Designing the garden with maths!?

Yes! It’s not rocket science; I just calculate how much of what we need to have enough for a year. And how much space that takes in the garden.

At school I used to ask myself why we had to learn mathematics. Why learn to handle those complicated formulas about nothing!? Now that we’re living (more & more) self sufficient, I use maths almost on a daily basis! I use it for the bread baking formula (100% flour, 35% water, 35% milk, 4% fresh yeast and 1,8% salt) and to design the garden.

Garlic in the garden
Garlic in the garden

Enough garlic for freaks (I’m speaking about us now)
Garlic is an easy one to calculate because you can easily store it for a year if you treat it right*. Fresh vegetables are more difficult because they have to be ready at the right time.

How much do you plant when you really like garlic? When you make risotto with 1 whole bulb of garlic, or spinach pie with 6 cloves, or roasted paprika with a lot of roasted garlic, chicken in the oven with 30 cloves… 🙂
And to make it a bit more complicated: we have an average of 4 people at the table in winter and 8 people in summer, you can plant garlic in March & October and harvest in July or August.

Let’s see how much we have to plant in October in order to have enough in July and the rest of the year.

Garlic plants grow on 15×10 centimeter so you can grow up to 70 plants on a square meter. But with 35-40 plants per square meter you have better, bigger bulbs. You also get bigger bulbs with October planting.

I use around 3 bulbs of garlic a week in May-September (22 weeks), and 2 the rest of the year (30 weeks). So in October I have to plant (3×22)+(2×30)=126 cloves of garlic in order to get enough bulbs for a year. That’s 126/40 = around 3,5 square meter in the garden.

* More about garlic
How to harvest & store your garlic so you can keep it for a year? First you snip off the scapes in summer, as soon as they appear. Now all the grow-power will go into the bulb. (the young scapes are edible! Nice in salads, soups etc.)
Harvest garlic bulbs when the lower five leaves of the plant have turned brown. If you wait too long, the cloves within the bulb begin to seperate. Bulbs with seperated cloves don’t store as well.
Let them dry in a shady, windy place to form their protection peel. That takes up to 2 or 3 weeks. When they are dry, you cut of the top leaves and store your garlic in boxes in a cool and dry place. Now you can keep them for a year!

Back to maths
So in order to have enough garlic for a year, I need to plant 126 cloves on 3,5 square meters in October. But what to do with all the other square meters in the garden?

Winter menu for a week
Self sufficient winter menu for a week

We love Brussels sprouts, but we don’t like to eat them 3 times a week. In winter you cannot sow something extra for harvesting 6 weeks later so winter vegetables have to be planned carefully.
We sow sprouts from March until May and harvest them between December and March. That’s around 16 weeks in which we eat them weekly. One plant usually gives more than one meal, but let’s be on the safe side and say we need 16 plants. So I sow 2 or 3 seeds every 2 weeks in spring.
The plants need 60 cm space and if I plant them in a bed that’s 3 meters long and almost 2 meters wide, I manage to get them all in there.

We can harvest our kale from September until May. That’s 9 months, or 35 weeks. In which we can eat kale once a week (in a stew or as kale chips). We harvest a lot from one plant and the plant even grows better when you harvest the outer leaves regularly. But let’s not be optimistic and say we can harvest twice from one plant. So we need 18 kale plants.
I start sowing kale from the end of March (a few weeks before the last date of frost) until the end of May. That’s about 10 weeks and when I sow with a 2 weeks interval, I sow 4 seeds at a time.

Calculating nature
So now you get an idea of how to calculate for what you need. But you can’t really predict what you will get because of the big unreliable factor NATURE. Your soil, your seeds, your effort, your compost, the weather… When it rains a lot, some crops will grow like crazy (green leavy things) and others can go bad (garlic, onions, pumpkins). Or when it’s too dry, your greens will not grow well but onions and purslane will be fine.
So don’t rely too much on your calculations & use common sense!

You spread your risk with sowing with an interval, always sowing a few extra seeds, trading seedlings with neighbours, with mulching and with being flexible. And of course you can store more of what keeps well, like (butternut) pumpkins or dried beans, for when something goes wrong with your crop.

To get an idea of the needs of a family in a year, you can ask me for our annual family food planning in a spreadsheet. Send me an e-mail.


Fresh & healthy salads all year round

pic_eating3Salads are healthy. Duh! But how to make your salad a fresh & delicious part of your meal?
We like salads especially when they have a big variety in taste and texture. When every bite is a surprise. So we assemble a salad with a few types of lettuce, some fresh herb leaves and anything wild and edible that I can find. Like chickweed. Or young dandelion leaves. Or wild garlic or chopped sorrel. Or any young vegetables from your garden.

For the basis for your all year round salad you need a garden or a balcony or window, and the seeds of “four seasons lettuce”. Sow the lettuce periodically (every month) and never pull out a whole plant. Pick only some of the outer leaves so the plant can keep on growing.
If you have a garden, you can also grow all kinds of other lettuce leaves in different periods of the year. Like lamb’s lettuces or rucola or any type like in our salad calendar below.


Edible flowers to spice up your salad (picture source:
Edible flowers to spice up your salad (picture source:

Edible flowers for your salad
There are many edible flowers that make your salad look and taste great. Like those spicy nasturtium flowers in red, orange and yellow. The darker the color, the spicier the taste.
You can also use daisies (little white flowers that grow in grass) to make your salad more happy, or orange calendula flowers, violets, the leaves of roses, clover flowers, blue cornflowers are edible, blue borage flowers, blue chicory blossoms…

If you want a more colorfull meal, check out Wikipedia where you can find a list of edible flowers and their colors and flavor.

Fresh herbs in the salad
So besides lettuce and flowers, we also use fresh herbs like basil, parsley (both good for your digestion system), coriander/cilantro, oregano, marjoram, lemon balm, mint or sage. We forage wild herbs like nettle, plantain and wild garlic.
I usually chop these herbs small because their leafs are firmer than lettuce leafs. The small chopped pieces also spread the flavor.

A herb that is packed with vitamins and minerals, is alfalfa. Well known as sprouts but of course you can also sow a bit in your garden to get the plant (and grow more seeds yourself).

Borage gives nice edible flowers and you can eat the leaves in your salad. Add the blossoms and leaves especially when you have skin problems.

And what else?
We like to put fennel greens, chopped hazel nuts, green onion leaves and garlic sprigs in our salad bowl, besides the more common additions like boiled egg and tomato quarters.

Most vegetables that are still young and small, make a great addition to your salad. Think of young carrots, small broccoli shoots, young pea snaps or green beens and young zucchini’s (courgettes). Since nature provides us with plenty, you can use some baby vegetables before you harvest the mature ones.

Also great in salads, is grated carrot/cabbage/turnip/jeruzalem artichoke, or even a bit (because it’s so spicy) of grated horse radish. Or “al dente” broccoli, cooked corn, young pea snaps, young carrots, radishes spinach leaves…

When you grow sunflowers or pumpkins, you can add their seeds to your salad. Or add flax seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds or the big (fresh & green) nasturtium seeds.

The bigger the variety the more delicious the salad!

My fresh salad leaves calendar (middle of Europe)

January: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, winter purslane, witloof, winter spinach

February: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, young dandelion leaves, winter purslane, witloof, winter spinach

March: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, young dandelion leaves, winter purslane, witloof, winter spinach, chickweed

April: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, young dandelion leaves, witloof, chickweed

May: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, young dandelion leaves, onion sprigs, purslane, mustard, beet leaves, chickweed

June: lettuce, chards, rucola, young dandelion leaves, fresh herbs, spinach, celery, onion sprigs, calendula flower, purslane, mustard, beet leaves, chickweed

July: chards, rucola, nasturtium, n-z spinach, fresh herbs, young amaranth leaves, spinach, celery, onion sprigs, calendula flower, purslane, mustard, beet leaves, chickweed

August: chards, rucola, nasturtium, n-z spinach, fresh herbs, young amaranth leaves, celery, calendula flower, purslane, mustard, beet leaves, chickweed

September: lettuce, chards, rucola, nasturtium, n-z spinach, fresh herbs, young amaranth leaves, celery, calendula flower, purslane, mustard, beet leaves, chickweed

October: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, nasturtium, n-z spinach, fresh herbs, winter spinach, celery, calendula flower, mustard, beet leaves, tatsoi, cress, chickweed

November: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, winter purslane, nasturtium, witloof, winter spinach, tatsoi, cress, chickweed

December: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, winter purslane, witloof, winter spinach, tatsoi, cress

Planning self sufficiency

We like to have a wide variety in vitamins all year round. Yes you do get creative when you have heaps of zucchini (courgette) in June or daily kilo’s of tomatoes in July and August, but after a week of daily zucchini it’s definitely not your favorite vegetable anymore.
And besides that: more diversity is more nutritious. Eating a variety of foods can help prevent diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. And did you know that all different colors of food have different nutrients? (Read: “Eating well by color”)

Sowing with an interval

Seedlings in our glasshouse. A bit too many...
Seedlings in our glasshouse. A bit too many…

Prevention is easier than curing, so make sure you sow your seeds not all at once, but make a “sowing program”. For instance: I have tomato seeds that officially you can sow indoors in February and March. For me, that means that I start 2 weeks earlier (to give it a try), and sow just a few seeds with a 2 weeks interval, ending 2 weeks later than the official date. Half of January I sow 3 or 4 seeds, then 3 or 4 seeds again on 1 and 15 February and 1, 15 and 30 March and half of April.
After half of May most of the babyplants go into the garden, but I like to put a few of them in a pot in the greenhouse or behind a window. Especially the ones I sowed late, that are still small. Behind the glass they get a good chance to grow well and give tomatoes until late in the season.

Be creative with overproduce
But when you can’t manage your sowing, what do you do when you have heaps of the same vegetable in a period? Google around and find nice ways to eat or store your harvest!
Zucchini (courgette) for instance. What to do with a few zucchini plants that all produce their fruits at the same time? First: pick them when they are young: 15-30 centimeters (6-12 inches) long. Bigger fruits don’t taste as good and also the texture is not so good.
You can grate them in a salad, cut them in halves and fill the “boats” with rice and raisins, make Greek moussaka, fry them, use them in stews or soups… And when that is still too much, you can freeze or DRY thin slices of your zucchini!

If you have too much fruit, try making fruit leather with it! I wrote about it in a previous blog.

Drying is a healthy option

Solar dryer with shelves
Our solar dryer (there needs to be glass in the diagonal frame) with mesh racks to dry our harvest

I like to cut my zucchini’s thinly and dry them in our solar dryer. Or in a not so hot oven with the door open.
Dried zucchini “chips” are a nice and healthy snack and you can use them in winter soups. For all dried fruits and vegetables: the calorie content does not change, but is concentrated into a smaller mass as moisture is removed. There is no change in fiber content, vitamins (except A) are mostly destroyed in the process of drying, some minerals may be lost during rehydration if soaking water is not used, and iron is not destroyed by drying.
For the best retention of nutrients in dried foods, store in a cool, dark, dry place and use within a year.

Storing your harvest in many ways
What also helps to have a wider variety, is to store your harvest in many ways. Besides drying, you can freeze it of course. Another way is fermenting your food and storing it in jars. More about that in a next blog!

Planning your meals ahead
That sounds a bit over-organized, doesn’t it? To me it sounds too Supermum. But in a way I do plan our meals. For instance: we like to eat meat only in the weekends. And we like to eat beans or lentils once a week, and pasta (spaghetti or lasagna) not more than once a week. So that’s potatoes 5 times a week.
Potatoes 5 times a week, 52 weeks a year, is 260 meals with potato. One person eats around 200 gram potatoes and we’re on average with 5 people so we need 260 times a kilo per year.
With those calculations I know how much to plant. (More about garden maths in a next blog)

If you want to see our annual family food planning to give yourself an idea, send me an e-mail