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Bill Starr: Planning your vegetable garden

Spring has arrived and it won’t be long before vegetable gardens will be planted. I for one am looking forward to planting a spring vegetable garden. I know that I have written articles about planning out what you are going to grow, as well as making sure that you are rotating crops to different areas of the garden. There is, however, another consideration that needs to be made when planning your garden. How much do you need to plant?
I guess this will always depend on several factors. How many people are you trying to feed? Will you be canning or preserving anything that you grow? Are you a friendly neighbor that likes to give things away or will you possibly be selling any produce? All of these factors will help determine how much you need to plant. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to check your pantry to see how much you have left from last year before you go plant a half-pound of snap beans.
There is a great publication put out by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that tells you approximately how many pounds of certain vegetable we need and then tells how many row feet you need to plant per person. The table lists everything from asparagus to zucchini and everything in between. It is also helpful because it gives you a recommendation depending on if you plan on just using it fresh, or if you plan on preserving what you grow.
For example, if you are planning on canning snap beans, you will need 8 to 15 pounds per person. To end up with 8 to 15 pounds of beans you will need to plant a row about 12 feet long. Therefore if you have to feed a family of five you will need to plant a row 60 feet long. This is a very useful tool when planning out your garden and may become even more important as budgets are tightened.
By planning how much to plant and keeping records of how much you produce and how much you use annually you can hopefully become more efficient. You hear a lot of people say that you can buy vegetables from the store cheaper than you can grow them. In some cases you can, but there are definite benefits to producing your own food. First it is great experience for families. Secondly, you know exactly what is on your food, from fertility to pesticides. And you can’t beat the freshness of picking something and eating it that same day.
The figures vary depending on the source but you can easily say that a lot of our food travels hundreds of miles before it hits the grocery store shelf. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather eat a tomato that ripened on my vine and only had to be transported 100 yards to my kitchen counter, and was only handled by one set of dirty hands.
If you would like a copy of the “Family Garden Planning Guide” you can go to this link.  http://www.plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/pubs/mipmcot9407.pdf

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension agent/University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.