R. Ann Parris on Planting Guide Considerations


Planting Guide Considerations by R. Ann Parris

We can find any number of guidelines for how much we should plant and-or harvest/procure for preservation to feed our families for a year. They’re available in books, magazines, or online via blogs, journals, and even U.S. county extensions and Master Gardener partner sites.

We want to eyeball those guides closely, because a LOT goes into how much we should plant, and even how much area we should plan for it to take.

#1 – Veggies are Veggies
Veggies are high-energy input and low-energy output foods for the most part. We will rarely reap the calories invested back from the most-common veggies in annual gardens.

Sweet corn and sweet potatoes are about the most calorie-dense “veggie” we see. Sweet corn ranges from 85-180 calories per ear, small to jumbo. A 5” sweet potato could have as few as 85 calories or as many as 140-200 by type and girth.

So, up front and out of the way early, don’t plan on the veggies listed on a planting guide for calorie staples. Very few include any serious calorie staples, or enough of them to form a calorie base for our survival. They’re intended to augment the starches/carbs, proteins, and fats on our plates.

Dual-Purpose Crops are Usually the Veggie Form
When we see peas and beans listed on guides, they’re usually referencing the green veggie, not the dry seed crop, even limas.

Those totals also reflect the multiple harvests of green veggies we can usually expect from pole and bush beans. If we’re letting them stay on the vine to mature, we’ll get lower total yields, so we need to adjust the numbers.

The same goes for sweet corn (although it’s always a one-off, with usual expectations of 1-3 ears per stalk).

Varieties Yield Differently
Even when something lists a “pole bean” or vining melon/pumpkin/squash, there’s a difference in potential max yield between something that’s 5’ and something that’s 10-15’. It’s not just size, though. Some varieties just yield more, and some yield less.

That’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes a lower-yielding plant comes with resilience that make it preferable to our areas or abilities. It still requires adjusting the numbers, though.

“Planting” does not mean “Harvesting & Consuming”
It’s akin to that fun little reminder “it’s called fishing, not catching”. Things go wrong.

The considerations she includes with her list are one of the reasons I so often use https://www.newlifeonahomestead.com/how-much-should-i-plant/ as a link for example planting guides. She says it perfectly:
“These numbers also do not take into account failed plants.”

Method Matters
Many sources base their rec’s on row crops and the expectation of conventional fertilizers, irrigation, and pest control. The yield from those general methods differ from the yields of other methods, good and bad.

Those averages also depend utterly on having the same inputs available. We can watch Big Ag fluctuations to see that even those are not foolproof. Even more importantly, though, if we don’t have matching resources and infrastructure (each year), we’re not going to match the method averages.

Method also makes an enormous difference in how much space it takes to grow those veggies, and whether crop rotations have to be factored into our planting area.

We Grow Different Things
Our locations have crop tradeoffs due to temperatures, season length, humidity, and rainfall (and the +/- pests from them), but many planting lists aren’t regionalized.

Those guides also rarely take into account our base soils, and assume heavy amendments for crop plots or purchased-dirt grow beds for home gardens if we have extremely sandy or clay soils.

Weigh Planting Guide Rec’s Carefully.

Any time we’re looking at a generic list based on averages, we have to weigh what it’s telling us against our own lives. There’s a whole article about the “numbers” involved with planting guides, focusing on the ranges some provide and the low-high potential yields, because it’s such an important aspect. These also need considered carefully.

Even so, planting guides aren’t without value. They can provide us with some very helpful starting points and sometimes some bonus information that can help us successfully plan our storage and food production.