It's time to plan this year's garden and decide which seeds or plants to buy. But more difficult than deciding which varieties to plant is figuring out how much to plant.
Carole Evans, Jackson County Master Gardener in charge of the kitchen garden at Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point, says she has as much trouble with this part of the planning stage as anyone.
the most for the least
Here are some easy-to-grow vegetables that will give a good return on little effort:
Tomatoes. Grow two plants for each person in the family.
Bush beans. Plant 5 feet of row for each person.
Beets. Plant 2 feet of row for each person and make several succession sowings.
Carrots. Plant 2 feet of row for each person; make several sowings.
Lettuce. Plant 3 feet of row for each person; make three sowings.
Swiss chard. Plant 3 feet of row for each person.
New Zealand spinach. Plant 2 feet of row for each person.
Radishes. Plant 1 foot of row three or four times successionally for each person.
— Source: www.harvesttotable.com
"There are so many variables," Evans says. "Every year, it just depends on the weather and so many things. I basically just go with planting as much as I can in the space I have."
"It really depends on the variety you plant," says Kelly Brainard, owner of Ashland Greenhouses. "I usually tell people if they only have a small space, choose plants that produce more bang for the buck. There are a lot of plants now for small-space gardens designed to take up less space and produce higher yields."
Brainard suggests talking to someone knowledgeable at the nursery who can help you decide how much space each plant needs, what the typical yield is and the cross-pollination needs.
But Stephen Albert of Santa Rosa, Calif., author of "The Kitchen Garden Growers' Guide" ($26.95) and publisher of the website Harvest to Table (www.harvesttotable.com), thinks it is better to approach the whole thing scientifically.
"I recommend that people start by keeping a food log over a two- to three-week period of what and how many vegetables they actually eat," Albert says. "That way, you can start to get an idea of how much you should grow. If you keep old grocery bills, you can analyze your spending on salads and vegetables. Then you need a garden log of what you plant, the varieties and the crop you get."
Albert, past president of Sonoma County Master Gardeners in California, has developed a helpful gardening website. His goal is to help people plan sensibly, so nothing goes to waste and harvesting can take place year-round. The site includes an extensive chart of the typical yield per plant per person for all vegetables, with recommendations for doubling the per-person number for canning and freezing crops (harvesttotable.com/2011/06/vegetable_crop_yields_plants_p/).
He says learning about succession planting — staggering plantings so crops ripen over successive weeks — is essential. So is selecting plants that ripen at different times, such as early, mid- and late-season tomatoes.
"One other thing I would advise," he says, "is always go to your local garden center or nursery and ask which varieties do well in your area. Talk to people at plant sales. There is nothing like getting advice directly from someone who has been growing under your same conditions."
Plant vegetables you know will get eaten, Albert says. If space is limited, grow crops that are expensive to buy in the grocery store or that taste better home-grown, such as peas, corn and tomatoes.
Albert also recommends creating a seed exchange with friends and neighbors. Because most seed packets have many more seeds than needed, it makes sense to share. Alternatively, he says, most seeds will last for about seven years stored in the refrigerator.
Planning carefully should keep you from wasting resources.