Whether you are growing a survival garden or simply want to source more of your own food at home, you may be wondering just how large of a garden you’ll need to support your family’s needs. In this blog, we’ll try to tackle that daunting question - just how much land does it take to feed a person?
A General Rule of Thumb
For most vegetables, you will need to get enough heirloom seeds to plant in a 10’-15’ row in order to feed a family of four. Of course, if your family consumes a certain crop at a high rate – such as the family favorite heritage sweet corn - you will want to plant more accordingly. And if you plan on eating a particular vegetable with far less frequency, you can plant less. In other words, the particular number of plants you will need for each vegetable will to some degree boil down to personal preference. In general, however, if it is something you consume with reasonable regularity, 10’-15’ rows will do the trick and you can still get a general idea of the space you will need for a sustainable garden.
Creating a More Precise Survival Garden Space Plan
There are a vast number of variables that can impact on the amount of space you will require. The types of garden vegetables you like to eat, the length of the growing season, and whether or not you intend to preserve some of your supply for the winter months all come into play.
John Jeavons, an expert in the field of small-scale sustainable farming, has estimated the necessary land for a single person at about 200 square feet. For an entire year (meaning, growing so that you can store a large amount of food away for the non-growing season), you will need about 4,000 square feet per person. This sounds like a lot! And for many people, it is. But, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the average American lawn size is 0.225 acres, or 9801 square feet. So, for many people, growing for a year-round supply for themselves (and even a partner or trusted friend) is in reach!
Supplementing Your Garden
From the standpoint of a survivalist, though, you hopefully won’t need to grow enough food to sustain yourself for a long period of time. You can grow some food to protect yourself in the short term while preparing other means of sustenance over the long term (via canning foods at home, storing some long term storage food rations, raising livestock, cooperation with trusted neighbors, etc.) To grow food for a more realistic timeframe, for example, a week or month, you may be able to get buy on about 100 square feet of garden per person, which would let you prepare a garden to feed a family of four on a very manageable 400 square foot plot of land.
Of course, the size of the plot needed also varies based on how you set up your garden and what plants you choose to cultivate. To maximize the yield of your garden, plant in wide rows. Rather than planting in a single line, scatter seeds in 3-foot wide rows. Using wide rows is ideal for vegetables because the plants can quickly establish a leaf canopy to ward off weeds. This technique is particularly relevant for urban cultivation, where space is at a premium.
Your choice of vegetable also impacts on the amount of space you will need. Plants that grow on vines, like cucumbers and squash, typically need plenty of room to spread out (either horizontally or vertically). And some vegetables, like asparagus, are perennial, which means they will have to take up space in your garden for a longer period time, which decreases overall yield. Choosing vegetables with higher yields in denser spaces may help you maximize your garden’s returns.