How Much Should I Plant To Feed My Family For A Year?

*This article has been edited and updated since it’s original posting in 2009.

Updated 07/23/2018

When you really start thinking about gardening in terms of raising enough food to sustain yourself and your loved ones throughout an entire year, it can be hard to comprehend just how much you should plan on planting. Most of us have no idea what a year’s worth of home-grown food even looks like.

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a very specific and exact answer, I’m afraid you just won’t find it. Every family’s needs and eating habits are different. And some foods may not grow well in your region, so each of you needs to tailor your garden accordingly. But I do have a list here for you to refer to, and it’s a great starting point.

MY LATEST VIDEOS

The average American, according to the USDA, eats over 800 pounds of food a year, over a quarter of which is comprised of fruits and vegetables. This number is reassuring in that it means that you can grow a substantial portion of your foods on your own land. Keep in mind that a lot of these calculations are based on overall food weight, and not only on the parts used (meaning that pieces that are wasted or thrown out are not counted). The plus side to this is that if you have livestock, like pigs or chickens, you can do double-duty by growing a large harvest and feeding the leftovers to your animals…who will then eventually feed you!

As you learn more about what suits your family’s needs you can adjust the amounts appropriately. Keep a garden journal, and do your best to remember to write in it how many plants you planted, how many pounds of food you harvested, and how long it lasted before you ran out. This information will help you gauge for your family’s particular requirements.

This is a very time-consuming process, but definitely worth it if you want to keep accurate records and grow enough food to sustain your family for the entire calendar year.

How Do I Decide How Much to Plant?

While it would be nice to assume that every family has endless time, space, and resources to grow a garden that is massive enough to feed their family, plus the extended family, plus the entire neighborhood…sadly, that of course is not practical. There are several factors you need to consider when deciding how much to plant, and only one of them is the size of your family.

The biggest factor in determining how much you should plant is how much land you have. You can maximize your crops in a small space by using close planting strategies, thick mulching, and other techniques, but the amount of land you have is ultimately going to be a limiting factor.

Roughly 4000 square feet is enough to sustain a person on a vegetarian diet for a year – of course, that’s assuming your family is vegetarian. If you are supplementing your diet with meats, store-bought grains, or dairy, you probably won’t need quite that much space. However, you do need to factor in space for walking paths, storage, watering systems, etc.

How much you plant is also dictated by your weather and growing season. You can’t expect to have a harvest that is as large and bountiful in Maine as it might be in Georgia. Your growing season is shorter and your climate is colder. Additionally, the weather of any given year, plus your soil conditions are going to affect your planting. If your soil is exceptionally rocky, for example, your yields won’t be as high, and you may need to consider raised beds or other spaces to ensure you have enough room to plant all of the crops you need to sustain your family for a year.

The final factor you need to consider is the nature of the plant. For example, artichokes, rhubarb, and asparagus are all perennial plants that sit in the garden for a full season (or more) until they are ready to be harvested. Other crops, like vining plants, need a lot of space to spread out. If you plan your garden strategically, instead of just tossing seeds willy-nilly, you will have more success. You can implement companion planting so that your plants work off of each other, instead of compete with each other for space.

How Much Should I Plant To Feed My Family For A Year?

Here are a few recommendations mostly found in the book Reader’s Digest Back to Basics. Some of these amounts may be way off for your family, but like I said it’s at least a good general idea.

Again, think about the foods your family likes to eat. If you plant fifteen bush bean plants per person, and you have a family of four, that’s sixty bush beans. That’s assuming that everybody in your family enjoys eating bush beans.

These numbers also do not take into account failed plants. These are just the numbers that are required to harvest for your family. If you plant fifteen bush bean plants per person, and four fail to produce fruit, then really you have only planted eleven plants. So figure high.

Consider, too, how much space is needed to grow a certain amount of plants. Some crops, like tomatoes or beans, produce hundreds of fruits on a single plant and will therefore take up less space. Others, like corn, produce only a couple. If you’re short on space and trying to get the most bang for your metaphorical buck, consider only planting crops that have high yields, or perhaps plant more of those items instead.

Whenever possible, grow calorie crops. These crops tend to have a high caloric content per weight. As a society, we have kind of gotten away from calorie crops, but if you’re looking to truly subsist on what you grow on your own property, these plants are the way to grow. These crops store well and have hundreds of uses, making them more versatile than, say, asparagus. The top five calorie crops are beans, squash, wheat, potatoes, and corn.

Artichokes: 1-4 plants per person

Asparagus: about 10-15 plants per person

Beans (Bush): about 15 plants per person

Beans (Lima): about 10-20 plants per person

Beans (Pole): 2-4 poles of beans per person (each pole with the four strongest seedlings growing)

Beets: about 36 plants per person.

Broccoli: 3-5 plants per person

Brussels Sprouts: 3-5 plants per person

Cabbage: 2-3 plants per person

Cantaloupe: figure on about 4 fruits per plant (estimate how much your family would eat)

Carrots: about 100 seeds per person (1/4 oz would be plenty for a family of six)

Cauliflower: 2-3 plants per person

Celeriac: 1-5 plants per person

Celery: 3-8 plants per person

Collards: about 5 plants per person

Corn: start out with 1/2 lb. seeds for the family and adjust as needed

Cucumbers: 3-6 plants per family

Eggplant: 3-6 plants per family

Kale: 1 5’ row per person

Lettuce: 4-5 plants per person

Melons: 2-6 plants per person

Okra: 3-4 plants per person

Onions: 12-15 plants per person

Parsnips: 12-15 plants per person

Peas: about 120 plants per person

Peppers: 3-5 plants per person

Potatoes: 75-200 lbs per person

Pumpkins: 1 plant per person

Radishes: (succession plant these) 2’ per person

Rhubarb: 2-3 crowns per person

Spinach: about 15 plants per person

Summer Squash (including Zucchini): about 10 per family

Sweet Potatoes: about 75 plants per family

Tomatoes: about 20 plants per family

Turnips: about 1/4 lb seeds per family

Watermelon: about 1/2 oz. seeds per family

Winter Squash: 2 plants per person

Winter Squash: 2 plants per person

Consider alternatives to direct-in-ground planting. While it might seem that traditional gardening is the only option, there are dozens of other ways to grow enough vegetables to feed your family – and keep n mind that the planting and growing doesn’t have to stop just because the first frost hits.

First, remember to use your space strategically. Plant early, mid, and late varieties of your crops. Many people don’t realize that several types of crops, like peas, beans, onions, corn, and potatoes have several stages of crops that can help you mitigate the losses due to pests and disease (as the plants will be in different growing stages at all times) and increase your overall yield. This is a great option if you have unpredictable weather, and frequently lose crops due to conditions such as an early or late frost. It also makes harvest time a bit easier for you, because you aren’t harvesting hundreds of pounds of vegetables to preserve all at once.

You can also plant some crops in containers. This is especially useful if you are an urban gardener, or even if you are considering extending your growing season by bringing some plants indoors later. Plant some tomatoes on your deck in a planter, and you’ll be able to bring the plant inside so it continues to produce after the first frost has hit.

Succession planting is another option that is closely related to the latter choice. Some crops, like beets and radishes, grow very quickly. Therefore, as soon as one crop is finished or about to be finished (if you have the space), you can seed another one right away. This will allow you to receive several harvests of the same crop without having to wait until the following season.

Again, gardening doesn’t have to stop just because the snow has started to fall. There are several option sot keep gardening throughout the fall and winter. Greenhouses, hoop houses, and cold frames are a great way to extend your growing season, as well as to protect your crops from unseasonably warm, wet, or cold weather.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you might also try an indoor growing system. Many people are having great success using hydroponics systems, which involve growing plants in sand, liquid, or gravel with added nutrients (and absolutely no soil at all!). It’s also easy to grow certain crops indoors. Think of ones that mature quickly, like lettuce, spinach, or herbs, but if you start them early enough you can also get a good crop of tomatoes or even potatoes when grown inside as well.

How Do I Make My Summer Harvest Last?

Again, if you’ve been paying attention, you can easily stretch out your growing season so it doesn’t necessarily have to last past the first frost! However, there are many ways to only grow during the summer months and still enjoy a bountiful harvest that will last you and your family throughout the year.
Get used to preserving your own food. Most foods can be canned, either through the use of a water bath canner or, even more safely, with a pressure canner. Experiment with canning recipes to find one you like. Almost any vegetable is delicious when pickled, and this will give you a great source of nutrients during the colder months.

If you can’t can all of your produce – or don’t necessarily like the taste of all of the different vegetables – another option is to freeze your veggies. Just about anything, with the exception of perhaps lettuce, can be frozen. Use a vacuum sealer to help save space in your refrigerator, as well as to reduce the likelihood that your food will become freezer-burnt. You can also dehydrate some vegetables to make them last a little bit longer outside of cold storage.

If you have a root cellar, this is a great way to store hardier vegetables like squashes, potatoes, carrots, and beets. These vegetables will last for several months when given the right conditions.

Growing your own food, no matter how large or small the quantity, is really an endeavor you should undertake. It’s not just about saving money – you will save a ton of money, but as you’re digging into the soil up to your knuckles you may occasionally question yourself about whether the savings are actually worth it! But growing your own food is about much more than the almighty dollar. You’ll learn a lot about hard work, and about reaping the benefits of your hard work, in the process of growing your own garden. Plus, homegrown vegetables are actually a lot more nutrient-dense than those purchased in the supermarket – an extra win.

Plan ahead so that you have plenty of produce to last you throughout the winter. Most of us are lucky in that we can go grocery shopping if we need to – very few people actually need to rely on their own land to get them through the entire winter. However, growing your own subsistence garden is an amazing experience. To do this, your garden can’t take a backseat to everything else you have going on in your life – you need to put survival first and foremost, and really dedicate some serious time, planning, and dirty work towards getting your garden in tip-top shape.

If you are an experienced gardener, and have a good suggestion for planting amounts, or want to share what works for your family, I’d love to hear from you!

You Might Also Like…

Kendra
About Kendra 1117 Articles
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.

47 Comments

  1. The list does not say “zucchini”. It says 10 squash plants per family. If I planted 2-3 summer squash (zucchini/yellow) and 7-8 winter squash (pumpkin, acorn, butternut) I would feel like I needed a few more for my small family. Thank you so much for sharing the list!

  2. Hi – I’ve not read through all the comments so apologies if this has been said already, but one thing that jumped out of me from the list was that is way too few onions – so many recipes need onions and then there are chutneys and pickles. However that said if space is short and as onions are cheap maybe grow a few large Spanish onions and use the space saved for other crops.

  3. Some of these are so way off for us – 10-15 onions per person per year?!! More like 20 times that amount! 120 pea plants per person?! I’m not sure I’ve even got room for 120 pea plants per person – that it left me open mouthed and a bit bemused, wondering what sort of diet people have that these quantities would be about right. I guess we’re all so very different that any kind of list like this is largely meaningless. For me, it would be more useful to have a list of how much average yield you can expect off each plant species.

    To gauge how much I need to plant, I just think about my weekly shopping list through the seasons. How much of everything do I generally buy in a week to feed the family? Then I remove anything that won’t grow in my location, multiply the rest by the number of weeks I’d expect to be buying those fruits/vegetables per season/year, add on an extra 30-50% to allow for germination failures and feeding some garden critters along the way, and plant up to yield roughly those amounts. But that’s just a starting point because with growing you can let your imagination wander way beyond the limited range of produce agribusiness deems suitable for our consumption, so I curl up with a good seed catalogue (open pollinated and heritage varieties are a must if you want to save your own seed or even develop your own local varieties) and add all the things that look really interesting to try. And then, rather than tearing my hair out if one particular crop doesn’t do well one year, we just adapt our diet to what’s available in the garden, including wild edibles.

  4. Curious how to store mass quantity’s of food like that if I was to plant it. I can and freeze but don’t have enough space. Root cellar or an out building on my farm but I don’t know how to store them.

  5. Our zucchini plant last year produced a lot of zucchini so what we did is froze it in 2 cup increments ( our favorite zucchini bread recipe) and placed it in our garage deep freezer that doesn’t get open as much. We have been enjoying zucchini all year long. So you cant have to much zucchini. You can also look for other ways to make your harvest up. I am constantly looking up new ideas on how to use things.

  6. I’m not sure where those few people got the idea that you said to plant 50 zucchini/squash plants. I see it says 10 per FAMILY, not per person. I’ve found 1 zucchini plant per person to be plenty for fresh eating, two if you want to freeze and/or make bread from it. Winter squash however we love, so I could plant 10 of those alone! I like you list very much it seems right on the mark for me … one question though, when you say “per family” how many people does that include?

  7. We plant on a commercial basis so I’m not too sure as we just eat from the market garden but I find this a useful tool to pass onto others who often ask me what they need to plant.Thanks for the info.

  8. I would love to see a list for us in the Northern areas.. I live in the PNW.. West of Seattle.. and Melons aren’t possible and longer warm weather crops can be a bust on a bad summer. lucky to be 60 days of warmth some years. Suggestions?

  9. with compact gardening such as square foot gardening, has anyone seen a good chart for how much to grow? Also, I’m not a huge fan of plain beets, but I love pickled beets. 🙂

  10. I would like to thank you Kendra for you good advice. I followed you tips on how much to plant and so far this summer I have been doing a lot of canning. Guaranteed already I believe I have enough to last a year but with 2 growing boys at home of course you could never tell. Thank you for saving me a lot of money.

  11. back on the farm, we would measure the distance between rows for cultivating space. Usually with a stake and twine to keep them straight. afterward we would leave the empty seed package on the stake to show and remind us just what was planted in each row.

  12. Home canned beets taste nothing like the store bought canned beets. They don’t taste like dirt anymore but have an aroma of mild, sweet, …beet? taste. I don’t know how to describe GOOD beet flavor, sorry. But they are way, way different when you grow your own. Good luck growing y’all!

  13. University of Kentucky’s Ag Extension has a great general gardening resource (in PDF), and near the top is a basic layout.

    If I remember right, using simple row plantings, a family of four can get by on about an acre of food (with some leftover for barter). Intensive gardening’s come a long way since this was written (just look at the urbanhomestead.org folks who can grow a couple tons of food in their front- and backyards).

    Anyhow, here’s a link to UK’s resource. Hope others find it as helpful as I did! http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id128/id128.pdf

  14. Each year as I grew up on the farm we planted the equivilant of 2 town sized gardens and a large truckpatch, about an acre total. My advice would be to only plant the things your family will eat and lots of it. We were poor folks and had to depend upon what we growed for survival and many years it still wasn’t enough due to bad weather or other conditions. We also supplemented our gardens with fruit trees, wild berries and general foraging. My family would usually can between 300-500 quarts of fruit and veggies per year depending upon how good the harvest was, plus lots of potatoes in cool storage. Our hope was to always have more than what we could eat to tide us over through the lean years.

    In later years we installed electricity in the old house and found a low priced freezer and that decreased our need to can so much. Boy, I sure miss those days. That was some of the best food I ever ate!

  15. An excellent list. Gives a nice visual of knowing exactly how to plan your vegetable garden according to what you will need.

  16. If you really want to learn to be a self reliant, join SeedSavers. They teach you how to plant and save your own seeds. Also, add potato’s to your list. They store easy and are easy to grow. Just finished weeding them yesterday. Should have a great crop this year. Sweet potato’s are better for warm weather.

  17. Now, I like zucchini more than most, but for 10 plants that better be a huge patch and a big family 🙂 Each plant will be easily 4×4 feet.

    In addition to just food, they’re also great at shading out weeds. Think “next year’s new bed” or “drying up and weed control on a ‘damp’ septic field”. Just be prepared to pick a couple times a day. They can grow nearly as fast as kudzu, and quickly go from edible to ‘log’ size fast.

    If you don’t like beets, try this: Get fresh ones, quarter them and roast w/a little olive oil, salt and pepper at about 375^ until the get caramelized. Enjoy. (and, yes, even home-canned ones taste pretty much like cr*p). Also, if you like spinach or Swiss Chard, the greens are the best part. Just don’t boil ’em all day like great-grandma did.

  18. I like that you don’t give a cookie cutter answer and explain how it depends on climate and diet. I don’t like that you jump right into listing how many plants, which is basically a cookie cutter answer. Perhaps list expected yields or even better, previous yields. Then people can judge how many plants they need to roughly get the yields they want. They still have to deal with climate issues but that’s gonna be the case for almost any asnwer they find on the internet.

  19. I have a small garden due to where we live, but I’ve been researching and experimenting how to get the most out of it for years. For total self-sufficiency, figure at least 1 acre of produce per person. Only plant what you use. Onions and carrots are in hundreds of recipes, can or freeze your tomatoes, plant not only green beans but beans to dry as well – so that Reader’s Digest count is very low for beans.

    Save your grocery receipts for a year & keep a log. That will show you how many pounds of which vegetables you use. If you already have a garden, add your home-grown to the log to figure in what you’re not buying. Log when you eat out – not necessary *what* you eat, but that you’re missing a meal at home. It’s a bit of math, but it will save you money in the long run (and seeing any impulse or junk food buys will help too).

  20. Wow! I wish I had space for all of that. For beets I recommend the gold variety .They are like oven candy when roasted. Not even a hint of dirt flavor. And don’t skip the greens! With a little oil, garlic, lemon juice and parmigiana, they are even better than the beets themselves!!

  21. Ha, I don’t like beets too much either but they’re quite nice baked with generous amount of blue cheese. Also among roast veggies they will do along with carrots, parsnips and potatoes. One should eat purple plants and with blue cheese: yes, please for me! !

  22. It takes alot of work to get to the point that you can really list it off. Great job! I’m slowly learning too… you’re a few steps ahead of me!

    • So glad I might have been able to help a little, Karen 🙂 It’s tough to know where to start. I think any kind of list like this that can be modified to your own tastes is better than having absolutely nothing to go by in the beginning.

  23. I love the comment about the beets above, because my family LOVES sweet fresh roasted beets. I can’t grow them fast enough in the summer. Twelve 2-3″ beets make us a side dish with no leftovers, and we’ll sautée the greens sometimes, too. I have to plant them successively through the season, and we still can’t get enough. I guess everyone has their favorites! 🙂 (We like Detroit dark red, if you want to try that variety, btw.)

  24. Beets? 36 plants per person? are you nuts?:0
    I can’t stand beets, they taste like dirt, so even if I liked them I couldn’t image what 36 plants per person would create!
    I visualize someone next year drowning in beets, shaking a fist and yelling Kendra!!!

    I know you must mean 3-6 plants per person. lol

    • Anonymous,

      LOL!! Hey, I didn’t make this list up, hahaha 😉 I don’t like beets either, but if it was for survival I’m sure I could manage to find a way to eat them. Especially because they’re pretty easy to grow, at least where I live 🙂

  25. It’s great to have a plan like this before you get started on your garden in the spring. I always start with a plan and then somewhere around halfway through planting, the plan goes out the window. 😉

    I try to plant in succession, so there will be several harvests of leaf lettuce, spinach, and bunching onions in the spring and then a second harvest of peas, lettuce, and spinach in the fall. It can be tough to choreograph all of this and I lose track of how much I plant, as far as paying attention to # of plants.

    It is a good idea to plant more than you think you need of everything that you like. New veggies you’re not sure of, plant just a few. Just don’t plant more than you can take care of or all of your hard work will go up in weeds!

    • VERY true, Lisa Lynn 🙂 I’m the same way. I try to be all organized, but halfway through the season not much is really the way I planned. Some crops don’t do well, so I end up putting something else in to fill the bare spot, and I lose track of a lot of what I planted and how much I harvested. One of these days I’ll get it right 😉

  26. I would think this also assumes the family will be preserving some of the harvest. 🙂

    Nice starting point though! Thanks for sharing.

  27. That’s a good starting point! I noticed last year that I had all too little onions. Now I planted more. But still all too little carrots! I plant at least 40 salads and we eat it all. Guess we eat alot! A great way to use zucchinis we can’t consume ourselves is to grate them and give to chickens. Tomatoes I have 28 plants for 6. But as they’re not in the greenhouse, the production is not huge.

    • Taina,

      Yeah, I would lean toward planting a lot more tomatoes than you think you’ll need. We don’t realize how much we put tomatoes in: ketchup, spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, salsa, etc. More is better in my opinion 🙂

  28. if you want to see what types of plants will thrive in your area try sproutrobot.com i just came across it today. 🙂

  29. My advice?

    Know what will and won’t work in your climate. Or if you do know that something won’t work, that you need to be stubborn about attempting to make it work (like watermelons in my short season climate!).

    And have a backup plan. If the birds get all your strawberries or you forgot that garlic and pole beans hate each other so you get dismal crops, it’s nice to have a farmer a few miles away with an acre of beans and another one with 5 acres of strawberries you can go take care of business. 😀

    It all takes practice though, that’s for sure. I have my master list of what I want to can/freeze/dehydrate/root cellar for the year, and we’ll see how close I get by the time it frosts. 🙂

  30. This guide made me laugh. The 50 squash/zucc plants will be enouigh to feed a village! We plant 3 zucc plants every year and have enoigh to make bread, make bags of breaded zucc for the freezer, use some in a home made V8 juice, puree some for home made spaghetti sauce and sell a bunch.

  31. Be careful with the squash and zucchini. We planted six plants of each last year and we had so much that it took over the garden and we couldn’t eat it fast enough.
    We did plant our onions yesterday!!!

  32. Thank you so much Kendra, this is very helpful, now I can go order my seeds. We are having a snow storm today, so I have plenty of time before we begin planting. Blessings

Comments are closed.