A 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.
They 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.
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.
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
Over 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
We started our kitchen garden in summer…
- build the garden beds
- plant vegetable seeds and mulch
- plant strawberries – they love a nice sunny position. And they will spread so either give them plenty of room or contain them to pots
- build trellises and teepees for beans and tomatoes
- plant a herb garden
- plant bee-attracting flowers to encourage pollination – we planted sunflowers, corn flowers and marigolds
- build a compost bin
- plant fruit trees – we have dwarf apples, citrus and stone fruit as well as full-sized pear trees
- start planting autumn and winter crops
- harvest summer vegetables
- build a chicken coop and welcome some feathery friends
- start a chicken manure compost bin
- clear away summer plants. Plant autumn and winter seeds
- harvest sunflower seeds
- plant bulbs and other winter flowers
- can, dehydrate and preserve the remainder of the summer harvest
- prune back raspberries and blueberries
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
- 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
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?