By Emma Castleberry
Do you like the idea of harvesting your very own homegrown vegetables, but you simply don’t have the time or space to care for a full-fledged vegetable plot? One of the most beautiful things about gardening is that it can be scaled to meet your needs. If you’re a busy person with limited resources, a kitchen garden might be a perfect way for you to supplement your seasonal vegetable consumption.
The kitchen garden is a low-maintenance, easy way to generate some of your household vegetables without much effort or space. “It is not intended to produce enough for canning or freezing, just day to day consumption,” says Kim Jackson, annuals greenhouse manager at The Flower Bin Garden Center.
The basic tenets of success remain the same regardless of your garden’s size. “Take into account how much sun or shade your area will have,” says Jackson. You’ll also need to consider if you will use containers or if you have space for a small plot; how much time you have to tend your garden; and which vegetables you can grow that you will enjoy and know how to prepare. “Most veggies and herbs are easy to grow and the best ones for you will be the ones you will eat,” says Jackson. Research and proper planning are the best ways to ensure your kitchen garden thrives.
“Kitchen gardens can supplement and provide fresh produce during the growing season,” says Kristen Anderson, horticulture program specialist with CSU Extension Boulder County and coordinator for the county’s Master Gardener program. “They’re beautiful in their own way, but not usually considered ornamental gardens. Edible landscapes incorporate vegetables and herbs into more traditional ornamental gardens for the best of both worlds and great use of space.” And that space does not have to be significant – Anderson says anyone with room for a flower pot and some decent sunlight can have a kitchen garden. “Herbs count, too,” she says.
If you have a little more outdoor space, large containers on a patio or porch can work for certain varieties of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Lettuces can also thrive in a window box or raised bed container. “It’s all about making the most of your space and putting the right plant in the right place,” says Anderson. “Do your research and understand the needs of each particular crop before investing your time and money. Can you consistently provide the right light, temperature and water?”
When planning out a calendar for your kitchen garden, mid to late March is the best time to sow crops like greens, root crops and peas. “These need to go in the ground where they’ll mature since they don’t generally like to be transplanted,” says Anderson. “Tomatoes are always popular, but they can be more complicated. Read the description of each variety to help find the one that will fit your space and harvest expectations. Tomato and pepper seedlings can be transplanted outdoors in late May, but could need protection from our unpredictable Colorado weather.”
Whether you’re a veteran to the kitchen garden or a completely new gardener, the CSU Extension’s Grow&Give website is a hugely helpful resource, chock full of garden plans, crop-specific information, season extension tips, and even locations for donating your extra produce. “Grow what you like and what you or your neighbors will use,” says Anderson. “Take notes for next season about what worked and what didn’t, and enjoy getting your hands dirty with delicious results.”
For more information, visit growgive.extension.colostate.edu.