Want to save money and get better tasting food? Why not grow some of your meal yourself?
That way you can be certain of the origins of your food and know that it’s been handled safely and correctly.
If that sounds good then you definitely need a kitchen garden.
Growing a kitchen garden isn’t as hard as you might think and our beginners guide will teach you what you need to know to get started!
12 Things That Everyone Should Understand Before They Grow A Kitchen Garden
Site Selection Matters
You need to choose the right space for a kitchen garden.
You want an open space which receives a lot of sunlight but also a plot of land which has shade because some herbs and vegetables can’t cope with bright sun.
You also need to find somewhere which drains properly and has good quality soil.
Checking drainage is simple – wait for it to rain and then go and inspect the soil. If there are big puddles forming on the land, it’s not draining well enough to be used for a kitchen garden.
Ideally, you also want to avoid any kind of thick roots from nearby trees or substantial rocks in the soil (not because things won’t grow but because rocks make working the soil a real chore).
If you can’t find anywhere with decent drainage, don’t despair you can create raised plant beds that bring the plants above ground and the puddles that might drown them.
If you have no soil covered spaces available you can start your garden in soil that you buy at the garden center.
Patios, balconies, rooftops and windowsills have all made good homes for gardens. There are plenty of plants that grow well in pots.
When You Start, Stick To The Basics
Want a recipe for disappointment in your kitchen garden? Start by trying to grow everything and once and include a bunch of exotic, non-native species.
Gardening is a skill and it’s one that develops over time. The best way to give yourself the time to improve is to start simple.
Classic herbs like parsley, mint and basil are all fairly hardy and easy to grow.
Vegetables that are going to work well include: peppers, tomatoes, beans, radishes, cucumbers, etc.
Once you’ve got these under control then you can work up to plants that need more care such as onions, rhubarb, melons, etc.
Fruit can be quite easy though as you’ll be buying grafted saplings to get started.
That means as long as the soil and weather are OK, and you tend them closely they’re going to be just fine.
Consider Implementing Raised Beds For Vegetables
It’s not only people with poor soil quality or drainage that might benefit from raised vegetable beds.
It’s much easier to plan your garden’s crop rotation in raised beds. You can top up the soil with quality extras easily.
Most importantly, there’s less bending and work to be done when you have raised vegetable beds.
That might not seem important now but trust me, your back is going to appreciate this in the long-term.
Finally, there’s a big benefit with respect to bugs.
For some reason, bugs love to run around and eat crops at ground level but most of them won’t make the effort for raised beds.
Which means that you are going to need fewer pest control regimes to keep your veggies safe.
Vertical Gardening Is A Thing
Vertical gardening is the way forward for kitchen gardeners with limited or no space.
In traditional gardens, you can add more space with wall planters, railing planters, and hanging baskets.
Vine plants, in particular, will be happy to run up a wall if you give them the guidance to get started.
That means stakes in pots can help you add tomatoes, peas, squashes, etc. to your family’s diet with ease.
I love vertical gardening because it makes it easy to take care of your plants.
When everything is at ankle level, you have to keep getting down in the dirt to see what’s what. When it’s growing up, you can identify fruit and pluck it with ease.
One peculiar benefit of vertical gardening is that it reduces fungal infections in plants.
This is probably because there’s improved air flow and fungus finds it hard to settle on leaves.
If you do grow things on trellis, stakes, etc. do make sure to use cable ties to help secure the plants as this will not only keep things tidy but help them build the strength to grow larger and juicier fruit.
You Need To Give Your Plants Space
It’s not just moody teenagers that need their space, so do plants.
If you look at a farm or a professional garden, you’ll see that planting typically takes place in squares or rows.
This gives the crops the room for their roots which help them get to the point where they bear fruit (or vegetables).
One thing you may not have seen but it’s worth looking out for is triangle pattern planting.
It might feel counter-intuitive, but this is a big space saver and you can get 15% more production from using this means of planting. [source: Nature]
If you don’t know the space required by a particular plant you can look it up online easily.
All plants are different, but many seed packs explain what you need to know on the packaging.
Succession Planting Helps With The Success Of A Kitchen Garden
In the good old days this was known as “crop rotation” but today it has a fancier name – Succession Planting – and the idea has become more evolved.
Farmers traditionally planted different crops in a field so that each would take certain nutrients from the soil while giving back other nutrients.
If you picked the right crops to rotate, each crop would support the following crop – making fields more productive.
However, farmers also tended to leave their fields fallow for some part of the year to let the soil recover.
Kitchen gardeners don’t need to leave their soil fallow as they can always add a little top soil if necessary.
So, they should be looking to “succession plant”, that is plant another crop immediately after harvesting the last to keep their garden at maximum productivity.
If you want to do this well, you’ll need to plan your garden carefully in advance.
When you need seeds for succession planting, you’ll want them on hand and not find yourself in a mad panic trying to secure them locally before the planting window closes.
You Don’t Have To Sow Seeds To Grow Crops
Well, you do to get crops growing the first time, but you don’t have to finish one batch before the next is planted.
You can start a plant growing in a pot and then move it into the garden when it’s ready.
This is really useful not just because it lets you get a head start on growing a plant but also because it allows your plants to acclimatize to your garden soil ahead of time.
You know that plants that you “transplant” to your garden that have already been exposed to the soil are going to do fine.
Pick Crops That Mature Early If You Can
Not all fruits and vegetables are equal.
If you have a short summer, for example, there’s no point in picking crops that take 6 months of bright sun and very little rain in order to mature.
Those plants will not make your garden, a great place to be and you will be hungry.
Pick varieties that grow and mature quickly, on the other hand, and what you have is a rapid progression from seed to table.
That means less disappointment and more importantly, more crops a year too. Saving you even more money.
Pick Crops That Are Compatible And You Can Grow More Than One Thing At A Time
This is known as “companion planting”. It lets you use the same land for more than one crop at a time.
So, for example, you can plant asparagus and tomatoes in the same soil at the same time.
That’s really useful because then you’re increasing the yield of your garden.
Potatoes, on the other hand, don’t work well with tomatoes (they’ll kill each other) but are great with beans, corn, and peas.
You may also choose to plant companion plants that are not edible but which act as buffers for your garden against pests.
Marigolds are famous for chasing off many species of insect, chives and garlic make aphids very unhappy, and thyme gets rid of cabbage worms!
Use companion planting to its fullest and you’re going to have more to eat and spend even less money on food. It’s the way forward for any kitchen garden.
One final point on this – you can grow any herb you like around vegetable crops. So, don’t miss out on this wonderful bonus for kitchen gardens.
Learn To Take Advantage Of Edge Planting
Edge planting is a bit like companion planting, but it takes place around the edges of your garden.
There are three main benefits that you can glean from edge planting:
- A natural barrier against insect infestations. Marigolds and other insecticidal crops are brilliant as edge plants. They can be your garden’s first line of defense.
- To provide shade. If you don’t have a naturally shady part of the garden, grow plants that offer shade to your other crops. It’s a great way to see nature acting in harmony.
- To offer wind protection. Thick bulky shrubs can act as the perfect buffer against the wind blowing away all your high-quality topsoil.
Tips On How To Choose The Crops You Want To Grow
Now, that we’ve covered most of the basics we’re on our penultimate tip and this is really a summary of those we’ve already seen.
This is what you want to consider when picking your first crops:
- Make sure they grow quickly. The faster you see progress, the more likely you are to make your kitchen garden a habit.
- Pick plants with high yields. There’s nothing more disappointing than a crop that barely makes a single meal – pick crops that really deliver some value.
- Pick low maintenance plants that are both disease and insect resistant. The idea, for now, is to save money without too much effort. The more care a plant requires the more a kitchen garden feels like work.
- Choose plants with more than one back-to-back growing season. Tomatoes are a good example of this – a plant which you can harvest more than once in a season. Whereas if you want cauliflowers (which are harder to grow too), you get one per season. That’s it.
- Go crazy with herbs. You can grow herbs throughout your vegetable patch, they taste good, can be harvested very regularly and will save you a small fortune on shop bought.
- “Cut and come” green vegetables are always good. “Cut and come” refers to the fact that the new leaves grow from the inside out (such as with kale, sprouts, etc.) and you cut the older leaves off the outside in preparation. These veggies are often much easier to grow and are very hardy. So, go mad with them.
Don’t Forget Presentation Of Your Garden
One last thing. Your kitchen garden can be just functional if you want it to be, but I find most people want their kitchen gardens to look nice too.
That means you’ll want to consider how you plant crops for colors, how you organize and lay out your garden before you get started.
Trust me, it will save you a ton of work if you pay attention to this before you begin.
It’s really hard to change things around without disturbing the growing cycle if you don’t.
Final Thoughts on Kitchen Gardens
I love kitchen gardens. They save you money. They look good. Your food tastes better. It gives you an appreciation for the ingredients you use in the kitchen.
They are very, very easy to run if you start simple. Once you make them a habit in your life you’ll wonder how you ever did without one.
You can grow a kitchen garden in as little or as much space as you have. Don’t think you have to go without because you live in an apartment. Your windowsill or balcony is a great place to get things going.
I hope your kitchen garden brings you as much pleasure as mine brings me.
Let me know if you need any help with yours or if you have any amazing tips to offer our readers.
PRO TIP: Once you’ve got your new kitchen garden up and running you’ll soon have extra vegetables and you’ll want to discover new ways to use them to their best advantage. Check out our picks for the best healthy food blogs and the best vegan blogs for inspiration.
Check out our Guide to Sustainable Living for more sustainable living strategies.