Say goodbye to frequent grocery store runs! And head right outside your house, pick vegetables, fruits, and herbs you need for today’s lunch and dinner from your very own kitchen garden.
A kitchen garden is a well-rounded garden consisting of herbs, fruits, vegetables, and edible flowers designed ornamentally. It is a sustainable source of food for a household – an eco-conscious and cost-effective practice to ensure food security. It is often situated right outside the kitchen area.
Interested in starting one? Keep reading for a detailed guide on how to start along with a helpful list of plants you can grow.
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Table of contents
What is a Kitchen Garden?
It’s a designated ground within a property where edible plants are grown for household use and consumption. It is also known as a potager or a kailyard. One could also say it’s a vegetable garden with herbs and sometimes a fruit tree or two. Let’s be honest, vegetables are the stars of most country patch gardens.
However, it is not a forest garden because their concepts are different, contrary to their similar content and use. A forest garden mimics a forest’s ecosystem to sustain itself and create produce. Therefore, it needs little to no human maintenance (barring the initial years when it is being established). In contrast, a kitchen garden is maintained and tended consistently to continually produce food to put on the table.
With that said, the defining feature of a kitchen garden is its ornamental aspect while providing functionality compared to a traditional garden set up only for its looks. Whereas a regular vegetable patch or edible garden tends to be generally untidy to let the plants grow as is.
Where Should You Plant a Kitchen Garden?
The location of kitchen gardens varies for each household as it depends entirely on its size. Ideally, it is located right outside the kitchen, but it could also be in the front yard, in the backyard, or even in some cases, inside the house itself. But the main criteria that define what’s an excellent place to put your kitchen garden can be found here:
- It has to be near the house – the closer it is, the better.
- It has a water source nearby to make watering sessions easier, whether by hand or a drip irrigation system.
- The plot of land chosen receives a daily dose of 7-8 hours of full sunlight.
- The ground has well-draining soil. Otherwise, using raised bed containers with your own fresh gardening soil mix is an excellent alternative.
- It is in a well-protected area. This means having existing fences or borders (or at least the space to set them up) around the perimeter of the garden to prevent wildlife nuisance from munching on your produce.
- There are no roots from established trees. Or, the tree(s) are far away enough from the kitchen garden area that your plants can still grow. If a tree is too close, there will be competition for nutrients.
The first 3 criteria (a,b,c) are the bare minimum of what should be your deciding factor for a suitable site for your garden. Everything else can be amended.
What are the Advantages of Kitchen Gardening?
The most typical reason you’ll probably come across is the cost-effectiveness and convenience of having a reliable food supply yearly compared to doing regular grocery store runs. However, consider these other advantages as well:
- No Harsh Chemicals. You have complete control over what goes into your kitchen garden. The winning point here is that you can keep things as chemical-free as possible, which means avoiding using synthetic fertilizers and potent pesticides. Yes, they are beneficial to the plants in inducing rapid growth and pest protection. BUT, it causes a long-term detrimental effect on the soil, the plants themselves, and particularly on the environment. You also ensure that the food you’re consuming is fresh and safe to eat straight from the garden. Just make sure to always rinse thoroughly before consumption to err on the side of caution. Nothing is nastier than accidentally biting into a live caterpillar munching on your lettuce.
- You Eat What You Sow. There’s something really satisfying about eating food you grew with your own hands. It’s like cooking, but you start from the very foundation of the ingredients, working your way up to a dish. It quickly becomes addicting to continue your kitchen gardening until it becomes more than just a hobby. It is also a healthy lifestyle that you gradually adopt once you’re in the groove of things. Before you know it, you’ve pretty much altered your eating habits by having more healthy food in your kitchen than you ever could have thought possible.
- Multi-functional Garden. Not to throw hate on traditional gardens because they are genuinely fantastic on their own. But having a garden that is both practical and picturesque is really great all around. Edible flowers can be added to your kitchen garden, adding a decorative splash while still maintaining the thematic purpose of your food supply. Not to mention, your kitchen scraps can be recycled as compost for your garden as well!
- Food Security. By having a prosperous kitchen garden, your family’s fridge will be consistently restocked with seasonal produce from your garden. Though they might get sick of the brussels sprouts if you keep boiled for dinner (choose your veggies wisely). But even with an overabundant food stock, you can simply give it away to your friends and relatives. You can even make a side income by selling them at your local farmers’ market! Feeding your family and your local community with a garden that keeps on giving.
What Can You Grow in a Kitchen Garden?
Honestly? Anything you want! As long as it is something you and your family want to eat, that’s the best way to avoid wasting time, money and produce. However, you have to consider whether your state has the proper hardiness zone (the endurance to grow in a cold climate) for your plants to grow. Otherwise, you’d just be wasting your time developing a batch of potatoes that was never going to sprout.
Here are a few examples of kitchen garden plants that are easy to grow. I’ve included their respective corresponding USDA Hardiness Zones so you would know whether they can be planted in your region:
1. Lettuce – this classic, leafy greens in your salad bowls grow best in hardiness zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
2. Carrots – a delicious crunchy snack and sweet addition to stir-frys, thrive in hardiness zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
3. Tomatoes – this perfect sandwich and burger companion flourishes well in hardiness zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.
4. Cucumbers – a crisp addition to salads and a favorite pickling vegetable, do splendidly in hardiness zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.
5. Spinach – another popular leafy green that is versatile and cold-hardy enough to grow in hardiness zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
6. Bell peppers – these sweet peppers are a favorite addition to dishes for their tangy and aromatic flavors. They can easily thrive in hardiness zones of 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.
You can also do a quick Google search to find out different cultivars (varieties of plants) you would want to grow depending on how you want to use them and how soon you can harvest them. For example, different tomato varieties can mature at any time from a 60-100 days range. There are also a variety of cucumber varieties that are more suited for slicing, pickling, or dipping.
How to Create/Start a Kitchen Garden?
You will go through three stages when starting your own kitchen garden: Planning, Planting, and Maintenance. Here’s the step-by-step process:
- Determine the size and type of garden you will be growing:
- Will it be small or large? This entirely depends on how much will be enough to feed your family. Some plants like cucumber will produce a lot from just one plant while carrots are a one trick pony. Google the average yield of the veggies you are planting if you are unsure of how many plants you need. Also look up proper spacing between plants.
- Will it be a raised bed garden? This is a good option if the garden soil in your area is not suitable, so you can start with a fresh soil mix (Amazon link). This is also more accessible for those who have limited mobility to work on a typical garden bed.
- Will it be a container garden? This is good for separating all your crops by growing them in individual pots, barrels, buckets, or other large wooden or metal containers.
- Will it be in a patch on the ground? This is an excellent way to enrich and use what’s already available in your soil to grow your plants with a few amendments.
- Choose the appropriate and convenient location for your kitchen garden (as mentioned previously):
- Is it near the house?
- Is there a water source nearby?
- Does the chosen area receive a full 7-8 hours of sunlight every day?
- Is it in a protected area?
- Does the ground contain well-draining soil?
- Are there any existing trees or shrubs in the plot of land that might compete with the garden plants?
- Decide and finalize a list of plants you’ll be planting in your kitchen garden:
- Will you be using and cooking it in the kitchen? Only choose plants you and your family members want to avoid food wastage. Giving excess or unwanted produce from your garden to your friends and relatives is another alternative if the yield isn’t enough to sell at your local farmers’ market. Don’t forget to add edible flowers into your mix too!
- What plants can or cannot be grouped together? Companion planting is a great way to have 2 or more plants support each other’s growth (like the three sisters, i.e., corn, squash, and bean) as they develop. Also, avoid placing plants that won’t grow well together, like tomatoes & sweet corn or onions & beans, to prevent nutrient competition and depletion.
- Will it grow in your region’s climate? Check your state hardiness zone and look up your chosen plant’s basic profile to determine this.
- Is the pH of the soil you’ll be planting appropriate for your chosen plants? (Note: this only applies to kitchen gardens planted in the ground, and not the ones in raised beds or containers as these use purchased soil that already has the correct PH)
- Can you source where to purchase your seeds or seedlings? Check your local nursery and garden center. Grocery stores also sell seed packets but check the expiration date to ensure it is still viable.
- Prepare and amend the soil for your kitchen garden:
- Start out by clearing grass, weed, debris, and plants you don’t intend to keep in the garden from the patch of land you’ve chosen.
- Till your soil either manually or mechanically to warm and dry it up under the sun.
- Add compost or manure to the soil to improve it and add nutrients. This is an optional step that you can skip, mainly if the land is already sustainably fertile to grow plants in the first place. If you are composting or vermicomposting, this is your time to shine haha
- Water the soil thoroughly and leave it for a few weeks; then, it’ll be ready for planting.
- If you’re doing a raised bed or container kitchen garden, simply prepare the organic soil you’ll be using, and you’re all set to start planting!
- Plant your seeds or seedlings in your kitchen garden:
- Remember to space them apart so they have enough room and group them accordingly to the plant companion list. Take into consideration how big they will grow as they mature; otherwise, you’ll end up with a smaller yield than expected due to stunted growth from overcrowding the garden.
- Water your seedlings daily and your mature plants 2-3 days a week to keep their soil moist early in the morning. Always do the knuckle test if you’re not sure whether it’s time to water or not. As in, stick your finger into the ground 1-2 inches (to your 2nd knuckle or so) to determine whether it’s still damp. If it’s dry, water deeply and thoroughly.
- Prevent weeds from growing in your kitchen garden and stealing valuable nutrients away from your produce:
- You can choose the tedious manner of hand pulling them out of the soil one at a time. However, be careful not to accidentally uproot your plants, particularly tender seedlings. Here is a great weed pulling tool on Amazon.
- Apply mulch (like newspapers, cardboard, wood chips, or pine straw) on the soil bed around the plants. This will suffocate the weeds from sprouting, keep the soil from drying out too quickly, and improve soil fertility.
- Provide additional support to your growing plants as they develop:
- Climbing or trailing plants like tomatoes, strawberries, and grapes, will benefit from having a stake, a trellis, or a cage (Amazon link) to help them grow upwards in an orderly manner.
- Companion planting, as mentioned earlier, can also be beneficial in this case. For example, planting sunflowers beside climbing plants like beans provides the tall structure it needs to support its growth along with shade.
- For weather or seasonal changes like a heavy downpour, heatwave, or frost, use protective layering like row covers, shade cloth, or garden fabric accordingly and tie them down or secure the ends with rocks to weigh them down.
In its simplicity, the kitchen garden is a concept that takes home gardening up another level by being practical and aesthetically pleasing. Hence the growing popularity over the years, it’s a sustainable gardening practice that can transform a past-time hobby into a healthy lifestyle.
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