Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Planning the Vegetable Garden - How Many Plants?

One of the first questions I asked myself, after deciding what to plant (based on what I like, and what my family will actually eat) when planning my vegetable garden was, "How many plants do I need?"

I knew I wanted the basics, which for me and my family were:
green beans

Over a few years of trial and error, or hit and miss, I have pretty much come up with what works for me.  Enough fresh veggies, often enough, yet not too often!  Too much of even a good thing (fresh asparagus for instance, every spring my son starts complaining about the frequency of it on the menu!) and you get sick of it!

This is not a comprehensive list by any means.  I do not grow many of the vegetables popular to backyard gardeners.  I don't grow broccoli, spinach, beets, kale, or may other common vegetables.  I have included a few I have tried, but no longer bother with.  "Bother with" vegetables will be followed by why I quit on them!

TOMATOES:  2 per family (unless you are canning or have a huge family!), 1 full size and 1 cherry.

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable to grow hands down!   One reason could be the taste.  Homegrown tomatoes taste great, like nothing you can buy in the stores.  Eat them straight off the vines, warmed by the sun.  When working in the garden I have been known to just suck the juice out of ripe tomatoes to quench my thirst!

How many?  Well, that depends on a few factors.  My one Sungold cherry tomato provided more than ample fruit for my family last year, with multiple bags to share with co-workers.  Unless you plan on canning, one each of full size and cherry tomato will be fine.  Once they start ripening you will have plenty for salads, sandwiches, garden snacking, etc.

In 2012 I went tomato crazy.  It was my first spring gardening in my new house, in my new raised beds.  I planted:
Costoluto Genovese
Legend x 2
Yellow Brandywin
Japanese Trifele
Mr. Stripey

What was I thinking!

I cut back in 2013, planting:
Ace x 2
Oregon Spring
Big Beef

This was still more than I needed!  I ended up canning whole tomatoes and sauce from the Ace plants (which are determinate - see below).

Another question to ask yourself is whether you want your tomatoes to ripen little by little over the season, or mostly all at once.  If you are canning, it's great to have a slew of them ripe all at once, but most home gardeners would rather pick a tomato or two daily.   

Determinate tomatoes are "bush" varieties, usually need no staking (3' - 4' high), with fruit ripening all within a few week period.  These are the canners' delight!  They also work well in containers. 
Indeterminate tomatoes will grow and grow and grow... blooming and setting fruit up until frost.  They are large plants, and will need staking.  They would be happy left laying on the ground, rooting here and there along their stems.  But, most of us want to control them to some degree, if only to fit our growing area, so use commercially available tomato cages, or just tie them to a stick sunk in the ground.  These are the true vines of the tomato world.  Pruning indeterminates is necessary, and a subject for another day. 

Brandywine - my go-to tomato - this was actually a volunteer from seeds left from 2016's crop
Sungold cherry - hundreds of fruit per season, dozens a harvest

GREEN BEANS: 15 per person

Another one that tastes best fresh, and tastes so different from either canned or frozen.  You have two choices in green beans, pole or bush.

Pole beans take less space, since they grow up and up.  They require trellises, bamboo poles, stings, something to climb at least 6' - 8' tall!  They produce more, but take longer to mature.  Keep them picked and they produce until frost.  They don't mind a bit of cooler summer weather.

Bush beans are self-supporting, and take more garden area, but are much easier to harvest.  They produce all at once, so plant every two or three weeks for a continuous harvest all summer long.  I plant bush beans just because trellising is a pain.  That will change if I find some inexpensive trellises...

bush beans - I've had great success growing them in the holes of concrete (cinder) blocks!
CUCUMBERS: 2 vines per family (again, if you plan to make pickles or have a large family, you will want more)

Of all the vegetables I could grow, this is the one my daughter and I look forward to the most.  It's the one we mourn come frost.  I only grow lemon cucumbers. I buy a six-pack at the Crater High School's FFA plant sale every year.  A six-pack provides us with all the fresh cucumbers we could want.

summer varieties - 1
winter varieties - 2
pumpkins - 2 (1 full size for eats, 1 cute little mini for decoration!)

I only grow squash, other than pumpkins accidentally, from volunteers in the compost pile.  The squash bugs won the battle.  I don't like squash in any form other than pies, cookies, or cakes.  So, pumpkins or the hard winter squash (like acorn which can be used just like pumpkin) are all I will grow.  I'll buy an acorn squash, toss the peelings and seeds into the compost pile and if I get plants in the spring, fine.  If not, fine. If they get covered with bugs, fine.

pumpkins - yes, they were planted (as seeds) directly into manure bags! It works!

acorn squash in compost pile
 CORN:  A lot of plants per person!   Remember, each sweet corn plant only produces one or two ears of corn!  Don't plant in conventional rows, use blocks, since they are wind pollinated. 

I do not grow corn.   I love fresh corn, but am not willing to sacrifice that much garden space to a plant that doesn't produce enough for even my small family!  Plus, corn is really cheap to buy in season at the stores.

SWEET PEPPERS: 2 (for occasional fresh use in salads, plant more if you want to make stuffed pepper main dishes as well)

I have mixed results growing sweet peppers.  My best success was growing in re-purposed cat litter containers, using Wonder Bells.   They need lots warmth, yet soil kept moist.  

PEAS: 15 - 20 plants per family (for snap or sugar snap peas)

There are three types of peas for your garden.  They are not a summer crop (in the Northern hemisphere), but are most often planted in Feb. and late summer. 

Snow: flat pods with teeny peas inside.  You eat the entire pod. The usual pea found in stir-fries.

Shelling, English, or Garden:  these are the usual peas you see frozen or on the plate as a side dish.  You remove the mature peas from the pod shell.   

Snap or Sugar Snap: a delightful cross between snow and garden peas. You eat the entire pod, which is crunchy and sweet.  You may find yourself snacking on them raw in the garden!  Snap peas are the only one I grow.  When my harvest is too much to handle, I have been known to let some pods mature and shell the peas just like garden peas.

Peas will need support, even if the package of seeds says otherwise!  Yes, the snap peas I plant only grow to 3', but they are heavy with pods and do best with some help supporting the weight.  

You can easily freeze any of the pea varieties, so keep that in mind and plant more than enough for fresh eating!  You can even eat the new pea growth and tendrils!  They taste exactly like the peas! 

These are crops that can be planted in succession for a long harvest season.  Lettuce can be harvested as baby leaves, or left to grow to a full head.  There isn't really a recommended number per person.  Carrots can be eaten fresh or cooked, frozen, canned.  Radishes are usually just tossed into a salad to give it color and bite, so don't plant too many at once!


If you don't like the taste of eggplant (like me), it's still a beautiful garden plant.  I grew 'Dusky" for the pretty purple blossoms and shiny purple fruit.  It was easy to give away, so no food was wasted.

There are so many vegetables out there I haven't tried.  This year I am going to give pineapple tomatillos (ground cherries) a go.  They have the same requirements as tomatoes.  I hear the pineapple one really tastes like pineapple and makes wonderful salsa!  I'll try a new variety of tomato too.  The Master Gardener's Garden Fair and the FFA plant sale are both coming up in May, so I'll have two chances to find some great new things!

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