What is Kitchen Gardening?

This is the seventh post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first six posts please link here to read.

Now for – What is Kitchen Gardening? – with Judith Sorg.

Have you ever wondered exactly what a “kitchen garden” is or how it differs from a regular vegetable garden?

For starters, a kitchen garden or potager (pronounced puh-ta-zhay), is a special kind of edible garden with a rich history tracing back to old English and French culinary gardens.

Much like a traditional vegetable garden, a kitchen garden is a chef’s delight filled with delicious fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. In short, a kitchen garden is a celebration of fresh ingredients and delicious home cooked meals.

Both kitchen and traditional gardens offer a sense of satisfaction coupled with tangible rewards for a job well done. Beyond these similarities, there are some distinct differences between the two, however.

Picking tomatoes from a Kitchen Garden

Picking tomatoes from a Kitchen Garden

1. Convenience. One of the main characteristics of a kitchen garden is accessibility. It should be easy to grab the items you need to your prepare your daily meals. Therefore, a potager should be located as close to your food preparation area as possible.

Imagine you are in the middle of preparing dinner when you suddenly realize “this marinade could use a little more rosemary.” Rather than trek out to your main vegetable garden while you have pots simmering on the stove, wouldn’t you rather be able to reach right outside your door to snip a couple sprigs?

With a kitchen garden, the easier it is to grab what you need while you are cooking, the better.

2. Size. Kitchen gardens are usually smaller than traditional gardens because they are situated so close to the house. This isn’t always the case, of course, but having a culinary garden close enough to offer easy access while you are cooking may limit the amount of space available.

If you only have limited space available to plant a kitchen garden, here is a good rule of thumb to consider: A regular vegetable garden is about planning for the future, while a kitchen garden is about enjoying today. Therefore, the fruits and vegetables you plan to preserve for future use – or crops, such as corn, that take up a lot of space – are good choices for a traditional vegetable garden where space is at less of a premium.

Instead, kitchen gardens are normally filled with the items you prepare and eat while fresh. Therefore, containers of fresh herbs, compact cherry tomato plants, or an assortment of leaf lettuce varieties all make great additions to a potager.  If you lack the space for a traditional garden, a small kitchen garden can keep you in fresh, delicious produce all season long.

3. Beauty. While a standard vegetable garden is all about utility and production, part of the charm of a kitchen garden comes from its ornamental aspect. Due to its proximity to the house, a kitchen garden is harder to tuck out of sight than a traditional garden. Therefore, they are often designed to add a sense of beauty to your home, as well.

Some herbs, such as lemon thyme, can be used to create a beautiful and fragrant border around plants and containers. Edible flowers, such as violas and daylilies, can be incorporated to add a splash of color. Compact blueberry shrubs are also highly ornamental and make a wonderful, yet functional border.

potted herbsAs you can see, a kitchen garden offers both convenience and beauty in a compact space. The best part is it doesn’t take much to get started. All you need is a couple large pots, some fresh herbs, your favorite compact tomato plant and lettuce varieties and you’ll be on your way!

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Planning a Productive and Practical Potager

Woman and her child harvesting carrots from her potager garden

 

This is the sixth post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first five posts please link here to read.

Now for – Planning a Productive and Practical Potager – with Judith Sorg.

A well-planned potager, or kitchen garden, can be a beautiful and enticing way to incorporate more fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs into your diet.

  Little boy reaps turnip greens from a potager garden


Little boy reaps turnip greens from a potager garden

 

The traditional potager or kitchen garden, is a space separate from the rest of the residential garden, such as the ornamental and flowering plants and lawn areas. Most vegetable gardens are a smaller version of old family farm plots, but the kitchen garden is different, as it has its own history as well as design.

 

The following tips will help you plan a productive and practical potatger.

Tip #1: Pick the Perfect Spot.  When choosing a location for your kitchen garden, try to find a spot as close to your kitchen as possible.  After all, you want your own personal culinary garden to be easy to reach while you are preparing meals.

The location you choose must also take into consideration the kind of environment your plants prefer. Choose a sunny location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. If you live in a really hot climate, you may find a bit of afternoon shade is nice to have, as well.

Also, you’ll want to make sure the location you choose has easy access to water. You definitely don’t want to drag a heavy garden hose around the house or carry buckets of water in order to keep your plants hydrated.

Tip #2: Pick Your Plants. The easiest way to decide what you want to grow in your potager is to think about what you like to cook.

For example, if you use a lot of fresh herbs, you’ll want to keep a big pot of your favorite varieties on hand. Kids can’t get enough of your homemade salsa? Plan to have a steady supply of fresh cilantro and juicy tomatoes nearby.

In other words, you want to stock your kitchen garden with the fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers you use in your day-to-day cooking.  These are the items you will want to have convenient access to throughout the growing season. Items you plan freeze, can or otherwise preserve for later use are ideal for your regular vegetable garden.

Tip #3: Make the Most of the Space You Have.  Due to their proximity to the house, many kitchen gardens are confined to a relatively small space. If your proposed potager has a small overall footprint, don’t get discouraged. Instead – look up!

Take advantage of as much vertical space as possible to maximize your growing area. Consider growing juicy yellow pear tomatoes surrounded by creeping thyme in a vertical container or use hanging baskets suspended on shepherd hooks for your favorite herbs. Just make sure you keep them well watered as hanging baskets tend to dry out more quickly.

You could also add a trellis or incorporate a fence into your design to provide support for climbing plants, such as pole beans or cucumbers. If your potager has a blank wall with good sun exposure, you could add a ladder-like series of shelves to house a lot more plants than you could fit into the ground you have available.

beautiful potager garden

Beautiful potager garden

Tip #4: Make It Beautiful. Although some may argue that beauty for its own sake is neither productive nor practical, I disagree. Your kitchen garden is an extension of your home and will likely be visible to your family and guests. So, making the area as attractive as possible just makes good sense.

Balance, symmetry and repetition are components of any good garden design. To incorporate balance and symmetry into your potager, try adding two matching brightly colored containers filled with herbs and place them on each side of the entrance.

For repetition, add multiples of the same plants throughout the garden. For example, a group of 3 cherry tomato plants in attractive containers will have a stronger visual impact than a single plant. You can also create a sense of order by planting lovely borders of edible flowers or fragrant herbs along walkways.

One great thing about incorporating ornamental aspects into your potager is you may find you want to spend more time in an area that nourishes both your body and soul.

Next we will talk about the difference between kitchen gardening and a regular vegetable garden.

For Judith’s next discussion link here: What is Kitchen Gardening?

 

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How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds

This is the fifith post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first three please link here to read.

Now for -How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds – with Judith Sorg.

There are many benefits to using raised vegetable garden beds in your garden.

For starters, I have found elevated garden beds are easier on your back and knees because they require less bending, kneeling and crawling than regular beds.  In addition, raised garden beds offer better drainage, which means your plants aren’t stuck sitting in excess water every time it rains. Plus, it is much easier to build your soil UP than it is to work amendments into the ground.

raised garden beds for the handicapped

Raised garden beds for the handicapped

Raised garden beds also are great for those who are wheelchair or scooter bound.

Fortunately, building raised vegetable beds is a super easy do-it-yourself project. All you need are some readily available tools and materials, and an extra pair of hands.

How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds

Tools and Materials  

(makes two 8’ x 4’ x 6” high beds)

(6) 1” x 6” x 8’ cedar boards* – 2 boards cut into 4’ sections

Wood screws and/or 8 metal corner brackets

Power drill

Important Note: Cedar is naturally insect and moisture resistant, so it tends to hold up well in outdoor environments. Avoid using pressure treated lumber for your food growing areas because the chemicals used to create them can leach into your soil.

*Cedar boards come in a variety of lengths and widths. Obviously, using 6” wide boards will give you more shallow beds than 10” boards. Choose whichever length and width combination you prefer. If you find 4’ beds are too wide, simply reduce the length of each shorter section to 3’ – 3.5’.

Instructions:

To assemble your raised vegetable garden beds, line the ends of an 8’ foot section and a 4’ sections up so they form an “L” shape. While your helper holds the boards in place, secure the two boards together with wood screws or with the metal corner brackets.

Repeat this process with the remaining cedar boards until you create 2 wooden rectangles, each measuring 8’ in length by 4’ in width.

Once your beds are assembled, carry them a sunny spot in your garden and place them where you want your raised beds before you begin filling them.

Filling Your Vegetable Garden Beds

Of course, you can fill each bed with pre-packaged gardening mix, but you may find that gets a bit pricey. You can also create your own more cost-effective planting medium very easily.

 Build Raised Vegetable Garden BedsStart by adding a thick layer of newspaper or flattened cardboard across the bottom of your raised garden box. This will help prevent weeds and grass from growing up into your planter. Then, add alternating layers of peat moss, compost, aged manure or barn litter, and topsoil.

You can add additional amendments, such as bone meal or a slow-release organic fertilizer, once you decide which plants you want to grow in each bed and you’ve conducted soil tests to determine what nutrients your soil needs to accommodate those plants.

If you prepare and fill your raised beds in the fall, simply cover them with dark plastic to “cook down” all winter.  You will be rewarded with beautiful rich soil in the spring, but it will be quite a bit lower than you remember – so be extra generous when filling the beds.

If you assemble your raised vegetable garden beds in the spring, you can plant right into the layered mixture. Over time, the layers will break down to form a rich soil. In the near term, your plants will do just fine in it as long as you don’t use fresh compost, manure or barn litter, all of which can “burn” your plants.

As you can see, learning how to build raised vegetable garden beds isn’t difficult. If you follow these easy instructions, you can look forward to years of more rewarding and efficient gardening.

Next post will be March. 20,2014, themed, “Planning a Productive and Practical Potager.”

 

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How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps

This is the fourth post on Vegetable Gardening with guest speaker Judith Sorg. If you missed the first three please link here to read.

Now for -How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps – with Judith Sorg.

If you love to cook, learning how to plant a vegetable garden is one of the most rewarding things you can do. When you grow your own garden, you can harvest fresh seasonal fruits, veggies and herbs as you need them instead of having to drive miles to the nearest grocery store. It just doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Here’s How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in 4 Easy Steps:

simple garden layout

Example of a simple garden layout
image credit: vegetablegardenplanning.net
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Step #1. Decide What You Want to Plant. This is the fun part. Start by making a list of all the recipes you frequently make. Note which vegetables and herbs you use over and over again, because this will tell you not only what you should plant, but also in what quantity.

Don’t forget to jot down other items your family enjoys, even if you aren’t using them in your cooking currently. Growing your own vegetable garden is a great way to expand your culinary horizons.

This planning phase is a great time to get your children interested in gardening, too. Ask what they might like to grow or make fun suggestions if they are too young to come up with ideas on their own. Pumpkins, ornamental gourds and sunflowers (for their beauty and seeds) are popular choices with kids of all ages. Fast growing plants, such as lettuce and beans, are also great choices for children because they produce noticeable results quickly.

Once you’ve made a list of plants you want to grow, collect mail order catalogs, search online or stop by your favorite garden center to find seeds and transplants. You can learn a lot about what grows well in your area by tapping into these resources, as well.

Step #2:  Pick a Location for Your Vegetable Garden

Just like in real estate, planting a successful vegetable garden is all about location, location, location. If you want your plants to thrive, there are a couple non-negotiable items you will need to provide:

Vegetable Garden in Four Easy Steps with sunshine1. Sunshine. Pick a sunny location with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

2. Water.  Make sure the location you choose has easy access to water. You will need to water your plants whenever Mother Nature refuses to cooperate, so make sure you have a convenient source of water nearby.

3. Accessibility. Gardens need care, so position your vegetable garden in an area that is convenient to get to with the tools you need to work in it. If you place it too far from the house or garden shed where you keep your tools or in an area difficult to reach with a wheelbarrow, you may find yourself tempted to neglect it.

Make your life easier and plant your garden in the most convenient sunny location you can find.

4. Good Drainage. You may have to do some work for this one, especially if you live in an area with heavy clay or compacted soil. If you find the area you want to plant tends to collect standing water, you will want to build your beds up to protect your plants from overly wet feet.

Step #3: Create Your Garden Beds

Once you’ve identified where you want your garden, you will need to decide where you want the individual beds within it. As you are doing so, keep in mind the orientation of the sun throughout the day because taller plants or those growing on trellises can cast damaging shadows if they aren’t positioned correctly.

To create the individual beds, many old school gardeners swear by the traditional practice of removing heavy layers of sod, then tilling and amending the soil beneath it before planting your vegetable plants.

Although this method will certainly work, you simply don’t have to work that hard.   Instead, you can use the Lasagna Gardening method of building your beds UP instead of digging down to create them. This methods works equally well with raised garden beds or directly on the ground.

compost needed for gardening in four easy stepsTo get started, add flattened cardboard or a thick stack of newspapers on top of the ground and then add alternate layers of peat, topsoil, aged manure or barn litter, organic mulch, yard clippings and/or compost.

You can either prepare these beds months in advance or right before you plant. Either way, the layers will meld together into a beautiful, rich soil for your plants.

For more details on this no-dig gardening method, check out Lasagna Gardening, a New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens.

Step #4: Start Planting!

Once your beds are ready, it’s time to start planting!

Before you start digging, you have some choices to make: you can sow seeds directly into the soil, start seeds indoors then harden them off outdoors before adding them to your garden, or plant established transplants you’ve purchased directly into your prepared beds.
Some plants require direct sowing, while others need to be started indoors several weeks before the frost-free date in your area in order to perform well. While you are creating your list of plants you want to grow, make a note of the growing requirements for each so you can give your plants the best chance of survival.

If you decide to follow these four easy steps to plant a vegetable garden, you will be rewarded all season long with an abundant supply of fresh and healthy produce. Plus, you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing you did it with your own two hands.

Next will talk about: “How to Build Raised Vegetable Garden Beds.”

Return for Judiths next garden discussion March. 17, 2014.

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