068: How to Grow a Year’s Worth of Food (with Melissa K Norris)
A Farmish Kind of Life is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. You can view our full affiliate disclosure here.
Many people think I’m a gardener but here on the homestead, the chickens, pigs, ducks, turkeys, and other animals are really my forte. When it comes to gardening, I’m little more than a toss some seeds at the ground and hope for the best kind of gal. So the concept that one could grow a year’s worth of food in their garden is mind blowing to me, and I had to find out more on how to make this happen.
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Melissa K Norris of Pioneering Today, and she taught me a lot about the prospect of growing more food on my property and helped banish the feeling of overwhelm (meaning, hyperventilation followed by I-give-up) that often happens when I try to dig into this.
Melissa’s new book The Family Garden Plan: Grow a Year’s Worth of Sustainable and Healthy Food digs into how to increase your harvest and maximize the space you have using organic and natural methods to raise a year’s worth of the fruits and vegetables your family enjoys by using her super fabulous step-by-step plans and charts.
Okay, but be honest. Can you really grow a year’s worth of food in your garden?
While Melissa says it’s totally possible to grow a year’s worth of food, she is also quick to point out that even the pioneers—who many of us aspire to be like—did not grow 100% of their own food.
Melissa suggests starting the process of growing a year’s worth of food by planning to grow a year’s worth of one particular crop. You can grow other crops—and she highly recommends it—but she also advises that you start slowly. Begin with one crop, the one your family eats the most of, and year after year you can add more and more crops to your year’s worth of food plan. By trying to grow a year’s worth of food in this way, you won’t get overwhelmed and quit.
This approach is attainable. It’s do-able. And it’s realistic.
When planning to grow a year’s worth of food, how do you figure out how much you need to plant of what crops?
It’s not as much as work as you think, Melissa says.
It is, however, important to figure this out for your family. For instance, my family goes through a lot of tomatoes, peppers, and squash, but doesn’t use hardly any green beans or radishes—which might be the complete opposite of what my neighbor is raising and using.
If you actively plan your menus on the homestead, you’re already ahead of the game in figuring out this puzzle. You know which individual fruits and vegetables your family consumes. If you’re not a menu planner, you can start keep tracking now. Start keeping track of what fruits and veggies your family eats every single day. Tally it for a month, then multiply by 12. With that final number, you can start to figure out what things you will need to plant in your garden.
After determining if those fruits and vegetables you’re eating actually grow where you’re living, and whether or not preserving those items is realistic for you, you can go about doing the math to figure out how many plants will need to be planted to net you what your family needs.
And how in the world do you do that?
Actually—Melissa already did the work for you. And I told her I loved her. Because friends, math is not my favorite subject or my strong point.
Melissa has—among many other things—a chart in her new book, The Family Garden Plan, that will help you figure this out! How much does each plant give you on average when it comes to needing your cups? If you need 100 cups of green beans to get you through the year, how many green bean plants does that require?
My gal Melissa has got it figured out for you.
If I’m going to grow a year’s worth of food, is this going to take a ton of space?
It will obviously depend on the crop you’re choosing. For instance, root crops take up more space than if you are doing something that can grow vertically, like a pole bean. Keep that in mind when planning things out! Make use of things like the three sisters planting method and companion planting.
Melissa gets a year worth of tomatoes from 18 plants in two 20 ft rows. So sometimes it’s not as much as you think. (But she also makes sure she’s planting the right type of tomatoes — a paste tomato, since she’s making lots of sauce.)
Does it work to grow a year’s worth of food if you live in a cold climate? How do you deal with extending a short growing season?
First, Melissa suggests choosing the right variety of seeds. Some varieties are simply better for shorter growing seasons. Pay attention to the how many “days to harvest” information on the seed packet or in the seed catalog, and choose the shorter one. You will have a much better chance of harvesting them in a short season.
Secondly, instead of purchasing plants, start seeds. And Melissa swears you don’t need a special set up or a fancy greenhouse. She does all her seed starting in the corner of her living room.
But my favorite advice from Melissa? She told me this gem of a tip: you can even start seeds/plants outside when it’s still technically too cold. As soon as the snow has melted and you have bare ground, make use of wide mouth mason jars or clear plastic totes to warm up the soil. Turn the jars or totes upside down, put a brick on them to keep them from blowing away, and let them heat up the soil where you intend to plant. It is soil temp—not air temp— that determines when most seeds will germinate.
Heat up soil for 3-7 days, then plant! Keep the mason jar or plastic tote on the seed/plant start and it will create a mini greenhouse, providing heat and moisture. The best part is that then there is no transplanting, which means you won’t have to disrupt the roots. Just remember to remove the jar or tote if it gets “hot” during day because it can cook the plant—but remember to stick it back on at night when those temps drop.
Grow a year’s worth of food – you can do this!
If you’re looking for more information, check out the podcast episode that goes with this blog post (click play on the black bar towards the top of this post) because we talked way more in depth on each of these points.
Otherwise, please check out Melissa’s new book, The Family Garden Plan, as well as the charts and worksheets that go with it. Her method to grow a year’s worth of food is easy, effective, and realistic. She’s done the work for you. And me. And everyone.
Like I said, I love her.
Other places you can find Melissa:
Subscribe to my Farmish Kind of Life podcast at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, PlayerFM, or other popular podcast players. All episodes of the podcast will also be linked under the podcast tab that you can find way at the top of this post in my menu bar.