Measuring Yields in the Vegetable Garden

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Weighing cabbages

Two years ago, one of my fellow speakers at an organic farming conference shared his research on calculating the profitability of growing different vegetables, and carrots were on the chopping block. Time spent watering, thinning and weeding pushed up labor costs, planting more than 12 plants per square foot reduced yields, and then there was price competition from commercially-grown carrots from California. Instead of carrots, the professor suggested going big on fingerling potatoes.

I get where he was coming from, and his goal was to educate farmers, not gardeners. As a carrot-loving gardener, I have other questions. How do you measure the vibrant flavor from a freshly pulled carrot? If the carrots came from your garden and you know everyone who touched them, isn’t that worth something, too?

“Dragon
These homegrown ‘Dragon’ carrots are tastier and more beautiful than market carrots, and they will store in the refrigerator for months

These and other subjective questions show the weakness of the profitability model in the vegetable garden, but that doesn’t mean we should not watch yields and use productivity as a major factor in deciding what to grow.

Measuring Vegetable Yields

In 2012, a team of horticultural experts at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station computed yields per square foot for numerous vegetables and small fruits, and their chart can serve as a useful reference for those who wish to count or weigh their harvested produce. These are straightforward numbers – half a pound (227g) of bush snap beans per square foot, or 1.5 pounds (680g) of potatoes, but they tell only part of the story.

“Corn
Intercropping techniques like planting pole beans on corn increase garden productivity per square foot

The next factor is how long the crop stays in the ground, which affects whether another vegetable can be grown in the same spot in the same season. For example, tomatoes and peppers stay put in the same place from spring to fall, so their space is spoken for all season. But most other garden vegetables use only part of the growing season, so the space can be used twice. In many places you can grow fall greens after early potatoes, or bush beans after spring carrots. This is called succession cropping or multi-cropping, and things get complicated fast when vegetables are planted in sequence or interplanted, for instance allowing pumpkin vines to run among sweet corn.

Should you weigh or count your produce to get baseline numbers? I tried this a time or two, and quickly gave it up. After impressing myself with the size of my cabbages, I changed my focus to how much garden food was making it to the table, which is perhaps the best measure of garden productivity.

“Tomato
In a good tomato year, the race to get the crop preserved leaves no time for weigh-ins.

Tracking Kitchen Usage

If you want to see maximum monetary returns when measuring yields in the vegetable garden, you will be astounded by what you learn from keeping a food diary for a few weeks during gardening season. Granted, having a garden bursting with produce influences what you eat, but money not spent on main-dish salads and vegetable casseroles adds up fast when you eat from your garden every day. A food diary also allows you to factor in the use of fresh herbs, which are easy to grow and preserve yet expensive to buy.

There is also added value in home grown vegetables that are easy to store, like the garlic in my pantry and the butternuts in the basement. There are still a few carrots and beets in the fridge, and when they’re gone I have frozen, dried and canned veggies to add to winter meals. The convenience of having at least some garden vegetables on hand is noteworthy in normal times, and priceless in a pandemic.

“measuring-yields-garden-planner-succession-planting-2x.jpg”
Set up succession planting in the Garden Planner to keep your garden productive for longer

Using the Garden Planner and Journal to Improve Productivity

Those of you who are using our free Garden Journal can record your harvests by weight and quantity so you can track your garden’s progression from year to year. You can add notes and photos too, which makes it really easy to see what has worked well and what was less successful.

The Garden Planner’s Succession Planting feature helps you to make the most of multiple planting opportunities. Double-clicking on a plant in your plan and setting its in-ground dates enables you to then view your plan month-by-month, so you can quickly see where gaps will appear and plan to fill them, ensuring no part of your garden ever languishes unproductively.

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Comments

 
"Using garden produce for my wife and I is a full cycle experience since we compost the vegtable matter we don't eat. This aspect of gardening over the last two decades at the home we live in has benefitted the soil, flowers, and various animals and insects who live in the woods and fields near me. I guess what I am saying is measuring is hard to encompass life style when counting. How do you measure the number of times we look out the window and see where we worked with nature to the benefit of all life? "
Mark Hausammann on Friday 1 January 2021
"In 2020 during the UK lockdown we were allowed to go to our allotments. Just being in the fresh air, sitting watching the plants grow was priceless. Far less stressful being able to harvet my veg rather than going to the shops. Re the carrots, I grow a French yellow variety, the are huge and delicious. Now planning for 2021 with your new software. Happy New Year."
Caroline Jackson on Saturday 2 January 2021
"Mark, thanks so much for your astute observations of your garden's worth. More to appreciate."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 2 January 2021
"It may be possible that the unquantified values of the natural world and our relationship within that world are priceless. A garden is the theater for that dramatic and often comedic play in many ways, especially if you're a traditionalist like me and use animal power in your tillage requirements. The priceless aspect is about how does anyone quantify their human dignity? Mine is definitely related to growing some of my own food in my own soil. That experience is as priceless as the taste of our own food. Then there's the evidence that top soil contains anti-depressants, dirty hands feel good and cheap natural occurring meds is a good thing. Unless one experiences this they can only imagine it. Thanks for your writing and sharing Barbara. Warm Salute for a hopeful new year. "
Jason Rutledge on Saturday 2 January 2021
"Interesting article. I grow for the enjoyment not for cost savings. I grow varieties that I can't find at the market and for taste. It would probably be cost effective to purchase at the market but the enjoyment I get from the time spent outside, the knowledge gained and the satisfaction from growing something from seed all to the way to the plate is priceless. Also knowing what went into the soil or onto the plant and that all the wildlife and nature were fed naturally feels good too."
Mike on Thursday 14 January 2021

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