grow into your garden do NOT jump into it.

Remember, Life is a series of choices.

Wishing you well,

    Bookmark   August 19, 2006 at 12:44AM
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Gumby -

I understand where you are coming from. Here's the reason:

I want to put an electrical fence around my square foot garden. I am also putting a lot of hardscape in the whole garden. I would rather make it too big and plant flowers in the empty squares than make it too small, because after I put it in, its in. I won't be able to expand it. So even if some years I don't use it all, I want to make sure it is big enough.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2006 at 10:45AM
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dannyboquet(z9 So Louisiana)

If you eat a mixed diet (not vegetarian) and grow only what does well in your area and buy the rest, you can probably do with three 4'x4' beds (for fresh vegetables, not counting canning and freezing). I am not talking about growing enough to live on, but to supplement your diet with healthy, homegrown vegetables. Fruit would take additional beds. Gumby is right about taking care of a lot of beds. I had one small bed (not square, but about the same area as a 4'x4' bed) that I kept up very well. I added two 4'x12' and one 4'x16' and have been struggling to keep them up. They are also more than I needed for our lifestyle and eating habits.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2006 at 10:05AM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

Guess I missed that part in your original question ;-)
You know men - never good at reading between the lines, ha.

Certainly you want to fence in an area larger than you will garden in. I would think YOU are the only one that could reasonably say just how large.

I think in Mel's 'old book' he gives some guidelines for calculating size. Not sure if it's on his website. But as I recall, even he suggest starting small, likely thinking that people under estimate just how much you can grow in a 4x4ft area.

Decisions, decisions. Not sure that is much help, but from here it's like walking in the dark.

Good Luck,

    Bookmark   August 26, 2006 at 2:05AM
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Personally, I don't like the 4x4 shape. I'm pretty short and can't reach across, so I feel like I'm constantly going in a circle. We've just moved to town and I'm going to switch to 3 foot wide and long lengths. If I have to, I can stretch, and step, across. We have a pretty small yard, about 30x30. What I've done is basically wrapped the perimeter of the yard with a 3 foot wide bed. I'm going to intersperse some flowers with the veggies. It's a college neighborhood, so I can get away with a veggie garden in the front yard. I think it will save a lot of walkway space, too, though I haven't sat down and calculated it.

I wouldn't do square foot if I were really wanting to totally feed myself. I'd go with the old row crops. That way you could use equipment such as a seeder, tiller, those types of things. My dad's generation pretty much fed themselves from the garden and that system seemed to work well. I can't imagine doing that much work by hand.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 10:29PM
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Wow, 100% self sufficient? That's called farming, not gardening. You grow a lot of what does well in your area and you take it to market. Otherwise, you will need at least a half acre of land, 48 hour days and a very long garden hose. You may want to get a good pair of gloves as well. Yikes!

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 11:46PM
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Have you read the classic, "How To Grow More Vegetables(and fruit, nuts, berries, grains and other crops) than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine"

The same group publishes a companion volume, "One Circle, How to Grow a Complete Diet in Less Than 1000 Square Feet" By: Dave Duhon & Cindy Gebhard, 1984, 200 pp , Language: English

"Using the techniques described in How To Grow More Vegetables..., this book will help you explore your nutritional needs and then design and produce a complete vegetarian diet in as little as 700 square feet. Loaded with charts, annotated bibliographies, step-by-step instructions, and even cut-out slide rules for the calculations. YouÂre invited to participate in this bold, new cutting-edge of Biointensive development and research. You will need to read How To Grow ... first."


Here is a link that might be useful: Bountiful Gardens

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 4:17PM
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Added those books to my list, thanks Catherine!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 4:33PM
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I found a good link on this topic on CityFarmer.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Nutrition Garden Project

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 7:14PM
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