Yield Planning

After, “When do I plant?” the hardest gardening question to wrap you head around is, “How much do I plant?” Everyone, from high-rise gardeners with a few pots to big time farmers with thousands of acres, has to annually decide how much of their land they will allocate to each crop they want to grow.

Now, if what you want more than anything is homegrown caprese salad, and all you have room for is a single tomato and two basil plants on the patio…well, your decision is pretty simple. Likewise, if your choices are corn or soy for your 15,000 acre farm, you’ve got a relatively straightforward decision.

Anything in the middle gets complicated.

I try to grow a diversified selection of vegetables that will feed my family twelve months out of the year. It’s kinda tricky to figure it all out. How many beets should I grow; how many slicing cucumbers keep us fed for fresh eating and how many pickling cucumbers do we need for putting up? At what point is the bounty of zucchini a burden? Does it really make sense to grow corn in a backyard at all?

I can feel fall crisping up the air. Let’s face it, the glory days of the summer – for what they were worth this year – are fading fast. But before the memory of the great, the failed and the overwhelming also fades, it’s a good idea to think about what you got from what you grew, and how your yield worked for you and your family.

Just the right amount for a little pickling, a little drying and a few meals.

This year has been particularly cool but, thanks to aggressive season extension techniques the harvest has been good. Here’s what I’ve observed this year about amount planted and yield harvested.

– 8 linear feet of sugar snap peas planted in a double row kept my family happily eating snap peas until we kinda didn’t want them anymore. Ideally I’d plant 2, 8′ rows, but stagger the planting by 4 weeks (one indoor start in gutter; one outdoor planting under cloche) to keep peek production up for the maximum time.

– 4 linear feet of romano beans + 4 linear feet of pole beans, each planted in a triple row, is perfect for generous fresh eating but will not be enough to pickle all the beans we’d like. Like peas, I’d double the amounts and ideally do a staggered sowing.

– 16 square feet of lettuce and other greens planted roughly every month keeps us over-supplied with salads.

– 32 square feet (18 plants) of mixed-maturation broccoli started in February and planted out in early-April kept me in gorgeous broccoli from late May to June. Another 18 plants with mixed maturation went in in July and should start heading up in the next several weeks. For freezing, I’d prefer to double these amounts, and would if I had room.

– 3 green zucchini and 2 patty pan summer squash are keeping me in plenty of zucchini and I’ve only just recently begun to feel a bit squash-overwhelmed.

– 6 slicing cucumbers are not quite enough to keep my family happily drowning in cukes. But we’re weird, we could eat 3 cukes a day…per person.

– 12 linear feet of pickling cucumbers have given me several large crocks full of lacto-fermented pickles. We’ll be fine on pickles as long as the LFs last in the fridge – 3 or 4 months – but I’d love to have some basic water bathed canned vinegar pickles in the pantry too, for late winter and spring. I didn’t grow enough to make that happen.

– 3, 4’x8′ beds of onions, each planted with 4 rows of onions, is an overwhelming amount of onions. Next time, split the 3-onion sampler pack with a friend.

– 18 indeterminate tomato plants trained to a single cordon and 6 additional determinates are giving us fresh eating & fresh cooking tomatoes plus a few additional Roma’s for drying. I’ll be buying an additional 100 pounds of Romas for sauce and drying from the Yakima Valley orchardist who’s been keeping me supplied with peaches.

– A 4’x8′ bed of chard is still a fine amount, but the chard this year just didn’t grow like last year.

This yield thing is really location, weather and family dependent. Using a harvest of 18 broccoli plants over the span of 6 weeks might seem impossible to a broccoli-hating family, but hardly any of our broccoli even made it to the kitchen. Oliver, it turns out, loves broccoli as much as the rest of us.

Nonetheless, when I picked up How to Cheat At Gardening And Yardwork by Jeff Brendenberg at my local library and was intrigued by a chart listing typical yield per plant. Now, I’m not sure these numbers are all that meaningful, but they are interesting. According to Brendenberg, you should expect the following from what you plant:

Corn: 1 to 3 ears
Cucumbers: 10 to 50
Melons: 1 to 3
Peppers: 2 to 10
Winter Squash: 6
Tomatoes: 6 to 24
Cherry Tomatoes: Up to 150!
Zucchini: 16 to 36

Food for thought.

Do you plan out how much of each vegetable you should plant? What goes into your thought process and what are your conclusions for your family?


  1. says

    Hmm, seems we really do share a brain. I'm assuming you had this one in the works already when I published my "efficient garden" post… As usual, you tackle the concrete, tactical subjects I meant to write about before I fell off the edge of that big philosophical tangent.
    I still remember reading animal, veg, miracle, when I was in Alaska, and she mentioned her 50 lb yield from a single tomato plant. That was when the world of "yields" opened up for me. I had been working so hard to getmaybe a pound from each of my tomato plants. Yes, the gap can be quite large.

  2. says

    Rachel – thanks, your post is great, as usual. You're right, though, that we have to be frank and admit that the best we can offer with timing and yield info are generalities because of the peculiarities of climate, fertility and individual taste (we too would be a double CSA box family if we didn't grow our own). Your "watermelon yield" is, to me way up here in Seattle, like "unicorn yield" – it's just not happening.
    CJ – Yup, this one was at the almost complete stage when I read your excellent post yesterday. Actually, I probably wouldn't have pushed it on the heels of yours except I worked late last night and didn't have the energy to whip something else together at 10 pm. :) 50 pounds from a single tomato plant!? Yeah, chalk that up to "Unicorn Yield" as well – if I get 10-15 ripe full size tomatoes off a single plant that's a bumper crop. One day I'll have to measure how many hours I spend to get each tomato – I'll bet it's almost a 1 to 1 ratio.

  3. says

    Remember that over supply of zukes can be used for pickling, for relishes, and for your vinegar pickles… It is a very versatile veggie!

    And I like some yellow crooked neck squash, which are just as abundant as the zukes, to add some mixed color to all the zuke dishes :)

  4. says

    What ind of snap peas do you grow? Either you have a really prolific variety, or we are just pea fiends here…32 feet of double rows (succession planted) is barely enough for us.

  5. says

    Eatclose – generally one of the pole sugar snaps. It was sugar pole last year I think – vines about 7 feet tall by the end of the season. We glutted out big time for a while and by the time the vines tapered out, we were ok with it. :)

  6. says

    Erica someone who made fun of my spreadsheets three years ago just sent this link to me – I think you must be my long lost twin. :) I'm ashamed to admit how many spreadsheets I've built showing yields per plant, how many of each thing per week we would eat all year and then planting and harvest dates by not only crop but variety. Derp!

  7. says

    I am only an egg.
    I plant as many seeds as I can of whatever I hope to grow and then I hope it grows! Then I’m just happy for whatever grows, whenever it does, and whatever I harvest, if I get anything.

    I don’t count my chickens before they’re hatched.
    I hope my seeds sprout and I hope my garden produces.
    And I’m thankful whenever it does.

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