The concept of a kitchen garden is not a new one but it has been going through a renaissance period lately. First Lady Michelle Obama installed a kitchen garden at the White House to champion the cause of eating better and living a healthier lifestyle. In its simplest form a kitchen garden produces fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruits that are minutes away from your dinner table. Forgot the basil for your spaghetti sauce? No problem it is right outside your door! While the garden doesn’t have to be right outside of your kitchen door the closer it is the easier it will be for you to access all of the tasty delights that it has to offer.
The traditional kitchen garden is more than just a garden plot. In France for example, it is often a separate space from the rest of the garden with a formal design based on a repetitive geometric pattern. Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening System (www.melbartholomew.com) is a modern day example of this design. The French call this type of garden a potager and it will often incorporate perennials, shrubs, and annuals to give it year-round visual interest. The ultimate goal is to have the garden be functional and aesthetically pleasing as well.
Regardless of what design you might choose the first step in the process is choosing the right location for your garden. As was mentioned earlier a spot closest to your kitchen would be ideal but it should be one that gets plenty of sunshine and where the soil doesn’t remain perpetually wet. Most vegetables and herbs won’t do well with “wet feet” and need full sun conditions to maximize their production. It is also a good idea to start modestly and not try to “bite off more than you can chew” with a large garden plot that you find overwhelming to keep weeded, etc. Remember, you can always expand in the future!
After you choose your location you’re going to want to assess your current soil conditions and make any improvements that might be needed to grow healthy plants. Vegetables and herbs need rich, loose soil and if you don’t have ideal soil in your yard why not think about a raised garden bed? Raised beds can be made of wood, plastic, metal or even cinder blocks and they might save you time and a sore back that can come from trying to remove soil or improve less than desirable soil. You can also usually purchase compost at your local garden center or you may even be able to get it for free at a recycling facility.
When choosing what to grow in your garden you want to make sure it is a vegetable or herb that you’ll want to eat. After all, there is no sense growing spinach, for example, if you don’t enjoy it! When you are starting out it is a good idea to also grow vegetables and herbs that are going to give you the best opportunity for success. Broccoli and Cauliflower can be very challenging for a beginner to grow but planting lettuce is very simple and you can grow several varieties as well. Herbs such as Basil, Chives and Thyme are also easy to grow and are used in a wide array of recipes.
Finally, another fun feature of a kitchen garden is that it is an activity that the entire family can enjoy. Young children growing Sunflowers and Cucumbers can have just as much fun as adults do growing Tomatoes and Zucchini. Fall is a great time to plant a kitchen garden so why not get started this weekend!