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Home Garden Study

Updated: Aug 8, 2023


Master Gardener volunteers contributed to a 5-year Extension research study 2018-2022

The Home Garden Productivity Project was a research University of MN Extension project asks the questions; “How much food can be grown in a home garden?” and “What does it take (time and expense) to do so?” The goal was to determine the potential of home gardens to provide significant quantities of fresh, healthful food. Master Gardener volunteers from Hennepin, Scott-Carver, and Ramsey counties collected information from their home gardens over a 5-year period and used it to answer these questions.

If you are starting a new vegetable garden, consider the following.

2-3 Hours per Week

Volunteers working on this research project had small urban home or community gardens, between 15 sq. ft. and 4,600 sq. ft. with the average size of approximately 365 square feet. That's not very big! They found they spent a little less than 50 hours over the course of the growing season (from April to October), which comes out to 2 hours per week or as little as 25 minutes per day. It was less in the spring and fall, and more during the summer months.

$75 per year

Master Gardener volunteers used money each year to grow their gardens and spent between $50 and $125 on seeds, plants, potting soil, compost, fertilizer, and pest control treatments. This didn't include the cost of reusable items, like gloves, shovels, fencing or hoses.

However, those that sounds like a lot of money, these gardens grew over $500 dollars worth of fresh food. That puts a big dent in the grocery bills!

1.50 Pounds per Square Foot

The big finding was in the amount of food a home garden can grow. It comes out to more than 1 pound per square foot. That adds up fast! Many gardeners picked over 325 pounds of food.

Some plants create more food than others, and the study looked at that in terms of both total pounds and total servings. If you want a LOT of food (total pounds) consider growing Summer Squash, like zucchini (2.31 pounds per square foot), tomatoes (1.78), cucumber (1.61), kohlrabi (1.43) and collard greens (1.21). If you want a lot of MEALS-worth of food (total servings), try kale (17.47 servings per square foot), collard greens (15.23), lettuce (7.18), cabbage (6.76), and tomatoes (6.59).

Download the handouts (below) to see the complete list of vegetables that we measured.

Best Practices – Square-foot gardening, reseeding, and mulching

While every gardener used different methods to grow their gardens, most used crop rotations to maintain the health of their plants year-after-year and many used some kind of fertilizer or compost to replace nutrients taken from previous growing seasons.

When we compared garden to practices to garden harvest, we confirmed that dense planting (similar to square-foot gardening), relay planting (reseeding the same crop – like green beans – every 2 weeks), and mulching around vegetables to reduce water loss greatly increased the amount of food the gardeners were able to harvest.

Download the Handouts

Download PDF • 2.24MB

Growing Vegetables in Home Gardens: Setting Expectations for New Gardeners

This handout provides details from this research study, best practices for beginner gardeners, and resources to learn more.

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Gardens-for-Good handout
Download PDF • 326KB

How Much Food Does a Garden Grow?

This handout from U of MN Extension's Food & Nutrition program is another way to look at the information from the study. It includes an easy-to-read list of top-performing types of vegetables to add to your home garden.

Brianna G

RCMG Volunteer

Promote the use of sustainable techniques to grow local food on multiple scales and in different types of locations


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