Feeding my family

Mid-April is pretty late for a blog post on seed starting, but then I seem to be late with absolutely everything this year, on and off the farm. (3 weeks til Mother’s Day and I’m only just now trying to put my pendants in local stores!)

This one question, however, is vital and timeless: how much do you plant, and how do you decide? How many plants will ensure that I never need to run to the grocery store to pick up a vegetable – that I have enough pickles to see me through to cucumber season next summer?

I struggle with this question every year. Three years ago you would find me wrestling all winter long with planting books and suggestion lists, trying to balance and reconcile what eventually just comes down to a bunch of different people’s opinions and is all immaterial anyway, given the vagaries of Nature and Groundhogs and Stink Bugs and Vine borers (every year, it’s something else). I used to have a garden book with which to keep track of planting times and yields, but I lost it when we moved.

I find myself staring at my seed-starting shelves and fretting. There were years when I had so many trays of so many seedlings up there that I had to use the third (upper) shelf and the floor around it too. Why are the shelves so bare this year? What am I forgetting?

There are many online charts of vegetable planning available now, too; Ed Hume’s here is the clearest I’ve found so far, though every chart has different numbers.

Is it “correct” (in that it will suit my family’s needs)? I don’t know. Is this the amount of food to keep a family all year, including stuff put up in cans, or is it just the amount a typical family eats fresh? It lists things that I don’t grow (kohlrabi, radishes, corn) and omits things that I find essential (herbs, greens, dry beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery, cooking onions & garlic, etc).

But really, I just need to shush that overly-OCD part of me that wants to analyze this and get it just perfect and draw up lots of charts and make sure each of the numbers is absolutely correct. Because really… with no apocalypse looming in the near future… does it actually matter?

Here’s what I have started right now:


  • 12 cherokee purple tomatoes
  • 12 brandywine tomatoes
  • 3 cherry tomatoes
  • 6 Amish paste tomatoes
  • 9 purple tomatillos
  • 6 Aunt Molly’s ground cherry
  • 12 red bell pepper
  • 6 cascabel peppers
  • 6 jalapenos
  • about 60 feet of potatoes, which are utterly refusing to sprout even though they should be a foot tall by now and they’ve been under lights & planted outside for a month or more, wtf

Flowers & annual herbs

  • 30 mammoth sunflowers (for chicken feed)
  • 12 dill
  • 24 zinnias
  • 12 basil, which never did germinate actually
Greens & other stuff

  • 12 rainbow chard
  • 18 red russian kale
  • 12 cabbage
  • 12 celery
  • 12 pickling cucumber
  • 12 cauliflower
  • 36 leeks
  • 10′ of carrots, which are refusing to germinate
  • 20 square feet onions and garlic
  • 1 pkt (5′) spinach
  • 2 pkt (5′) lettuces
  • 1 pkt (6′) arugula
  • 1 pkt (5′) turnips
  • 1 pkt beets
  • a package of peas… which I have yet to plant.
  • oops, where are my broccoli? We love broccoli! That’s what I forgot!

In a few weeks I’ll direct-sow the quick hot-weather crops: butternuts, beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, watermelons and zukes (which hopefully the groundhogs will not decimate this year!) and a blackberry patch and 8 raspberry bushes that should be somewhat productive this year. Maybe we’ll even get peaches and gala apples! Maybe.

I think I got the number of tomatoes (24? 29?), peppers, and cucumbers planted (19?) correct last year, because I still have ¬†4 1/2 quarts of crushed tomatoes, 8 pints of salsa, 8 pints of hot sauce, and at least 10 pints of cuke relish and pickles in the basement. That ought to last a while. I also have WAY too much strawberry-rhubarb jam (it’s hard to go through jam when you no longer eat bread or cookies) so this year I plan to simply freeze the fruit for smoothies.

Costco has been our friend in the veggie department for a long time, supplying us with huge bags of frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans. If next year I could buy maybe half the Costco produce I bought this year, I’ll be a happy camper. Though that means I need to quickly go plant more spinach and carrots and broccoli… Argh! SO MUCH TO DO ALL THE TIME!

See? I have to keep forcing myself to relax and just have fun.

In the end: may I plant a whole bunch of stuff and may it make me happy, and may we get lots of food out of it and may the groundhogs stay far away, but not too much food either so that I have to stay up canning every night til midnight.


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