One of the things I am already learning is that productive vegetable gardens can be a bit overwhelming! At our old apartment, with limited s...

Gardening Series: How Much to Plant

One of the things I am already learning is that productive vegetable gardens can be a bit overwhelming! At our old apartment, with limited sunlight, a lot of wind, and very few beneficial insects, we lost a lot of our growing ability.
Spring mix was mildly successful on the balcony.

Since then, I've figure out a few ways to create a more productive garden: from amending soil with compost to companion planting, our harvest is bountiful so far.

But what do you do with seven giant heads of lettuce that are all ready at the same time?

We've eaten three heads so far.
Did I mention that we also have spring mix and three heads of butter lettuce nearing harvest? That's a lot of salad, since one of our giant, meal-sized salads barely uses one of these giant heads.

We're definitely enjoying the abundance of sweet peas, tender spring mix and crunchy radishes; I got the quantities closer to right on those. But, being my analytical self, I'd like to be a bit more calculating in the timing of my planting.

Ideally, I would be able to set up a giant spreadsheet, with the quantity we can eat each week throughout the year (accounting for seasonality), that then backdates planting times based on days to maturity. Now that would be an undertaking—and a project I might consider in the future.

In the meantime, I'd like to take a simpler approach.

For one and done plants, like heads of lettuce, radishes, beets and carrots, I can simply plant whatever we can eat in a week, every week. For example, if we eat one salad a week, I need three carrots, one beet, three to four radishes and one head of lettuce.

For continuous harvest vegetables, like cucumbers, peas and tomatoes, I need to think about how much each plant produces per week and how many weeks it will produce. This will take time and experience with the varieties I grow. 

Example: I'm finding that we can harvest an average of 5 peas per plant per week. We have been harvesting for the past 4-5 weeks, and I'm expecting another two weeks of harvest before the weather gets too hot. We can easily use peas as our vegetable twice per week, and we each eat about a cup of peas per meal, or 40 pea pods.

That means we need: (80 peas per person per week) x (2 people) = 160 peas per week
(160 peas per week) / (5 peas per plant per week) = 32 plants

Therefore, if we plant between 30 and 40 pea plants, we'll have two of ten meals worth of veggies for the spring season. Add in that salad, and we're up to three meals worth of veggies.

But that's just vegetables. What about fruits and grains? Right now, we don't come close to supplying our fruit and grain needs. That's something I'd like to change. I'm realizing that the balance of our garden leans towards vegetables while our food intake is more like 1 part veggie, 1 part fruit and 2 parts grain.

I'm not planning to start growing rice and wheat in the backyard. Maybe we can add potatoes, though. We've got a lot of space to grow; I don't need to make any crazy potato towers.

Future grapes

I'd also like to dedicate a bit more space to fruit. I'm planning to let the strawberries put out some runners; another blueberry plant might be nice as well (we've got two at the moment). We're planting melons to supplement this summer's stone fruit and berry supply. And our kumquat tree is slowly recovering from whatever ailed it.

We'll have grapes this fall. Maybe figs? Someday, I'd like to add an apple tree, but I'm not sure it gets cold enough. With the additional of some tropical fruits (bananas, mangos, pineapples) and apples/pears in the fall/winter, that would keep us stocked in fruit most of the year.

I'm trying to think seasonally with the fruit: strawberries and raspberries are showing up in spring; blueberries, stone fruit and melons throughout the summer; apples, figs and grapes in the fall; oranges, lemons, limes (and maybe grapefruits) in the winter. Any extras we can give away or freeze, so best to have too much!

We also eat nuts and seeds. I'm growing sunflowers to add to our food supply, but for now we'll rely on the grocery store for these. Someday...

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