Why Should You Start A Kitchen Garden?
It can be truly rewarding to eat your own produce. Not only are you going to save money, but you will be helping the environment and reducing your carbon footprint. Anyone can start a garden that you can eat. From a herb patch on a sunny kitchen window ledge to 400 square of land being tilled if you're planting food to eat you've created a kitchen garden. So now that you've decided to start your own garden, there are a few things to consider before buying your seeds and hoeing your row.
How To Choose The Best Spot To Garden
The best place for a kitchen garden is in the name… close to your kitchen. Forgot your basil for your bolognaise? No problem just step out into your garden and pick some fresh. What you must remember however is that your garden needs a sunny spot to thrive. If you have to choose between a sunny spot or a close one, pick the sunny one. Your garden position should get full sun exposure – at least six hours of sunlight every day. The soil should drain well – a good indicator of well draining soil is that after a good soaking rain the puddles disappear after a few hours.
Kitchen Garden Goals
I'm not talking about a five year plan for your kitchen garden, but you should definitely know what you want to plant and how you will prepare your garden area. If you're relatively new to gardening, start small. You can always expand your garden next year and having a successful first crop will mean you're more likely to persist with a kitchen garden into the future.
If you're living in a space with a small garden area planting out a few vegetables in containers can enhance your garden as well as provide fresh produce. You don't need seventeen tomato plants to consider yourself a successful cardener. Even one crop of vegetables off a single plant in a container is a success and helping to reduce your carbon footprint.
If you're more enthusiastic and have realistic expectations about the watering and weeding which accompany a more extensive garden then go for it! You can meet your family's produce needs starting from your first year with a vegetable garden if you are keen to plant. When your produce tastes good you feel good – and the better you feel about your garden the more motivated you will be to keep it going year in year out.
Preparing Your Kitchen Garden Site
The better your soil, the better your garden is going to grow. This rule of thumb applies to a container garden or the hundreds of square feet planted out by vegetable farmers. No matter where you are positioning your garden, soil is the foundation of the crop you will produce.
If you're going to start your kitchen garden on a patch of your existing lawn you need to decide whether you're going to raise up your garden beds or plant directly into the ground. Raising your garden beds can help create better drainage and it can also help if you need to condition poor soil. You can also opt for raised beds made from wood, corrugated iron or stone. These optionsmay look very smart, but they are more expensive and require more work initially than simply planting into the ground.
What in the world is sod?
No matter whether you're planting directly into the ground or you are opting for raised beds, you are going to have to deal with sod. This is the layer of grass and soil which you need to remove from your kitchen garden area to leave the soil beneath ready to prepare for planting.
There are a few ways to get rid of the sod. You can grab a barrow and spade and lift it off yourself. This is hard work, but cheap and if you only have a small area it can be done relatively quickly. Once its removed you can compost it so that it will be returned to your garden in another form in the future. If you're going to do the work yourself make sure that your spade is sharp and that you have no back complaints. If you're starting a medium sized garden or larger, you may want to consider hiring a sod cutter.
Choosing Which Crops To Plant In Your Garden
This is the fun part – choosing what you're going to be eating in a few months or in some cases a few weeks! When you're starting your garden the best advice is to start off small and start with what you like to eat. If you grow beans because they are farily tolerant of beginner gardeners but you don't like to eat them you will be easily discouraged from keeping up your vegetable garden maintenance. However, you shouldn't only be limited to the vegetables you are familiar with. It can be interesting and tasty to branch out and experiment with a new crop every year. Your garden will diversify and your palate will expand.
Easy and Rewarding Beginner Crops
A salad garden is an easy and simple way to start. They grow quickly, don't require large amounts of maintenance and they also dont require a lot of room. They will also keep producing over the growing season and you can have a variety of lettuce and other salad greens growing in a row – this will add color to your salads.
Culinary herbs are another rewarding and easy place to start. Fresh, natural flavor enhancers, you can grow herbs in as little space as a kitchen window ledge. If you're just beginning try starting off with the old faithful herbs such as chives, tarragon, parsley, mint, rosemary and thyme. You wont be disappointed and neither will your cooking pot!
When you've selected the crops you are going to plant you should decide whether you are going to start from seeds or seedlings. There are benefits to choosing either method, but choose what you feel most comfortable. Remember that if you are raising from seed you will have an extra few weeks added to the harvest time as you will need to wait for germination.
Mulch! Every Gardeners Best Friend
You've prepared your garden beds, sown your seeds or planted your seedlings and now you wonder what comes next … be prepared to throw on your gloves and get mulching. Mulching your garden will help prevent weeds, helps retain moisture and as it decays it will add organic matter to your soil enhancing your soild quality. Get as much mulch as you can lay your hands on. Straw, grass clippings, pine needles, shredded leaves – even dead weeds that haven't gone to seed can all be used as mulch. The more quality mulch you add, the healthier your soil will be.
Watering – How Much And How Often?
Vegetable gardens are thirsty, and you will need to make sure that your plants are getting enough to drink to ensure a healthy crop. When you plant out your seedlings they wont have a deep root structure and you will need to give them a light spray every day or second day, depending on how hot the weather has been. Once you have a crop that is underway and maturing, your plants need about an inch of water every week. This is a rule of thumb only, if your weather is exceptionally warm obviously your vegetables will need more water. If your neighborhood has been getting plenty of rain, again, you will need to use your common sense. A drip irrigation system can be a handy investment once you are sure you are intending to keep your kitchen garden going long term.
Salad greens and other fast growing crops such as radishes may be ready to eat in as little as 3 weeks after planting. You need to remember to check on them regularly at about this time and pick them as soon as they are ready or you may just be feeding someone else. I am not talking about your neighbors here, although mine have been known to borrow the odd tomato! I am talking about racoons, rabbits, deer and other four legged friends. You may also find you have trouble with bacteria and other diseases if you leave your vegetables to rot in the ground. A garden fence can help keep out some of the more pesky "friends" you have dropping by to check out and eat your progress.
Gardening can be daunting for the inexperienced, but you rshouldn't let this deter you. By starting small, your confidence will build and you will learn valuable skills along the way. Don't panic if you planted your tomatos too cloe together the first year (I did and had to get my Dad – an experienced gardener – to prune them back) Sure, your crop may be smaller but did I learn plenty along the way? You bet. This year I am adding some perenials like asparagus to my garden and I've also put in some flowers. They add color and give my garden an element of prettiness that was missing last year. They can also help prevent insects, so I am off to research a little more on what to grow to keep those pesky bugs at bay.