By Ellen Richeau
While gardening has been a part of human culture for more than 10,000 years, the idea of kitchen gardening is something unique. These small family plots have been called by a variety of names over the years: kitchen gardens, victory gardens, potager gardens, cottage gardens, Roman peristyles and hortus gardens, and the Japanese tea garden. Though each of these grows vegetables, fruit, flowers, and herbs, they are all adapted to their environments and the culture of the people tending them.
The main purpose of a kitchen garden is to provide food for the family. In ancient times, kitchen gardens were the sole source of food in a mainly vegetarian diet. In the modern era, the kitchen garden supplements the food budget and provides balanced nutrition in a hurried, ready-made-meal world.
Over the centuries, creative people have transformed the utilitarian activity of growing food into gardens that nurture the gardener spiritually and psychologically as well. Exercise, fresh air, and a little hard work are good for the body and the spirit. Whether the kitchen garden grows in 5-gallon buckets on the deck or covers an acre, it is a satisfying activity with big rewards.
The Kitchen Garden: Straightforward and Practical
Pioneers of the American West perfected kitchen gardening, carrying treasured vegetable and herb seeds hundreds of miles by train or covered wagon to new homes. Immigrants brought favorite plants from Europe, Asia, and Africa, introducing new varieties to the rich selection of native plants already growing across the nation. Tomatoes, potatoes, corn, chiles, chocolate, and peanuts were already here to supplement more familiar imports.
Because they were practical people, the pioneers planted straightforward gardens in rows and grew useful flowers and herbs rather than ornamentals. After all, the kitchen garden was the only source of food and life was not easy. Children learned at a young age how to hoe properly and recognize the difference between weeds and real garden plants.
Canning and preserving were fine arts in the past as families lined their pantries and cellars with food for the winter. Modern gardeners prefer to freeze most garden produce, but there is something particularly wonderful about opening a jar of pickled green tomatoes or sparkling strawberry jam on a dark winter’s day.
Most modern vegetable gardeners create their spaces along the lines of the pioneer kitchen garden and grow the same types of produce. A great-great-grandmother could walk into a kitchen garden and feel right at home, though she may wonder why the lettuce is such a funny color.
Victory Gardens in the United States
The term “victory garden” was coined during World War I, and Eleanor Roosevelt popularized the term in 1943 by planting a kitchen garden at the White House to inspire Americans to be self-reliant during wartime. A 1944 article published in the Saturday Evening Post estimated that victory gardens provided American families with 10 million tons of produce—about 40 percent of their food—during the final years of World War II.
Most victory gardens were big, topping out at 30 feet by 50 feet, though many more were backyard efforts worked by hand and tended on a daily basis. These kitchen gardens were often community affairs, especially in large cities like Chicago and New York. Families planted many types of root and vine vegetables that keep well over the winter—potatoes, carrots, squash and pumpkins, and cucumbers. They also grew fruit plants such as strawberries and blueberries, and made millions of quarts filled with pickles and preserves.
Michelle Obama is currently carrying on Eleanor Roosevelt’s tradition with the help of Washington D.C. fifth graders. The First Lady has never grown a garden before and welcomes the expert help. Mrs. Obama’s reasoning behind a White House kitchen garden is to encourage the nation to eat better and lose weight, goals which are at the top of the national agenda to reduce obesity and modern diseases.
Potager Gardens in France
The French love beautiful things and their gardens are no exception. The beds are shaped geometrically—diamonds, circles, winding curves, and even complex knots that can be truly appreciated from a bird’s eye view. Pathways meander through delightful outdoor “rooms” or radiate from a central focal point such as a pond or statue.
Potager gardens require planning, starting with paper and pencil. Though their shapes are considered formal, the best potager gardens incorporate the property’s permanent features rather than altering the landscape to fit a formal plan. Shade and sunlight, fruits and flowers, herbs and vegetables live happily side by side in designated areas, and the look of the plants is almost more important than their culinary or herbal usefulness.
Potager gardens often use patches of color to please the eye. Red blooming geraniums might provide a border for tomato plants, and low growing dragon’s blood sedum compliments purple and dark leafy greens. Whether the plants are ornamental or delicious, they are chosen for how they look together to create a color palette.
Cottage Gardens: Informal and a Little Wild
The true cottage garden is a potager garden gone a little wild. There is still a deliberate shape to it, but the lines and plant choices are not completely controlled. These cottage gardens are usually smaller and contain plants the gardener thinks are necessary, and volunteer plants that spring up unexpectedly are welcomed to the family.
Cottage gardens tend to spill out from their borders and include berries and perennial herbs along with simple flowers. Few things are planted in straight rows—instead, the cottage garden uses raised beds, mounds and hills, and patches of plants to conserve space and increase yields. These gardens are almost like quilts created in the landscape, relaxed and comforting.
Herbs are a mainstay in cottage gardens, and they’re often planted in above ground containers dotted throughout the space. This tradition started with the ancient Greeks and Romans who had medicinal and culinary herbs growing in their courtyards, ready to snip in case of headaches or stomach ailments, or to induce a potential sweetheart to fall in love.
Ancient Greek and Roman Gardens
Wealthy Greeks and Romans created large formal gardens known as peristyles, often acres in size because they could afford gardeners to tend them. They also built dedicated entertaining spaces throughout the gardens, painting the walls with frescoes depicting life on the estate. Fountains and fish ponds were common, and landscaped areas for leisurely walks entertained the estate owners.
These, of course, were not kitchen gardens. The kitchen staff grew the family’s food in a hortus garden at the back of the house, producing enough to feed the owners and the servants. Animal barns were often included in these kitchen gardens, providing a powerful source of fertilizer for the food crops. Chickens and geese roaming the property kept bugs at bay, and everything was recycled or composted as efficiently as possible. Seeds were kept from year to year and traded with neighbors.
In large cities, ancient people experienced the same struggles modern people have in keeping a kitchen garden. Window boxes, containers on balconies, and community gardening were popular solutions just as they are today. Modern people don’t depend entirely on kitchen gardens to sustain them, but a lot can be learned from the innovative gardening techniques used 2000 years ago.
Tea Gardens, Japanese Style
The Japanese art of the tea ceremony requires a garden space filled with fruit trees and contemplative nooks to enjoy a slower pace of life. Over the years these gardens became more formal but they had their roots in the kitchen garden each family tended. A modern traveler can find similar gardens growing at monasteries all over the world.
Usually rustic, these cottage style gardens incorporated found materials and simple tools, and were a profusion of green all season. Plants were often close together with narrow paths because the ground was rocky or otherwise difficult, resulting in efficient use of space. Vining plants were used to define the borders of the kitchen garden and to provide shade, and orchards were usually kept separate from the vegetable growing spaces.
The Japanese elevated gardening to a spiritual activity, patiently tending the plants that provided food for the body and the soul. Once the day’s work was finished, the family could sit down and enjoy the fruits of their labors—literally and figuratively.
The Kitchen Garden: Steeped in History, Still Practical Today
From the very first moment a human planted food on purpose gardening has been a duty and a pleasure, evolving from practical and straightforward to formal and regimented and back again. Through the years, expert gardeners have guided the evolution of food crops, shared seeds and advice, and spent time in nature all in the name of feeding themselves.
Modern kitchen gardeners have access to fertilizers, bug controls, soil amendments, and gas-powered tools that ancestors could only dream about. Creating a lush kitchen garden in the desert or at the top of a mountain is entirely possible. Those great-great-grandmothers would be proud to see innovative descendants carving out space for growing food, carrying on the tradition that is thousands of years in the making.
Creating a Small Kitchen Garden
Creating a small kitchen garden is one of the strategies that you can use to grow your own food when you have limited space or limited time. It can be used to provide a steady, seasonal supply of fresh produce that you can eat as you grow it.
Little or nothing is left over to preserve, so you avoid lots of the extra work that is often associated with large gardens. However, due to the contrariness of nature, most small kitchen gardens often produce more than can be eaten in real time. Typically, this is rarely a problem as most home gardeners also learn how to preserve fresh produce.
Your kitchen garden can include a wide variety of plants from tasty herbs to succulent vegetables and fruits. Culinary herbs are used in so many different recipes from desserts to main dishes that it only makes sense to grow as many as you can. If space is an issue, there are all sorts of strategies to get around that concern.
Sustaining Your Kitchen with a Garden
Kitchen gardening is gaining popularity as more and more people realize just how much better homegrown produce tastes than store-bought vegetables and herbs. Home gardeners get the freshest food since they can pick and eat it on the very same day. There’s nothing quite like going out of the kitchen door to pick a handful of lettuce or a few sprigs of parsley.
A variety of factors influence just how well a small kitchen garden supplies your culinary needs. A great deal of this has to do with what you plant and how you plant it (your small kitchen garden plan). However, you also need to factor in such circumstances as available gardening space, optimal growing conditions, average crop size, the ease of pollination, and weather conditions.
Any one of these factors can negatively influence your garden’s ability to sustain your kitchen if you haven’t taken it into consideration. Plus, variables such as taking a family vacation and the neighbor’s dog wandering over to your yard might also enter into the picture, disrupting your harvest and damaging some of the produce that you could have enjoyed.
Plants vary in their peak production schedules as well, so you need to keep up with the garden once it begins producing. To that end, it is nice to garden in a small plot that limits that amount of work that you have to do prior to and during harvesting time. If you stage your kitchen garden properly, you won’t have very much to do once you get everything planted.
One of the best strategies that can be used when creating a successful kitchen garden is to use sustainable technology that encourages self-sufficiency. Since you can reduce your garden’s need for soil, water, and nutrients, you can reduce your need for a larger plot of ground in which to cultivate your garden favorites thereby making small kitchen gardening feasible.
Use compost and nutrient-rich soil to provide your garden with the nutrients it needs to flourish. Make sure that you select a spot where the sun shines daily. Consider placing a rain barrel nearby to catch freshly-fallen rain that can be used to water your plants when needed.
Supplying your kitchen with fresh produce by growing herbs and vegetables in a small space is a rewarding activity that produces a healthy supply of mouth-watering herbs and vegetables without the need to go to the store. Along with that chance to indulge in healthier eating habits, growing your own produce in a small garden offers a chance to get a bit of exercise and sunlight, two key ingredients to a healthy lifestyle.
Tips for Maximizing Garden Space
Plant Smaller Varieties
If you want to maximize space so that you can grow a wider variety of flavorful veggies and herbs, you can plant smaller varieties. You should avoid vining varieties of plants such as melons, cucumbers, and beans to save space. Instead, plant bush varieties of vegetables that take up less space and require less care. You can also plant mini-vegetable varieties and cherry tomatoes to save space.
Limit the Number of Plants
Start with a small amount of plants so that you can conserve space in your garden for a wider variety of herbs and vegetables. Only plant the number of plants for each type of herb or vegetable that you think you will be able to benefit from throughout the growing season. If you plant more than you need, you are wasting space that could be used for a different type of herb or vegetable or giving yourself more work for no real benefit.
Since they can be placed almost anywhere, you can use pots and containers to plant certain varieties of herbs or vegetables. While you can take advantage of container gardening to save on garden space, you need to think it through before you begin. For example, smaller pots tend to dry out more quickly than larger ones. Therefore, if you choose smaller pots, you are going to spend more time watering your plants each day. On the other hand, larger pots take up more space, limiting where they can be placed in your kitchen garden.
Additionally, you need to consider the hardiness of the plant varieties that you select as well as their tendency to overtake their planting site with roots. Some varieties of plants quickly outgrow small containers and do better in larger containers including basil and leaf lettuce. The pots that you select should be a minimum of 4 inches deep as well as across the top of the container. Just make sure that each pot has drainage holes so that you can avoid drowning the roots.
If you would like to give your kitchen garden some personality, select attractive pots that add a touch of color, a themed aspect, or some beauty to their surroundings. This is especially important if you are planning to winter your plants indoors in a sunny corner of the sunroom, mud room, or den.
Square Foot Gardening
The practice of square-foot gardening can be used to help conserve space in a small kitchen garden. This strategy effectively limits the number of varieties as well as the number of plants that can be grown.
Square-foot gardening refers to the practice of creating 4-ft. by 4-ft. garden plots. Each plot is then subdivided into 1-ft. squares, each of which is used for a specific type of vegetable or herb. This type of gardening is easy to maintain, which is one of the primary benefits for using it. If you want to use a systemized method of controlling how much space you take up in your small kitchen garden, you should use this method.
Take advantage of vertical gardening for those varieties of vegetables and fruits that you want to include in your kitchen garden that grow on vines. Vining plants that are grown vertically take up less space, are easier to take care of, and are usually healthier than those that are grown along the ground. Cucumbers, peas, string beans, and similar plants can all be grown upright as long as they are secured to a trellis, wall, or garden stakes. Plus, you get the added advantage of adding an extra dimension of beauty to your garden.
A 4-Season Harvest
The 4-season harvest requires a bit of planning, especially if your area of the country truly experiences all 4 seasons of weather. During colder weather, all that is needed is the simple use of pots and containers that can be relocated to a sunny room of the home. The goal of the 4-season harvest is to provide your kitchen with a small amount of manageable produce that you can use as it ripens. Therefore, you never need to preserve the produce since it is constantly being used.
The 4-season harvest makes use of succession planting. This is accomplished by planting at intervals to allow your crops to mature at different times. This strategy makes it possible for gardeners to continually have something ripening and ready for eating in the kitchen garden throughout the year. Since you rotate the crops that you grow, you can eliminate the need to preserve any of it.
Small Kitchen Garden Design Ideas
Gardeners who have soil that is less than perfect for optimal growing conditions can use raised beds in their kitchen garden. These are easy to create with a bit of lumber, topsoil, compost, and a bit of muscle to put it together. It is important that you use materials for your retaining walls that can withstand the pressure of the soil.
If you use untreated lumber, you should try to get wood such as black locust, which is noted for holding up well. Pressure-treated lumber can be used, but some concern exists as to it leaching toxins into the soil. You can also use concrete blocks, bricks, or other substances to create your walls.
You can build up a raised bed on any surface, allowing you to plant vegetables and herbs on concrete, blacktop, soil, or wood. Plus, you can design your raised bed to fit into any space so it does not have to be a rectangular shape.
Raised gardening beds offer a few benefits. Since they are higher than ground level, they reduce the distance that you need to bend to tend to your garden. Additionally, raised beds can reduce the infestation of some insects and pests.
Incorporating Herb and Flower Borders
Herb and flower borders are fragrant and appealing. Planting flowers and herbs around the border of your garden can attract beneficial insects such as pollinators. This strategy assists in the pollination of your plants, ensuring a better, healthier crop of produce. Picking your herbs is simplified when they are located at the border of your garden rather than throughout. Plus, the attractiveness of this type of garden border is undeniable.
Assisting with Pollination
In order to ensure a good crop from your plants, you can assist with the pollination since it is essential for a high yield of quality veggies, fruits, and herbs. Attracting pollinators to your kitchen garden is an excellent strategy. Plus, you can take steps to protect these pollinators as well.
Planting tall plants or using vertical gardening techniques assists in attracting pollinators to your garden. Attracting bees is easier if you provide alternate sources of nectar for them. This is accomplished simply by providing a diverse assortment of plants and flowers for them. Even common weeds such as dandelions and clover can be used to attract pollinators with their brightly-colored flowers and sweet nectar.
If you must apply insecticide, avoid doing so on windy days or when the plants are in bloom. Additionally, you should only use insecticides when the pollinators are less likely to be active. Typically, pollinators are less active early in the morning and once the sun has gone completely down for the night.
Unfortunately, some areas do not have sufficient population of insects to assist with the pollination of your plants. In this case, hand pollinating can be quite useful. The most difficult part of hand pollination is identifying the male and the female flowers. Once you have done so, you need to transfer the pollen from the male to the female. The exact method you use varies depending on the type of plant that you are hand pollinating. One example can be seen with the hand pollination of squash. You simply use a small paintbrush to transfer the pollen from the male anther to the female stigma in order to bring about pollination.
Design a Kitchen Garden Plan
Developing a good kitchen garden plan is an essential aspect of providing fresh produce for your family while reducing your reliance on store-bought food. Not only can you lower grocery costs and save money by planting a garden, but you can also eat healthier for a longer period of time if you plan your garden appropriately.
Kitchen Garden Plan Basics
Since most kitchen gardens are limited in size, your garden plan is essential in producing a successful harvest. In most cases, garden space is limited and so it should be used wisely. Several facets of gardening should be factored into your kitchen garden plan in order to produce a successful, bountiful crop. These areas of concern include: gardening techniques, extending your growing season, the number of plants, the type of plants, and soil preparation.
Kitchen Garden Techniques
For the best use of the space you have available, you should create a plan that takes into consideration different methods of gardening including vertical, container, square-foot, and raised bed gardening. Many kitchen gardens incorporate one or more of these methods in order to grow more with less space. To make the best use of your space, plan ahead.
Vertical gardening allows you to take advantage of the space along patios, garage walls, and fences. You grow your garden up instead of along the ground, providing several benefits at the same time.
Container gardening enables you to take advantage of non-soil locations in your yard while also offering a chance to continue growing in the cooler months by bringing your container plants inside the home. You can use containers on the ground or purchase hanging ones that you can secure to hanging-planter poles or patio overhangs.
Square-foot gardening offers an organized method of gardening that many gardeners find easy to use since it provides a clear-cut method of planting.
Raised-bed gardening allows you to grow on otherwise unusable ground. The most difficult part is the need to prepare a box to hold the soil for your raised bed.
Additionally, you should learn how to extend your growing season to get the most out of your garden each year. By combining ground-saving techniques with season-lengthening strategies, you can effectively increase your harvest.
Extend Your Growing Season
If you want to feed your family with fresh produce for a longer period of time while reducing the amount of canning/preserving that you need to do, you should incorporate strategies for extending your growing season into your kitchen garden plan. Such strategies include:starting your seeds earlyplanting spring, fall, and winter crops (succession planting)using low tunnels or floating row covers in your garden designcold framesoverwintering
New Vegetable Varieties versus Old Varieties
Many gardeners tend to stay with the varieties of plants from past seasons that have produced well for them. However, trying new varieties every now and again can provide a bit of added flavor to your table. If you decide to incorporate a few new varieties, you should plant them in limited quantities until you see how well they do along with how well your family enjoys eating them.
Deciding To Plant Herbs
One of the things that you need to decide is whether or not you intend to plant any herbs in your kitchen garden. If you are into culinary pastimes, then of course you should plant as many as you can. Even if you are new to all of this, it wouldn’t hurt to try one or two herbs since they are relatively easy to grow, do well in containers, and are hardy enough to withstand a tiny bit of neglect.
Herbs can be used in a wide variety of recipes. Popular choices for meat dishes include bay, horseradish, marjoram, mint, parsley, rosemary and sage. The following herbs go well with fish recipes: bay, dill, fennel, lemon basil, and garlic. Poultry dishes often rely on lemon thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme for flavor. Of course, if your family has a love of vegetables, you might want to consider the following herbs: basil, chives, dill, garlic, mint, tarragon, and thyme.
Choosing What to Plant
Determining what to plant is partly determined by what it is that your family likes to eat. However, if you want to encourage beneficial insects while reducing non-beneficial insect populations, you should create a kitchen garden plan that utilizes techniques that do so. Additionally, you should incorporate a bit of companion planning, placing plants together that thrive well in each other’s company while avoiding any combinations that discourage a healthy garden environment.
If you want to provide enough fresh produce to fee your family, your garden should include a healthy planting of family favorites. While herbs should be included as they provide a beneficial presence to the garden environment as well as flavor to your pantry, you should focus on plants that produce crops that can be eaten as a major portion of the meal.
If you are new to gardening, you should try plants that are easy to grow such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, radishes, and onions. You can learn a lot about gardening by starting with plants that are easy to grow and you don’t have to worry about killing them unless you neglect them shamelessly.
Fall and winter gardens might include cabbage, kale, spinach, endive, leeks, and swiss chard. Spring gardens typically include some type of combination of the following: peas, lettuce, broccoli, and radishes.
Basil attracts bees, so it should be placed near plants that require insect pollination including tomatoes and peppers. Parsley and chives do well together as do sage and rosemary. Cabbage, bush beans, sage, and onions are another healthy combination that you can try. Pole beans, corn, and squash are good companions as discovered by some of the earliest gardeners. In fact, beans get along well with a wide variety of plants including lettuce, spinach, onions, carrots, turnips, cucumbers, radishes, and peas.
A Sample Garden Plot
In addition to determining which plants you are going to include in your garden, you need to decide how many of each variety you are going to plant. Do you want enough produce to sustain your kitchen completely throughout the growing season or are you only planning on growing enough to supplement your grocery purchases?
How Much Should You Plant?
It isn’t always easy to know how many of each kind of plant you should include in your kitchen garden, especially if you are a first-time gardener. Unless you want to find yourself drowning in beans while dreaming of tomatoes, it is important to have an idea of roughly how many plants you need in order to provide sufficient quantities of your favorite vegetables, herbs, and fruit for your family for fresh eating.
Of course, how many of any one variety of vegetable you need to grow depends in part on how well your family members like that particular one and how often they eat it. This is a good starting place in considering how much of any one vegetable, fruit, or herb your family consumes in a given year. From that, you can make a guess as to how much you need to grow of any one variety. For example, if your family consumes five pounds of potatoes in any one month, you need 60 pounds of potatoes for the year. If you look at the yield per plant, you can determine how many you need.
Some basic guidelines can offer you an easy strategy for determining just how many plants you need. You can follow a rule-of-thumb guideline that offers you a generalized idea as to how many plants you need based upon the number of family members.
If you want, you can simply use the chart as a guideline or starting place for your decisions on how many plants to include and tweak the numbers to fit your family’s size. The numbers are based upon fresh produce use only and do not take into consideration any canning/preserving that you might do.
|Variety||2 Family Members||4 Family Members||6 Family Members|
|Basil||2 plants||4 plants||6 plants|
|Beets||5 ft row||10 ft row||15 ft row|
|Broccoli||2-3 plants||5 plants||7-8 plants|
|Bush Beans||7-8 ft row||15 ft row||22-23 ft row|
|Pole Beans||1-2 poles||3 poles||4-5 poles|
|Cabbage||2-3 plants||5 plants||7-8 plants|
|Carrots||5 ft row||10 ft row||15 ft row|
|Cauliflower||2-3 plants||5 plants||7-8 plants|
|Chives||1 plant||2 plants||3 plants|
|Corn||7-8 ft row||15 ft row||22-23 ft row|
|Cucumbers||1 hill||2 hills||3 hills|
|Kale||2-3 plants||5 plants||7-8 plants|
|Leaf Lettuce||5 ft row||10 ft row||15 ft row|
|Onions||2-3 ft row||5 ft row||7-8 ft row|
|Peas||5 ft row||10 ft row||15 ft row|
|Peppers||1-2 plants||3 plants||4-5 plants|
|Radishes||2-3 ft row||5 ft row||7-8 ft row|
|Rosemary||1 plant||2 plants||3 plants|
|Sage||1 plant||2 plants||3 plants|
|Spinach||5 ft row||10 ft row||15 ft row|
|Squash||1 hill||2 hills||3 hills|
|Thyme||1 plant||2 plants||3 plants|
|Tomatoes||2-3 plants||5 plants||7-8 plants|
Soil Preparation for Kitchen Gardens
Preparing your soil is part of creating a successful garden and should be part of your garden plan. Make sure that you determine the condition of the existing soil and improve it with the addition of compost and fertilization.
Keep a Garden Journal
Keeping a garden journal is an excellent idea for those individuals who want to improve on their kitchen gardens year after year. Make notations as to which crops produced more than you needed as well as those that produced less. This allows you to adjust the number of plants for the following season to meet your family’s produce needs.
Growing Vegetables in the Kitchen Garden
With the cost of produce going up annually and people looking for healthier ways to eat, home vegetable gardening is becoming ever more popular. You can grow many vegetables that are found in the grocery store, but some are kitchen garden favorites. Check out below how to grow these top 5 vegetables to grow in the kitchen garden:
- Sweet peppers
In general, growing vegetables for your home garden will require a location with full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. Because vegetable garden require near daily maintenance, planting yours in a convenient location close to a water source will help ensure success. Each specific vegetable has its own unique requirements for optimal growth and crop production.
Kitchen Garden Tips
It seems as though kitchen gardens are beginning to crop up everywhere- in the backyard, on the patio, and even along the side of the garage. Whether you have a lot of space or a little bit of space, you can incorporate a number of terrific kitchen garden tips along with easy space-saving strategies to create the best little plot in the neighborhood.
1. Lengthen Your Growing Season
Lengthening your growing season is an excellent strategy for getting the most out of your kitchen garden giving you fresh produce all year round. You can have a more successful growing season using one or more of the following garden tips.
Plant Cool Season Crops
One of the easiest ways to do this is to plant a variety of early spring crops such as lettuce, peas, spinach, broccoli, kale, and radishes and follow them up with fall and winter crops such as carrots, beets, leeks, brussel sprouts, garlic, turnips, and parsnips. This strategy gives you fresh produce throughout a major portion of the year.
Starting Seeds Early
If you want a head start in your garden, you should start your seeds early. Of course, this means that you should plant your seeds indoors tending to them until it is time to transplant them outside. Even if you live in a mild-climate region, starting your seeds early means that you can give them a better start once all danger of frost has passed. Make sure that you harden your plants off properly before transplanting them.
Use Low Tunnels
You can use low tunnels to lengthen your growing season. Low tunnels protect your crops from early insects and frost and allow you to overwinter hardy crops. It is relatively easy to create low tunnels using row covers and wire hoops. An alternative to low tunnels is to simply use floating row covers that also protect your crops from early garden pests such as flea beetles and root maggots.
Plant in Warm Soil
Planting your garden on a south-facing slope is an excellent way to tap into some extra sunshine. You can always create a slight slope using extra soil. At any rate, the placement of your kitchen garden needs to take advantage of as much sun as possible.
Cold frames can lengthen your growing season considerably. A cold frame is made by creating a bottomless box that has a glass lid. It does need to have some type of ventilation worked into it so that your plants do not become overheated.
Use Mulch to Protect Plants
You can protect fall and winter crops by mulching them with straw or hay. While you can’t do this with all of your crops, certain crops such as baby beets, carrots, and turnips respond well to this practice.
2. Plan Garden Space Wisely
For the best results when planting your kitchen garden, you should focus on strategies that use the space wisely. For example, vertical gardening, square-foot gardening, raised beds, and incorporating planters and containers into your garden plan can all be used to take advantage of the space that you do have available.
Vertical gardening adds height to your garden while giving your plants the benefit of added exposure to sunshine and reduced exposure to ground pests. It also facilitates your ability to prune, remove insects, and harvest your crops.
Square Foot Gardening
Square-foot gardening, a practice that involves the use of 4-ft. by 4-ft. garden plots that have been subdivided into 1-ft. squares, conserves garden space by limiting how much you can grow due to space restrictions. It is an organized and systematized method of gardening that simplifies decision-making while limiting crop selection to those varieties that are most desired and therefore, most useful to the gardener.
Raised Bed Gardening
Raised beds are useful in gardens that do not offer the best possible soil conditions. They are also useful in separating your plants from harmful ground pests.
Incorporating planters and containers into your garden plan is a perfect solution for kitchen gardens that offer little by way of ground or soil. Containers and planters can be placed on patios, concrete driveways, and rocky soil allowing you to create a kitchen garden despite the fact that you might not have optimal growing conditions.
3. Use Compost in the Kitchen Garden
Composting your garden is like having a magic trick to make it grow better. Compost is full of rich, organic matter that supplies essential nutrients to your growing plants. It is created through the decomposition of organic matter. You can till compost directly into your garden soil prior to planting or add it in carefully afterward.
Adding compost to your garden soil improves its structure, increasing permeability aiding your plants in their growth. This is especially important for dense soil structures such as that found with clay. Compost adds important microorganisms that aid in binding the soil particles together, helping to prevent erosion. Plus, it attracts earthworms, which are beneficial insects, to your garden.
4. Organic Pest Control
Organic pest control is the healthiest strategy to use in your kitchen garden. Harsh chemicals can be toxic so you should never use them around your plants once they are in bloom or producing. Organic pest treatments typically break down rather quickly so little or no residue remains once it is time to begin picking your produce. You should always pick organic pest control around food over chemical treatments.
Natural pest control is another healthy alternative both for your garden plants and for yourself. Beneficial insects that feed on garden pests can reduce harmful insect populations tremendously. Introduce populations of ladybugs, lacewings, and beneficial nematodes into your kitchen garden to help keep pest populations down.
Small kitchen gardens are ideal for companion planting, which is the practice of planting your crops close to each other. The premise behind companion planting is that certain crops can benefit each other in their growth while also repelling common garden pests.
This practice helps to eliminate a reliance on chemical pesticides while also reducing the need to weed. To attract beneficial insects, use plants that are native to your area. In particular, plants with cup-shaped flowers can be used to attract pollinators. Two excellent strategies for companion planting include creating borders with plants that naturally repel insects or interplanting varieties known to perform well together. For example, plant flowers that attract pollinators next to those crops that require insect pollination.
Certain types of plants such as squash and cucumbers provide terrific ground cover reducing the growth of weeds. Plus, the close proximity of each of your plants keeps down the growth of weeds. If your garden space is limited, companion planting is an excellent option when considering your garden layout since it reduces your work while enhancing your crop output.
Use Beneficial Gardening Insects
Kitchen gardens also offer an ideal opportunity to attract beneficial insects with flowers as their hosts. Not only do you get an added bit of color to your garden, but you can keep pest population down naturally without resorting to chemical pesticides that can harm beneficial insects or taint your produce.
5. Create a Community Kitchen Garden
In some cases, all you have is a small backyard with little ground to it or a patio at the back of your home. How can you grow a garden there? How can you attract pollinators with such little space?
Well, one of the best options you have is to team up with your neighbors to create a community kitchen garden that all of you can participate in. You have two main options here to set this plan into place. First, you can plant in between your homes or in your small backyard using every imaginable space-saving technique available. Second, the neighborhood can find a small piece of ground that can be rented for gardening purposes. Not all neighborhoods have this as a viable option, but you can always check with your local community government.
You can grow a wider variety of crops this way without the need to rely solely on the space that you have available in your own yard. Everyone involved in the project shares in the planting, maintenance, and harvesting of the crops.
One of the other advantages of teaming up with neighbors for a community kitchen garden is the ability to learn from the more experienced gardeners in the group. Chances are that someone in the group has some experience planting one of those vegetables or herbs that you have never gotten around to just yet or perhaps they have gardening tips that you can use to attract pollinators or manage pest control.