Whether you own a large tract of land, an urban lot or a small balcony you can plant a kitchen garden filled with tantalizing vegetables, fresh herbs, and beautiful flowers to nourish the body and the soul. Simply put, a kitchen garden is a vegetable garden with style. This style is reflected in both the design and planting of the garden, which may combine an array of vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit trees and berries in a single space in a way that is both productive and attractive.
Before you break ground, start by asking a few questions - How many people will be eating from the garden? How much time can we devote to the garden? What do we like to eat? The answers to these questions will give you an idea of how large to make your garden and what to grow.
Pick a site that receives at least six hours of full sun. In a shadier spot, you can still grow greens such as spinach, Swiss chard and arugula, but any veggie that needs to produce fruits (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers) will require full sun. A convenient water source and compost pile is also nice.
The most important piece of advice that I can offer, especially to novice gardeners is to start small. A 4 by 8-foot plot is large enough for an initial kitchen garden. Once you’ve spent a season tending and harvesting, you’ll know if you want a larger space.
In order to create a pleasing and high yielding garden, it is important to organize the layout of the ground. In many kitchen gardens, plants are arranged in square or rectangular beds, rather than traditional rows, but any organization that appeals to you will work. If you have more than one bed, the pathways should be two to three feet wide to offer easy passage for a wheelbarrow and mulched with straw or shredded leaves to prevent weeds.
Garden beds should be no more than four-feet wide so that you can easily reach the center for weeding and planting. I like to garden in raised beds as they offer many benefits - increased drainage, early spring warm up and allow intensive planting for maximum harvest. To raise the garden, remove the top few inches of topsoil from the path areas and add to the beds. Also add a few inches of compost or aged manure to enrich the soil. For added interest, edge the beds with low growing leaf lettuce, dwarf nasturtiums, globe basil, sweet alyssum or French marigolds.
A sneaky trick to growing more food in less space is to go vertical! Stake up indeterminate varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, nasturtiums and plant a pole bean teepee using bamboo poles. If a fence or a wall surrounds your garden, hang up some netting for climbing vegetables and flowers.
Planting your own garden allows you to experiment with different varieties not always found at the local grocery store or farmers market. Some crops can be sown directly in the garden, while others need to be started indoors or bought as transplants to get a jumpstart on their growth. Root vegetables and quick growing crops such as radishes, beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, peas, beans, corn and most salad greens can be started directly in the garden. Heat loving vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and melons will need to be started indoors or bought as seedlings in spring.
For a continual supply of garden fresh vegetables, practice succession and double planting. As the summer progresses and early cropping vegetables have matured, follow with additional plantings.
Kitchen gardening must strike a balance between aspiration and experience. If you are a novice at gardening, start by planting a handful of your favourite crops, carefully planning their cultivation and eventual harvest. After several seasons, you will gain valuable experience and may wish to expand your garden. After all, who needs grass?
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener and the upcoming Groundbreaking Food Gardens (Dec 2013). She is also the host of The Weekend Gardener on News 95.7 FM (www.news957.com), which airs every Sunday from 11 to 1 pm. Find her on Facebook, Twitter and at www.nikijabbour.com.
A salad garden is ideal for those gardeners who love instant results as well as great flavour, since many salad greens are ready for picking within a relatively short amount of time and they can even be grown in pots and windowboxes! Plant individual salad crops or buy a seed blend with greens like lettuce, arugula, kale, mustards and spinach already mixed together. For gourmet baby greens, begin to harvest when the leaves have reached a height of four to six-inches. By sowing more seed every two weeks, your salad garden will provide fresh greens all summer long.
A Starter Kitchen Garden
by Niki Jabbour