Edible Garden How-To

Rosalind Creasy’s 100-Square-Foot Garden

While doing research for my new book Edible Landscaping, I became so aware of how much energy is squandered on lawns. What if, I thought, a small area of people’s lawns were converted to growing edibles? When I checked stats for fruit and vegetable yields, I realized that all the information online is for commercial growers, not home gardeners. Home gardeners harvest more often and don’t discard misshapen vegetables. So I decided to dedicate a 5 by 20 foot area to growing edibles and measure how much I produce in 100 square feet. I put the garden in an area that adjoined my small lawn. It wasn’t a perfect spot; a third of the bed is shaded by a cedar tree, but the rest of the garden gets about 8 hours of sun.

summer-harvest-2009

The Garden – Spring/Summer 2008

100-sq-foot-garden-before-2

2008-garden-prep

100-sq-foot-trial-garden

I kept it simple, choosing vegetables that I could buy as transplants at my local nursery; those that in my experience are either super productive or the vegetables themselves are expensive to buy:

  • 2 tomato plants (‘Better Boy’ and ‘Early Girl)
  • 6 bell peppers (2 ‘California Wonder’, 2 ‘Golden Bell’, 1 ‘Orange Bell’, and 1 ‘Big Red Beauty’)
  • 4 zucchini (2 green ‘Raven’ and 2 ‘Golden Dawn’) – started from seeds
  • 4 sweet basils
  • 18 lettuce plants (6 ‘Crisp Mint’ romaine, 6 ‘Winter Density’ romaine, and 6 ‘Sylvestra’ butterhead) – interplanted among the tomatoes and peppers

After decades of gardening I’m probably a bit blasé, but even I was amazed that it all happened so quickly—within a few weeks we were picking outer lettuce leaves—as many as we needed. Would you believe that a little over a month later, when we harvested the last of it, and got the final tally, we had grown enough for 230 individual servings of salad? And by that time the tomatoes, zucchini, and pepper plants had nearly filled the bed.

We created spreadsheets (see accompanying spreadsheet) for each type of plant and recorded each time we harvested—the amount (pounds and ounces, as well as number of fruits [for each cultivar of tomato, zucchini, and peppers] or handsful [for lettuces and basil]). Everyone pitched in, noting their harvests in a three-ring binder—neighbors, friends, and my crew. From April to September, this little organic garden yielded:

  • Tomatoes 77.5 pounds
  • Ripe bell peppers 15.5 pounds
  • Lettuce 14.3 pounds
  • Basil 2.5 pounds
  • Zucchini 126 pounds

Curious about what my harvest would cost in the market, in midsummer I began checking out equivalent organic prices and figured that the total value was $746.52. Subtracting the cost of seeds, plants, and compost (no way can I make enough)—$63.09—I still saved $683.4 on fresh vegetables. For comparison, a friend in Iowa figured the same amount of organic produce in her area would be worth $975.18.

The Global Possibilities

So, what if other people did what I did—how could this effect the economy? So I started crunching numbers. According to the Garden Writers Association’s 2009 surveys, 84 million U.S. households garden. If only half of them—42 million—took out a 5-by-20 foot area of lawn and grew a 100-square-foot garden, that would take 96,419 acres (150 square miles) out of lawn cultivation (think of the resources saved!). Granted, I’m an experienced gardener with great soil, so if those gardeners got half the yield I did, the savings on fresh produce would be: $14.4 billion!!!

harvest-scale-2009

The Garden – Fall/Winter/Sping 2008-2009

This winter season, I grew:

  • Bok choi ‘Pak Choy Chinese’ 2.3 pounds
  • Broccoli ‘Green Comet’ 2.6 pounds
  • Chard ‘Rainbow’ 3.6 pounds
  • Kale ‘Winterbor’ 1.3 pounds
  • Lettuce ‘Speckled Trout’ 4.1 pounds
  • Lettuce ‘Summer Bibb’ 1.5 pounds
  • Mesclun ‘Tangy Cook Mix’ 2.8 pounds
  • Pea ‘Sugar Snap Pole’ n/a
  • Snow Pea ‘Oregon Giant’ n/a
  • Radish ‘Easter Egg’ 2.6 pounds (63 radishes)
  • Scallion ‘White Lisbon’ n/a

In fall and winter, growing slows, as is obvious by the harvest amounts. I had a germination problem with the peas; birds got those that did germinate. The lesson: Put bird netting down when you plant seeds. I also must confess that I was not as vigilant with my record keeping. The scallions grew past scallion stage into small onions. They were delicious, but alas they didn’t get weighed.

The Garden – Fall/Winter/Spring 2008-2009

2008-09-winter-spring-garde

In fall and winter, growing slows, as is obvious by the harvest amounts. I had a germination problem with the peas; birds got those that did germinate. The lesson: Put bird netting down when you plant seeds. I also must confess that I was not as vigilant with my record keeping. The scallions grew past scallion stage into small onions. They were delicious, but alas they didn’t get weighed.

The Garden – Spring/Summer 2009

My plants and yields were:

  • Beans ‘Spanish Musica’ 22.3 pounds
  • Chard ‘Rainbow’ 10.4 pounds
  • Collards ‘Vates’ 11.4 pounds
  • Pepper ‘Blushing Beauty’ 3.5 pounds
  • Tomato ‘Celebrity’ 38.7 pounds
  • Tomato’ Early Girl’ 83.1 pounds
  • Zucchini ‘Raven’ 39.7 pounds

2009-summer-trial-garden

I grew the beans on a bamboo teepee. The chard was left over from the previous season; I had cut it down to the ground and it regrew beautifully. The collards were so gorgeous; I didn’t harvest much from them. They grew vigorously, unfortunately overshadowing the pepper plant. The collards are this fall’s focal points. It’s obvious from the harvest amounts that the ‘Celebrity’ tomato was the one that was on the north end of the garden, and suffered from lack of sunlight. Even so, I had a bountiful year.

The Future is in Your Hands—and Soil

I’m going to plant one more summer trial garden in April before my redo of Edible Landscaping comes out in the fall and I’m too busy traveling to benefit from another garden like this. So, then I’ll be passing on the 100-Square-Foot Garden to all of you. Spread the word—tear up a bit of lawn and grow some fantastic food!!

Let me know what you grow and what your yields are. Happy Growing and Bon Appétit!!

Below is a link to a spreadsheet where you can track your own garden’s results.

Where to Get Your Seeds

Some of my favorite sources for garden seeds include Renee’s Garden Seeds, Burpee’s, Nichols Garden Nursery, Seeds of Change, and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Downloads

Trial Garden Spreadsheet: Trial Garden Spreadsheet

And some samples below from my 2008-2009 garden-

August 10, 2010 - 12:06 am

Judith - I looked up your website after I read your article in Mother Earth News. I love the idea of tracking the harvest, since I’ve often wondered if the investment of money and labor was “worth it,” especially when trying to persuade my friends to give gardening a try! (Of course, the quantitative dimension is only one side of gardening–better nutrition and pure enjoyment can’t be easily reduced to neat numbers.) I would like to see a precise accounting of how many hours you spent in your garden too. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

August 14, 2010 - 12:57 am

Sheri Cross - Hello, I’m anxiously awaiting your new book! I live in Texas and while my gardens start out pretty well, when it starts getting hot (really hot this year with no let up in sight), my garden burns up even though I’m watering daily (and when it reaches around 100+ twice a day. I’m wondering about trying a shade tent. Any suggestions? I so want to have an edible garden. Thank you so much.

October 24, 2010 - 6:54 pm

Granjero Organico - As Sherri has commented, where I have lived most of my life, in the Phoenix Arizona area, temps ususally soar past the 100 F mark.

As my father had grown grapes in our backyard for many years, and they never seemed distressed by the heat, I have plans of experimenting some day of constucting an arbor to cover my garden area to grow a living “shade cloth” over my garden area to give partial shade to other more sun sensitive garden plants. I figure that if the shade gets too intense, a little pruning here & there will keep the sun shining through.

When autumn comes, and sunlight intensity decreases, the grape leaves will fall just where I want them to increase organic matter in the garden soil.

November 30, 2010 - 11:12 pm

Paula R - I’ve been gardening in a 4′x8′ plot for 4 seasons. Love it! My front yard is going to become a veg. garden this spring.

March 21, 2011 - 8:54 pm

Nina Torres - Looks great! I plan on turning my 20 X 35 foot front lawn into a mostly edible garden.

April 24, 2011 - 6:32 pm

Natalie Tanner - What type of small shrub do you have lining the beds in your front yard? Is is a type of boxwood? I just love the look and the idea of getting the vegetable garden out from behind the garage! I’ve got your new book on order!

May 8, 2011 - 12:52 am

Laura - Hello! Amazing garden. Thank you so much for the detail on which plants you used. This will be a real help to me as a beginning gardener.

I know the cost of the trellises and other wood features in the garden aren’t included total in your total costs. I’d love to build something like them as well but want to avoid pre-treated lumber. Approximately how much did the trellises and pagoda-style structure cost to build? They’re beautiful as well as functional.

Also, you mentioned purchasing your seedlings from a local nursery – were the peppers organic seedlings? My husband and I are trying to be careful to use only organic methods for growing what our family eats. But I’m unclear on whether it’s safe to use non-organic seedlings as well as fruit trees/bushes as long as your growing methods are organic.

Many thanks!

July 14, 2011 - 7:20 pm

Roberta - What a beautiful edible garden!! THIS is what a front yard should
look like!! Forget the tired old concept of lawns and all the
boring wasted space of front yards of the 1940′s & 1950′s.
It certainly is time the authorities and those that determine who is breaking the law should step into the 21st century and realize
that this is indeed the “new” front yard of today and the future as well.Deal with it.

July 16, 2011 - 2:50 pm

Rosalind Creasy - Roberta, thank you so much for the kind words…and no doubt, a vegetable garden can make a front yard beautiful!

February 9, 2012 - 12:19 pm

Melisa Land - Breathtaking garden! Is that a type of blue salvia in the background in the Spring/Summer garden? I would love to know what variety it is. The color is such a beautiful clear blue. Thanks, Melisa

April 15, 2012 - 10:49 pm

Lydia - I love the edible garden that you developed. I am starting an edible garden this year (seedlings are already sprouting). What a fantastic idea it is to turn landscaping into a food source (which is so beautiful). My children have also been fascinated about the idea and have helped throughout the process. I live in Minnesota in zone 3 so I am also trying to find fruit trees that work in our are such as the honeycrisp apple. Deer are an issue in the area along with early frost but I am plants that ripen early. Any suggestions?

April 18, 2012 - 5:35 pm

Pearl - Just think of the food you could have that was free of toxins, I just want to know how to keep the snakes and squash bugs away. I am all for healthy food. The snakes take years off my life and never have been able to stop the squash bugs. Any ideas?

April 19, 2012 - 12:17 am

Pearl - It is fabulous, but how do you keep the squash bugs away. I have them every year with no way to rid them. I would not put toxic poison out, I want it ito be free of bugs and snakes with out poison.

April 19, 2012 - 2:44 pm

Rosalind Creasy - Hi Pearl, Ros answered your question and we’ve featured it on the blog. Here’s the link for more information: http://www.rosalindcreasy.com/managing-squash-bugs/

July 26, 2012 - 3:03 pm

Julie - I love your ideas! I am going to use them in my garden.

July 26, 2012 - 9:44 pm

Rosalind Creasy - Thanks Julie, when it fills in please send a photo or two if you are so inclined.
Cheers, Ros Creasy

July 27, 2012 - 2:27 am

Guinea Pig Gardener - Edible Landscaping…thank you for sharing such useful knowledge and pictures in your book. I’ve been researching how I can convert the majority of my yard into an edible landscape. Your book has provided me with plenty of ideas, which made it easier to convince my wife to give it a shot. So far…I only have 300 square feet converted (on one tenth of an acre lot). But you have to start somewhere I guess. Anyhow, since I’m on a corner lot, all the neighbors are watching my changes. So far, it’s been extremely positive feedback. Thanks again…

July 27, 2012 - 4:42 pm

Rosalind Creasy - Thanks for the cheers, and I’m exited about your new adventure! And remember to include lots of flowers to provide pollen and nectar for you beneficial insects :-)
Great Gardening, Ros Creasy

July 12, 2013 - 6:46 am

DIY: Edible Landscapes | Zaiva - [...] need a lot of space to experience a big yield.  Want proof?  Rosalind Creasy recently did an experiment to see how much a small, edible garden really could produce.  They planted a 100 square foot [...]

September 18, 2013 - 1:01 pm

Edible (& Still Beautiful) Landscaping | Arbor Day Foundation Blog - [...] How to Cash in on An Edible Landscape – Mother Nature Network [...]

March 14, 2014 - 2:28 am

Can You Save Money by Growing Your Own Food? | A Life in Balance - [...] Rosalind Creasy’s approach is a great way to get started with growing vegetables at home. A family of 4 could grow only easy-to-grow greens, peppers, and tomatoes for the summer, and save on their food bill during the summer. Why not add in a few annual herbs growing in pots? [...]