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Biggest Yields per Square Foot?

Rockaway, NJ(Zone 6a)

Okay, I was going to do a separate thread for all different things, but I think it's best to leave it all as one. Here's my question:

I need to do some research, and would like your help. This is mostly a discussion question, as I'm sure mileage will vary by climate and treatment, but I'd like some opinions. Lots of opinions, preferably.

What are the most productive vegetables and fruits you've grown per square foot of space, not per plant? (IE, a tomato that takes up 12" and puts out 2 gallons each is more productive than one that takes up 18" and puts out 2.5 gallons each)

Now keep in mind, I prefer to save seed, so heirlooms are best (rare is fine, I don't mind hunting them down, I just want to be able to save seeds from them). Here are types of food I specifically want to know about (add your own if you want, these are just my main interests at the moment):

Muskmelon (aka American Cantaloupe)
Misc. Melons (dessert type)
Winter Squash
Summer Squash (not incl. zucchini)
Corn (sweet only)
Green (snap?) beans
Dry beans
Fresh-eating peas
Sweet Peppers
Sweet Potatoes

Any suggestions for type or variety of foods that would give high yields per square foot are welcome. Don't rule things out because they're not as high as a totally different veg - variety is necessary! :)

Root veggies are kind of obvious (radishes, carrots, turnips, etc), but if you know one that's tasty and particularly productive, let me know.


Fredericksburg, VA(Zone 7b)

How about chard, pole beans, some of the heritage varieties are very heavy producers. Also kolhrabi, a still fairly unknown veggie here in the states, but it is yummy. It's a member of the cabbage family but has a mild flavor and excellent eaten raw, or done in stir fries or salads.
I've tried the square foot method, I actually found it more labor intensive than doing a wide row, raised bed and doing over sow. I got more produce for less work and it was much easier to maintain. I also do succession planting so I usually can make the neighbors hide early in the season.........grin

Rockaway, NJ(Zone 6a)


Doccat, I understood what you said but don't know a whole lot about any of those methods. Wide-row I read about - isn't it just 'pick an area and broadcast sow into it', sorta?

Succession planting... is that where you plant some each week? Or is it where you rotate crops?

I've seen books on the square-foot method, but wouldn't know where to begin.


Fredericksburg, VA(Zone 7b)

Square foot is a very precise method of growing veggies especially. It requires some careful planning to get the yields they are talking about. The pro side is the area is small, you can really concentrate on building the soil and it's easy to work. The down side is the planning-I don't know about you, but I'm not that well organized.........LOL You are basically planting for example broccoli, radishes, carrots in one bed. The broccoli leaves help shade the radishes and carrots as they grow. By harvesting the radishes and carrots young, you open holes in the soil which allows moisture to penetrate deep into the soil and feeds the broccoli. "All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew"" I'd suggest you borrow this or some of the others on the subject from the library or have them order it for you. It will better explain the whole process.
I prefer wide row, simply because we have a Troybilt Horse tiller and it's super easy to set up the beds and maintain them. Your talking a bed, at least my new one, will be about 3' wide and 25' long. We don't do traditional raised beds with boards, (we're cheap) we mound the soil up to about 6-8" deep. I then mark off squares on that rectangle. And have already planned out what I want to plant and where, keeping in mind some veggies don't play nicely together. I keep a journal so I know what's been planted where and when, that helps avoid a lot of diseases. Plus by not "formalizing" the raised beds we can turn em under add amendments and move them around if we want.
Succession planting takes a little planning. For example, I figure out in advance usually in the winter, what I think I'm going to need and buy seed accordingly. Normally you re-sow about every 2 to 3 weeks depending on the germination and growing rate of the plant you're working with.
I just reread what I wrote and it's sounds complicated but it really isn't. I also have always used organic garden methods, so I really have to pay attention to what I'm putting where.
Can I ask why you are interested in large yields? Are you doing a community garden to help feed many people? It would give me a better idea of how to help you. :)

Elmira, NY(Zone 6a)

I don't see it on their site, but in their paper catalog Johnny's has a production-per-foot-of-row chart. It has one section for direct-seeded and another for transplants. They mix up fruits and lbs, so that makes it confusing, but the highest in lbs are:

cabbage 150 lb
tomato 150 lb
onions 100 lb
beets 100 lb
cauliflower 90 lb
broc 75 lb
eggplant 75 lb
kale 75 lb
brussels sprouts 60 lb
celeriac 60 lb

and so on.

Fredericksburg, VA(Zone 7b)

Sorry, I looked for the chart and can't find it. I can say from experience those figures look about right. Although why anybody would want 60lbs of celeriac I can't figure out. It's a bugger to grow. LOL I don't particularly like it anyway, so I'd rather use more beets and carrots in that space.

Rockaway, NJ(Zone 6a)

Doccat, I have a challenge from my family. I have three years to get 'up-and-running', so to speak, and have been asked to do as much as I can before then. The challenge is to feed my _entire_ family (four kids, two adults) from my garden only. Er, not including meat, milk, eggs, that sorta thing - just the vegetable kingdom stuff.

That includes things like coffee and pepper, which I'll be trying to grow inside in containers. I have blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and the like lined up for spring, and will be getting dwarf-cherries and other dwarfy tree fruits for containers.

It's a heck of a challenge. I've started seriously tracking what we use and how often, so I'll know what sort of things we need. Turns out, we use a LOT of black pepper - we'll either have to change that or pray the pepper tree really puts out for us! We also use a lot more peas and broccoli than I expected, and a lot less dry-beans. I've gone out of my way to acquire the Chinese veggies (hubby is half, we use a lot of them) and Red Beans (one of my fave dessert additions). And I'm learning a LOT at places like this one.


Fredericksburg, VA(Zone 7b)

Ah, now I get it! How much area do you have to work with, what kind of tools in the way of power equipment? Is your family planning on helping you harvest? I would make that mandatory, it takes a tremendous amount of work to bring it in and process it once it's grown. We fed a family of four of a 1800 square foot garden for about 5 years when the boys were small. It helped the budget tremendously and my sons were teenagers before they discovered they were suppose to like veggies, by that time it was too late! LOL Can you buy your black pepper in bulk?
Keep good records, honey. It will help you adjust your needs and help you keep track of what worked, what didn't.
Check the bear date on your fruit trees. Even the dwarfs need a couple of years to start bearing. It's an excellent investment and they taste wonderful. Don't know that I'd try them in containers though. Even the dwarfs are good sized trees. You'll need several variety of cherries to get fruit. That's one that needs to cross pollinate to set fruit and increase your yield.
Gawd, you make me feel young again! It was a lot of work, but looking back it was a wonderful time for all of us. The boys benefited from me being home. Although I blame a lot of this grey hair on them........grin

Rockaway, NJ(Zone 6a)

Area varies - we'll have at least the 10X20, plus a plot that's anywhere from 20X20 to 20X60 (depending on what's available to me and what lot I draw). Then we'll have the yard - looks like that won't be huge, but some along each side and the front landscaping affair will have to work somehow (we may have more, but not sure - the house isn't bought yet, so dunno which one it'll be). We will at least have quite a bit of container space and well-lighted windows no matter which one it is, so at least we can hope for the best on those.

Power tools? Um... my legs, my arms... a shovel, a metal rake (not the fan type), a trowel... hubby has a weedwhacker. We haven't money to invest in serious tillers and such.

Oh, my boys (the older two, anyway) will help with the harvest. The younger two are four years / five months old, so they might not help for the first couple of years or so.

We could buy the pepper in bulk. The idea, though, is to supply _everything_ vegetative for the family. It's partially about budget, and partially about the challenge. We want to see if it can be done.

For the cherries, I was thinking of going with a dwarf Stella or Black Tartarian - self-pollinating sweet dark types. As long as I have a dwarf rootstock and am willing to prune the roots when need be, I'm told I should be okay, and they should be bearing in a few years when my challenge becomes real. In the meantime, berries and such will be maturing to bear as well. So by the time I get to the challenge, I should have an abundance of fruit as well as veggies.

Young. I love these forums. I'll be 33 in January! I'm not old, but I'm no spring chicken, either - and I've got four kids to prove it. Thankfully, I'm not prone to gray hair (I'm bright blonde, I'll just go white when it happens). Otherwise, I think I'd already be there - it's the kids.


Fredericksburg, VA(Zone 7b)

Understand what you're saying here. Long term the first thing I'd invest in is a rear tine rototiller. It will make this so much less labor intensive. It's something to save for and I highly recommend the Troybilt. We're on our 2nd one. They are expensive, but doing some side tilling jobs will have it paid for in one season. And they are top of the line. We have the big Horse model, but with the area you're talking about you could probably get by with a Pony model with no problem. They're rather intimidating looking but if I can start and run a Horse so can you. They'll turn on a dime and give you change. Maintenance is not a big issue. It's like maintaining a lawn mower. We're taking the old Troy down to have new wheels and tires put on it. DH could do it but I've decided that will be his Xmas present. Beside I have plenty of other honeydos for him, grin. Are you building a house? If so what's your water/sewer situation? Will you be in a subdivision with a home owner association, that can be a major problem. If you're in single family housing it's a none issue what you do with your property. We have a very shallow well, so water has always been a major issue for us. We've never been able to afford to have another well dropped. And we have a septic system, which we almost screwed up not realizing exactly where it was. Not someplace you want to put your veggies anyway.
You have options, you could hire someone to come in and till the area for you and set up your beds. If you chose to go that way, make sure they have a rear tine tiller. It makes a tremendous different in the workability of the soil.
You need to keep carefully records, since crop rotation is critical to avoid disease and crop lose. I suggest you check the Mother Earth website for information. MaE has long been an advocate of being selfsufficient and is loaded with lots of helpful information. They are some of the original treehuggers! LOL
Figure out a spot for some compost bins in those plans. Don't be to shy to scrounge for materials. Ours are made of recycled palettes, but there's dozen's of ways to go with that. Materials to fill em, anything except for DAIRY or MEAT products. Coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, veggie parings, grass clippings, leaves. Read up on composting, this helps build your soil, you need to put back what you'll be taking out with your production. You are absolutely right, there is such of wealth of information on here. Also try the frugal gardening and sustainable alternative groups on here. Loaded with ideas that can help you out a lot!

Pawling, NY(Zone 5b)

Sev, to save room on the fruit trees, you can have multiple types grafted onto one. I've also seen multiple fruits grafted onto one root stock, called fruit cocktail tree. Like I have an asian pear coming. I could have gone with a self pollenating type but with more than one type, the fruit yield is suppose to increase. So I have a tree (that I ordered) that's coming with different cultivars that will pollenate each other.. I only did that with the asian pear since we consume a lot of that.. But other fruit you don't need too much of, you can probably do a self pollenating one.

Fredericksburg, VA(Zone 7b)

Excellent idea, Icosden!

Pawling, NY(Zone 5b)

I heard that keeping the fruit cocktail tree can be more challenging since the different fruit branches all grow at different rates. I think those are also self-pollenating types so those would also provide limited amounts of fruit. Depends on how much fruit and what other trees are in the area.. I understand that apples are fine if there are other apple trees within a mile or two.. I don't live far from an apple orchard so I just got a regular fuji apple tree.. :)

Fredericksburg, VA(Zone 7b)

This would be a good question to ask your local extension agent. I'm sure they have access to that kind of information and can certainly help you.

Elmira, NY(Zone 6a)

I recommend getting a tiller also. Once you have a really large garden, all the ideas about using methods like lasagne gardening become really unworkable, requiring literally tons of material to be brought in. It is not possible, IME, to dig this amount of ground by hand. Renting a tiller is one option. I don't have much money, but I saved for several years to get a Sears rear-tine tiller, and it has been a real godsend.

For the black pepper quandary, consider growin and drying hot paprika peppers. They taste really good, they're easy to grow, and they are hot but give extra delicious flavor.

I think one thing your project can allow your family to do is to rethink food choices, choosing things that suit your climate and growing situation instead of choices that rely on tropicals when you're not in the tropics. The black pepper/red pepper thing is an example of that, I think.

A friend of mine did this same challenge with his family. They are only up to 20% of their food at this point, two years down the road. It's a work in progress.

I too am wanting to grow much more of my own food this year, partly because of the oil thing and partly because I get better food choices that way.

Good luck in your project. It sounds like fun!

Fredericksburg, VA(Zone 7b)

paracelsus, thanks so much for your suggestion about using hot peppers for a substitute. It hadn't dawned on me, since most of the hot ones almost kill me, but that would work very well. Adding hot pepper seed to her growing list! I'm tell y'all if this keeps up, I'm going to be back to another 1800 sq footer and there are only 2 of us.........LOL That would make DH a happy man, give him a tiller and he gets crazy!! LOL

sevidra, that's also a good idea to rent a tiller, but for God sake get a rear tine if possible. Those front tine ones are just killers and they don't really do a great job.

Wish we were closer, DH could do those for you in a heartbeat! LOL

Franklin, NC(Zone 6b)

When you're looking for maximum output per area, think about trellisses and days to maturity as well. If you have a vining plant, you can trellis it and use the vertical space. If you have plants that are quick to mature like radishes and bush snap beans, that's where succession planting comes in and you can get several crops per year.

I've been looking for a black pepper substitute myself and haven't had any luck at all. I love hot peppers, but nothing else produces the same oils to give it that peppery flavor, at least nothing that will grow outside in zone 6.

I wish you the best of luck with your coffee, but its going to take a big tree or lots of them to get a pound of coffee. Looks like you're going to be one busy lady!

Rockaway, NJ(Zone 6a)

Agrinerd, I have no idea how many produce how much coffee. It may wind up being a treat for us - but I have a handful of (seed, non-roasted) beans already, and some pots... and a lot of prayers. :)

I've heard pepper trees are prolific, so we may wind up with extra black pepper. Wouldn't that be neat - I'd be sending it out to folks! LOL

If the pepper and coffee etc fail, we will have to rethink - but we won't know unless we try it.

My nursery surprised me and sent my cherry trees now instead of next fall! 8o I've got to pot them up and put them outside on the porch until the move - not going to put them in the ground only to have to dig them up again or lose them - or both. So I now officially have one Stella, one Black Tartarian, and one Bing cherry tree in 5-gallon pots, waiting for the move (and the Spring) to be planted. I also have the book Carrots Love Tomatoes, and am waiting for others to arrive - will be working with companion planting so I can avoid unnatural gunk where possible.

Composting will be a challenge. I want to do it, but just for a tube with holes in it to hold the stuff, folks are charging 50 bucks! A pile is unsightly (and we will have neighbors), so I have to do bins or something.


Franklin, NC(Zone 6b)

Even if it doesn't work, it sure is fun to try. I don't know how many times I've seen people grow things in ways that shouldn't work, but do! Keep us posted on the peppers. If they do well, I'll want to give them a try.

Fredericksburg, VA(Zone 7b)

Yes may be very successful!

Pawling, NY(Zone 5b)

Sev, guess you should have taken the hot pepper seeds too now.. :)

Missouri City, TX

If you have to hand-dig your garden then a spading fork will help. It breaks the soil up better than just a shovel. Renting a tiller is the cheapest and fastest way to get started.

I hand dug my first garden in many years about 5-6 years ago - took several weekends just to get a 3x7 space free of St. Augustine and Burmuda grass. Bought a Mantis the second year - 20 minutes after assembling and adding fuel and the garden was twice as big.

Now it is about 10x20. The Mantis is so small and light, but will break sod if you just hold it in one place and let it work. Then you pull it backwards so you are not compacting the tilled ground.

DW thought I was working too hard starting it, so bought me an electric tiller for Christmas.

I plant a bit close, so most cultivating is done by hand with a long handled 4-prong cultivator - looks like a garden rake with 4 long prongs.

Currently harvesting radishes, cabbage leaves, dill, parsley, cilantro, lamb's quarter, chili pequin, rosemary, horseradish (leaves and roots). And the jalapenos have another crop on the way. Fall/Winter gardening here in S. TX is less work and more productive - almost no bugs to help with the harvest - lol.

Tonto Basin, AZ

sevidra, keep in mind that cucurbits (watermelon, cantalope, squash, cucumber, pumpkins) are vines and will spread over a large area.


Fredericksburg, VA(Zone 7b)

You can train small watermelon, squash and cantalope to go up a sturdy trellis. i also trellis my cukes. Pumpkins, well pumpkins do their own thing. Put them well away from easy view, some scum bags will steal or smash them. Sorry state of affairs.

Murfreesboro, TN(Zone 7a)

When we were kids I remember going on vacation for a week. We were worried the young pumpkin plants were going to be dead when we came back. Instead, they had taken over most of the back yard (I think we only planted 1 hill!).

Rockaway, NJ(Zone 6a)

rofl I'll definitely keep that in mind then. I don't want to have apumpkin patch instead of a yard! Trellises are a must for me - I'm going to be using them extensively, whether string or wooden (we'll use both, depending on the plant). I'm debating buying pantyhose so I can 'catch' the fruits of larger varieties by tying them up with it, but is there a better alternative?


Franklin, NC(Zone 6b)

Actually, they're pretty good. I have a little old lady friend who keeps all the ones that get runs to use as plant ties. You can use them as a sling or you can slip them over the fruit. I was able to save a batch of rare squash this fall by slipping some knee-highs over them to keep off the pickle worms.

Clinton, CT(Zone 6b)

I've gone out of my way to acquire the Chinese veggies (hubby is half, we use a lot of them) and Red Beans (one of my fave dessert additions).

Sevidra . . .frustrated by limited information from vendors and on seed packs I just bought "Oriental Vegetables: The Complete Guide for the Gardening Cook" by Joy Larkcom. Have you seen it? Very heavy on brassicas but she does cover a wide range (including water vegetables which I'll never grow but are interesting to read about). From your comments and the number of people you plan on feeding, I imagine you have many "cut and come again" asian brassicas but perhaps the book will be of some interest. The recipes and basic gardening information is somewhat of a waste of space but Larkcom does provide specific information on cultivars and, very importantly, has a list in the back with names in English, Latin, Mandarin and Japanese.

Fredericksburg, VA(Zone 7b)

Thanks for sharing that information, Paul. I'm going to check the library for a copy.

Sarasota, FL

Snow peas have had a pretty good sized yield.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Kitazawa Seed Company is a great source for Asian vegetable seeds. They have a large variety and often give the names in multiple languages.

Rockaway, NJ(Zone 6a)

Book and website marked for perusal - I'm wintersowing a whole bunch of stuff and have sick kids, so I'm not as talkative as I'd like, but I AM watching for tips. :)


Danbury, CT(Zone 6a)

Hey Sev,

below is some information on black pepper plant. I've thought about getting one myself as a house plant. We use a lot of black pepper too. I think it would be fun. I get a kick out of making meals all with food I've grown. Have you thought about planting garlic? It's super easy, you'll have to plant in the fall to harvest in the summer. After you pull your garlic in the summer, you can plant something else in that spot.

You can purchase one here:

Piper nigrum "Black Pepper Plant"
The "Black Pepper" of commerce, this South Asian tropical vine produces chains of small round fruit. By selecting the time of harvest and the method of processing, all four types of peppercorns (black, white, green and red) can be harvested from the same plant. Black peppercorns are harvested when the seeds are nearly ripe and then dried at room temperature. Plants require high temperature and optimum light for fruiting. Piper nigrum blooms freely through the summer months and fruits ripening the following year. Young plants can take 3-4 years to come into bloom but even modest-sized plants will yield hundreds of peppercorns. Soon you'll be able to grind your own peppercorns for fresh, aromatic pepper!

Hardy Zone 10 and higher for outdoors.

Full or partial sun, grows to 1-3' in container, minimum temperature indoors 65, summer bloomer.

Here's the plant files entry:

This message was edited Jan 6, 2008 10:26 AM

Elmira, NY(Zone 6a)

Well, you can't get pink/red peppercorns from a Piper nigrum plant, because they come from a different genus, Schinus. This is a pest tree in Florida, btw.

Franklin, NC(Zone 6b)

... and they still charge exhorbitant prices for them as an exotic spice from Madagascar imported via France. They go for over a buck and a half per ounce, but I figure I brush-piled several hundred pounds of "pink and red peppecorns" when I helped my friends in Florida clear their lots.

Those pepper vines look promising. I have friends who are putting up greenhouses soon. Maybe I'll bing them a green-housewarming gift!

Tuscaloosa, AL(Zone 7b)


Do the pink/red peppercorns taste like the black peppercorns? I ask because I am allergic to the black pepper ( sob!) and since the white pepper is the inside of the black ones, I'm allergic to that, too. Aaargh! I LOVE black pepper, but it doesn't love me back.

So, I'm wondering if the pink/red could be a substitute for the black/white?



Elmira, NY(Zone 6a)

To me, the pink is fruity in a way that regular peppercorns, regardless of their color, are not. Supposedly, if you eat a lot of them, they can make you sick, but I don't know what they mean by "a lot." When they first were being imported to the US back in the early 80s, the FDA tried to stop it, saying they were dangerous and related to poison ivy. They are in the cashew family, and some people are allergic to plants in that family, like mangoes, cashews, and pistachios. I guess the FDA gave up on the idea of stopping their importation, and I was not able to find any scientific articles about them causing problems, but I guess it is always a good idea to try a small amount of a new thing first.

Central Texas, TX(Zone 8b)

Good luck, sevidra! Sounds like you have ambitious plans there.

south central, PA(Zone 6b)

Sev - Hi! I can relate to your quest to raise all your own food. I'm trying that too. Last year we grew Romano Pole beans on a trellis (about 19 feet long) - I don't know what the yields were specifically, but the freezer is full of beans and they are very tasty. I have a chart I clipped years ago that lists the most space-efficient veggies - I'll find it and post the info.

Now, I know red pepper does not give the same taste as black at all - but a few red pepper plants should produce all the "heat" you would need for a year (?)

Herbs are good to grow to cut costs too, if that's something you want to do: rosemary, tyme, sage, basil, oregano can give impressive yields, are easy to dry, and they cost a fortune at the store. It's not too hard to have a couple of parsley and chive plants going all winter.

south central, PA(Zone 6b)

OK, here's the article - I have saved this in a plastic sleeve for years and often refer to it. It was in the Baltimore Sun, April 5, 1981, titled, "Rating vegetables the way an efficiency expert might." It is from a survey by the National Garden Bureau. They took three things into consideration while awarding each vegetable a maximum of 10 points: "They considered total yield to the square foot, average value per pound harvested and seed-to-harvest time." Here's their ratings quoted directly from the article:

9.0 Tomatoes (grown on supports to save space)
8.2 Green bunching onions
7.4 Leaf lettuce
7.4 Turnips, for greens and roots
7.2 Summer squash, zucchini, scallop yellow types
6.9 Edible podded peas
6.9 Onion bulbs for storage
6.8 Beans, pole or runner types, green wax pod
6.6 Beets, grown for green tops and roots
6.5 Beans, bush green or wax pod
6.5 Carrots
6.5 Cucumbers (grown on supports to save space)
6.4 Peppers, sweet green or yellow
6.3 Broccoli
6.3 Kohlrabi
6.3 Swiss Chard
6.2 Mustard greens
6.2 Spinach
6.1 Beans, pole lima
6.1 Radishes
6.0 Cabbage
5.9 Leek
5.8 Collards
5.7 Okra
5.6 Kale
5.3 Cauliflower
5.3 Eggplant
5.2 Peas, green or "English"
4.3 Brussels sprouts
4.3 Celery
4.3 Peas, Southern (black-eyed, crowder, purple hill, etc.)
4.1 Corn, sweet
3.8 Squash, winter, vining types
3.8 Melons
3.8 Watermelons
1.9 Pumpkins

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