Monday, March 30, 2009

Kitchen Garden Tips

Starting a garden can feel like quite a daunting task - where to put it, how to build it, what to grow, and how much work it might be - that even the thought of all those great vegetables can pale in comparison. To help alleviate some of that concern, we've put together a list of helpful tools and resources that will get you through the process and on the way to those great fresh vegetables and herbs for your summer table.

  • Give some serious thought to lasagne gardening. Lasagne gardening uses layers of organic materials that let you take advantage of the soil structure already in your yard. It's also an excellent way to build raised beds without having to do lots of digging. It is ideal to install your lasagne garden in the fall so the materials break down over the course of the winter to some of the most beautiful soil ever come Spring; however, you can plant seedlings directly if you decide to go for it now.

  • Make a list of things you like to eat - tomatoes, greens, radishes, beets, sweet peppers, hot peppers, basil, cilantro, potatoes, sweet corn, popcorn, peas, beans - and see what of that is feasible to grow in your space. You can use some handy electronic garden mapping tools to see how the garden might shape up and be organized, or you also consider succession planting. This allows you to put something else in the space recently vacated by the radishes you just pulled, washed, and ate for lunch. Or for the peas that died back once the weather got too warm.

  • Remember the garden can (and probably should) contain some flowers. Flowers, like cosmos and zinnias, make not only terrific bouquets all summer long, but also attract pollinators and house predators that will help control unwanted critters. And flowers like violas (a.k.a. Johnny-Jump-Ups), nasturtiums, and calendula are edible, too. Toss them in with your assortment of homegrown lettuces and arugula, and you've got one of the prettiest dishes going.

  • Companion planting can be part of your kitchen garden, too. Many flowers and herbs, as mentioned above, attract pollinators as well as house predators, but they also can repel some bad guys. Marigolds help defer some unwanted vistors by their strong smell, as do onions and garlic. A great book to help you start thinking about this concept is Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember as you begin thinking about your garden is to enjoy it. Grow things you like to eat in a space you feel is manageable for a first time and for your schedule. Then, at the end of the season, you can join the legions of gardeners plotting ever larger and larger spaces with a greater variety of plants for the next season! You'll love it.

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