If you're looking to grow your own food for cost saving reasons, or just sustainability, this post will help you determine what to grow, how much space you need for growing food, and more!
We've all seen the cost of food these days, it's going up nearly every day. So, maybe you're thinking that having a little garden in the back would be a good idea?
And while you could learn to stretch your food budget and save money on food at the grocery store, having homegrown food is going to give you a higher quality product, more nutrient dense foods, and the satisfaction of having grown it yourself!
If you have room to grow some of your own food, I hope you seize on the opportunity to increase your self sufficiency skills soon!
Let's break it down and help you decide exactly how to get started growing your own food.
Growing Your Own Food: Understanding Your Goals
First, it's important to understand why you're wanting to grow food as this will help you in the next stages of planning. Take a second to realistically look at why you want to grow your own food.
Growing food for fun
If you just like the idea of growing some of your own food, and want to have the experience, then the sky is the limit here. You don't have to stay within practical bounds and can grow in whatever space you have, and with whatever varieties strike your fancy!
Growing food to supplement your budget
With the prices at the grocery store going up, having some strategic foods growing in the backyard will help stretch your food budget quite a long way. With this goal you'll want to choose to grow only the foods that you most frequently buy now, and that you know your family will eat.
Growing food for year-round supply
This goal is obviously the most intense one to meet and will require a bit more logistical planning, but it is completely do-able! Here are a few questions to answer before getting started.
- How many people you are growing for?
- How much land you can dedicate to growing food?
- How long is your growing season? (Don't worry, modifications such as hoop houses and row covers can extend your growing season)
- Which foods do you want to prioritize?
- Do you have space to can/freeze/store the food once it's harvested?
How much space do you need to grow food?
As with the previous section, this is going to depend on your goals. If you just want to grow food for fun, or to supplement your food budget, then you can use whatever space you have available to you.
You can even grow nutrient dense food in an apartment as long as you have a sunny windowsill or a small balcony by growing sprouts in a mason jar!
If you are low on space, you'll want to prioritize which foods you grow to make the most of the land available. I'll talk about which foods you might consider prioritizing first and why in just a minute.
If growing food for your family for an entire year is the goal, then you'll need at least 1,500 square feet of land with full sun in order to reach your goals for a family of 4.
1,500 square feet is all I need??
I know, you're probably shocked by that number! And there is a lot that goes into that answer. Here are some of the things I'm using to base that number on.
- We've been growing 80% of our families food for over 8 years. Things like rice and wheat are still outsourced.
- We feed 7 people full time, and have enough to feed our chickens, give away to neighbors, as well as can/preserve for later in the year.
- We use the Back to Eden gardening method which produces more vegetables in a smaller space.
- This garden is an IN GROUND garden, not a raised bed garden. We have not had the same success in raised beds.
- We choose foods that store well and have a long growing season.
- The foods that we grow are ones that we actually eat (not just ones that we thought would be fun to grow), which means all the food is eaten and nothing is wasted.
While the conventional "wisdom" is that you can grow about 1 pound of food per square foot, we have found that number to be closer to 6.5 pounds per square foot of garden space. But even IF you only harvested 1 pound of food per square feet, 1,500 square feet of garden will provide a pound of fresh produce per person, per day for a family of 4 for a whole year!
With the average person consuming about 3-4 pounds of food per day, and if you account for meats and grains, then you could assume 2-3 pounds of produce per day per person in your family.
Let's calculate for a family of 4.
- 3 pounds per day X 4 people = 12 pounds per day
- 12 pounds per day X 365 days = 4,380 pounds of food per year
- 4,380 pounds of food / 1,500 square feet = 2.97 pounds of food per square foot
This is much less than we harvest per square foot, year after year! Even if you only have 200 square feet of space in which to garden, you can still produce up to 1,300 pounds of extra food for your family!
Now it's your turn. Simply adjust this calculation for your own family to see how much space you will need.
If you haven't already, I highly recommend checking out my guide for Back to Eden gardening. It's a fabulous way to grow food that doesn't require great soil, lots of watering, any weeding... and yet produces SO much food!
What Should You Plant in Your Food Garden
Now comes the fun part! It's time to figure out exactly what you want to grow in your food garden, and I want you to be really honest with yourself.
If you hear that cabbage is a great item to grow in your area, but you know that you're the only one in the family who would eat cabbage... then don't grow cabbage in bulk! You might grow a few heads for yourself, but taking up that room in your garden, only for the food to go to waste, is a great way to feel like a gardening failure.
Instead, prioritize the foods that your family loves already, with a focus on what yields the most per plant AND what will last the longest via canning or cold storage.
Here are a few good choices to start with when choosing what to grow:
White and Yellow Potatoes
Potatoes are nutrient dense, full of calories, and are a filling grain replacement. While you can store potatoes long-term in a root cellar, you can also learn to can potatoes for shelf-stable storage without a root cellar.
Potatoes also grow very well in the Back to Eden garden method, though you can also grow potatoes in containers, and they grow well in most climates.
Winter and Summer Squash
Both winter and summer squash are hearty vegetables, nutrient dense, and store well long term at room temperature. Even without a root cellar, our winter squash and zucchini lasts for up to 6 months on the counter.
There are also many varieties to choose from, so you don't have to eat the same thing over and over again. Some popular squash varieties are pumpkins, butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, zucchini, and crook-neck squash.
Green beans are often overlooked as a nutrient dense food. But did you know that just 1 cup of green beans gives you 27% of your daily vitamin C, among other nutrients?
It's also one of my favorite things to grow because it will produce for a long time and yield very high numbers of produce. You can start canning green beans early in the season, and have enough green beans for the whole year before you know it!
Carrots are full of nutrients, they don't take up a lot of space in the garden, and they can be
grown year round in many locations. They also store well throughout the winter in sand boxes, or you can can your carrots to ensure that they last you the whole year!
We also use the carrot greens to make tea and add some additional nutrients to our meals throughout the year.
Turnips are great because they are nutrient dense and you can eat the entire plant- greens and roots. They store well long-term at room temperature, and can be canned for later.
Grain Corn or Popcorn
While sweet corn is more popular, grain corn is one of the easier grains to grow yourself. Popcorn is a good alternative to your average grain corns and can be eaten as popcorn or ground into cornmeal.
We alternate growing popcorn and sweet corn each year, since we don't have enough space to grow both at the same time (because they will cross pollinate). This way we have the best of both worlds, we just make sure we grow 2 years worth each time we plant!
The popcorn we grow and dry is used for making stovetop popcorn and also ground for homemade cornbread. If you can't grow wheat, having corn on hand allows you to still make bread with produce from your garden!
Onions and Garlic
While onions and garlic may not give much in terms of nutrients or calories- they do play a big role in creating delicious food and are used in so many recipes and meals.
We grow garlic to make homemade garlic powder as storing garlic bulbs doesn't work well for us here... too much humidity!
Tomatoes are one of the most versatile crops you can grow. You can eat them as is or preserve them into sauces, salsas, and a variety of condiments!
We enjoy fresh tomatoes and cucumbers with homemade ranch dressing as a staple all year long, but we also spend a lot of time canning tomatoes so we can have pasta sauce, pizza sauce, tomato juice, and more.
No matter what you choose to grow, or how much space you have to grow in, any amount of food that you can produce yourself is going to increase the health of your family - and help stretch your food budget! Which foods do you think will fit your family the best?
Even More Gardening Information
Ready for even more information on growing your own food? Here are a few more posts to keep you going!
- 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Harvest
- Companion Planting with Herbs
- Seed Starting Planner for ANY Zone