Saturday, April 1, 2017

How Much Should I Plant?

     As we work towards the ongoing chore of planning and planting the 2017 garden, that semi-crazy idea of growing enough food to sustain ourselves comes to mind once again.  In reality, we don't have the space, nor the time, it would take to be truly 100% sustainable, so we (more or less) plant enough food to supplement our trips to the grocery store, and certainly lower the grocery bills.  

So much zucchini!  2013 was the year of
more zucchini than I ever cared to see,
some of them almost reaching the
width of baseball bats!  
     Determining exactly how much we need to plant to do this comes with a lot of trial and error, and for certain crops, we've never made it past the error stage.  There are; however, some crops that we are essentially sustainable with unless there is a bad harvest year.  There was the one year that we planted a whopping 200 pea seeds, and yielded over 20 pounds of the tiny green things that blistered our fingers as we shelled them by hand.  The following year we upped it to 400 seeds and a different variety for the spring, and got a measly few ounces of peas that didn't even amount to half a pound for our efforts.  There was the year that our zucchini was decimated by squash bugs, followed by a year where we prayed the squash bugs would decimate the single plant that was producing over 30 pounds of zucchini and causing us to toss more than just the occasional scrap to the chickens.  It's essentially a toss up with what Mother Nature might throw at you.

     It all boils down to how much should I plant?  I've been asked this question multiple times, and in reality, it all comes down to trial and error.  We started off using advice from the internet by simply Googling "how much to plant" paired with some common sense to figure out how much to plant the first year.  From there, we started to expand upon what we needed more of based upon how quickly certain crops were used up.  Here's three tips to get you started that go beyond Googling "how much to plant":

Sit down and calculate what you actually use over the course of a year.

We try not to overburden ourselves with canning and do 1-year,
2-year and 3-year cycles.  Pictured above is a 3-year canning
cycle of Mixed Berry and Strawberry jams.  This year
(2017) our cycles collide so we will be canning all three
cycles at once.  YIKES!
     I know this sounds time consuming (it is) and bothersome, but when your up to your ears in spaghetti squash that only one of your family members will touch, you'll wish you would have listened.  We have three categories that we take into consideration: canned goods, frozen food, and dry goods (and root crops).  I generally don't calculate what we'll eat fresh because that greatly fluctuates with what is in abundance when harvesting.

     Below is an example of what we preserve for consumption later.  (Items that are crossed out means we are using up our current stock and do not plan to can or otherwise preserve them again in the coming year.  Items that are in parenthesis means that we plan on adding them in the coming year if our harvest permits.)

Canned Goods
Apple Barbecue Sauce
Apple Butter
Apple Juice
Apple Pie Filling
Apple Pie Jam
(Baked Beans)
(Beef Stock)
Blueberry Pie Filling
Bread and Butter Pickles
Carrot Cake Jam
(Chicken Stock)
Corn Relish
Corn Salsa
Cranberry Relish
Cranberry Sauce
Dill Pickles
Duck Sauce
Grape Jelly
Grape Juice
Ham Stock
Hot Pepper Jam
Mixed Berry Jam
Peach Honey Butter
Peach Jam
Peach Pie Filling
Peach Salsa
Pizza Sauce
Raspberry Jam
Raspberry Jelly
Raspberry Lemonade Concentrate
Rhubarb Jam
Rhubarb Relish
Rhubarb Sunshine Concentrate
Roasted Red Pepper Spread
Spaghetti Sauce
Strawberry Jam
Strawberry Lemonade Concentrate
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Filling
Strawberry Syrup
Sweet 'N' Sour Sauce
Sweet Pickles
Sweet Pickle Relish
Tomatoes, Diced
Tomatoes, Whole
Tomato Juice
Tomato Paste
Tomato Sauce
Tomato Soup
Turkey Stock
Vegetable Stock
Wineberry Jam  
Frozen Foods
Broccoli, florets
Cabbage, quartered
Cauliflower, florets
Chili Peppers, diced
Celery Leaves
Corn on the Cob
Green Beans
Green/Spring Onions
Jalapeno Peppers, diced
Lima Beans
Patty Pan Squash, sliced
Pumpkin, cooked
Spaghetti Squash, cooked
Sweet Peppers, sliced
Tomatoes, whole cherry
Wax Peppers, diced
Yellow Squash, coined
Zucchini, coined
Zucchini, shredded

Prepared Frozen Foods
From Garden/Produce
Apple Dumpling Roll-ups
Cream of Celery Soup
Egg Rolls
Enchilada Sauce

Chicken Scraps 
*We keep chicken scraps 
frozen to feed them over 
the winter to supplement 
their diets when there is 
limited pasture
Cabbage, shredded
Garden Scraps
Frozen Produce Surplus
left from previous years

Dry Goods
Basil, multiple varieties
Black Beans
Chili Peppers
Hulless Oats
Hutterite Soup Beans
Kidney Beans
Lima Beans
Mangals - chicken feed
Onions, multiple varieties
Pinto Beans
Potatoes, multiple varieties
Scarlet Runner Beans
Sugar Beets - chicken feed
Tomatoes, sun-dried

     Now after reading that list you are probably feeling a little overwhelmed, or perhaps proclaiming "ain't nobody got time for that!"  (Which I wholeheartedly agree with.)  Again, this is an example of how calculating what we use over a course of a year works for us.  It is certainly not meant to be what your family will do because every family has different tastes.

You plant it, you preserve it!  Processing tomatoes is always
the biggest chore around here because there are so many of
them!  This is an evening's worth of cutting tomatoes in 2014
to go through the processor and start canning in the morning.
     In this example, I'm going to use tomatoes as it's a fairly common item for people to plant in their gardens.  Out of the above items, the following have tomatoes in: Corn Salsa, Ketchup, Pizza Sauce, Salsa, Spaghetti Sauce, Sweet 'N' Sour Sauce, Diced Tomatoes, Whole Tomatoes, Tomato Paste, Tomato Sauce, Tomato Soup, Vegetable Stock, frozen Cherry Tomatoes, Enchilada Sauce, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes.  That's a lot of tomato products!  Now say your family eats two large pizzas every month.  A large pizza equals one jar of pizza sauce, meaning you would need to can 24 jars of pizza sauce to get you through the year.  To make 24 (jelly) jars of pizza sauce using Ball's recipe, you will need 39 cups of plum tomato puree (or about 13 pounds worth of plum/paste tomatoes).  IF you are having a good season with a good plant, a single tomato plant can produce 20-30 pounds worth of tomatoes, so you would have to plant half a plant to make pizza sauce, and then the additional harvest for the remaining plant could go to another tomato product.  You would then use the same method for the remaining recipes you want to can to get an estimate of how many tomato plants you'll need to plant.  We usually plant one or two extra in the garden to help if we might have a bad year.  (Note: We plant anywhere from 18 to 40 tomato plants in any given year depending on how many tomato products need canned as we stagger our canning in 1-year, 2-year and 3-year intervals.  A 40 tomato plant year will yield around 600 pounds of tomatoes for us, or an average of just fifteen pounds per plant.  This leads me to my second tip...)

Write It Down!

     Every year you plant you should keep records to help you determine how much you need to plant in subsequent years.  Although you swear you'll remember, in the midst of a crazy harvest season, it's a lot easier to just write it down and look it up than wrack through your already nerve-wracked brain.  We use a cheap produce scale (it's not even digital) and white board that's attached to the side of the fridge to record weight totals as the produce comes in.  Once the white board gets filled, I input the totals and dates the items were harvested into an Excel spreadsheet that will calculate our total produce amount over the season. 

     Having records that tell you how much you planted, and how much you yielded are helpful in averaging how much you will get from each plant in your particular growing location.  Keep in mind, just because you planted ten tomato plants one year and got x-amount of pounds of tomatoes, it does not mean you will get the same amount of tomatoes the following year.  

     After looking back through your records you'll get an idea with how much you should plant.  Here's three examples from our garden, which we are only feeding two from: 

Lima Beans - 38" double row (about 150 seeds).  
This gives us enough to eat fresh, freeze some for use throughout the year, and also enough to dry as seeds for planting next year.  (What happens if we get too much?  If we end up with too many Lima beans, succotash will be added to the menu more often.)

Peas (Hull or Shell) - 38" double row (about 400 seeds) - single planting 
This gives us enough to eat fresh and freeze some for use throughout the year; however, we do not have (at this point) enough to save seeds as well.  We hope with a double planting in the spring and fall this coming year, there will be enough to save dried peas for seeds the following year.  (What happens if we get too much?  Looks like Sheppard's pie will have extra peas in!)

Potatoes - three 38" rows (about 10lbs of seed potatoes).
This gives us enough to eat fresh, store for use throughout the year, and about 10lbs worth to use as seed potatoes for the following year; however, we do need to supplement potatoes from planting until harvesting (about four months) from the grocery store.  Our on-going struggles with the Colorado Potato Beetle and blight also limits the crop that comes out of the ground during harvest.  (What happens if we get too much?  We'll let you know when it happens... ;)  We eat a lot of potatoes!)  

Don't be afraid to re-evaluate each year.

     Once you have a few years worth of experience built up you will quickly find that you may be pawning off zucchini or eggplant on your neighbor every year, stuck without lettuce for three months at a time, or having to buy onions at the grocery store as soon as you put your onion sets into the ground.  It's okay!  It's part of the learning experience of trial and error.  At the end of every (major) growing season we sit down and do a quick evaluation of what we need and what we have too much of, then we adjust our planting totals to try and do better next year.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes, as is in the case of 400 pea plants, it fails miserably. Just remember...

There is ALWAYS next year!

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