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Estimating Yields of Vegetable Crops and How Much to Plant

Garden bed intensive planting1

Garden bed intensive plantingPredicting a crop yield before harvest can aid in planning the use of your garden space. Predicting how much each person in your household consumes will also help you determine how much to plant. Knowing how much space each plant requires and when it will reach harvest will help you determine how much space to set aside for each crop and when.

Crop yield estimates and consumption predictions are largely base on experience. Your vegetable needs may change from year-to-year.

Keeping a food log will help you determine how much to grow for your household. Record how often you eat lettuce, for example, and you will soon determine how much to grow. Do you eat tomatoes fresh or do you process and freeze them for winter use–or both? A food log is a simple way to learn about your eating habits and preferences.

Estimating Crop Yields

To estimate crop yields in your garden, follow these steps:

  1. Select a 10-foot section of row to measure your harvest. If you plant wide rows or intensive beds, measure plantings and harvest by the square foot.
  2. Note the number of plants growing in the measured section. Be sure to note the cultivar or variety of plant you are growing. Differing cultivars can vary in yield.
  3. Harvest the crop from the measured section.
  4. Weigh the sample harvest for total yield; you can also count the yield bean-by-bean or tomato-by-tomato.
  5. Record the results so that you can plan and compare the results to future harvests.

Yields will vary according to garden conditions and variety planted. Weather and growing conditions can change from year to year; these changes can affect yield.

Choosing Crops to Plant

Here are important considerations in choosing crops for planting in the home garden:

  1. Grow what you will eat or what you can store or give away. Overplanting requires time, energy, and natural resources.
  2. Grow what you can’t buy. Grow crops that are hard to come by at the farmers’ market or grocery store. Choose varieties recommended by friends and neighbors.
  3. Grow crops that are expensive to buy at the farmers’ market or grocery store but easily grown at home.
  4. Grow what tastes best home-grown. Peas and sweet corn taste much better fresh from the garden.

Vegetable Crops that Give the Most for the Least

Here are easy-to-grow vegetables that will give you a good return on little effort:

Tomatoes. Grow two plants for each person in the family.
Bush beans. Plant five feet of row for each person.
Beets. Plant two feet or row for each person and make several succession sowings.
Carrots. Plant two feet of row for each person; make several sowings.
Lettuce. Plant three feet of row for each person; make three sowings.
Swiss chard. Plant three feet of row for each person.
New Zealand spinach. Plant two feet of row for each person.
Radishes. Plant one foot of row three or four times successionally for each person.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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    • Go to the Topics Page and look down the alphabetical list to Container Growing.
      Growing crops in containers is quite similar to growing in garden beds.
      Make sure you use fresh soil in your containers each year and water lightly to prevent plants from wilting each day. As the roots grow deeper your plants will need less water. Too much water can be the biggest problem container gardeners encounter–containers can retain too much water, so be careful not to over-water.

  1. Tomatoes are not easy in the south. They require constant watering to maintain moisture for them to sprout when sown from seed; plus the pests eat the tiny sprouts before they get a chance to grow anything above 1in.

    • Try covering your planting bed with a row cover early in the season to protect seedlings from pest insects. Water is essential for seed starting, but once roots are established, the plants can sustain themselves if the soil is compost rich. See the article on Dry Farming – Dry Gardening listed in the Topics Index here.

    • Suggested “plants per person” is an estimate of how many plants you would grow for one year for one person. This is only a suggestion. The way to know how many plants of one crop you should plant over the course of a growing season or a year is based on your own use or the use of all of the people in your household. If you eat lettuce with every lunch and dinner, then you will plant quite a few lettuce plants over the course of a year. If you eat lettuce with a meal only occasionally then the number of plants would be less. Keep a food log for a week or a month and record how often you eat a vegetable or fruit, then you make an educated estimate of how many to plant. (You would not plant all at once, but successively so you have a continual harvest.)

  2. Thank you for the recommended plants per person… especially tomatoes. I used to plant a 10’x10’ square. Though I’d batch cook a year of marinara and eat them daily, I’d be trying to give them away. I now plant the following for my family of 4: (2) Cherry-type, (2) Early variety, (2) Mid/Late varieties, (2) Roma and (2) San Marzano. Doubling up on the last 2 gives me marinara throughout the off season.

How To Grow Tips

How To Grow Tomatoes

How To Grow Peppers

How To Grow Broccoli

How To Grow Carrots

How To Grow Beans

How To Grow Corn

How To Grow Peas

How To Grow Lettuce

How To Grow Cucumbers

How To Grow Zucchini and Summer Squash

How To Grow Onions

How To Grow Potatoes

Summer Crops Planting Guides

Garden bed rows1

Vegetable Crop Yields, Plants per Person, and Crop Spacing