Growing enough food for yourself to last a year is a hefty challenge no doubt, but if you are looking for an excuse to get outside and be more active, then getting a garden started is a step in the right direction. Whether you have 1/2 an acre or upwards of 20 acres, planting a garden to provide you enough food surprisingly only takes a little bit of planning with a calendar and some (much needed) time in the sun tending to it. In this post I’m going to show you how I got myself organized to get ready for planting a year’s worth of food. Are you ready to plan your pants off?!
I am self-admittedly a land-pimp, meaning if I have the land then I am dang well going to make every last inch of it work for me. Something that always grinds my gears is the amount of time people spend on their lawns year round, but those lawns don’t even yield them anything edible! So if you are taking the time to make your indigestible grasses look like a golf course, then you should take a moment to consider the pay-back if you took the time you spent on your pristine lawn and spent it instead on a veggie garden. If you aren’t a part of a dreaded home owners association that has intense lawn-care rules, consider taking up some of that turf and plotting out a garden…and then maybe ditching the mower and planting some bee-friendly wildflowers instead.
Alright, lawn-care rant over. I promise.
Let’s talk free online gardening resources to get you started. In south eastern Wisconsin I live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5b. You can look up what zone you are in by visiting their website here. This means that our coldest temps get down to -15 degrees, our last frost occurs mid/end of April, and our first frost occurs beginning/mid of October.
Next on your to-do list is figuring out what to plant in your hardiness zone. There are numerous websites that give you a run down of the vegetables, herbs, and flowers that do well in your climate, but my favorite one is this one because it is so straight forward. There are only veggies listed here, but herbs’ zone preferences can be researched on their site as well. Once you figure out what zone you are in, go through and find the vegetables and herbs you and your family eat on a weekly/monthly/seasonal basis and write them down, much like a gigantic grocery list. Here is our list:
Yukon Gold Potatoes
Yellow Summer Squash
Catnip (for the queen herself)
Chamomile (for tea)
Echinacea (for tea)
Lavender (for all the good smells)
Those are all the edibles we are planning to plant. Some are pushing the hardiness zone limitations I will admit, but we are going to give it a trial run and see!
Next, you are going to go through your list and make note of how much of each is eaten per person per year. Have no idea? Of course you don’t! That’s why I’m including it below (you’re welcome). Keep in mind some vegetables grow on an individual basis and some grow into bushes/climbing vines that yield more than just one edible plant.
Artichokes 2 - 6 plants per person
Asparagus 12 - 14 plants per person
Bush Beans 12 - 18 plants per person
Lima Beans 12 - 18 plants per person
Pole Beans 12 - 18 plants per person
Beets 12 - 18 plants per person
Broccoli 8 - 12 plants per person
Brussels Sprouts 4 - 10 plants per person
Cabbage 4 - 8 plants per person
Carrots 100 - 300 plants per person
Cauliflower 6 - 8 plants per person
Celery 8 - 10 plants per person
Corn 16 - 40 plants per person
Cucumbers 6 - 8 plants per person
Eggplant 1 plant per person
Kale one 6’ row per person
Lettuce 12 - 14 plants per person
Melons 2 - 4 plants per person
Onions 50 - 70 plants per person
Peas 30 - 50 plants per person
Peppers 6 - 8 plants per person
Potatoes 15 - 40 plants per person
Pumpkins 1 plant per person
Rhubarb 2 - 4 crowns per person
Spinach 10 - 20 plants per person
Summer Squash 2 - 4 plants per person
Winter Squash 2 plants per person
Sweet Potatoes 8 -10 plants per person
Tomatoes 3 - 5 plants per person
You’ll start to think about your family’s consumption more as you get through the list. An example being we cook with green onions at nearly every dinner, that’s approximately 300 dinners for which we need green onions. We go through a bag of carrots (about 10 carrots) and a bag of celery (one bunch) every week, so that’s about 58 celery bunches and 580 carrots for the year. See how when you really think about it it starts to add up? Of course with us following the Paleo diet, we adhere to much more veggies and potatoes per meal. Maybe you want to take the plunge and incorporating more fresh vegetables into your diet - you go and make it happen! Take a moment and think about your cooking habits, and make a judgement call for yourself and your family. When that garden starts producing you will have no choice but to gorge yourself on fresh vegetables every single day to keep up with the garden!
Which brings me to the next phase of gardening, planning out the layout of your garden. There is an amazing free online resource called Zukeeni which provides you with a list of vegetables, herbs, and flowers to select and add to your garden, lets you plug in the square footage of your garden, and then let’s you plan it all out with a little interactive diagram. It’s basically the best thing I’ve ever discovered on the internet. Here’s a snapshot of my garden that I planned out, plus a key to help you identify plants.
Isn’t it beautiful?! You’ll notice there are some additional plants and flowers in my garden that I didn’t list above. Some of these additional flowers and plants are called companion plants. What is companion planting? I’ll be dedicating an entire post to this subject soon, but for now the concept is simple. Companion plants can enhance the flavor and growth of their neighboring plants. They also act as a natural insecticide and fungicide to protect their neighboring plants. It’s one of the safest and most effective ways to protect your garden organically. Check out the list below of my personal choices for companion planting.
Protective and Flavor Enhancing Companion Plants
There are many more plants that work as companion plants, but I’ve chosen these because I know I will eat them and cook with them alongside the plants they are protecting. Here is a complete list if you want to add more to your garden.
The number one winner of protective companion planting is marigolds. These little bursts of orange awesomeness clean the soil of root-eating microbes and deter numerous plant killing bugs - aphids, squash bugs, bean beetles, tomato hornworms, and white flies. Rabbits and deer also despise the marigold’s smell, so you can kiss those greedy nibblers goodbye! Now you understand why I’ve basically surrounded each garden bed with an ample cluster of these powerhouse companion plants.
Next up is oregano. You can use this herb like the marigold and surround your garden beds with it. Oregano deters many insect pests that munch on vines and leaves. I’ve used it to safeguard my squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and watermelon.
Then there is green onions. Green onions deter many insect pests as well. They also help the growth of nearby plants. I’ve chosen to plant them alongside my carrots, potatoes, sweet peppers, and radishes.
Basil is the next companion plant I will be utilizing. This delicious plant enhances the flavor and growth of tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce, which is why I have them teamed up in my garden layout. Go team basil!
Then we have spearmint. This minty herb is another deterrent because of it’s smell, mice, ants, and bugs hate it. Since it is a fast grower, it’s a great plant to cut back and then use its clippings as mulch around beets. Mint also enhances the flavor of tomatoes, and as you can see I’ve planted one in each tomato plot.
Summer savory is up next. This culinary herb helps green beans’ and onions’ growth and I’ve planted them accordingly.
Then we have chives, which are a general insect repellant.
Next is dill, which enhances the flavor and growth of cabbage.
Radishes! These are not only my favorite vegetable of all time (seriously), but they are right up there with marigolds in terms of their pest deterrent abilities. Instead of those pesky miners, rust flies, and cucumber beetles munching on nearby plants, they will munch on the radish leaves instead, which does no harm to the radish itself. I’ve planted my radishes near cucumbers, beets, carrots, and onions all to enhance their flavor and provide bug protection.
There still are some plants in my garden layout that I have yet to discuss, mainly the two plots in the lower right hand corner of the garden. These additional vegetables and flowers will be planted as food for our future pigs and chickens, plus local bees. Some are doubled up from my list before, but it’s worth mentioning again so you can get a grasp for all the bee friendly plants there are at your fingertips. These do not necessarily relate to feeding ourselves for a year, but they are a part of my garden nonetheless. See below for the list.
Pig and Chicken Friendly Plants
Sunflowers (for the seeds)
Bee Friendly Plants
Bachelor Button (Cornflower)
Go through and plan out your garden layout using Zukeeni. Visualizing it using this program has been so incredibly helpful for me and I know it will be for you too. The other amazing aspect of Zukeeni is that it creates to-do lists for you on your “dashboard” so you stay on top of when to plant, how long to care for your plants, and then finally when to harvest. It’s an all-in-one-place resource to getting your dream garden off the ground. Planning is a huge step towards getting a garden going that can sustain you year round. So give yourself a serious pat on the back.
From here, I’ll be taking you through Step 2: Preparing. This will include where I’m buying my garden seeds and why, as well as documenting building our garden from the ground up (right now there is gravel where we want to put our garden). Happy planning, thank you for reading, and stay tuned!
Thanks for stopping by Green Willow Homestead! From chicken rearing to orchard planting, we've got our hands full and we love sharing what we've learned along the way. Follow along as we turn these five acres from just property to a fully functioning small-scale homestead.
1. Sustainable World
2. The Chicken Chick
3. Mother Earth News
4. Liz Wolfe
5. Sustainable Dish
6. Zero Waste Home
7. Joe Salatin