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:


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Kitchen Garden: What to Grow?

Once you've decided on a location and size for your kitchen garden it's time to decide what you will grow. I've had raised beds, traditional plots and small herb gardens. My advice is to start small and enlarge the area or add more beds each season if you need more room.

I currently grow herbs and vegetables in a 4 foot by 8 foot raised bed with a height of about 12 inches. We used untreated pine, which will eventually rot and have to be replaced one day, but I didn't want to use anything that had been treated with chemicals. Below is what I've found works best in a raised bed the size we built. This may give you ideas for your own kitchen garden.

Thyme: in a corner
Oregano: in another corner
Chives: along the front spaced at least 18 inches apart
Sage: in the back left hand corner

Cucumbers & Green beans

Both of these are grown in front of a piece of sturdy metal fencing in the middle back of the bed (see picture below) to grow up instead of spreading out.

Tomatoes: 2 to 3 plants grown in the back opposite the cucumbers and beans. It's important to stake the tomatoes to keep them from sprawling and taking up too much room.

This leaves the center of the raised bed open, plus the space between the chives. I alternate the following herbs and vegetables:

Nasturtium (with the chives)

I add color to the garden with nasturtiums, which are pretty and edible. Calendula is another flower that doubles as an herb. Both can be used in salads, garnish or herbal vinegar.

When looking for vegetables, herbs or flowers for smaller kitchen gardens try to choose varieties that are described as "space saving", "dwarf" or "compact".

Starting with the basics will give you a chance to get a feel for how much work and time the garden will involve. Keep track of what grows well and what tastes the best. This will help you decide how much to expand next year.

On OFL we have an article on growing and cooking with chives:


Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Kitchen Garden: Historical Examples

I thought this week I would focus on the kitchen garden, which can be as simple as potted herbs and vegetables outside the kitchen door or on a patio to a potager, which is a French term for an ornamental vegetable or kitchen garden. Today I want to focus on the examples of historical kitchen gardens.

Martha Washington helped was known for walking among the rows of her kitchen garden to check the progress of the plants and trees. She was responsible for the planning and care of the garden. On the website for George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate there is a description of the restored kitchen garden:

"Much of the produce that appeared on the Washingtons' table was raised in this brick-walled, sunny spot located directly behind the stables and their unfailing supply of manure. Today rows of asparagus, beets, beans, spinach, and peas grow in beds edged with low-growing herbs. Apple and pear trees pruned to form waist-high, stout fences line the paths between beds of artichokes, onions, and lettuce. The garden is a wonderful example of a formal English kitchen garden."

Reading this description you can picture the garden as beautiful while being functional. The Read House in Delaware has a kitchen garden that was built in the late 1800's. It's been restored and is described as:

" garden with alees of pear trees and trellised grapes set by formal boxwood hedges."

The boxwood would be solely ornamental but act as a edging to the garden. Many kitchen gardens are edged by herbs, which would be pretty, fragrant and useful. Obviously the addition of grapes and fruit trees would call for a much larger kitchen garden.

These two gardens belonged to people who were well off, and had staff to assist them with their gardens, and budgets that would allow for trees and perennials to edge their potagers. Some situations called for much small kitchen gardens. I found it interesting that long ago pubs and taverns often had their own kitchen gardens to grow herbs and vegetables too.

During summer vacations my family and I have often stopped by forts such as Colonial Michilimackinac in Michigan, which is a restored fort and trading village. There was usually a large garden, but there were also small gardens behind some of the residents' homes. They were small, fenced in, and often included sunflowers, herbs and vegetables. The wife of an officer probably tended the small garden with limited access to seeds or plants.

What type of kitchen garden could you grow? As yourself the following questions:

1. How much room do I have for a garden?
2. What tools would I need?
3. What is my budget?
4. What would I like to grow?
5. If I leave on vacation could someone water the garden?
6. Would I care for the garden alone or have help?

These are the basic questions to ask yourself. Once you've answered these then you an go on to the actual details. In the next blog post I'll go into more on choosing what to grow.

On OFL we have a nice article on a kitchen garden: