R. Ann Parris on Watch the Numbers in Planting Guides


Watch the Numbers in Planting Guides by R. Ann Parris for PrepperGroups.com

I’m always impressed by the bravery of the souls who publish a “plant this much” or “harvest this much” or “preserve this much” guideline. There’s just so much that goes into raising food, and usually by the time they’re publishing that type of list, a grower KNOWS there’s a huge amount of variation both in what we use and how well a living, growing thing performs.

On the other hand, those suggestions also regularly make me slap my deeply-creased brow, usually due to the numbers they cite.

Those numbers are worth weighing hard all on their own.

For example, one dear soul suggested planting 10-40 carrots per person (https://www.wellfedhome.com/how-much-should-you-plant-in-your-garden-to-provide-a-years-worth-of-food).

*Reminder: Carrots are single-harvest 1:1 veggies, and they store quiet well and for some time in the fridge or cellar, even without a sand crate, and even have the potential to overwinter (well) right in a garden bed.

Not only does this seem like a woefully low annual-use number to me, but also, that’s a huge range.

It’s a multiplication by 4 — 4x times the seed, 4x the space. It becomes an even bigger range if you start thinking about 4-5” stubby-tipped cylindrical carrots , 5-7” deeply angled “cone” shaped carrots, and the whole range of big ol’ 8-12” carrots. Just changing variety, I’ve tripled (or cut to one-third) my harvest.

There’s an even more brain numbing rec on that list: two (2) winter squash per person.

*Pumpkins, melons, and soft squashes are listed separately, and in her defense, this is common and is also published in each edition of “Back to Basics”.

That one throws me, first off, because this is a food that will sit on a counter at 55-75 degrees for weeks, even if it’s not well-cured or cut a little young. Mature, cured winter squash will sit there for months, even exposed to potatoes and onions, and longer yet in cool, steady storage.

Like, this food is even more stable than those carrots. Why are we only growing two each?

It also throws me because that’s another HUGE range.

It’s actually an even bigger range than our carrot example, even though it’s a cut-and-dried “two” instead of 10-40.

Based solely on varieties, autumn and winter squash yield as few as 1-2 or 3-4 fruits per plant, with fruits that range from 2-30 pounds. Others will yield 4-6 and 4-8, or as many as 10-12 fruits that are 2-5# and 10-15#. Some will yield even a couple dozen fruits.

The total harvest could be anywhere from 5-90 pounds per person, easily.

(Now blow your mind and multiply that range by the 4-6 “family” counts commonly used as an average, and the huge variation in possible winter-spring meals from those two-each plants.)

Then we go the other way.

The author of https://www.newlifeonahomestead.com/how-much-should-i-plant/ kindly lists the rec’s from “Back to Basics”. I double checked my copies. It’s legit.

They think we should be planting 10 summer squash and zucchini per family (of 4-6 usually).

One, that’s a HUGE potential harvest, more or less based on heat, pollination, and how small/often we harvest. You can easily fill a 2-gallon bucket to a plastic laundry basket every 1-3 days off the yield of 10 summer squashes.

Too, though, squash are sometimes difficult plants. They’re hungry and thirsty, they’re prone to several specific and hard-to-control insect pests, they can be pretty big, and they’re susceptible to powdery mildews (which crosses with other common garden plants like peas-beans, and bramble fruits) as well as sharing diseases with tomatoes and the plum-apple-cherry family.

Summer squash also has to be eaten or preserved fairly quickly. Like, it’s not cut lettuce, but it’s only going to sit around for a bit, especially without refrigeration, before it starts wilting.

There are other aspects in play when it comes to planting guides.

Some of those additional factors are touched on by https://www.newlifeonahomestead.com/how-much-should-i-plant/, which is why that site was included instead of just referencing “Back to Basics”. I cover some general considerations in another post, too. I also hit on some of the useful aspects of those guides, because they’re not without value, and sometimes contain additional useful information.

Here, the main point is to address the numbers suggested by planting guides. Anytime we see general rec’s — anywhere, but especially for food and living things — we need apply some critical thinking. The more factors involved, the more we have to weigh the numbers we’re provided and do our own testing.