request info email to friend
The Return of the Kitchen Garden
Michelle Obama is reviving an old standard: the kitchen garden. When the nation’s first lady, assisted by a group of schoolchildren, broke ground on a garden at the White House, she drew attention to the fact that home-grown vegetables not only save money, but they taste better and they often have better nutritional value.
Gardening also can be relaxing, a chance to get outside and spend a few hours digging in the dirt and enjoying the sun and the sound of the birds. And fresh-picked vegetables add flavor and color to any kind of cooking, from a gourmet pesto sauce to a BLT.
The first step in growing a garden is to find the right spot. Most vegetables need three things: sunlight, good soil and water. In order to grow strong, healthy plants, choose a spot that gets at least six to eight hours of full sunlight a day. Less than that, and most of your plants will be puny and susceptible to insects. However, leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach do well in partial shade.
You also need good, well-drained soil. You can have a scientific – and potentially expensive – soil analysis done. But you also can just look at it and feel it. Does it look dark and rich? Does it feel dense and moist, rather than sandy or sticky? Even good soil probably will benefit from an addition of organic matter, such as compost, which you can work into the soil.
Does the spot for your garden drain well? After it rains, are there big puddles that don’t go away? If your drainage is not good, consider another spot or build raised beds.
Once you have found a place for your garden, decide what you want to plant. Obviously, you should focus on vegetables that you and your family enjoy. But don’t go too crazy – you don’t want to end up with your kitchen overflowing with zucchini or peppers at the end of the season. Consider how much of a particular vegetable you are likely to eat, can, freeze or give away. You also might want to plant something you have not tried much before.
Most vegetables need to be replanted every year. You can buy plants or you can start your own from seed, depending on how much time, money and effort you want to spend. It is less expensive to start from seed, but you need a sunny place inside your house, and you need to begin the process well before you are ready to plant outside.
Some vegetables can simply be put in the ground in rows or some other configuration, but others need a little more hardware. Many kinds of beans, for example, need to climb up a trellis or a fence. And tomatoes usually do better in tomato cages, which keep the plants from falling over. You also might want to protect your garden from rabbits and other moochers by putting up a fence.
Once your garden is planted, your work is not done. You need to weed periodically, so that weeds don’t choke out your vegetables. You also need to keep your garden well watered. Using a soaking hose saves water by delivering it directly to the plant roots rather that spraying it through the air, where it can evaporate. You also can limit evaporation by not watering your garden in the heat of the day.
And of course, vegetables, like any plant, can fall victim to a number of insect pests or problems with soil. If you are keeping your garden watered and your plants are not growing well or are getting sick, you might want to consult with an expert about what is causing the problem and how to treat it.
But most gardens do just fine with a minimum of effort on your part. Provide this basic care to your growing plants, and get ready to enjoy the fruits of your harvest.