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Growing a Garden Plot: How Much Should You Plant?

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If you’re growing a garden plot with the intention of feeding your family, you need to know how much to plant. 

 

One of the primary reasons I garden is to fill my pantry with canned fruits and vegetables that are free of bpa (yes, those cans you get at the supermarket are lined with bpa!) and pesticides. Of all the different things I preserve, tomatoes are far and away the most-used ingredient in my household; it seems I’m constantly pulling a jar of some sort of tomato product or another out of the pantry.

It makes sense that growing tomatoes to stock my larder is top of my garden plot to-do list.

fresh vegetables in a white tray, fresh from the garden

How many tomatoes in my veggie garden plot?

Since tomatoes are the crop I like to grow the most of, let’s take a look at what makes sense for my family. Obviously, a single tomato plant won’t suffice. Past experience in a hot summer region leads me to believe that a single tomato plant can yield as much as 20-30 pounds per season.

Since I’m gardening in a region that’s notorious for being hard to grow tomatoes in, let’s assume I can get 10-15 pounds of tomatoes from each plant. (Note: this differs from the chart below. I’m using numbers that I’ve seen in my own garden.)

Growing tomatoes (or Roma tomatoes) in my garden is a priority for me. Knowing how much to plant of your family's favorite vegetables will help in garden planning.

Estimating our personal tomato consumption

In a year’s time, my family of four (myself and three grown men) will eat:

  • 26 quarts of pizza sauce (in 52 pint sized jars)
  • 23 quarts of marinara sauce
  • 35 quarts of salsa (I use salsa in chili recipes and Mexican dishes in addition to snacking)

That’s 84 quarts of tomatoes (more or less, as there will be other ingredients tossed in with the tomatoes).

It takes about 21 pounds of tomatoes to yield seven quarts of crushed tomatoes, which is a full canner load. [source]

So for the sake of mathematics, that’s about three pounds of tomatoes per quart jar.

In order to stock my pantry with the tomato products we eat regularly, I’ll need to grow 252 pounds of tomatoes (Roma tomatoes are meatier). That means I’ll need between 17-25 tomato plants in order to accommodate my family’s needs. Since growing tomatoes is a priority for my family, I’ll make sure to get enough planted.

yellow, red, and green heirloom tomatoes

The right sized garden plot

Every household differs, of course. Knowing what produce your family loves (and what they’ll only tolerate!) will help you decide what and how much to plant.

Questions to ask yourself when figuring out how much your family would use:

  • Will we eat this vegetable fresh from the garden?
  • Do we use this vegetable frequently in cooking? Or in baking?
  • Will we pickle or preserve or ferment this vegetable for winter storage?
  • How much would we like to share with neighbors and friends?

Plant enough

If you’re going to go to the trouble of planting a garden, you want to make sure you plant enough. If you’re feeding a family of four, one green bean plant is simply not going to be enough. Here are some very loose recommendations about how much to plant per person. Again, this will vary on your family’s use of a particular crop (are you eating it fresh, or also canning some?) and your gardening success. Be sure to make note of what you plant and whether or not it was enough. Next year you’ll have a better idea how much to plant!

colorful garden vegetables in a wooden box from above

Vegetable garden yields

Knowing the approximate yield of vegetable crops will help you determine how much of each crop to plant. (Approximate because there are so many variables, from local conditions to plant varieties.)

Yield (in pounds) per ten foot row.

  • Beets – 10 pounds (roots)
  • Bush beans – 8 pounds
  • Broccoli – 7 pounds
  • Carrots – 10 pounds
  • Cucumbers – 12 pounds
  • Eggplant – 7 pounds
  • Green onions – 10 pounds
  • Kale – 7 pounds
  • Lettuce (leaf) – 5 pounds
  • Melon – 10 melons
  • Onions – 10 pounds
  • Peas (snap) – 2 pounds
  • Squash (summer) – 20 pounds
  • Tomatoes – 15 pounds
  • Peppers – 5 pounds
  • Turnips – 5 pounds (roots)
green beans in a wooden box

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

63 comments… add one
  • Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi Feb 22, 2011, 11:40 pm

    You seem to be saying that the 60 plants I had for the two of us and some chickens might have been a couple too many… Ah well, the chooks were fat, happy and filled with tomato goodness!

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 22, 2011, 11:54 pm

      Au contraire! If you’ve got room for 60 tomato plants, I say go for it! I’ve definitely planted that many in the past, but find myself in the position of having to get by with a bare minimum. And that may not leave much for my chickens!

      • Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi Feb 26, 2011, 8:18 am

        It was INSANELY too many, but most of them were cherries and we snacked on them all day long, plus the chooks ate as many as they wanted all day long too. If it’d been 60 plants of full-sized tomatoes, I shudder to think.

    • Melissa Feb 6, 2015, 10:12 am

      You could try for the most popular neighbor of the year award. Homegrown tomatoes are highly prized in my neighborhood.

  • merr Feb 23, 2011, 1:02 am

    This is so great. We have been talking and talking about getting a tomato plant and the question was how many?? I always hear that people can’t seem to give away tomatoes fast enough, but they are always the ones that have 5 or 6 plants. So, nice to see a post on how to know when enoughs enough!

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 23, 2011, 2:32 am

      If you’ve never done it before, even ONE is a great start. It will keep you in tomatoes all summer long. But if you’ve got room, it’s easy enough to plant a few – you can always donate the excess to your local food bank.

  • Sheryl K Feb 23, 2011, 2:22 am

    My very favorite moment is when I visit with a friend or neighbor with a lot of tomato plants and he/she “unloads” her bounty my way. There is nothing as delicious as tomatoes from the garden. Yours look fabulous…wish you were my neighbor 🙂

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 23, 2011, 2:32 am

      One of the reasons I plant to excess when space allows is so that I can share my bounty!

  • MyKidsEatSquid Feb 23, 2011, 6:13 pm

    I remember canning with my mom. I wish I were a decent gardener so I could can my own produce. I’m going to keep reading–maybe you can help me become a better gardener.

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 24, 2011, 5:45 am

      Stick around, Squid! You CAN grow your own produce.

  • Alisa Bowman Feb 23, 2011, 7:59 pm

    You can never eat enough tomatoes as far as I am concerned. I look forward to learning how to preserve them.

  • Jennifer Margulis Feb 24, 2011, 6:54 pm

    Girlfriend, you will be growing A LOT of tomatoes to feed those boys. Can’t wait to hear about how they come up!!

  • [email protected] Food. Stories. Feb 27, 2011, 9:53 am

    You should see my neighbor’s garden – he has at least 40-50 tomato plants taking over his backyard. It’s a forest! Free tomatoes for me all summer!

  • Dirt2dinner Mar 12, 2012, 5:08 pm

    We have to have enough sun-dried tomatoes to get through the winter and spring here in Northern California, so I plant 10-12 ‘Principe Borghese’ determinate tomato plants early in the season. Another two or three early variety tomato plants are dedicated to homemade ketchup (24 lbs of tomatoes for 6 pint jars.) Four plants for fresh eating (‘Red Zebra,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Yellow Brandywine,’ and ‘Paul Robeson’ this year. And another 10-12 plants will go in once it’s really warmed up for sauce tomatoes. That ought to hold us. 😉

    • Attainable Sustainable Mar 13, 2012, 7:35 am

      Ketchup is something I made for the first time last year, and I’m totally adding that to my calculations!

      • mamcast May 8, 2014, 3:06 pm

        Can you post the ketchup recipe? I grew up on homemade ketchup and want to try and make it myself this year. I have 11 tomato plants for just me and to share

  • Attainable Sustainable Mar 12, 2012, 7:31 pm

    Barbara Lampshire Anderson: Barbara, that’s my general philosophy! (But space prevents me from getting carried away these days.)

  • Dirt to Dinner - Julianne Idleman Mar 12, 2012, 7:32 pm

    I think I’m holding steady at about 30 plants or so. We have to have enough sun-dried tomatoes to get through the winter and spring here in Northern California, so I plant 10-12 ‘Principe Borghese’ determinate tomato plants early in the season. Another two or three early variety tomato plants are dedicated to homemade ketchup (24 lbs of tomatoes for 6 pint jars.) Four plants for fresh eating (‘Red Zebra,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Yellow Brandywine,’ and ‘Paul Robeson’ this year.) And another 10-12 plants will go in once it’s really warmed up for sauce tomatoes. That ought to hold us. 😉

  • Kate Harle Mar 12, 2012, 7:32 pm

    Yey for tomato math, this year i am saving seed from the heirloom varieties i purchased, i did not get as many tomatoes as i wanted but i really need to learn how to can before next season because like you i want to quit buying tinned tomatoes

  • Kelli Ploeger Hinn Mar 12, 2012, 7:32 pm

    fun numbers, thanks! Im just about to plant- hopefully I can get to it tomorrow or wednesday. Friends got us canning jars for our wedding and life has been to hectic to fill most of them. Planning a canning garden this year and taking notes. By the way- do you have estimates on how long fresh lids are good for? I know they arent supposed to be reused, but if theyve been 2 summers in a hot house, are they any less likely to seal?

    • Nicki Apr 13, 2016, 4:11 am

      I had some for 5 and they were fine

  • Attainable Sustainable Mar 12, 2012, 7:32 pm

    Kelli Ploeger Hinn: I LOVE that you got canning jars for your wedding. As for jar lids, I’m no expert but I’ve used lids (new) that I’ve had in storage for a couple of years, anyway.

  • Roz Kidd Mar 13, 2012, 12:45 am

    Where are you getting the Bpa free seals?

    • Brandy Mar 25, 2014, 2:20 pm

      I recently saw bpa free Kerr and Ball brand lids at my regular grocery store.  (It was at WINCO in Arizona)

  • Robin I. Mack Mar 13, 2012, 12:45 am

    I’ll check this out.

  • SarahB Mar 13, 2012, 3:43 am

    We grow tomatoes and we struggle; it’s so hot and dry here that the last few years not much grows until September. I have 10 varieties of tomato seeds this year and my husband says I always go overboard in the number of plants I choose compared to the limited space we have. Oh well, I’ll just make it work! I haven’t canned before but I want to try this year. 

    • Attainable Sustainable Mar 13, 2012, 7:34 am

      Sarah, my husband always told me I went overboard. Some ladies lie about buying clothes, some lie about how many tomato plants they have. 😉 Now that I’m in a smaller space, I’m forced to use restraint. I’m also trying upside-down tomatoes to take advantage of unused space. We’ll see how that goes!

      • Uturn Mar 25, 2014, 5:21 pm

        How did your upside down tomatoes fare? Im going to do some this year to add space and structure and beauty to the garden.  Ive seen some mixed reviews.  Any learnings?

      • Dianna Feb 15, 2016, 7:17 am

        Upside down tomatoes are awesome! I’m thinking of planting my beans at the base of my upside-downers this year, so the beans can use the tomato stalks as a trellis.

  • Attainable Sustainable Mar 13, 2012, 9:32 am

    Roz Kidd: Roz, BPA in canning lids is a huge problem, IMO. Tattler lids (not sure why I can’t tag them) are the only BPA lids I’ve found – but they’re *plastic. Much as I love the idea of BPA free lids, I don’t trust that the plastic leads aren’t leaching something else that’s terrible for us. Weck Jars are all glass but expensive.

    I feel that canning in glass – even with the BPA lids – is a better option that purchasing cans. The glass jars sit upright and don’t have contact with the lids at all once processing is complete. It’s an imperfect solution…

  • Kelli Ploeger Hinn Mar 13, 2012, 9:32 am

    recent article said some BPA free plastics are still releasing hormone like other compounds. I agree with the upright/lower contact surface/ its better than nothing

  • Tammy's Resources/EmergencyFoodStorage Mar 13, 2012, 9:32 am

    Great info

  • Brette May 21, 2013, 11:23 am

    Considering I’ve never managed to keep more than a couple of plants alive on my deck, you seem very adventurous to me! My solution is to bring home tomatoes from the CSA!

  • Jeff Mar 25, 2014, 11:41 am

    I usually grow two plants. A Better Boy, and a San Diego. From those two plants I average over 150 pounds of tomatoes in a season. If had room I would grow more varieties.

    • Kris Bordessa May 8, 2014, 3:00 pm

      That’s a LOT of tomatoes from just two plants! 

  • Joy Mar 25, 2014, 2:13 pm

    Would you consider sharing your recipes for canning salsa, pizza and marinara sauces?? Thx

  • Kathy Mar 26, 2014, 7:58 am

    I’m going to need to plant loads of tomatoes…. my older daughter eats them like apples, and will eat 4-5 a day when they are in season. The little one “sneaks” the cherry tomatoes. Thanks for helping with the math.

  • Bean May 4, 2014, 3:00 pm

    My fiancé and I canned last year for the first time together, everyone thinks we are nuts.  We need to plant 65 tomato plants and 40 pepper plants to get our family to December.   Now that we have canned our own, store bought won’t do. I’ve learned so much in the past 4 hours reading your site, thank you!

    • Kris Bordessa May 4, 2014, 5:38 pm

      That little “tink” of each jar sealing is a little addictive, isn’t it!??

  • Algonquin May 7, 2014, 5:29 pm

    Hoo boy, I’m in trouble as I have planted nearly 100 plants from seed, in my zeal to use my new grow light; I planted about 48 San Marzano plum and 18 Heritage Beefsteak, plus some early tomatoes for cold climates and Sweetie 100 cherry…

    My Amish neighbours have inspired me to make everything from scratch and I got a canner last year (the beans were well worth the work). But it is just hubby and I here full time and even with the chili sauce I make for my parents every summer, homemade ketchup and salsa, I better start collecting more recipes : ) Or I do like the idea of giving some to the food bank in my little town, or even some of the seedlings to folks who don’t have much in their gardens.

    • Kris Bordessa May 8, 2014, 3:09 pm

      Oh, San Marzanos are good! I say, if you have room and you love to grow them, do it! You’ll use what you can and the rest will be greatly appreciated by your food bank and neighbors. As for another recipe, you should totally try this: https://www.attainable-sustainable.net/recipe-tomato-chutney. It is SO good!

  • Amber May 7, 2014, 8:15 pm

    I’m attempting another year to grow tomatoes. Failed for the past 3, but we moved to a different state. What kinds of tomatoes do you suggest for the different sauces (pizza, marinara, ketchup), also do you make your own tomato sauce/paste? I’d like to start canning my own, but I don’t use fresh tomatoes for anything, only the canned sauce/paste, kinda overwhelmed and not sure where to start. 

    • Kris Bordessa May 8, 2014, 3:05 pm

      If you’re planning to do a lot of sauces, choose a Roma tomato. Sometimes they’re called paste tomatoes. There are a lot of varieties to choose from, but just focus on the paste tomato part for now. These tomatoes are more fleshy and have fewer seeds/juice so they make a nice thick sauce. Good luck! 

      • purposefulorg Mar 25, 2015, 2:22 am

        These are also good for drying with dehydrator or sun…then eating all year, in oil with garlic, etc.

  • Robert Erickson May 8, 2014, 2:27 am

    Great article and links. For those who have never grown tomatoes and are a little fearful, give it a try. Tomatoes do well in containers (use bigger containers- about 5 gallon ones). Start with a healthy plant from a garden center rather than seed. They need sun, water and occasional feeding. Besides the obvious benefit discussed in the article, you can open the door to a whole world of new tastes and textures. Most grocery stores only carry three or four commercially grown varieties (none of which are developed for taste). Garden centers usually carry a dozen or so varieties that grow well in your area. Seed catalogs often list over 100 varieties. It is harder to grow tomatoes from seed but your choices are much greater. If you do not have space for even a container garden, visit your local farmer’s market and see what fresh locally grown taste is all about.

    • Kris Bordessa May 8, 2014, 3:03 pm

      As a new grower, I always started with plants rather than seeds. Just in the past five years or so have I delved into seed starting. They are actually pretty easy to get started; for me the harder thing is *timing it – getting the plants to be garden ready at just the right moment. 

  • Mondo May 8, 2014, 5:45 am

    I have 26 tomato plants growing. This is my first time growing, so I’m excited to see how many tomatoes the plants will produce. 😀

    • Kris Bordessa May 8, 2014, 3:01 pm

      You’ll have to report back at the end of the season. I suspect you’ll have plenty!

  • des Aug 16, 2014, 9:38 pm

    I have more than one hundred plants and it is not enough… Some get sick, some get insects and some only give 1 or 2 fruits. So by all means put more !

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 16, 2014, 9:46 pm

      I say more is always better!

  • Joanne Tipler Mar 25, 2015, 2:13 am

    Hi, I also grow as many tomatoes as is humanly possible. I sell plants in May and pounds and pounds of tomatoes during the summer with my business. Everyone loves tomatoes. I also put them up, dehydrate them and freeze them. I ran out of pizza sauce a couple of months ago, bought local hydroponic tomatoes to make more sauce, they’re just not the same. I’m on our last jar of salsa and chutney right now – sad to say. It irks me to buy sauces. I’ll make more this year. I also give sauces as Christmas gifts, the kids in their 20s love this. I grow about 150-200 plants of various types – yellow pear, green zebra, red boar, red cherry, green cherry, black cherry, black plum, anna’s heart, large heirlooms – but mostly paste tomatoes. I also save my own seeds, mostly, but I always end up buying more seeds when I’m shopping for garden supplies (sigh). There certainly could be worse addictions, I keep telling my very patient husband.

    • Erich Jun 1, 2016, 6:30 am

      I’m envious. My partner has had to learn to be patient, but we live in a condo. Someday I’ll have a yard *sigh*.

  • Victoria Bower Aug 19, 2015, 9:54 am

    We’ve had unusually dry hot weather in Western Washington State this year, with hot dry ind coming up in the ft enroll, like California. It has been a very different kind of year in our gardens.

  • Aimee Nov 30, 2015, 9:25 am

    I usually grow between 16-24 tomato plants and every year is so so so different. This past summer we had record high temperatures and drought and while I had shade covers on them and watered more, they still suffered and were all over the place as far as productivity. As we all know, it may seem like a lot but when they are seeded and such, it takes a ton more, especially if like me you’re making marinara out of a lot of it! But this year we definitely have decided to shrink the amount of veggies we grow “hardcore” down to just tomatoes, peppers, onions and potatoes so that we can have more of the basics. We put garlic in the pepper beds since they usually are harvested about planting time, and have pots for our greens, but carrots we have decided we’ll get at the farmers markets in bulk or at my husband’s natural grocer where he works and we have a 20% off discount 🙂 Although we’ll see as I just love love love pulling carrots from the ground…sigh!

  • Kate Sansoni Jan 31, 2016, 9:03 am

    My husband and I live in a mobile home, but I have room out back for three nice raised bed boxes. Last years crop of tomatoes was not good due to the crazy weather we had in Southern California. Wind and rain in spring followed by blistering hot days. I lost many tomatoes to cracking and rot, plus plundering by critters. The plants did not yield well despite my organic diligence.
    With my limited space I plant what I have room for and hope for the best!

  • Dianna Feb 15, 2016, 7:14 am

    We love tomatoes, and grow about 20 plants each year. Tennessee is great for tomatoes! However, we grow for the variety and flavors rather than yield expectations. I’d love to learn how to can and preserve our garden bounty so that we can enjoy it in the winter.

  • Jo Murphey Apr 11, 2018, 1:49 am

    Thank you!

  • Desiree Jan 8, 2019, 6:01 am

    This may be the single most useful gardening post I’ve ever read. Thank you!!

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 10, 2019, 7:07 am

      Why, thank you. 🙂

  • Rafika Mar 19, 2019, 6:10 am

    Thanks for the informative article, Kris. I’ve been wondering about this for quite some time and found not only your piece, but also the comments immensely helpful. My grandmother always kept a kitchen garden in the back yard and would send me out to pick mint leaves for tea or produce for dinner. I have continued her tradition, however, I never know how much to grow and end up with an abundance to share. It warms my heart to see so many people growing their own food and especially tomatoes, which have so many wonderful uses. Keep up the good work!

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 20, 2019, 1:12 pm

      An abundance is a blessing too, though!

  • Lemongrass Mar 19, 2019, 1:30 pm

    I am growing three plants this year. Two cherry tomato plants and a slicing tomato. Can’t remember the name. I started them from seeds and they’re doing well. The slicing one has a month head start over the cherry. Hopefully I will get a good harvest. I am growing the slicing one in half of a 50 gallon drum. I will however plant some tulsi, oregano and onions with the tomato plant. Great information thanks. I had a friend that give her tomatoes leftover milk, mixed with some water. She got great results.

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