Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Kitchen Garden: Tip Hodge Podge

Today I'm sharing tips on growing and caring for a kitchen garden. These are things that have helped me over the years. The pictures are from my garden in previous seasons.

Choosing Tomato Varieties
Whether you grow from seed or buy plants you'll need to know what tomato will do well for you. If your garden space is limited then look for a tomato that is listed as "determinate". This means the plant will stop growing, or at least slow way down, when the tomatoes have set. The tomatoes will ripen at the same time, and the growing season is short, but the plants won't sprawl or crowd the other plants.

If you buy a variety listed as "indeterminate" it's a good idea to stake the tomatoes. Use a sturdy stake made of wood, heavy plastic or a metal pipe. It should be anywhere from 4-8 foot long, pounded into the ground next to the plant, about 4-5 inches from the stem. I use a rubber mallet and pound the stakes into the ground at least a foot because the tomato plants becomes very heavy later in the season. As the plants grow they will have to be tied to the stake with cloth, string or plastic.

Pruning is one way to keep tomato plants under control. The plant will continue to branch out from the main stem, and those stems will branch out as well. It won't hurt the plant to trim off the side stems that form to keep the plant from sprawling too far.

Herbs in the Garden
Herbs are perfect for a kitchen garden IF kept under control. Only plant what you know you will use in your cooking if you are concerned with space. If the herbs aren't harvested they will spread. Chives, oregano, thyme and sage are perennial herbs that will survive tough winters. If you are in a warmer climate you'll be able to grow rosemary and tarragon as well. Harvest the herbs as needed, but try to harvest the entire plant by cutting back about halfway at least twice during the gardening season. The herbs can be allowed to bloom if you wish, but always cut the spent flowers off before they go to seed. Chives blooms are peppery and delicious in salads or vinegar.

I don't recommend growing lemon balm or any of the mints in a small area unless they can be grown in a pot that is buried to prevent spreading, or used as a container plant near the garden. They will spread by runners and seed easily and very quickly.

The Garden Soil
I use compost, and organic fertilizer in my raised bed. Each spring I work the soil around the perennial herbs where the vegetables and annuals will be planted. I add compost and a dry, organic fertilizer. After planting I mulch with a combination of compost, grass clipping and straw.

Watering The Garden
I've watered with sprinklers, hose nozzles, watering cans and soaker hoses in all shapes and sizes. I found out that for the raised bed with both herbs and vegetables the soaker hose works best. An inexpensive, standard hose that I paid less than ten dollars for at the home improvement store worked great. I placed it down closest to the vegetables since they need more water than the herbs. How much I watered depended on the rain and the heat. In the hottest part of the summer I ran it for a couple hours each day unless it rained. I always watered before noon.

On OFL we have an article on growing and using calendula:


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