A Year in the Kitchen Garden

Working in the kitchen garden {An Everyday Story}

Reggio inspired and project based living and learningA year ago, well 13 months, we started building our kitchen garden. We were complete novices; having never really grown anything before, but we were full of hope and lots of energy. We dove in; deciding the clear our entire front yard, to create our garden.

We were on a huge learning curve, but what we did know was that we wanted Jack (5.75 yrs) and Sarah (3.75 yrs) to be a part of the whole process; from seed to plate. This was going to be their garden as much as ours.

Well a year has passed and we are into our second summer now. It’s quite amazing really to think how much we have learnt during that time. Not just us, Jack and Sarah are so confident in the garden now.

In the Garden - An Everyday Story An Everyday Story An Everyday Story| Child-led HomeschoolingThey know about weeding and watering, planting and harvesting. They know how to find a slug by its trail, how to carefully lift a plant back on to its trellis and how to identify a male and female pumpkin flower…. did you know pumpkins have both male and female flowers? We didn’t 🙂 

They know why the bees come and every morning, delight in watching little pollen-laden bees fly from flower to flower. They watch little flowers grow into watermelons and know when a carrot is just right for picking.

A kitchen garden is an extraordinary place.

So now, you want a little kitchen garden of your own, don’t you? Well, here’s a little bit of what we have learnt over the last year. 

Getting Started

How to Quit TV - An Everyday Story

Building the Beds

Ideally you will be able to choose a nice sunny position which gets plenty of full sun throughout the day (unless of course you live in a hot climate, and then partial shade would be better). You are also going to want to maximise the space you have, so spend some time in the space and get a feel for what the sun does during the day. What areas are in shade? Is the ground flat? How can you best use the space?

We decided on 4 rectangular beds in a square pattern with narrow spacings between each bed for us to walk through.

Now how are you going to build the beds? We went with recycled timber which was already here when we bought the house. Have a look around your place and see whether there are any materials you could re-use to make your garden beds. Make sure to check though that the timber isn’t treated with any chemicals which could leech into your soil.

Pre-made metal garden beds are a nice alternative and the high-sided ones make it easy for kids to potter about whilst also keeping chickens at bay.

Gardening - An Everyday Story Working in the kitchen garden {An Everyday Story}What about soil?

Soil quality really can’t be understated. You are going to want to fill your beds with the highest quality organic soil you can afford; even better if you can find soil which is local to your area. It really does make a huge difference. The kids will LOVE helping to fill the garden beds.

Now for the planting

An Everyday Story An Everyday Story Gardening with Kids - Making a Kitchen Garden - An Everyday StoryOver this year we have learnt that you really need to listen to the advice of your local Organic Growers’ Society. Our first growing season didn’t go so well because we planted a lot of things which weren’t suited to our climate or the time of year.

Other things we have learnt:

  • Always plant from seed – little hands like planting seeds, you can explore the seeds together and children can learn to appreciate the full cycle from seed to plant. Plus seeds are cheap. Seedlings are not! If a hail storm, or a late frost, or a heat-wave wipe out your crop you can replant easily from one packet of seeds. Also plants grown from seed seem to be hardier than transplanted seedlings. We lost almost all of our seedlings when we transplanted them; the heat and the stress was too much for them.
  • Planting guidelines on the back of seed packs are negotiable – some plants (like tomatoes or pumpkin) really do need the recommended spacing between seeds when you are planting because they grow into big and heavy producing plants. Others do not. If they are small plants like carrots, beetroot, spinach, dwarf beans and peas, you really can jam those babies in! The more seeds you plant, the more produce you’ll get!!
  • Space out your planting – if you fill your garden beds with seeds, in about three months time you are going to have more produce than you know what to do with and then nothing while you are waiting for more plants to grow. Instead, plant about a third of your garden at a time (waiting about 3 weeks in between plantings). This way you will get a steady stream of produce and no wastage.
  • Plant what you eat! – ok this sounds obvious, but our first season we got a little carried away planting way more varieties of plants than we actually eat. Plus, since we had only a few of each plant, we never really had enough food to stop shopping at the greengrocers. This season we only planted the foods we ate and lots of them. We had enough carrots, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries and spinach to feed us as well as some stashed away in the freezer.
  • Spend time in the garden everyday – a bountiful garden needs nurturing. Try to spend time in the garden everyday; pulling weeds, checking on the plants, propping them up on their trellis a bit, harvesting ripe produce, getting rid of snails and slugs and just keeping an eye on it. As you and your children get to know your garden, you will develop a real connection with the garden which will instil in you a sense of stewardship over that space.

Seasonal Activities in the Kitchen Garden

An Everyday Story An Everyday Story An Everyday StoryWe started our kitchen garden in summer…

Summer

Autumn An Everyday Story

Winter

Last winter we didn’t really plant. This winter we are looking forward to having produce throughout the season

  • build a greenhouse – we are hoping to get a small one in by the end of autumn
  • build garden cloches to protect plants from frost
  • start spring seedlings in the greenhouse
  • make toilet paper roll (or newspaper) cups to germinate seeds
  • towards the end of winter, start preparing the beds for spring

Spring Working in the garden - An Everyday StoryAn Everyday Story

  • harvest winter crops
  • can, dehydrate, preserve winter produce
  • plant like crazy people 🙂 …. after the last frost…. and in three week intervals
  • plant kiwi-fruit – you need both a male and female plant
  • build a potato cage
  • build a worm farm
  • give fruit trees a good feed
  • make an insect motel
  • set-up a beehive – this is my hope for next spring
  • sow, water, harvest….and start the cycle again

Kitchen Garden - An Everyday Story

Tiny hands with tiny bounty

The Kitchen Garden - Lettuce (An Everyday Story)Having a kitchen garden is incredible; the learning that takes place in that space as the seasons change, as plants grow, as the cycle of life continues is extraordinary. Watching a tiny seed grow into a plant, watching little cucumbers sprout from flowers or bees, heavy with pollen, dance around the pumpkin flowers; it’s just such a joy to be able to experience.

Everyone can have a kitchen garden. Whether it’s one like we have or a small balcony garden, everyone can grow something!

So get out there. Get your hands dirty. Plant some seeds and watch them grow. I am sure you will fall in love with kitchen gardening as much as we have.

Now, tell me, what’s growing in your garden?

8 Replies to “A Year in the Kitchen Garden”

  1. We are on our third set up of a vegie garden and this time I think we have it right. If it isn’t working, try something else, has been our motto. We have wicking beds which reduce the water lost to evaporation and help plants develop good roots so they are healthier. Here in WA full sun was not an option so dappled shade has been better with the heat of summer and we are even setting up shade cloth now because the cucumbers are starting to suffer. But we have a few types of tomatoes, basil, pumpkin plants starting ready for autumn harvest, watermelon, spring onions, egg plant (for the first time and we actually found out we like it when it is home grown), carrots, strawberries, apples, lemons, Cape gooseberries, lettuce and a few types of herbs. Other seasons bring us apricots and a very few cherries if we get lucky. For the future we have planted a goji berry, avocado mandarin and pomegranate tree/bush.
    We are still learning and make mistakes but our chooks help with planting too much and the kids learn all the time, even from the mistakes. LOVE the garden!

  2. Allison Graham says:

    We moved out of a rental house (with a garden) and into our own condo (no garden), so now we have a smoking hot balcony in the summer, PERFECT for the hot weather bits that are expensive to buy. I have my whole herb garden (sage, basil, parsley, chives, mint, lemon balm, oregano), plus then we plant some marigolds for pest control and some other flowers for pollination, and then a couple of veggies (tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers), things that really love the heat (it’s 30+ degrees on the patio all summer long). Anything that doesn’t love heat bolts or dies too quickly, so I don’t even bother. I do miss the garden though, cleaning out pots and mixing soil is really hard when you know you’re going to make a giant mess and can’t just sweep it into the dirt when you’re done…

    My mom has a beautiful garden and shares with us!

    1. At our second house we had a garden and I canned in the heat of the fall. We also had blackberry bushes and strawberries but now we are in the house we have lived in for 25 years. I plant a couple occasional tomato plants each year but my joy of gardening is found in flower gardening including some herbs. I have tons of clematis and roses, daffodils, tulips hyacinths and large allium from bulbs. I have so many flowers and was constantly putting in new beds around the border of the yard or island beds here and there in the middle. I love perennials most of all but do accent with annuals as well as they flower throughout the summer instead of just a part of the season like perennials. I love bushes; lilacs, forsythia,spicy scented viburnums, hydrangeas. I like ivies =plain and variegated. and lovely fragrant plants to rub the leaves of like lemon verbena, mints, oregano, sage, and scented geraniums. The last 3 years I have returned some of my beds to lawn as my schedule was getting too much to do all the maintenance and upkeep that they required to do well, but I love my yard and its landscaping with a big wooden deck off the back and a smaller deck on the back of the property, a huge swingset and a big sandbox in the middle of the back yard and a swimming pool. A secret garden full of old, old pine trees with a woodsy trail running through it and a gazebo with climbing roses on it smack in the middle. A tree trunk trail that snakes through the side yard and a fairy garden and wind chime garden on the other side garden. Lots of old trees; pines, a giant oak, pussywillow, buckeye, smoke tree, and more. My grown up daughters still talk of the yard and the fun they had in the playhouse and gardens and bring their children to run and ramble, read and dream under the branches and amongst the blooms.They are not vegetables but oh they make my heart sing

  3. Thank you for sharing your garden tips Kate 🙂 I love seeing your produce on instagram. We have had a fruit and veggie garden for ten years now but after the birth of our twins we didn’t have the time to spend in it anymore. Since spring last year we have taken a more active role in our plantings, stepping it up a bit more. You inspire my family to get more active in our garden again 🙂

  4. Such a beautiful garden. Definitely a few things here I can take away, being a keen (but very, very novice) gardener myself. Didn’t know pumpkins had male and female flowers! And good to know that you can cram some types of seedlings in together (I never know how rigidly to follow the instructions on the back of seed packets…)!

  5. Thanks for your tips Kate! I’d love to have your set up, at this stage we have a couple of very small plots, pots and some potato bags. It’s not enough for us to harvest much from (in fact most of it gets eaten straight from the garden, either by little hands or the birds!), but I love the connection my son has with it – right through from planting seeds, to weeding, to watching the bees buzz around and occasionally harvesting something. He loves getting out there with his little shovel (often digging up the seeds we’ve just planted!).

  6. We recently moved to our new house and I finally have the chance to make my dream kitchen garden. Your garden is lovely! I hope my garden to look like yours, when we finish with building beds, planting and so on. Greets!

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