The sun is beginning to warm the soil, winter is passing and I’m dreaming of my kitchen garden. In fact, I’ve been planning that garden for a couple of months already. If you’ve never grown your own kitchen garden, we’ve got some practical and easy to follow tips that will have you eating ripe, delicious and beautiful veggies this spring, summer, and fall. Whether space is ample or at a premium, you can grow a kitchen garden. Here are some ideas on how to start a kitchen garden for beginners.
Kitchen gardening isn’t difficult. It doesn’t even require a lot of space. In fact, it doesn’t even require a yard. You can just as easily garden in containers as you can in raised beds or in the ground. With some simple tips to get started, you can be well on your way to ripe and juicy fruits and veggies that you planted yourself.
Here’s a challenge. If you’ve never kitchen gardened before, grow one veggie plant this summer. Even if it’s in one container.
A promise. If you’ve ever tasted a vine-ripened tomato, fresh from the vine and still warmed by the sun, you’ll kitchen garden for the rest of your life.
4 Things Every Kitchen Garden Needs
4. Nutrients and Fertilizers
It’s important to get the proper amount of water to the plant when it needs it. An effective tool to determine when your plants need water is a moisture sensor meter available at all garden and home improvement stores. Also available at Amazon.com.
Be careful not to overwater plants. When the lower leaves of the plant begin to yellow and look dry, even though the soil has been moist, this is a sign they’ve been overwatered.
Don’t water directly above young plants. This can cause the plants to knock over and ultimately stunt their growth. Water from the side. If when watering from the side, the young plants fall slightly, they will recover.
The best time to water is early morning before the heat of the day. Avoid watering in the evening if possible. This will help prevent problems with insects and disease.
Choose a sunny location. Most plants need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day to be productive.
Find a level spot in your yard or a sunny spot on a patio. Gardens can be in the ground, in raised beds, or even in containers. Patios work great for container gardening.
Soil is incredibly important to the success of any kitchen garden.
If you’re planting in a container or raised bed, you will need a quality potting soil.
If you’re planting in the ground, you will need a quality garden soil.
You want your plant’s roots to penetrate the soil easily so they grow and produce and in time, produce a plentiful harvest.
If you choose a value soil (like something you might find at a supermarket), you will water and feed your plants more frequently. Quality soils usually contain more nutrients and have a better ability to hold moisture for longer periods of time.
Quality soils might include brands like; Miracle-Gro, Happy Frog, Dr. Earth, Black Magic and others.
4. Nutrients and Fertilizers
It’s imperative that your plants receive the nutrients they need, proper drainage and food or fertilizers. Enriching your soil with compost provides needed nutrients. Proper drainage will ensure that water neither collects on top nor drains away too quickly, taking necessary nutrients with it.
Along with regular watering, feeding your plants is an essential element of successful gardening. Use the following 2 types to yield the best results.
Continuous Release Fertilizer: One time every season or three months (Miracle-Gro Nature’s Care).
Water Soluble Fertilizer: One watering per week (MiracleGro Nature’s Care).
Planning Your Kitchen Garden
Creating a Plan
Gardener’s Supply Company has created an interactive garden planner to help design your own kitchen garden based on plant selection and size. I love this tool.
How large should your kitchen garden be?
The Farmer’s Almanac recommends the following for in-ground kitchen gardens: “A good-size beginner vegetable garden is about 16×10 feet and features crops that are easy to grow… and can feed a family of four for one summer, with a little extra for canning and freezing (or giving away).”
Using that size, they advise, “Make your garden 11 rows wide, with each row 10 feet long. The rows should run north and south to take full advantage of the sun.”
When to Plant
Knowing when to plant and when to harvest is key to a successful garden. The Almanac has created a Planting Calendar, customized to your local area, to help with the process.
Pro Tip: Plant quality plants in the beginning and graduate to seeds.
Creating Raised Beds
Better Homes & Gardens says there are multiple benefits to a raised garden; namely, they just require a lot less work! It also extends the growing season, reduces weeds and pests and because it has better soil, will be very productive.
While there are many kits you can purchase (like these from Amazon) that are ready to go, making your own isn’t difficult. Home Depot has a corner block with slots that joins all 4 sides of a raised bed. If you want to make your own you will need (per raised bed):
(5) 2 x 6 x 10 feet untreated pine or cedar boards
(4) 18-inch rebar spikes
(8) corner blocks
25 1/2 cubic feet of soil (or about (17) 1.5 cubic bags)
Choosing What to Grow
Suggested Plants for Kitchen Gardens
The Almanac suggests the following productive plants but advises checking with local cooperative extension to determine what plants grow best in your area. Plant those foods you love to eat in the summer.
(Each veggie links to a growing guide.)
Suggested Plants for Container Gardens
Sunset Magazine recommends the followings plants as most suitable for container vegetable gardening:
BEANS: Pole beans are more productive over the long run than bush beans (which produce their crop all at once). Train the 6- to 8-ft.-tall vines on a trellis or tepee made from bamboo poles. Try ‘Blue Lake Pole’, ‘Helda’ romano, or heirloom ‘Kentucky Wonder’.
CARROTS: Choose a deep pot for carrots with long roots, such as ‘Nantes’ half-long type (7 in. long). Shallower pots are adequate for shorter carrots such as ‘Short ‘n Sweet’ or round ones like ‘Thumbelina’ (shown). Don’t let the soil dry out.
CUCUMBERS: Bush types like ‘Bush Champion’ and disease-resistant ‘Salad Bush’ take up half the space of trailing types. ‘Lemon’ cuke (shown) also bears well on a trellis.
EGGPLANTS: With their colorful fruits and attractive foliage, eggplants have outstanding ornamental value. Try ‘Black Beauty’, an American heirloom with bulbous, purple-black fruits, or ‘Little Fingers’ (shown), an Asian type with slim fruits.
PEPPERS: Choose from an amazing array of colors, shapes, and heat levels, from mildly spicy ‘Anaheim’ to searing hot ‘Thai Dragon’. Among sweet peppers, try ‘Ariane’ (shown), an orange bell, or ‘Giant Marconi’, a long, red one that’s great for grilling.
POTATOES: Potatoes are productive if there’s ample room for tubers to develop. Bury seed potatoes in an 8-in. layer of soil at the bottom of the pot. As plants grow, pile more soil up to the top set of leaves. Try small- to medium-size ‘All Blue’, ‘Red Pontiac’, or ‘Yukon Gold’.
SQUASH: Summer squash is more productive than winter squash. Grow compact varieties like ‘Gold Rush’ yellow zucchini, ‘Spacemiser’ green zucchini, or ‘Sunburst’ scallopini (shown).
TOMATOES: Use small wire cages or stakes to support determinate types (2- to 3-ft.-tall varieties that produce their crop all at once); try ‘Bush Celebrity’. Use sturdy 5-ft.-tall cages for indeterminate types (tall kinds that produce fruits all season) such as ‘Early Girl’ (shown).
Suggested Herbs for Kitchen Gardens
Don’t forget to plant easy-to-grow herbs in your kitchen garden. I use my culinary herbs from early spring clear through the first frost and beyond in some years. The herbs I always grow in my herb garden are:
Chives (for me, they come back every year)
While there are necessary planning steps any gardener must take to ensure a successful harvest, it’s quite easy, very do-able, and incredibly rewarding. Anyone can grow some of their own food. Don’t let a lack of space or even a yard stop you from this incredible experience. Again, if you’ve never gardened before, take that first step and grow even one vegetable plant this year. Grow what you love to eat. And with proper soil, water, and nutrients, you’ll have healthy plants and they’ll taste better than you could ever imagine. You will become a gardener for life!
And one more thing… thank you to my brother, who is an executive in the industry, for a long phone call from Seattle to Atlanta, filled with questions and lots of answers… and patience. He has the most amazing kitchen garden I’ve ever seen!