Key to a successful kitchen garden: keep it simple

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Backyard Gardener, By Patti Sharpe

Just because you have the space for something larger doesn’t mean you’ll have the time to maintain it

I have always tended to focus my gardening efforts on flowers and shrubs, having little interest in growing vegetables, aside from pumpkins. These were never eaten, but grown only for their decorative value and to save me the cost of buying a truck load of pumpkins come fall. 

I have, on occasion, grown a few peas so they could be eaten fresh from the garden.

This year I hope to change all that. At my back door is a raised bed measuring six feet by 18 feet. It was planted with shrubs and day lilies, but at the end of last summer I removed everything and planted half of it with perennials. The remaining 54 sq. ft. was left empty with plans to create a kitchen garden in 2014.

It's not very large, but large enough to produce all that’s needed for salads without becoming unmanageable. It’s always better to start small and expand the next year if the project really takes off.  

The fact it’s literally an arm's reach from the back door and very visible to anyone entering the house will hopefully encourage me to keep on top of the weeding and watering.

Traditionally, kitchen gardens were intended to supply the household with a variety of vegetables and herbs, in close proximity to the house. They’re really a different beast then the large, rowed plots many folks maintain at sufficient size to produce a winter’s worth of root vegetables, peas and beans for canning, cucumbers and tomatoes for pickles and relishes, and so on. We have one of those as well, but it’s merely a place to plant the pumpkins.

The beauty of a kitchen garden is it can be small and produce all you need in the short term. I plan to plant mixed greens, cucumbers and tomatoes. The greens will function as a nice low growing border, while the cucumbers will be of the bush variety that won't sprawl and might  (with some luck) grow up a small trellis or other vertical support. The tomatoes will in all likelihood be a few transplants picked up from my local greenhouse.

This has to be simple, at least initially, or it won't last. Keep that in mind if you're planning a vegetable garden for the first time; just because you might have space for a market garden, that doesn’t mean you’ll have either the time or desire to maintain it. I’m sure we all know someone who started a vegetable garden with an abundance of enthusiasm and energy only to find they were unable to keep up with the weeds and their interest waned as the temperatures climbed and the mosquitoes arrived.

If you’re interested in a kitchen garden, all that’s needed is a small area of fertile, well-drained soil that receives at least six hours of full sun each day. Fertility can always be improved with compost and fertilizer, but location isn’t as flexible. Southern and western exposures tend to guarantee adequate sunshine for vegetables. Too much shade results in spindly, non-productive plants.

It's also helpful if the garden is close to a water source so you don’t have to carry water any distance.

Lastly, your space need not be limited to vegetables. Herbs and flowers can be worked in and will add some variety. Also, don't overlook containers as a means to grow vegetables. The patio planters of tomatoes available at your local greenhouse are about as easy as it gets when placed on your deck or at the back door.

Keep it simple, make it fun and enjoy the results.

Patti Sharpe is a long-time resident of Great Village and actively involved in various organizations within her community. Send your news to her at sharpep@eastlink.ca.

Geographic location: Great Village

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