The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Planning a garden to feed a family of two all year

Garden planning

If you push the garden envelope with freeze protection and indoor seed-starting, then January is the time to plan out the growing year. After all, we'll be putting our first seeds in dirt on February 1!

Bean seedlingI keep a separate spreadsheet each year for my plan and for my actual garden plantings. This technique makes it easy to copy and paste last year's plan into next year's spreadsheet, at which point I take a good hard look at which plantings worked out and which didn't. If I'm smart, I also insert notes into the spreadsheet as the garden year progresses --- simple reminders like "Plant tomatoes inside 3/15 instead of 3/1 next year" make a huge difference nine months later when the time comes to get the my spreadsheet in order. But sometimes I just remember that succession planting summer squash every two weeks was really too much --- once a month would be quite sufficient.

I've uploaded my 2016 plan just in case you want to use it as a jumping-off point for your own garden. (One bed is approximately equal to 15 square feet in the spreadsheet linked to above.) This is for the ambitious gardener who wants to feed two humans on vegetables that nearly entirely come from  your own land for twelve months out of the year, so please Garden square footagedo scale back if you're a beginner. (The Weekend Homesteader gives tips on which crops are easy to start with if you've never grown a garden before and on designing a bite-size garden.)

Interestingly, you'll notice from the square footage chart to the left that we're slowly but surely scaling back our own garden's planting area. The blue lines are my winter dreams; the purple lines are that year's reality. Since 2013, we've been on a slow downward trend despite the fact that we grew masses of concentrates for the goats last year (meaning our actual harvest was much larger than ever before). That's the beauty of improving soil --- you can grow more food in less space with less elbow grease. On the flip side of the coin, though, if your dirt is impoverished and you haven't had time to bring it back to life yet, you might need to increase the square footage recommended on my chart to feed your own family of two.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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"After all, we'll be putting our first seeds in dirt on February 1!"

I was always taught "Dirt gets under your nails. Plants grow in soil." :Giggle:

Comment by Wendy Sun Jan 17 12:22:03 2016
Thanks so much for posting your spread sheet! Love your blogging. May I share with you my fruit tree grafting experiences sometime?
Comment by Tim Sun Jan 17 19:07:09 2016

Wendy --- I like the idea of reclaiming the word dirt, personally --- seems more down to earth. :-)

Tim --- I'd love to hear about your grafting experiences! If you're thinking of writing a guest post, our submission guidelines are here. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Comment by anna Sun Jan 17 19:58:00 2016
::looks shocked:: You're putting seeds in on Feb 1st!??? I did that one year and they all died. This year NOAA is predicting a colder-than-normal winter for SW VA and NE TN. I presume you will be covering the rows with rowcover and/or plastic? Which seeds will you be planting?
Comment by NaYan Sun Jan 17 22:36:16 2016

Hi Anna,

Great chart :).

Gonna try to use it myself :).

How big is a 'bed'?

I seem to recall you said it's size once a while ago, but I have now forgotten that detail.


Comment by John Mon Jan 18 01:57:10 2016

NaYan --- Yep, we preheat beds with quick hoops and keep a close eye on soil temperatures. We don't always plant on February 1, but sometimes we do plant lettuce under cover depending on the weather. Lettuce can germinate as low as 35 Fahrenheit.

John --- A bed is roughly 15 square feet. I hope the spreadsheet helps you out!

Comment by anna Mon Jan 18 07:46:28 2016
Thank you so much for this. It is exceedingly helpful!
Comment by NaYan Mon Jan 18 10:37:29 2016
Hi Anna and Mark, looks like everything is going well on the homestead. I'm pretty good at energy farming but not so good at crop farming. Until I get my water problem corrected in the garden area its pointless trying to grow anything there. Good info on the garden planning, would be nice if was PDF form so I'll just copy and paste.
Comment by zimmy Mon Jan 18 20:29:44 2016

Hi Anna,

Yes! Your chart is a BIG help :). I see it as detailed instructions as to what to do so you can feed your family all year from your garden :). Right now that is just me, but trading with nearby growers seems like a good thing to promote :). I am eating last year's wild apples stored in a refrigerator :). Yum!

I am also wondering which herbs are part of your herb package.

I recently added dandelion greens to my diet to get myself healthy from a trip to VA. So I am wondering which ones you include as a part of your diet.

warm regards, John

Comment by John Tue Jan 19 04:05:47 2016
John --- The herbs we eat are basil (mostly in the summer), thyme, oregano, rosemary (when we have living plants --- not most of the time since they tend to perish during our winters), and Egyptian onion tops. We tend to harvest wild dandelions and (sometimes) creasies during a very specific part of late winter/early spring when they're tender and not so strong-flavored. Mostly, I add herbs for flavor not health, though!
Comment by anna Fri Jan 22 13:52:48 2016

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