Create a Kitchen Garden
A kitchen garden gives you the pleasure of working in the garden as well as the pleasure of using what's grown. The best kitchen gardens have a blend of herbs, fruits and vegetables designed in ways that add beauty and utility to the back yard or patio. Ideally your kitchen garden has immediate access from the kitchen, so you can harvest what you need as you are cooking, but they can also be scattered among various handy nooks and crannies available in your space.
TIP: “Plan in advance! Deciding what you want where beforehand keeps things simple and easy. A simple garden translates to better quality produce in the long run.”
Choose Your Spot
Your first step is to determine which kind of garden you will have. Will this be grown in the soil of a yard or in pots (or a combination of both)? Take into account the growing season of the area you live in as well as the kind of weather and soil. If you have soil with heavy clay, you may need to add sand or topsoil, and you will want to water with care. If you have very dry weather, make sure you have provided for adequate watering to your precious plants. Soaker hoses are good for this, but not always ideal in all locations. A sprinkler system can cut down on muss and fuss.
TIP: “Wherever the spot, amend your soil as needed with organic compost to add much needed nutrients. This will translate over to very healthy produce later in the season.”
Examine the area you want to grow in carefully. Note the amount of sun it receives as well as at what time of day. Pay close attention to what kind of sun your plants need. If you plant in pots, you can position them in ways that they maximize the light, or perhaps you can move them from a morning position to an afternoon position. Also note how windy the area is. If you are growing beans or plants that require a trellis or stake, ensure they won't fall over.
Choose Your Vegetables
Next, decide what you want to grow. Tomatoes are fairly tolerant plants, but you'll want to stake or cage them, even when growing them in pots. Peppers are usually easy to grow as well, but often seem to be very appetizing to insects, so they may require pest control on your part. Both tomatoes and peppers come in multitudes of varieties with different flavors, sizes, colors, and shapes. Some research will help you to narrow down exactly what types you want. Both do well in either the ground or in pots. String beans are excellent for an area with a trellis and will bear all season long. Summer squash (the yellow kind) and zucchini are very easy and require very little care beyond weeding and watering. However, they as well as pumpkins, gourds, and cucumbers can grow to be enormous and will crawl and take over any available space. Eggplant is very easy to grow, and extremely nutritious and high in anti-oxidants. Tuberous or root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and radishes grow best in raised beds, but for the most part are easy to grow. Corn is very difficult to grow unless you have a large patch. Without the proper pollination conditions, your ears will be stunted and bitter. Cold weather veggies such as broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce benefit from an early planting when the ground is still cool from winter.
TIP: “When transplanting nursery veggies into your garden, invert the plastic pot and pull the plant gently from the base of the stem. If the roots seem very coiled around each other and tangled, pull and rip them gently to get them to penetrate into the soil instead of continuing to wrap around themselves.”
Choose Your Herbs
Herbs have a reputation for being hard to grow, but that isn’t true for most of your basics. Basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage, and oregano are all easy-to-tend plants. Planting basil near tomatoes works to control some of the grubs that like to feast on fresh tomato plants, and they complement each other in cooking as well. Thai basil is a variety of basil that is stronger and spicier than normal basil. Its dark purple foliage makes a statement in the garden, while its intense flavor makes a statement in the kitchen. Rosemary grown in pots tends to keep all year-round when brought indoors in cold winter climates. It is not only tasty and fragrant, but also gorgeous as an ornamental plant alone. Oregano and thyme both can make very striking ground cover as they like to creep and expand. They will often come back the next year, although they make good plants to keep potted and grow over the winter in a sunny, warm window. Chives are a hardy perennial that will produce year after year with barely any maintenance to worry about. Mint is a quick grower and comes in a variety of surprising flavors such as apple, orange, and even chocolate. However, it will take over entire gardens if not pruned accordingly. It does great in hanging baskets. Flowering herbs that add a punch to any flower garden as well as your kitchen or potpourri mixtures include: Bee Balm, Joe-Pye Weed, Feverfew, Anise hyssop, Lavender, Marshmallow, Rue, and Yarrow.
TIP: “If you don't have the space for a full-blown herb garden consider planting in a window box, multiple hanging baskets, or using a large strawberry pot. Having fresh herbs available is definitely worth the struggle to find the space.”
Choose Your Fruit
Strawberries are a creeping ground cover that will also grow along a back fence. They are also very happy to grow in a special strawberry pot you can keep on your patio. Keep them watered, but be sure not to flood them or you'll have watery tasting fruit. Blueberries, elderberries, lingonberries, and currants all require watering and pruning, but can produce huge amounts of fruit with moderate maintenance. Raspberries and blackberries will also take nicely to a back fence or trellis area, and are even available in varieties without thorns. These will not do well in pots and it is not recommended that you try. If left unchecked, they will take over the area they've been planted in, so maintain them with some care. Melons, such as cantaloupe, watermelon, and honeydew, will also take over if left unchecked but are otherwise easy to grow and can be very heavy producers.
Larger fruit trees such as figs, apples, and peaches can be grown easily in sub-tropical climates but take up space and time. Tropical fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and bananas can be grown outside in tropical conditions, in a greenhouse, or potted outside during the summer and brought inside to a sunny window during the winter months.
TIP: “If you've waited a little too long to begin your garden, or just want to get a head start, soak your seeds in water until plump before sowing. This will jump-start germination.”
A kitchen garden can make a rewarding and economical addition to your back yard or patio. With just a little work, you can reap a bountiful reward.
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