Get ready to grow a year’s worth of food in your garden! Start planning your garden with Ann Acceta-Scott of a Farm Girl in the Making!
Ann has been homesteading for nearly a decade now, and she places a particular emphasis on growing as much of her family’s food as possible. In fact, she estimates that they produce around 80% of their own food on their Tennessee homestead.
In our conversation, we discuss what planning your garden and growing a year’s worth of food for your family looks like. We talk about adapting to your climate, evaluating your family’s unique needs, optimizing the harvest, and more. Grab your garden planner and pen, and join us for this episode!
In this episode, we cover:
- Considerations for gardening in various climates
- The surprising benefit of gardening in clay soil
- Choosing what to grow based on your climate
- Arranging your garden spatially
- How to factor crop yield and pantry inventory
- Optimizing your harvest through succession planting and preserving
- The importance of documenting the details of your garden
- Why planning your garden ahead makes all the difference
- Tailoring your garden to your unique family
- How less might actually be more in the garden
Ann Accetta-Scott is the author of The Farm Girl’s Guide to Preserving the Harvest and the face behind the brand, A Farm Girl in the Making. Her farm, Acorn Creek Farmstead located in middle Tennessee, is a teaching farm that offers hands-on workshops for those who seek to achieve a more sustainable life. The farm also provides the local community the opportunity to purchase pasture-raised meat, eggs, and real milk.
- Acorn Creek Farmstead
- A Farm Girl’s Guide to Preserving the Harvest by Ann Accetta-Scott
- The Homestead Journal Planner by Homesteaders of America
- Clyde’s Garden Planner
Ann Accetta-Scott of A Farm Girl in the Making | Website | Instagram | YouTube | Podcast | Facebook | Pinterest
Homesteaders of America | Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube | Pinterest
Join us at the Homesteaders of America Conference in October 2023!
Planning Your Garden: A Year’s Worth of Food Transcript
Amy Fewell Welcome to the Homesteaders of America Podcast, where we encourage simple living, hard work, natural healthcare, real food, and building an agrarian society. If you’re pioneering your way through modern noise and conveniences, and you’re an advocate for living a more sustainable and quiet life, this podcast is for you. Welcome to this week’s podcast. I’m your host, Amy Fewell, and I’m the founder of the Homesteaders of America organization and annual events. If you’re not familiar with us, we are a resource for homesteading education and online support. And we even host a couple of in-person events each year with our biggest annual event happening right outside the nation’s capital here in Virginia every October. Check us out online at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. Follow us on all of our social media platforms and subscribe to our newsletter so that you can be the first to know about all things HOA (that’s short for Homesteaders of America). Don’t forget that we have an online membership that gives you access to thousands—yes, literally thousands—of hours worth of information and videos. It also gets you discount codes, an HOA decal sticker when you sign up, and access to event tickets before anyone else. All right. Let’s dive into this week’s episode.
Amy Fewell Welcome back to the Homesteaders of America Podcast. I am super happy to have my friend, Ann Accetta-Scott, with us today. Ann, why don’t you go ahead and get started by telling everyone who you are, what your credentials are, and go from there.
Ann Accetta-Scott I am Ann Accetta-Scott. I am from the brand and the face behind A Farm Girl in the Making, and we actually also just purchased a 42 acre farm in Middle Tennessee in Wayne County, and it’s Acorn Creek Farmstead. We’ve been homesteading for going on ten years, now that I think about it. But in truth, in all reality, the actual real aspect of being sustainable and being able to do it was probably the last seven years, probably seven years. So it took three years to get to where we were at, and then from there, we grew a little bit each year going forward. I have a book out. It’s called The Farm Girl’s Guide to Preserving the Harvest. And I have a podcast that I’ll be reactivating as soon as my life slows down just a little bit. I do have a YouTube channel, but I’m not a YouTuber. How was that? But other than that, I mean, that’s who I am.
Amy Fewell Yeah. And she has lots of gardens and she is a preserving queen. So Ann and I have been friends for about that long. Like a decade, I would say. Well Ann, and you did say you just moved to Middle Tennessee. So let’s start there. What should people know about gardening in different climate zones? Why don’t you talk a little bit about how different it was in Washington versus how different it is in Tennessee? And anything else you want to add about gardening in different climate zones?
Ann Accetta-Scott It’s very different for me. It is very different. We spent all of my learning curve on how to garden in a climate that actually had a very short growing season. And what it was, it wasn’t like we were in a deep freeze. It was the rain that continued to flow and it would wash away seeds or just drown your area and things like that. And we never worked in a polytunnel. So in the Pacific Northwest where I lived, which was on the western side, we received rain pretty much nine months out of the year and it was a constant rain. So it wasn’t something that was enjoyable, that can just be worked through and seeds can be planted. There was a lot of up and down climate changes and whatnot, so that was really difficult with a short growing season. We grew a lot of cold winter crop very, very well on that side. Whereas, on the eastern side of Washington State, they had a very diverse growing system where it was like spring, summer, and fall, and you can grow quite a bit there. Whereas, on our side, cool weather very, very long time. And technically we really don’t plant until around the 4th of July. That’s how interesting it can really be. Then I moved to Tennessee and I have to now realize that whatever I learned in Washington does not count. It does not count down here.
Amy Fewell Right.
Ann Accetta-Scott And I think you and I had this conversation a few years back and you were gardening in clay. Remember that lot that you were using and you were gardening in clay for a couple— that one season? And I kept telling you, “How are you growing in clay?” And she had explained to me. Amy was explaining to me, “Well, actually you can grow really well in clay.” And I was like, “No way. No way.” And it’s true. It is true. So in learning… I mean, just talking to Amy during that growing season that she had, that first year that was really rich in clay for where she was at to her first homestead where it was like nice topsoil. She had great things there growing in clay. And now she has a completely different environment as well, too. For us, it was number one, the weather. We have a lot of microclimates here where we’re at. I mean, extreme amount of microclimates. It’s really interesting. Thunder and lightning could be happening in town, which is 15 minutes away from us, and we’re bone dry. So that was the first change was to understand the microclimates for where we’re at. The next thing was working in clay. So we have basically one to four inches of topsoil where my garden area is. And then from there, it goes into a little bit of chert and then into some clay and then back into chert again. And so if you don’t know what chert is, it’s just basically limestone, crushed limestone mixed with clay. And you’ve got this chert, which becomes almost like concrete compound that blocks you, and you’ve got to break through that to keep going. So when we decided… I wasn’t initially going to do a garden last year, but I thought, you know, what the heck, let’s test it. Let’s just get some starts, throw it in there, and see what happens. Well, when they say you don’t grow in the South in August and July, really, and that most of your gardening needs to be done earlier in that season, they really meant it. They weren’t joking. There no way around that. And that was hard because I was used to harvesting tomatoes in September, you know, easily into September. And here, my tomatoes just studded and just failed to continue to grow once that heat set in. And then it just… I mean, watering it kept it going, but nothing really produced from it. So I now know I’ve got to drop my tomatoes in the beginning of May. Right? And then I’m going to get a good yield come end of June, beginning of July, right before that hot season starts. It was great to know what I can grow.
Amy Fewell You said right before that hot season starts.
Ann Accetta-Scott Yeah. And that’s the thing.
Amy Fewell Girl, that’s not before the hot season starts. You’re already in the hot season in Middle Tennessee.
Ann Accetta-Scott But then here’s what Ann does. Ann goes, “No I cannot accept that I cannot grow tomatoes in August.” Right? So I’m Googling and I’m looking it up and trying to figure out ways to grow tomatoes in July and August still. And you can throw these shade things up. There’s a powder you can put on it to prevent sunburn, to keep them cool. And I’m like, that is a lot of work to grow tomatoes. So now I’m going to follow the rules, the southern rules of how to grow things. And then I’m just going to stick to that because there’s no point in extra doing things if I just follow the rules. And I guess I’m not a rule follower, but I guess I have to be at this point.
Amy Fewell I mean, there’s great blessing in clay soil. Like a lot of people just say, “Clay soil is the worst.” But man, I love clay because clay holds onto moisture so much, so if you have clay soil, that’s a whole ‘nother podcast topic. Enjoy, that clay soil. You can amend it, you can put stuff on top of it, but enjoy it because it’s going to be your friend during a drought.
Ann Accetta-Scott You’re 100% right about the clay. I mean, I could skip a day of watering because of the clay in July and August. So you are right about that. So I’m going to just piggyback off that with you.
Amy Fewell Oh, yeah. All right. So today’s topic is planning your 2023 garden, and specifically, planning a year’s worth of food. So Ann is like the food guru. I remember when Ann and I first became friends, she was saying how they grow like 80% or more of their food. And I’m just like, “What?” That was years ago. So my question was, how? Do you plan for a year’s worth of garden? So let’s you and I briefly talk about what we are growing this year. Anything new since you are in a new climate? And then we’ll go into specifically planning, helping other people plan a year’s worth of food.
Ann Accetta-Scott Okay. So for us, there’s a lot of things that we weren’t able to grow in Washington State on our site. Melons. We’re a big melon eating family. We’re planting all the melons. We will eat melons for breakfast, lunch, and supper if we have to at this point in time. The other thing was peppers. I couldn’t grow peppers to save my life. I can grow a little bit of jalapeno. If the weather was warm enough, we got a good crop to use. Other peppers, bell peppers, things like that were very difficult for us because, again, we didn’t have a polytunnel. We were growing as nature provided, and that’s what we did. So peppers were hard for us. But on top of that, there’s a lot of things like bitter melon that I would love to grow. Going back into my Asian roots, doing some more bitter melon, doing a heavy root system of daikon radishes. Just things that, normally, I couldn’t have grown there at all or without ease of a polytunnel in that sense. So we are going to experiment a little bit more. Okra is something we’d never grown and we eat a lot of okra. So, corn. I can grow corn. So we are experimenting a lot with the things that we are doing now, things that, number one, have never made the grow list that we used to have to bring back over from Eastern Washington. So there’s a lot on my list, but mainly Asian vegetables and a lot of the melons this year for sure.
Amy Fewell And what’s your garden look like this year? Are you doing raised beds or rows? Or what are you doing?
Ann Accetta-Scott We’re doing both. Our garden space is 40 by 70. 40 by 70 because, you know me, I just can’t do one thing. So 40 by 70 is the size of our garden, and half of it is actually the road market garden. That straight, plant-in-the-ground, row, row, row, row, row. And what we’ll do on that side of it is the taller crops, like your okra, your corn will go on that side. Maybe some popcorn. I’ve been really, really wanting to try popcorn. So popcorn on there. But then on top of that, our row of our preserving tomatoes will go on that side as well too. And then anything that goes onto the raised beds side… which I do raised beds… and let’s be honest, for aesthetic appeal, I really like a pretty garden and I like my little symmetrical raised beds going across with my flowers all over the place. So with that, we’ll do the smaller crops that I can’t preserve quite well, like the bell peppers, the tomatoes that don’t require a lot of harvesting. And that is going to be our main garden. And then we do have the pigs working on a preserving garden, and they’re going to clear that lot where a lot of my next year’s crop will be tomatoes, potatoes, and onions will be going into that back preserving garden because we need to be able to store a lot of that to be able… fresh, actually, too. And then probably some better storing winter squash like blue hubbard and things like that that we use for soup and for just roasting and things like that will go into that back garden.
Amy Fewell Mm hmm. Yeah. We’re kind of doing a conglomeration of things, too. So for those of you that follow us on YouTube or Instagram or whatever, you may have seen last year, we also moved to a new homestead. And here we are battling zoysia grass in certain parts of the yard. And so it’s basically just like this really matted thick grass. And so we had no intention on gardening last year because I was very pregnant, and we just had no intention on gardening. And then my husband was like, “You know what? You’re not going to be happy if you don’t have a garden, so let me help you out.” And so we actually did an interview before this interview with Paul Hutcheson from Windmill Heights Garden Center here in Culpeper, Virginia, and he actually gave us a roll of the greenhouse garden fabric. And so we put that down last year. That stuff was a lifesaver, especially with that grass. Trying to kill it out so we could get to a place of regenerative-type gardening. And so we’re keeping that area this year. It’s fenced in. I’m doing all my tomatoes, like lots of tomatoes. I’m doing all of my easy kitchen access stuff and things that are for kitchen garden and for heavy preserving like the tomatoes. And then I’ll do my cucumbers in there and my squash. And then we have some raised beds that’ll go in there on top of the fabric because I… actually, there was some gravel in the yard that we put the fabric over and so we’re going to put raised beds on top of that so we can kind of utilize that space even though there’s gravel there. But then the second… we’re starting a second garden. We’ve already put a tarp down out in the front portion of the property. And that’s going to be hard-core row gardening. So these are big plots for heavy preserving. So green beans, lima beans, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, like all of the big heavy hitters that you need to store or that you need a lot of minus the tomatoes, because back here, the tomatoes do really well. And so we are kind of diving into that this year with the row gardening on one end and then the kitchen garden on the other end of the property and then also some raised beds. So we’re kind of doing the same thing this year, going all in— corn, all of that, melons, everything. So we’ve got a lot going on. So it can be overwhelming, but it’s really fun. Okay, so speaking of growing food and raised beds and all that, so let’s talk briefly about how does a family figure out how much food they need to grow in a year for their family? So, obviously, we know you should grow what you actually like to eat. We’ll start with that. But from there, as people are starting to plan out their garden this year, how do they do that? How do they plan? Is there an easy way to do that? Is there some kind of simple formula they can use?
Ann Accetta-Scott Well, to be honest with you, it’s just basically knowing what each crop vegetable is going to yield. Right? So if you are going to grow, for example, tomatoes for canning purposes—making sauce, salsas, canned tomatoes, whatever the case is—you know you want to get your biggest bang for your buck. And your biggest bang for your buck is going to be, number one, a plum variety like the San Marzanos, the Romas, the Amish Paste, those kind of tomatoes. And the reason why is because they’re full of meat and not full of liquid. So you’re going to get more for that. So one, for example, San Marzano tomato plant can yield up to 30 pounds of tomatoes. Okay? If you know your family eats a lot of sauce, a lot of chili, a lot of salsa, or you’re using the tomatoes, like canned tomatoes or whatever the case is, as a base product for something, then you’re going to determine how much you have. For our family—and we are only down to like four plus my mother-in-law now is five—I’m still planting 50 San Marzano tomatoes at that. So 50 times 3, that’s 150 pounds, I think, of tomatoes. And I might even up it this year. And the reason why is because we do a lot of tomato products. So pizza sauce, for example, is… you know, it’s all made in that. But when you think about what you’re going to yield and why you want to do it, I mean, like you said, first things first: plant what you’re going to eat. Right? That’s important. So if you are doing a lot of green beans, you want to do pickled green beans, canned green beans, maybe freeze some, maybe freeze dry them, whatever the case is. A bush variety can give you roughly anywhere from 10 pounds if you do a bush variety. So if you’re continually doing that, and you’re going to succession plan all the way through, think about it like that. This is how much I need. I need to know how many pounds I’m going to put up, how many jars I’m going to put up. Inventory is essential to knowing what you consumed last year, to know what you’re going to grow this year. Okay? And just take a look at the packet. The packet will tell you how much you can expect in a—a seed packet, sorry—how much you can expect in a yield. Right? But on top of that, if you don’t have inventory… like HOA has your whole inventory sheet in regards to what you’re doing, what you’re growing, how much you’re canning. Right? And so I even have one. And the point of it is that if I know that I’ve got 20 or 30 cans of green beans left in my pantry, my family’s not eating green beans anymore canned. So I’m going to turn around and preserve it in a different way, like freezing it. So read the seed packet, know what your family’s consuming, compare that to what you did last year and how much they’re going to consume this year, and only dedicate your garden space to that because, at the end of the day, you’re going to end up wasting it if you are still sticking to your routine of canning 50 jars of green beans every year and you’ve got 20 sitting in your pantry still. So you really have to make that determination of seed packet and knowing what you’re going to yield on that and your inventory purposes. And again, if you don’t eat fava beans, plant maybe two fava beans. See if your family really is going to like it, and invest more into it next year. Garden space is very valuable, especially for those who have a small garden. Right? And if you are working in that small garden space, you cannot afford to really ruin it by planting what everybody else is planting. You really want to grow food for what your family is going to consume. And you could take those green beans and preserve them in four different ways and plant more green beans for that. Does that make sense?
Amy Fewell It does make sense. And so, one of the things I’ve noticed a lot of seed companies doing that they weren’t doing before… like, we do have the yield. So, if you guys look on the seed packages, like Ann said, they do have how much one plant will yield. But it wasn’t always like that. There were some companies that I was buying from and they would just give you the heat and how to plant it and when to transplant it and all that. And so now a lot of companies are telling you, “Okay, you should expect about this much from this plant. And then I think it’s really important, too—and you said this—succession planning is really important. Which leads me into my next question for you talking about fresh food because obviously, we like to eat fresh from the garden. That’s one of the reasons people have a garden. But if you’re eating all that food, then it’s like, well, how do I preserve it if I’m eating it? And so for us, we also do succession planting, so that 1) it doesn’t come in all at one time. Like I’m not overwhelmed always all the time. And then 2) so that we have food to eat fresh. Like for us… so a lot of people have small space, and so we were talking about what our garden spaces look like this year. And so for me, I do bush beans because I feel like I get a better yield from that. And so I’ll plant bush beans in the spring and then again in the summer for a fall harvest. And so that in the… You can do it vice versa. In the springtime, we eat a lot of those summertime green beans. But then the ones that I plant in the summer, by that time, I’m kind of green beaned out on the fresh green beans. And so then I take the ones that I plant in the summer for a fall harvest, and I can those. So I think it’s… For those of you who have small spaces, don’t let that deter you, because we did that for years. We only had a half acre and so we could stagger those. I really think a lot of people don’t utilize fall gardens as much as they really could. Do you feel like that when you talk to people about gardening?
Ann Accetta-Scott Absolutely. I do. I think what happens is that people get tired, right? So they’re tired. They’ve put up their food, they’ve grown it. They started from seed, put it in the ground, preserved it. And then by the time August comes where you’re getting ready to put more stuff in, and then… depending on where we’re at now, we’re in the south now, so it’s at that point where people are just tired and they don’t want to mess with it. I can’t even tell you… I live in Tennessee, and I don’t see fall gardens in Tennessee. I’m like, this is gardening time, man. Let’s grow some food. And I don’t see it. I don’t see it. So back to this succession garden, real quick on that, too, is that the other key point of it is that if you are going to plant something, you need to know whether or not that’s an indeterminate or determinate variety. Okay? So for us, for especially my plum tomatoes, I only plant determinate because I want one yield. I want to harvest that up and I want to get it done. So if I do slicing tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, I’m at the indeterminate level at that point, right? So I’m getting it all season long. And then what people forget is that succession planning is you’re going to plant one beautiful row of radishes. Guess what? In another week, plant another. It’s an 18-day harvest period from radishes, from seed to harvest. And then the same thing for lettuce. You know, it’s just one of those things that people… Timing and understanding when to drop something and how long it’s going to take to reach maturity, that’s work. That’s like documenting everything. I think people just assume that they can… especially ones that rely on—like I do—the garden to preserve and to eat as close to year-round as possible, that I have to know—right?—exactly how long it’s going to take to get to maturity and when do I need to do it again? When do I need to drop it in the ground again? What do I want to plant for my fall garden? Right? My winter squash, for example. That’s in the ground. It’s harvested, it’s cured, and it’s put in the— right now, our basement. So when you do things like that, I can’t stress enough documentation is essential to knowing what you’re going to do the following year. And it isn’t too late to start now because now if you’re starting your seeds… And in Tennessee, you know… Let me just tell you story. I was about ready to start my cabbage and my broccoli and all that stuff. They’re like, “No, no, no, you should have started that in January.” I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no.” And they’re like, “Honey, you’re not in the north anymore. You’re in the south. We start all that stuff in January and we put it in the ground in the first week of May.” So I’m behind. So now I’m running to go buy starts, right? Because we’ve only been here a year and two months, and now I’m ready to go buy starts so I can get at least cabbage for fermenting or whatever the case is, and to freeze some greens. But the point is that you have to know what you’re doing in regards to last year’s service to you to move forward with what you’re going to be able to do this year. And I can’t stress that enough. You have got to document your yield, when you started your seeds, when you planted it, when you succession planted especially because it might not work for this year. You may not be able to put more seeds into the ground for a spring in April because it was too wet. Right? So it’s one of those things you have to know.
Amy Fewell Yeah. And so one of the things that I really enjoy… So at Homesteaders of America, we have a planner. It’s like the mother of all planners. And on there every week, we have where you can make notes like, here’s what I need to plant this week or here’s what into harvest this week. And then it’s not just for preparing for what you need to do, it’s for going back and seeing what you’ve already done. So okay, I forgot I planted this three weeks ago and I need to do this again. And so keeping a planner like that is super important. So some of you are going to ask, I know, “Well, how do we figure out when we’re supposed to plant these things?” Do you have a Clyde’s Garden Planner, Ann?
Ann Accetta-Scott I do not. I have really… because we’re in such a new growing everything, I have been able to really utilize the population… or I utilize the older generation around me who’s been doing this a long time. You know me. I like to talk to people. So if I see someone gardening, I’ll pull over and I’ll be like, “Okay, so just tell me. Tell me what I need to do. Tell me when I need to do this and whatnot.” The Clyde’s gardening is really good. But then on top of that, I know we talk about the Farmer’s Almanac at the same time. But I think it’s really important because our seasons are changing and it depends. Like last year was super dry and this year… is knowing what the people around you who have been doing this forever are doing, too. Right? So you can use—it’s my belief—use as many resources as you want, but at the end of the day, really pull over to that neighbor who has this beautiful massive garden that you see is thriving and just start a conversation. That’s what I do. I’m one of those people, though. I’ll just pull over and ask anybody.
Amy Fewell Yeah. So for those of you who maybe don’t have that, there’s a couple of options. You can get a Clyde’s Garden Planner, which what it does, it’s like this slide thing. And it will go by your first frost date or the end of your last frost date and the first frost date. And so what it’ll do is just, based on those dates, it will tell you like, okay, based on these dates, you need to plant this then. It kind of gives you a broad range of things, normal things that people would grow. It might not have, like, kohlrabi or something on there, but it has things like cabbage and green beans and tomatoes and squash. And you can kind of get a general idea from there. If you don’t have a Clyde’s Garden Planner or you don’t want one, the other thing, simple thing to do is, again, look at the seed packet. So on there, it’ll say, “Plant this this many weeks before your last frost date or this many weeks before your first frost date.” And so really just—
Ann Accetta-Scott Germination time. All that stuff.
Amy Fewell Yeah, your germination time and all of that. So just sitting down and… It’s work, but once you do it a couple of times and continue to do it, you’re going to start realizing… Because listen, we don’t all like to grow the crazy things. We like to grow the normal things, and after you do it a few times, you’re going to know, okay, I need to plant this in March. For those of you who may have listened to the podcast we did with Paul Hutcheson, he was talking about how certain seeds need heat more than they need light, like peppers. And then planting tomatoes the beginning of February won’t make a difference—sorry—if they’re not getting enough sunlight, which you don’t get until March. So just keeping those things in mind and maybe even going back and referencing that as you’re starting to plan. And then from there we can do those things, like what Ann is saying, like implementing the succession planting and then growing the beginning of the season for stuff you’re going to eat and the end of the season for stuff that you want to can. So a lot of my tomatoes come in the end of summer and the beginning of fall. And so the tomatoes that start coming in at the beginning of the year of the of the garden season, I eat those up because I know the bulk of these tomatoes aren’t going to come in until late summer, early fall. Well, again, by that time I don’t really want a tomato sandwich because my mouth is broken out from the acid. So then we’re starting to can stuff. So what I’m saying is definitely utilize your timeline and just sit down, put the work in now to plan. Look at your germination rates, look at your frost dates. Those are essential. Get a Clyde’s Garden Planner if you haven’t already. Make a plan and really utilize your succession planting. Most of the stuff you can plant in the springtime, you can also plant in the summertime with the exception of colder crops like cabbage and broccoli and brussel sprouts. But if you want those things, I know for my area, even rhubarb, that’s stuff that I should have planted last fall to start getting this spring. So sit down with a seed catalog and just flip through it and educate yourself on all of these things and how long it takes to grow them and when you should grow them. And I feel like that’s kind of the first place to start, don’t you think?
Ann Accetta-Scott I think so, too, but I think it’s important that we really stress on the germination rate because there could be a tomato that can reach maturity in 89 days. And if you have a short growing season, that may not be your variety, and you need to find out what your best variety is. Like she says, when you start peppers, you know you need heat for the peppers to be able to do that. Do you have enough light to be able to generate that? And how many pepper plants? Well, you know peppers are indeterminate. They will give you a yield throughout the whole entire growing season. So if you’re looking to make something like cowboy candy—right?—you may plant like 15 plants so you can get a couple of good harvests on there and make a bunch of smaller batches of that instead. Or bell peppers, we preserve peppers in olive oil. So for us, as it comes, we just put… We’re going to eat whatever we’re going to eat fresh, and I may go, okay, well, this is going to be reserved now to going ahead and just roasting it, putting in olive oil, and putting in the freezer from there so we have something to eat throughout the winter months. So those are just ways to do it. And as you’re planning, like for us, I know we eat a lot of bell peppers, but I know that I preserve at least 25 jars of bell peppers in olive oil. So I know that I need to plant at least 15 plants of varieties and colors and things like that to move forward. So pepper plants will continually produce for you. You just need to know how much an average pepper plant—bell pepper plant—is going to give you in a growing season and how many plants you need to plant from there. We plant everything but the purple variety of bell pepper, and we utilize that throughout the entire summer with enough to freeze dry or make into a powder or whatever the case is to put up for winter eating. Our goal, honestly, is, yes, we do eat fresh in the summertime, but at the end of the day, I love to be able to know that I don’t have to go to a market except for minor fills like flour and things like that. And I try to eat what’s in the pantry. There are times that I do run dry out of the pantry, but it is what it is. It was whatever the season’s going to give me in that moment in time of the year. So when you’re really planning it, really focus on what your family really consumes the most especially if you have a small garden space. If you guys need a lot of tomato products, invest in tomato products. If you eat a lot of green beans and carrots, invest in the green bean and carrots. I think that Amy and I both have large garden spaces, but again, a lot of you guys who are starting up do not. So stop comparing yourselves to what everybody else is growing. Think about what your family is going to grow and what you eat throughout the entire year and then invest in that for garden space and then expand your garden space going forward. Carrots, you get maybe one or two growing seasons. If you’re lucky, you’ll get two rounds of carrots. But more times than not, most people only get one round of carrots. And then how do you want to preserve it at that point? Carrots are… You could drop carrot seeds all the time. Eat fresh, harvest them, whatever you want to do. But at the end of the day, it’s where do you want to be in November, December, and January? Do you want to be shopping in the market or do you want to be shopping in your larder? And that’s how your mind has to think about it, and then determine your garden space. You know, you can grow vertical so much. So many things. And if you maximize that space, then you’ll be… I mean, I know Amy’s garden space. She knows my garden space in Washington. I was constantly in the garden succession planting like every single… Twice a week, I was moving something, harvesting, dropping new seeds, whatever the case was. But for us, we were able to eat leafy greens pretty much all the way up until January. And so we were able to do that. Here, it’s a different story in Tennessee, and I’m relearning and reeducating myself in how far can I really go into growing for as long as I can. So polytunnels are probably good to be my new best friend.
Amy Fewell Yeah. And so one of the things, too… So, let’s get into garden tips. Before we end this podcast, one of the things that I think people… A lot of people can go online and say, “Okay, here’s my first and last frost date and I have to plan in between here.” That’s fine. But the one thing I wish when I got started homesteading is that we would share tips about gardening. So let me give you an example, okay? Especially when we’re talking about growing food for a whole year’s worth of preservation. So, Ann, do you remember the year—on that new property that we don’t live on—where I planted 127 tomato plants?
Ann Accetta-Scott Yep. And she couldn’t even give them away after a while.
Amy Fewell Do you know how many tomatoes I got? Not enough. Not enough to preserve. Do you know why? Because I couldn’t keep up with them. So last year… This is a tip I wish somebody would have told me from the beginning: you can get just as much tomatoes off of 25 to 30 well-kept tomato plants as you can 120 unkept tomato plants. So just let that sink in for a second. I got more tomatoes than I have ever gotten off of my well-kept 25 to 30 tomato plants last year than I got on my unkept—because I didn’t have the time and it overgrew me—120-some tomato plants a few years before that. So one of the things to think about is, in gardening, when you’re planning for your whole year’s worth of food, it doesn’t always mean that you have to plant 50 million plants. But you do have to be wise in that. Like what Ann just said, if you know that you are going to… cowboy candy was the perfect example, Ann, because I didn’t plant enough jalapeno plants last year, so I couldn’t make cowboy candy as efficiently as I wanted to because I only had like a couple of plants. And so I was making it all the time very inefficiently in very small batches, like we’re talking one to two little jars. And so keeping that in mind, but not overwhelming yourself at the same time. So what tips like that would you say for a gardener trying to preserve for a year?
Ann Accetta-Scott I think that, for me, I got into vertical gardening really late. Really late. I thought that a gardening method was to go ahead and put everything in the ground and harvest from there. Bush beans, all the bush varieties of everything. And I couldn’t maximize my yield at that moment in time. And so it took me about three years into gardening, probably four years into gardening before I was like, hey, well, I can get more of a yield if I grew my cucumbers vertically. I can maximize my garden space if I put sugar pumpkins on a trellis. I could do so much more if I went ahead and did this, this, or this? I don’t need 26 zucchini plants. I didn’t. I didn’t. I needed four zucchini plants. I put up zucchini relish. I put up frozen zucchini. I did everything that I needed for stir fry. And I still ate fresh because I was harvesting on a regular basis. I was keeping the squash bugs at bay and I was able to maximize. So here, I will probably still only plant four zucchini. Right? Zucchini plants. So learn all your gardening methods. That’s the biggest tip. Okay? And don’t be afraid to grow vertically. I am not a big straw bale gardener. I tried that method. That method won’t work in the South. It’s just too hot for it to work in the South. But if you live where it’s nice and wet and moist, that might work for you. But the point of it is that you’ve got to try different gardening methods to see what is going to be the best for you. In all reality, vertical gardening took my itty bitty garden space and basically doubled it by just being able to grow vertically. Butternut squash, acorn squash, all those sugar pumpkins were all grown vertically for me. Cantaloupe, grown vertically. And so when we’re able to do that, then you’re going to learn to maximize your yield. I wish someone would have really said that. But now when you get on social media, everybody’s growing vertically now. So I guess that’s not really a big tip. But what the point of it is, try.
Amy Fewell Well, it is a big tip.
Ann Accetta-Scott Try it. Try it.
Amy Fewell Well, here’s the thing. It’s amazing how many people still don’t know they can grow vertically. You can grow vertically anywhere.
Ann Accetta-Scott Or what you can grow.
Amy Fewell Or what. Yeah. Like you just said, you can grow cantaloupes vertically, and y’all don’t need 15 cantaloupe plants, just sayin’, unless you’re going to preserve a lot of cantaloupe somehow. But yeah, just kind of making your plan and sitting down and doing that. I planted, I guess it was maybe 130 bush bean plants last year. And I think last year I only planted one batch of that, and that was enough for us to eat off of. But it was only enough for us to preserve maybe 12 jars of green beans, which we go through pretty quickly. But we ate a lot of them. I mean, we’re eating green beans constantly. But if I had planted those green beans again, 136 little beans one by one, then I would have had—and not eaten that second batch—I would have had way more for canning. I probably would have gotten 24 to 36 jars of green beans. So just I love the idea. Like there are quick calculators I think that you can find online where people will say, put in how big your family is and then this is how much food you need to grow. But honestly, you can’t always go by that because what I really wanted to show you with Ann was her climate in Washington was different than her climate in Tennessee now. What she could grow there, she couldn’t grow here. And so she had to— she probably would have had to grow double the pepper plants in Washington than she did in Tennessee because her climate is different and the plants would grow better in Tennessee than they did in Washington. And so as you’re planning your year, as you’re planning your preservation garden and also whatever you’re eating fresh, just keep that in mind when you see these quick things, these quick calculators and just kind of come back to this. Like, these are tried and true garden tips that really should sink in with you guys as you think and plan for the year.
Ann Accetta-Scott Mm hmm. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Amy Fewell Well, Ann, do you have any other tips for us before we get off here?
Ann Accetta-Scott Actually, I don’t. I don’t. I think that was pretty efficient in what we covered. Just know exactly what your families consume because if you try to put up 26 jars of a jam in every single flavor, guess what? You’re not going to eat it all. So really hone down into what your family’s going to consume and don’t overdo it because you think your family’s going to eat it. Well, you might. You may have seven children and they’re all going to open a jar of jam, but you don’t need 100 jars of jams to get you from summer all the way into the next year. I promise you. Hone in to what your family’s going to eat, grow based on that, and then really look and focus as what the yield is going to give you, and determine whether or not you want to plant indeterminate or determinate varieties, because that will save you, number one, time. Number two, it will be a lot more efficient in regards to how you’re putting up food. And then definitely utilize succession planning because, without it, you’re not maximizing your true growing season.
Amy Fewell Yeah. And if you do have 170 jars of jam like I did recently—
Ann Accetta-Scott Learn how to utilize it outside of just putting it on toast, basically. That’s what you should do.
Amy Fewell Yeah. One of the things that we really enjoy is making sweet rolls instead of cinnamon rolls, putting the jam in the sweet rolls.
Ann Accetta-Scott That’s good. Yeah, that’s good.
Amy Fewell Well, I do think we covered a whole lot in this episode. So if you guys have any questions, you can definitely comment or send us questions about gardening. It’s more efficient than you may realize when you get into the groove of things. Ann does have a book that you can check out called A Farm Girl’s Guide to Preserving the Harvest. So all of that harvest that you’re going to be growing, it will be in that book for you to get preserved and going. And, Ann, thank you for joining us on the podcast today.
Ann Accetta-Scott Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Amy Fewell Absolutely.
Amy Fewell Hey, thanks for taking the time to listen to this week’s Homesteaders of America episode. We really enjoyed having you here. We welcome questions and you can find the transcript and all the show notes below or on our Homesteaders of America blog post that we have up for this podcast episode. Don’t forget to join us online with a membership or just to read blog posts and find out more information about our events at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. We also have a YouTube channel and follow us on all of our social media accounts to find out more about homesteading during this time in American history. All right, have a great day and happy homesteading.