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How Big Should Your Vegetable Garden Be?

Three-box vegetable and herb garden

A vegetable garden can be any size and shape.  In one season, a garden as small as just 4-by-4 feet can produce a head of cabbage, a head of broccoli, a head of cauliflower, four heads of romaine lettuce, four heads of leaf lettuce, nine bunches of spinach, nine bunches of Swiss chard, sixteen baby carrots, sixteen full-size carrots, sixteen beets, and thirty-two radishes. All of that during just the cool time of the year. The same garden bed can be planted with tomatoes, beans, peppers, and cucumbers when summer comes. Just think what you could grow in a planting bed twice that size if you planted in both the cool and warm times of the year.

When you are deciding how big your vegetable garden should be—think first about the time you have for gardening. How many minutes or hours do you have in a week to care for your garden? Be conservative. Don’t over-commit. Start small. With experience, your garden can grow and grow. A small garden well maintained is better than a large garden that will leave you tired or discouraged by midsummer.

Plenty of room to grow in this country vegetable garden

How large should your vegetable garden be?

The answer to this question will come by answering a few other questions:

  • How much time can you spend in the garden? You don’t want a garden larger than you have time for.
  • What vegetables do you and your family like? Keep a family food diary for 2 to 4 weeks. Record all of the vegetables, fruits, and herbs you eat fresh—or would like to eat fresh.
  • Would you like to store or preserve vegetables for the off season, for winter? If you plan to freeze, dry, or can some of your harvest, you will want to grow more.
  • How much space do you have? Use graph paper to map out your potential garden. Draw in beds and paths—how many square feet do you have to work with?
  • Plan a small garden first. To get started grow a limited variety of vegetables. Start with the vegetables, herbs, and small fruits you love most. Grow the size of your garden as you gain experience.
  • During the first year, keep a notebook; record what worked and what didn’t work. What was fun about the garden and what you did not like? What crops grew well and which ones were difficult? Write suggestions to yourself for next season.
  • Your garden will improve from one year to the next and your enjoyment will grow.

When thinking about garden size, keep the following in mind:

  • Existing trees, shrubs, walks, and buildings may determine in part where you can plant and how much vegetable growing space you will have.
  • Look at your site throughout the day and map where and when the garden is in sun or shade.
  • Pick a spot close to a water source and close to the house. It also should be close to the tool shed and a site for a compost pile.
  • Choose a spot for your planting beds that is easy to access; you’ll want planting beds that are easy to work with an outstretched arm. If your planting bed is accessible from only one side, make sure you can reach comfortably to the back of the bed without stepping into it.

Related Articles Include:

What Every Vegetable Garden Needs

Starting Your Organic Vegetable Garden

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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