Typically a kitchen garden includes vegetable, herbs, flowers for the table, and at least one fruit source; usually a tree. This gives you a good variety of produce and fresh cut flowers for your table. Some people prefer to focus on a more specific type of garden. Salsa gardens are popular and if large enough can provide fresh salsa for you and gifts for friends. Simply grow the ingredients of your favorite salsa recipe. They can be grown in your yard or in containers on a patio or balcony.
The first thing to do is to set realistic goals. Start with something small and manageable then you can expand later, if that is what you want. When I started keeping a kitchen garden I started with a small herb garden. Herbs are basically weeds that taste good. They love adverse conditions and are good confidence builders for novice gardeners. Every succeeding year I dug up a little more yard and added two or three different types of plants. For my fruit I put in a strawberry border. It was a very successful garden with both annual and perennial plants.
Once you know what your goals are you can begin site selection. Even if you only have a balcony don’t skip this step. What you need to do is watch your site, or possible sites, for a week to see how much and what type of sun it gets. By what type of sun I mean is it direct sunlight or is there partial shade? Is it morning sun or the hot afternoon sun? Herbs and vegetables need lots of full sun, at least six hours a day. This is where a container garden has advantages. If you live on a sun challenged property, containers with casters allow you to move the containers around to their most advantageous points. If you own the property limbs can be trimmed back from trees or trees removed to create a more advantageous site.
The other necessity to keep in mind is well drained soil. Most plants aren’t happy in standing water. Be sure containers are well drained and don’t select a swampy part of your yard. Raised beds are another way to go if re-grading the natural terrain is not an option. For simple directions on how to build raised beds check out this post by Powered by Tofu.
Now you’re ready to make your garden bed. If you are creating a container garden there is a world of beautiful and fancy containers to choose from, but remember just about anything can be used as a container. For some ideas check out this post on The Micro Gardener.
If you are planting in the ground first mark out your perimeter with either a garden hose (good for curved edges) or stakes and string. Within that perimeter remove all grass, rocks, and debris. Now you can amend your soil with compost. You can use general compost or one for your specific soil deficiencies (discovered with a soil test kit.) But I’m trying to keep things simple so a good top soil and compost mix will get you started.
Now you can plant your seeds according to package directions and label each plant type. This is another area where you can get creative painting the name on a marker like a rock placed at the end of the row. Many attach the seed packet to a stick for a marker. It doesn’t last as long, but by then your plants have usually come up and you no longer need the markers to tell where things are.
To deter animals from taking a “dirt bath” in freshly tilled soil –and walking away with your seeds all over their fur – I put small wooden pegs every few inches. (BBQ skewers work well. They even have a pointy end to make pushing them into the ground easier.)
If you need further help I’ll do my best to answer any questions you may have. Also, website for Organic Gardening Magazine has lots of tips and tricks to help you along your way.
I am moving soon so I didn’t put out a garden this year. I’ve done so for so many years (no we’re not counting them) that it physically feels wrong. I’m living vicariously through other gardeners right now so would love to hear about your experiences.