These tried-and-tested garden planning worksheets will help you conquer the complexities of food self-sufficiency to reduce your grocery budget and provide wholesome food.
The best gardening advice I can offer is to start out simple. Most of us would love to cut back on our grocery bill, and growing our own food certainly helps. When we’re plunking seedlings or seeds into our garden soil, it doesn’t look like all that much work. But when all those plants start to grow and require care, a beginning gardener can wonder what on earth they were thinking.
That’s why I recommend starting out by planting foods you and your family eat a lot and that will grow well in your region. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I can’t successfully grow okra, sweet potatoes, or peanuts, because the weather simply isn’t hot enough. Peppers and tomatoes don’t do well here except in a greenhouse, but they may thrive where you garden.
Most seed catalogs and seed packets specify an ideal region or growing Zone. Also, you can seek advice from neighbors who’ve gardened successfully. Many independent local nurseries will offer seedlings of vegetables known to do well in your specific Zone and region.
Another way to select what to plant in your plot is to consider how well the item can be preserved. While cucumbers are most people’s go-to for pickling, my husband really doesn’t care for cucumber pickles. But we’ve been known to eat an entire quart of pickled asparagus at one meal. My daughter has grown to love fermented garlic dill pickles, so we grow the ‘Chicago Pickling’ cucumber. It’s a prolific producer that’s enjoyable fresh on salads, and it makes great pickles.
We plant some lettuce because we love fresh salads, but we don’t want a lot left over. Frozen lettuce isn’t that appealing unless you’re using it in a green smoothie. We choose to grow more of kale and spinach, both of which can be frozen and used in various dishes.
Each family is unique, so you should tailor what you grow to what your family prefers to eat. Don’t worry if you start out small, thinking it won’t be enough, because being able to stay on top of a small garden will have you eager to plant more next year. Every year we bring in one new vegetable or cultivar to try – and that means we end up enlarging our garden.
To help you determine how much and what you should be planting for your family, I’m including charts from my book The Family Garden Plan. The worksheets on these pages will help you calculate your family’s produce needs, how much you should plant, and how to plan your garden space accordingly. They’ll aid you in accomplishing one of the often overlooked but most critical steps to a successful growing season and harvest – planning.
First, use the worksheet below to calculate your food needs for a year by listing the produce your family eats during a typical month. After all, what’s the point of having a garden if it’s full of foods your household members won’t eat?
Next, research which of the foods that your family eats will actually grow in your climate. Search by your ZIP code on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s updated Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Ask gardening friends and neighbors about vegetables they’ve grown successfully in your area.
Finally, use the information you’ve gathered to determine what and how much to plant. This will produce an easy-to-follow plan for your garden. Sketch how you want your plot to look on graph paper. No matter your climate, conditions, or space, you can grow crops to reduce your grocery budget and provide wholesome food. Ready to grow? Start here.
Start with this sample worksheet for an example of how to document your household’s actual eating habits for one month. Then, calculate the weekly average for each type of food and multiply the average by 52 (weeks in a year).
After you’ve charted the foods your family eats, decide which of those crops you’ll plant in your garden this year. Consider what grows easily in your Zone. The following two charts (below) list average recommendations for how much to plant per person for a year’s worth of food, and how much each plant produces on average. These averages will likely differ year to year, as yields can be affected by soil nutrition, weather, and pests.
Melissa K. Norris lives in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington with her husband and two children. This article is adapted from her book The Made-from-Scratch Life (Ten Peaks Press), available below.