A kitchen garden can be an intimidating undertaking. It sure was for me. But the rewards are incredible, so I decided to go ahead and start my own for spring this year. Being able to pick fresh veggies, greens, and herbs to cook with on a regular basis is something I’ve always wanted for my family.
Adapting our lifestyle to be more sustainable and eco-friendlier is an on-going process, started by switching to eco-friendly cleaning products. This kitchen garden is another step for our household.
Whatever your motivation is for wanting to start a kitchen garden, I’m here to walk you through everything I learned as a beginner gardener.
What is a Kitchen Garden?
Although you grow vegetables in a kitchen garden, it has some key differences from a vegetable garden. For one, a kitchen garden is on a much smaller scale. They range from about 20 to 200 square feet. Thus, they’re a lot more manageable for beginners
While a vegetable garden is focused on producing a lot of veggies to preserve and can for the whole year, a kitchen garden is all about enjoying produce in the season. To harvest greens and veggies a few times a week to add to our cooking.
Ready to get your hands dirty?
Planning Out Your Kitchen Garden
As is the case for all projects I share, I’m all about prep work. For best results, I firmly believe these steps and considerations help a lot.
Taking time to decide where you want to build your garden is so important. You want optimal conditions for things to grow. Here are the main factors I considered.
The garden needs to be located where it will receive at least 6 hours of sunlight during the day.
My home is facing the south side and therefore I’ve decided to place my raised garden on the left side of our backyard where it receives the most sunlight daily.
Avoid placing your raised bed in areas that are prone to accumulating water. Raised beds for a kitchen garden allow for better drainage compared to an in-ground garden. But you still have to be cautious.
Accessibility to a water source is important for the garden. The soil in a raised bed gets warmer and dries faster than in an in-ground garden. You want a location that allows few trips to the garden. For beginners, running a hose to the garden works great.
We have a water outlet on the left side of our home, to which I plan to attach a hose that will feed into our garden. I’m also considering setting up a water line system in the future.
Good airflow in your garden keeps it from staying damp. Dampness and humidity are an issue because that’s a breeding grounds for fungal diseases in plants. It’s also attractive to slugs and gnats that will feed on your garden and damage it.
Walls, hedges, or other structures close to your garden prevent air circulation. Keep that in mind when you’re choosing your location.
HOA Approval may or may not be an issue for you. But it’s always good to check on the regulations of your county and place of residence. Front yard gardens can be an issue by example. City dwellers are also bound to more restrictions when it comes to gardening.
After you’ve zeroed in on your optimal gardening spot, it’s time to consider how big you want it to be.
Consider how many crops you want to plant and make sure they grow well in the area you live in. I’m planting only a few of our favorite vegetables and fruits we eat. Keeping it simple is key. Especially as a beginner gardener.
You don’t need a big garden for a big yield with a raised garden bed. Plus it makes your garden easy to maintain and not a burden.
You also want to enjoy the process and yield results that encourage you to keep gardening. Here are the factors I focused on.
Raised Bed Dimension
Your garden-raised bed should be a maximum of 4ft wide to comfortably be able to work around and reach within your garden. With this width, you can pull out weeds, harvest your crops, and care for your plants.
You can start with a 3ft by 3ft raised bed or with a length from 4ft to 8ft. A minimum of 12-18 inches is ideal for the height of your raised bed. It’s a comfortable height to kneel at and allows for planting crops that have shallow roots such as carrots.
As a beginner, I’m starting with one bed (a 5’x3′ raised bed). I plan to add to it in the next few years.
Build Out Your Raised Bed
You can DIY your raised bed using softwood like cedar or redwood. Keep in mind it can get pricey depending on the dimension of your raised beds.
Another option for raised beds is galvanized tins, which have to be used carefully due to the sharp edges.
You can also opt for a pre-made raised bed with these material types or recycled materials like BPA-free, phthalate-free polymer.
I purchased this pre-made elevated raised bed to get started quickly with my garden.
A kitchen garden is a beautiful focal point for your ward.
Including a pathway around your beds adds to the aesthetic of your garden. It also allows for enough space to place the gardening tools you need to care for your garden. That’s what we call a win-win.
I used gravel stones to create pathways around my raised bed.
To figure out what works for you visually (and functionally), consider visualizing your future garden. Drawing it on paper or digitally to make your vision clearer. You can even use stakes to mark the garden area and raised bed layouts.
What Should You Plant?
As mentioned before, keep it simple. Plant what your family enjoys eating regularly. And focus on plants that grow well in your area.
Each state has a free resource that you can utilize to determine what those are.
In Texas, look up Texas A&M Agrilife. This resource provides gardening and landscaping guides on which vegetables to grow and how to grow them.
Planting crops that like to be near each other i.e. companion planting is an efficient way to use your gardening space.
You want to plant crops that have the same growing needs together but do not attract the same pests or diseases.
Companion charts have been useful for me along with the gardening guide mentioned above to decide on the crops that I’m planting this year.
our blooming garden layout
To start my gardening season, I will be using plant starters instead of starting my garden from seeds. However, if you can start with seeds, it’s a cheaper alternative.
This year, I’m planting the following:
1. Bell Pepper
Flowers & Herbs
Flowers and herbs are a good addition to your garden. They are easier to grow than vegetables. They also help to maintain your garden, protecting it from insects and pests. Check out this Texas Herbs guide if you also live in the area.
Gardening Tip: Keep a journal to detail your planting journey
This will allow you to look back and see what worked and what didn’t. It’s an easy way to build on your gardening skills.
Planting and Harvesting Season
Considering the timeline in building your kitchen garden is an obvious must. Your climate and choices of veggies, greens, herbs, and flowers to plant are factors to look at in your decision of when to start planting.
Here’s a quick guide to distinguishing between cool-season crops and warm-season crops.
In terms of harvesting, remember to pick gently, snap cleanly, and walk carefully around your plants. Using a low and long basket to transport your harvest is a good idea. Less a chance of bruising when your product is at peak ripeness.
Other than keeping your plants healthy and thriving, making sure they’re safe from bugs and pests is another challenge.
Depending on your living situation, you might need to build fences around your kitchen garden. That helps keep rabbits, squirrels, and deer away.
Kitchen Garden Alternatives
If you have a small backyard, or only a balcony to work with in terms of space to garden, there is still hope.
City dwellers the world over have found ways to grow herbs and all sorts of produce. Often in ingenious ways. Here are a few ideas you could try.
1. Go vertical
Opt for plant varieties that can grow vertically. Using a trellis as a support structure saves a lot of space.
2. Use an AeroGarden
This indoor gardening device is perfect if you have zero space. It comes with its own LED efficiency growth system with settings tailored to your plant variety. It even has a vacation mode setting that takes care of watering your plants when you’re away.
Time to Grow a Kitchen Garden of Your Own
You know the steps. You’ve created a vision for your kitchen garden. It’s now time to put it in motion. I’m hoping you develop your green thumb just as I developed mine!
What are you most excited to harvest this season? I’d love to know in the comments below.