The actual footprint of a garden is only one of many factors for how much food that can be produced there. I often get the question if the size of our garden (8,000 sq feet) is what's needed to feed two people for 12 months. That is a hard question to give an easy answer to since there are so many factors involved. The quality of the soil, the amount of sun and water, the different crop varieties and also, how the space is used. Over the years I'm developing ways of planning my garden so that I can plant in successions and get two or more crops grown and harvested from the same beds without row covers or other plastic materials. It allows me to use all the available space throughout the entire season instead of leaving some open in the early summer to plant my fall crop in and to not use space that opens up as the season progresses.
So in the middle of everything there is to do in August, here at the Deer Isle Hostel and Homestead, I'm already busy planning for the fall garden. As some of the major crops are being harvested – the garlic, the onions and the early potatoes – new space is opening up that can be utilized for fall crops such as Chinese cabbage, rutabagas, turnips and radish.
Some series of succession planting looks like this:
Bed #1 Early April – lettuce; Early July – the lettuce bolts and Chinese cabbage seeds are planted; Early August- the garlic is harvested and the Chinese cabbage seedlings can be transplanted to this new space.
Bed #2 Early April – Fava Beans; Late July – The fava beans are harvested and collard seeds planted; August – As we harvest the early potatoes room opens up to transplant the collards to.
Bed#3 Mid April – Onion seedlings; Mid-August – The onions are harvested and radish and turnips planted; Bed#4 Mid to late March – cold frames with brassica seedlings.
Early July – the brassicas are transplanted, the cold frames taken away and rutabaga seeds planted. Early August – rutabagas transplanted and the cold frames are put back out and planted with winter greens such as kale and spinach.
Here are some of my favorite ways of making as much use of our garden space as possible:
Build the soil. The same square feet patch can produce vastly different quantities depending on the soil. We use liberate amounts of local and natural materials such as seaweed, horse manure and our own compost as fertilizer and especially so in the beds that grow several crops throughout the season. Both garlic and brassicas are heavy feeder and for that succession to give maximum yield the soil needs to be replenished.
Mulch will keep the ground moist and the weed pressure down and aid the crops in using the energy to produce food.
The fence is already there, right, so why not use it as a trellis for beans, cucumbers and climbing flowers. I also grow my tomatoes along the fence instead of taking up room for cages in the garden beds.
The old-time way of growing winter squash and corn in the same patch works really good, with a few considerations. Corn grows fast once established so it's well advised to give the squash a little bit of head start so it doesn't get too shaded by the corn. Some winter squash are more suitable for this kind of planting, like pumpkins that can tolerate quite a bit of shade. Up here in Maine some squash are already compromised by the short and cool season and will struggle if also shaded by corn.
Winter squash can also be planted along the edges of the garden and trained to grow outwards through the fence. As long as the deer or other animals will eat the crop, this will save a considerable amount of space.
Favor crops that can be stored. At the peak of summer we have so much fresh food ready to eat all at once so when I plan my garden, I plan for some early varieties, like short seasoned carrots, but the bulk of the garden to be varieties that can be stored. For example to grow less celery and much more celeriac that can be stored in the root cellar until next spring.
So the answer to the question whether 8,000 square feet is what it takes to feed two people year round is that it's all about what you make out of it. We grow a vast surplus every year, food that is put towards the Hostel dinners, given to friends or traded for. To see our garden at this amazing season of 2014 and all the food that will come from it gives me the answer that it will feed not only two people, but many more, over the next 12 months.
Photos by Dennis Carter and Anneli Carter-Sundqvist.