Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Part One

One of the perennial problems facing home vegetable gardeners is to ensure a constant supply, hopefully year round, of the fresh vegetables the family enjoys, without facing gluts during peak seasons and shortages out of season.

On a smallholding, with plenty of space available, it is easy to over-plant and be faced with a mound of perfect cabbages, all ready at the same time, or baskets of ripe tomatoes far beyond the capacity of any normal family to consume.

Avenues exist, of course, for the disposal of the extra without wastage: one can give the stuff away to townie friends (who may come to dread a summertime visit from you with yet another prize cabbage in hand). Or one can give the extra to staff as part of their remuneration package. If there is a children’s home nearby, donations of veggies will be appreciated. Or one can take it up to the local farmer’s market on a Saturday and, hopefully, sell it.

For most of us, however, the most sensible approach is to try to match one’s production with consumption, and here is an interesting point – many pundits will tell one that it is possible to grow most of the vegetable needs of a small family in an area no larger than a standard doorframe. As you gaze out over your extensive vegetable garden this may seem unlikely but it is common among green-fingered dwellers of informal settlements where space is at a premium.

Without the constraints of space, however, such a fact is not of much value to us smallholders. But how, then, do we match our needs in the kitchen with our output in the garden?

Try this: Move beyond the kitchen to the dinner table and examine what it is, actually, that is on each plate. For the purposes of this exercise we will assume you are a four-person family (e.g. two parents and two teenage children), and that you sit down to a daily meal, be it lunch or dinner, of protein (meat or fish), a starch and two veg, and a plate of mixed salad.

Let’s also assume that each member eats much the same quantity and eats everything on the plate, i.e. nothing left for “Mr Manners”.

So, what does each plate contain? For the protein: A breast of chicken? A chicken drumstick and thigh? Two slices of meat?

For the starch, let’s assume a medium potato or sweet potato or pumpkin, baked, or the equivalent boiled, fried or mashed.

For the two veg: Two halves of gem squash and two tablespoons of diced carrots. Or a grilled tomato (two halves) and two tablespoons of boiled spinach. Or two spoons of boiled peas and two slices of fried aubergine.

For the salad, per person: Two medium lettuce leaves, shredded, a slice or two of pickled beetroot, three or four  cocktail tomatoes or half a tomato sliced, two or three slices of cucumber, a couple of onion rings, a radish and some olives and feta cheese (say).

All of this came out of the kitchen and, in total, required the following:

Protein: Two chicken breasts plus two drumsticks and thighs, or most of a small chicken, leaving a bit over for cold chicken salad or sandwiches, or eight slices of meat.

Starch: Four medium potatoes.

Vegetables: Four gems plus eight spoons of carrots, or four tomatoes plus eight spoons of spinach, or eight spoons of peas plus eight slices of aubergine.

Salad: Eight lettuce leaves, eight slices of pickled beetroot, 16 cocktail tomatoes or two medium tomatoes sliced, twelve slices of cucumber, four radishes, one or two slices of a medium onion, broken into rings.

If you are cooking without waste, therefore, that is what you will need to prepare for one meal.

And if you are growing without waste, that it what you will need to provide the cook from your vegetable garden.

Looked at from the perspective of dinnertime consumption, it’s not a lot, is it?

There are a number of things to consider when designing one’s vegetable patch in terms of consumption.

In the kitchen there is the need to ensure year-round produce, even in the off season. This entails some method of preservation, which will include drying, bottling and freezing, or some other method of storage.

Menu planning will also play a role, particularly when using vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and pumpkin where one cannot consume the whole plant at one sitting.

The question of nutrition should always be paramount, with the realisation that the most nutrition (and the best taste) is to be had from something that has been freshly picked.

Watch out for Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Part Two.