Every spring we sit down and evaluate what we want to grow this year. Variables include what we grew last year, how much we want to grow, how much space we have, and what is possible to grow where we are. As we are now in Wisconsin, we’ll have a shorter growing season that we had in Saint Louis. The temperatures won’t get as hot either, which might seem like a disadvantage, but because I lost potatoes every year down south because it was too hot for them, I am excited to grow a big plot of the tubers this year. We’re also moving into a new space, so we’ll have to plant some perennials this year that we otherwise wouldn’t have to.
This Year’s Cultivars
Our tentative list at this point includes: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, chard, corn, cucumber, eggplant, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, okra, onion, parsley, parsnip, peas, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, rhubarb, rutabaga, spinach, sweet potato, squash, tomato, and turnips. We’ll also be putting in some fruit trees and bushes, but we’ll talk about those in a later post.
I’ll follow the planting schedule recommended by the University of Wisconsin Extension in their Vegetable cultivars and planting guide for Wisconsin gardens, but you can find a guide more appropriate for your location from your local extension office.
But How Much to Plant?
This answer will vary from person to person. If you don’t have much space, you’ll be limited by how efficiently you can use your sunlight and soil. If you have plenty of space, you’ll be limited more by your time. As we have plenty of space and time here at the institute, we’ll be limited only by how much we can eat. Although the extension service publication cited above does not tell us how much food to grow per person, a previous version of this resource did. I was given a wonderful resource by Lauren’s brother-in-law. It is a 1975 publication from the Gardener’s Catalog: Food Gardens: Indoors, Outdoors, and Under Glass. I can’t find a PDF version of this book online. The neat thing about this publication is that it has gathered tons of articles and resources from the past century. Essays on fruit tree cultivation, food storage, pest control and so on, all coming from early or preindustrial practices — perfect for us here at the institute. It is also a visually appealing publication, as the authors have interspersed all the articles with line illustrations from centuries of agricultural catalogs.
It includes an earlier version of the Wisconsin Extension planting schedule and other resources that help estimate how many of each plant should be published per person. This stems from a time when people grew a lot more of their own vegetables, so we’ll be following it this year to see how much of our own food we can provide.
Using the information from this guide, we estimated how many of each plant we need to grow. We multiplied this by the spacing recommended for each variety and came up with a total area for our garden: about 5,500 ft². This is about an eighth of an acre (43,560 ft²), but when you add in all the footpaths, fences, raised beds, and other spaces, we’ll need to use at least double this amount, not to mention the additional real estate dedicated to fruit bushes and trees. The challenge will be getting this much land turned into garden beds quick enough to get our plants in the ground in time to get our harvest in before the first frost.