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How much food does your family eat in a year? The answer may surprise you, unless you’ve been planning a garden to feed them. Deciding how much to plant can make the difference between a lean year and a fat one. Careful planning and recordkeeping are essential if you want to live off your land.
When planning your homestead, it can be useful to know a total goal for food production. According to the USDA, the average American eats about 825 pounds of food a year, plus sweeteners. About 275 pounds of the average diet are derived from fresh and preserved fruit and vegetables. This number only accounts for edible food weight, however; in reality, you must grow much more. The USDA documents that nearly twice as much food is grown. The extra weight is comprised of parts not used, spoilage and wastage. Assuming you will do better than the average Joe at using up all the parts of what you grow, you should account for a 30 percent loss rate. That means you will need to grow at least 360 pounds of fruits and vegetables per person. You may also need to grow food for livestock, which is not accounted for here. If you plan to be truly self-sufficient, the remaining food sources will be whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, legumes and/or meat.
If you account for our homesteader average loss, then, you will need to produce around 1,200 pounds of food per person to be completely self-sufficient, divided up into the appropriate categories to provide complete nutrition. Here’s a quick breakdown of the average American diet, in pounds (2013 values):
|Food Source||Per Capita Pounds / Year (primary weight)||Per Capita Pounds / Year (adjusted for measured loss)|
|Meat, fish, eggs, nuts||311||163|
|Fats and Oils**||98||63|
|Added Sugar / Sweetener||128||75|
*Not including rice. **2010 values.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, be aware that they will account for 25 percent of your food, and should not take up 80 percent of your labor. It is important to be sensible about the crops you intend to grow. Your climate and the lay of your land can have a huge impact on yields; some crops will do better than others, and you may have the time and resources available to more easily preserve or store some foods and not others. Plan to grow a diverse nutritional base from crops that yield a lot on your land, rather than providing unlimited variety.
The USDA publishes a guide for planning for vegetable growing. The guide comes complete with formulas and worksheets to help you figure out what you will need to grow. The following chart from the guide sums up per-person annual yields and plantings for several popular vegetables; note that amounts for preserving are IN ADDITION to fresh-eaten produce. If your family won’t eat something, or if you know it won’t easily grow, substitute the equivalent amount of something else nutritionally similar. Also note that these are average yields; if you practice biointensive gardening, or if you live in climates not suited to the vegetable listed, then you will experience different yields.
|Vegetable||Estimated need (lbs)per person||Approximate rowlength toplant per person||Approximateyield (lbs) per foot of row||Amount of freshproduce (lbs) neededFor 1 quart preserved *|
|Fresh||If Preserving||Fresh||If Preserving||Canned||Frozen|
|Asparagus||6||6||10 ft||10 ft||0.6||4||2-3|
|Bean, lima (bush)||2-4||4-5||7-13 ft||13-17 ft||.30 (shelled)||4-5||4-5|
|Snap, Dry & Pole Beans||8||8-15||8 ft||8-15 ft||1||1.5-2||1.5-2|
|Beets||5-10||10-15||5-10 ft||10-15 ft||1||2.5-3||2.5-3|
|Broccoli||8||8-10||10 ft||10-13 ft||0.8||–||2-3|
|Cabbage||10||10-15||5 ft||5-8 ft||2||3 (sauerkraut)||–|
|Carrots||5-10||10-15||5-10 ft||10-15 ft||1||2.5-3||2.5-3|
|Cauliflower||8||8-10||10 ft||10-13 ft||0.8||–||2-3|
|Chard||3-5||5-6||2-3 ft||3-4 ft||1.5||2-6||2-6|
|Corn, Sweet||12-24 (ears)||24-60 (ears)||6-12 ft||12-30 ft||2 (ears)||4-5||4-5|
|Cucumbers||5-10||10-15||5-10 ft||10-15 ft||1||1.5-2||–|
|Onions||5-10||10-15||3-7 ft||7-10 ft||1.5||2-3||2-3|
|Peas, pod||3-5||5-10||4-6 ft||6-13 ft||0.8||–||4-5|
|Peas, shelled||3-5||5-10||6-10 ft||10-20 ft||0.5||4-5||4-5|
|Peppers||3||3-10||2 ft||2-7 ft||1.5||2||2|
|Potatoes||50-100||50-100||25-50 ft||25-50 ft||2||5||–|
|Pumpkins, Rutabaga||10-20||10-20||5-10 ft||5-10 ft||2||2-2.5||2-2.5|
|Spinach||2-5||5-8||3-6 ft||6-10 ft||0.8||2-3||2-3|
|Squash, summer||5-7||7-10||3-4 ft||4-5 ft||2||2.5-3||2-3|
|Squash, winter||10-20||10-20||5-10 ft||5-10 ft||2||2||3|
|Tomato||20||20-40||8 ft||8-16 ft||2.5||3||–|
|Turnip||5-10||5-10||3-5 ft||3-5 ft||2||–||2.5-3|
Unfortunately, the guide did not address popular fruits. Yields for fruit can be harder to predict, but a thorough guide was published by Penn State and is available here.
Some average yields for fruit-bearing plants are listed below to aid in your planning:
|Crop||Average Yield |
(lbs./100 sq. ft.)
|Half-Cup Servings |
Effective planning can guarantee your family won’t go hungry. Don’t expect everything to happen in a single growing season; take copious notes and make adjustments each year to grow the most efficient crops for your land. With care and diligence, you can produce enough food for a year.
What advice would you add for growing enough food to feed a family for a year? Share your advice in the section below:
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