If you want to grow your own fresh food but are not sure if you have enough space or time, a vegetable garden is a perfect option for you.
Often when we think about starting a garden, we think that we don’t have enough space. But having a garden doesn’t mean you need acres of land. It just means that you may need to get a little creative with the space you have.
Or maybe you think gardening will take more time than you have. Once again, horticulture is the perfect solution.
But how do you get started with a home garden? In this podcast episode with Nicole Burke, author of kitchen garden renaissance, she and I discussed how to start. You can listen to our conversation below or read on for the highlights.
What is a Kitchen Garden?
Home gardens differ slightly from the field gardens you might think of when the word “gardening” comes to mind.
Garden-grown crops are generally selected for eat fresh. The focus is generally on fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs. Crops grown in a garden are usually harvested almost daily.
Long-term storage and preservation crops are usually left for larger gardens.
Home gardens, mainly due to their natural proximity to your home, also tend to be more formal and aesthetically pleasing.
What plants can you grow in a garden?
When we only have a small space to grow, it is important that we choose plants that will give us the maximum yield. In the vegetable garden, you’ll want to pick smaller plants that will produce bountiful harvests.
Herbs for the Garden
Both annual and perennial herbs are great choices for the kitchen garden, especially for beginners:
(Avoid mint unless you keep it in its own container, as it will spread out in a raised bed and dominate the rest of the area.)
What vegetables should you avoid planting in a vegetable garden?
Keeping in mind the objective of choosing small but productive plants, you should avoid vegetables that take up a lot of space to produce little:
- Brussels sprouts
It’s not that you can’t farm them; they are simply not the best option for maximizing a small garden space. Most of these only produce one crop per plant and have a long growing season, taking up coveted garden space for a long period.
One year I grew a zucchini plant in my raised raised bed garden, and you can see how much space it took up!
The best vegetables for the garden
The ideal vegetables for a small garden are those that produce continuously and take up little space.
- Mustard leaves
- Green peas
- Cherry tomatoes (with espalier)
- Cucumbers (with espalier)
Most of these crops will grow throughout the season (either cool or warm season) and harvest continuously. These will always have a place in my garden.
How do you start creating a family garden?
Once you start dreaming about different crops you can plant and grow in your garden, how do you get started, especially in creating the garden space?
Consider raised beds or containers
For most people, home gardens are smaller, closer to home, and planted in raised beds or containers. This makes gardening easier and more enjoyable, and by using raised beds, you can select high-quality soil mixes that produce more food in less space.
You can certainly grow a garden directly in the ground, especially if your soil is naturally rich, but low beds tend to require more maintenance and care, making raised beds more common for today’s gardens.
Here are the main reasons why raised beds are ideal options for home gardens:
Quality soil in raised beds
Filling your raised bed with quality soil is a quick way to get started with a vegetable garden. If you have room for a compost pile, that’s great, but don’t worry if you don’t. A mix of topsoil and compost (as mentioned in this raised bed soil options guide) is a quick way to start a fast-growing garden.
There are many places in my own garden where drainage is poor. Drainage is critical to a thriving vegetable garden, as most of the plants we produce cannot survive on wet roots. Containers and raised beds help eliminate this problem.
When you live in a city or a nearby neighborhood, it’s sometimes a requirement to make sure you have an aesthetically pleasing yard (consider HOAs). Raised beds and containers are easy on the eyes and are the perfect kitchen garden space.
find your south
If you live in the northern hemisphere, identify which direction is south. Next, identify any obstacles between your potential garden and south space options. Those obstacles could shade your garden and you want to avoid them if possible.
Choose the space in the garden that has the most southern exposure possible. Note the summer and winter solstice as well. The angle of the sun and its position in the sky in the summer is not the same as in the spring and fall.
Add vertical elements
For many gardeners, they can exponentially increase the amount of harvest by planting vertically in their raised beds. If you’re new to a kitchen garden, consider cattle panels, trellises, etc. on his raised bed. This will allow you to plant more crops in the same space, ultimately maximizing your total harvest.
What type of trellis should you use in your vegetable garden? It depends on some factors.
If you can only access your bed from 3 out of 4 sides (for example, if your bed is next to a fence), consider a paneled trellis or cattle panel on the side of the fence. You will then want to plant the smaller plants (such as herbs) in the front, the medium-sized plants in the middle, and then the climbing plants in the back where they can climb the trellis.
If you can access your raised bed from all 4 sides, consider using an obelisk trellis in the middle of your bed. This allows you to grow upright crops on the trellis while growing other plants below and to the side.
If you have multiple raised beds, consider using an arched trellis where you place one side of the trellis on one bed and the other side on the neighboring bed. This really allows for maximum seeding.
Prune and harvest frequently
Because we are planting many plants in a smaller space, pruning is essential. Pruning should be done weekly to make sure your plants don’t compete with each other. Trim what you can as often as you can.
chart your ups and downs
One key to maximizing a garden’s harvest is to cultivate during the seasons in which they thrive. How do you know when cool-weather and warm-weather crops grow best?
Write down your average high and low temperatures each month of your garden season. This will let you know which months are cold, cool, warm and hot. Knowing this, you can plant each month of your garden according to what will grow well in those temperatures.
You can take this a step further and then remove any plants that, while they may still be growing, won’t perform to their fullest that season. This will free up that space in the garden for plants that will thrive that season.
It just starts somewhere
Gardening in the kitchen doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it’s the perfect way to start your garden adventure without all the work and effort of a typical country garden.
Start simple with the herbs and vegetables you like to eat fresh, and you can always expand on them later. (Trust me, you will).
Most gardeners I know, even with a small vegetable garden, are some of the happiest gardeners I know! Nothing is better than walking a few steps and harvesting a meal or side dish right outside your door!
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