It’s obvious the size of your container garden will depend on the vegetables you want to grow in it. The more your needs, the more plants you need to grow.
I’m going to discuss more about a container garden that is for people having a limited growing space like an apartment balcony or patio. If you have a large space in the backyard, you may be able to grow vegetables for your entire year’s needs.
Figure out the purpose of the container vegetable garden
The first thing to understand is what is the purpose of your container garden. You can grow several plants such as vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants, and flowers. So your garden size would depend on the type you want to grow.
If you plant to grow a herb garden, you’ll be able to grow several herbs because they tend to be smaller in size. And you only use a small portion of herbs at a time, so you need a smaller harvest compared to vegetables.
Average space needed for a container herb garden
If I consider that a typical household would use around 6 herbs in their food, you would need to place those 6 containers in your garden space.
Most herb plants should grow in a medium-sized container that is around 8-10 inches in width and height. You should be able to keep two such containers in a square foot area. So if you want to keep six herb plants, you would need 3×1 square feet area.
You can grow these herb plants in an even smaller space using vertical gardening. You can hang some planters above and place some on the ground.
A kitchen garden is one you want near the kitchen, so it’s easy to access when preparing food. Typically, it’s a supplemental garden, so you have some basic vegetables available. It’s not supposed to feed your family for the entire year or even growing season. It’s there to provide some vegetables and reduce a part of your grocery bills.
Average space needed for a container kitchen garden
For a kitchen garden, you want as many plants as possible. The more the better, but let’s start small. Consider that you want to grow three types of each, herb, fruiting, and leafy vegetables.
I would suggest using 8-inch pots for herbs while 10-12 inch pots for the vegetables. So 3 herbs should fit in a 2×1 square foot area. 6 of the vegetables would each need a square foot.
So you should be able to adjust your kitchen vegetable garden with 3 herbs, 3 fruiting vegetables, and 3 leafy vegetables in a 4×2 square foot area. I would suggest keeping space between the plants to tend to the larger ones. So you can rather use a 4×3 square foot area with a gap between the plants for easier access.
A self-sustaining garden means you want it to provide all the required vegetables and herbs to feed your family for an entire year. This would need a large space for placing enough containers to grow all the plants you need.
Average space needed for a self-sustaining garden
This type of garden means you want to grow a lot of herbs and vegetables throughout the growing season and year. This will be a trial-and-error type situation where you start with an estimate and keep improving every year.
The average space suggested to grow vegetables for a single person during the entire year would be 1000 square feet. This is a starting point and your garden might take less or more space depending on several factors I mentioned below. But it gives a general idea to work with at the start.
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Factors that determine the required container vegetable garden size
Type of garden
We already saw that the type of garden you want will affect how big or small it needs to be. A herb garden can occupy a small space compared to a kitchen garden or a self-sustaining garden.
Your family is one important factor that determines the container vegetable garden size. This would depend on the number of family members and their lifestyle. e.g. an average family of four and their needs.
Toddlers and kids would consume less compared to teenagers and adults. Vegetarians would consume more vegetables than non-vegetarians.
According to a UK study, to sustain one person on a vegetarian diet for an entire year, you’d probably need about 4000 square feet of growing space.
Preserving the harvest
If you want to consume the harvest throughout the year, one method is to preserve some vegetables to last longer.
This would mean you need to grow more vegetables so you can consume some fresh after harvest and preserve some of them.
It could mean that you need to grow 2 or 3 times the vegetables if you want to harvest and preserve some of them.
The growing season of your area will determine how big your vegetable container garden needs to be. If you have a long growing season, you can grow several vegetables using methods like succession planting.
This means you stagger the growing so that you can keep harvesting several vegetables during the entire growing season. Such succession planting methods would need less space to grow vegetables.
If you have a short growing season, it means you need to grow all the required vegetables at once. This means you need a lot more space for all of those vegetables.
The choice of vegetables you prefer to grow will affect how big or small your container vegetable garden needs to be. Plants like tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and carrots would need a lot more growing space compared to vegetables such as spinach, kale, and broccoli.
How to reduce the size needs of your container vegetable garden
Use succession planting
Succession planting means you grow the vegetables in a staggering manner. So you plant seeds throughout the growing season.
You can plant some seeds today, then wait for a couple of weeks and plant some more. And continue this until you have sown the required seeds.
The benefit of succession planting is that you’ll keep getting harvests every few weeks as the plants mature in succession.
Once some plants have matured, you can replace them with new seeds or plants in the same containers. This means you need fewer containers than if you would have planted all of them at the same time.
Inter-cropping is another way to reduce the required space for your container vegetable garden. You can plant two or more different plants in a single container.
I tried this in my container garden by growing spinach in the same container where I was growing peppers. So you can grow a leafy vegetable and a fruiting vegetable in a single container.
You need to be careful which plants you grow together. Some plants, such as mint, can be invasive and would hog the resources from the other plants. Some small plants you could grow in the same container are spinach, radishes, beets, and onions.
Use intensive cropping
Intensive cropping is another method you can use to save some garden space. It’s a little different from inter-cropping because you plant the same type of plants in a single container.
You want to grow as many plants as possible in one container without them competing for resources. I grew two pepper plants in the same 12-inch grow bag and got twice the yield using less growing space.
You can grow many smaller plants in the same 12-inch container. You can plant a lot of seeds of leafy vegetables such as spinach or red amaranth. Or herbs such as cilantro or mint. They will happily grow even when they are close to each other.
The key is to keep harvesting these vegetables as they mature so you don’t allow them too much time to grow with such intensive spacing. There is a risk of developing pests and diseases when plants are growing close to each other because of the humid conditions and lack of aeration.
Select the right plant types and varieties
If you have a limited space, I would suggest growing plants that can fit in that space and give you a good harvest. Of course, you want to grow vegetables you enjoy, but that’s something to balance.
It’s easier to grow peppers or tomato plants in a small container garden than to grow corn or mangoes. If you grow fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers or leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, you can have a larger harvest than growing root vegetables such as carrots and radishes.
You can also save space by choosing plant varieties that have better yields than others. Some tomato or pepper plants will give you a bigger harvest than others.
Harvest vegetables as often as possible
There are many vegetable plants that will give you multiple harvests if you can have a long enough growing season. You can get many harvests from plants like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans, spinach, kale, lettuce, cilantro, mint, dill, etc.
I recommend harvesting as much as possible because you get a bigger harvest, even with a smaller vegetable garden size.
Even with the root vegetables like carrots, radishes, and beets, you can harvest and plant seeds again to grow new plants in the same containers.
Grow varieties based on the season
Another way to save some growing space in the container garden is to grow varieties depending on the current season.
You can grow warm-season vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, squash during the spring/summer and harvest as much as possible until fall. Then you can remove those plants and grow cool-season vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce.
So you get to enjoy different vegetables throughout the growing season within the same container vegetable garden space.
Grow select vegetables in the garden
A good way to save some growing space in the vegetable garden is to limit what you grow. You could choose to only grow certain vegetables you enjoy.
Or you can grow organic vegetables that tend to be expensive in the grocery stores. You can continue to buy the remaining vegetables for your needs from the grocery stores.
This helps you get the required quantity of vegetables for your needs without having to worry about how much additional space you would need to build the container vegetable garden.
It’s important to figure out how much should be the size of the container garden you need to grow vegetables. There are several other basic concepts that you will find useful about vegetable container gardening in the post below.