Creating and growing your own kitchen garden
It is not until you grow your first tomato, harvest your first potatoes or make a salad out of the garden that you have an appreciation for the farmers who provide us with the organic foods we have come to love. Urban farming is making a comeback in regional centres as people are wanting to get connected again with where their food comes from, get in touch with their nature loving side and a kitchen garden is a great place to start. No matter how small your living space is you can grow something to enrich your health and get back in touch with nature. It could be a window sill of herbs, a collection of antique pots on your balcony or a small patch in your yard. Creating a kitchen garden is the most nourishing, simple and empowering feeling. Here are my 10 top tips on how to incorporate a kitchen garden into your lifestyle and the benefits.
1: Be realistic: Work out how big your space is, what your soil is like, is there enough sun in your chosen location and what your budget is and your time available to spend on your garden? Generally it will take a few hours to set up and pot out your plants, and then depending on size, you will need to tend to it around 5-20 mins per day (by the way, these are great job for kids to earn pocket money or for daily chores). This will include, weeding, watering and fertilising. Never grow a garden more than 5 meters away from your house. It will not get visited enough and you wont be able to keep an eye on it and what it needs. Find a space close to a water source and within a few meters of the house. This is where it will thrive.
2: Start small: Starting with a few pots, a small garden bed or a few plots is a great way to introduce yourself and not get overwhelmed. If you are new to gardening then you can research the chosen few plants and get to know them before introducing new plants. Once that bed or pot is established, then you can add more. This will result in a steady supply of food and your confidence will grow.
3: Grow what you will use: A common mistake is planting a wide variety of plants and then not knowing how to use them in the kitchen or how to get them to harvest as some vegetables and herbs require special attention. If you are a beginner this can be tricky and overwhelming. The best herbs to grow include: basil, parsley, oregano, sage, rosemary, mint and thyme and lavender. They are easy to use in a mixture of salads, in roasting vegetables, on home made pizza and smell wonderful. Best vegetables to grow in small spaces, pots or your first gardens include lettuce, silver beet, rocket, snow peas, beans, cherry tomatoes, spring onions and chives, radish and sweetcorn. Have a think about what you like, what will grow in your area and choose those that you are familiar with first. If you are starting out, go with seedlings (try and find non GMO seedlings from local farmers markets and home growers) and if you are more experienced, join seed saving group and sow and propagate your own seedlings.
4: Soil health and building your garden: Depending on your soil type already in your area/garden, you may need to replenish and cultivate healthy soil. You can do this a few ways. You can build a no dig garden bed using layers of materials (google, no dig gardening) if you are starting from scratch and you are building a bed around 2m in size, you can add well rotted compost if you have semi decent soil to your bed or you can purchase some premium compost mixture for pots.
5: Always grow flowers: flowers are great for attracting pollinating insects, bring colour, beauty and have the added benefit of being a companion plants to many vegetables reducing pests and diseases. Planting companion plants increase flavour, deters pests, provides nutrients to the soils and smells great. Best plants for companion planting include marigolds, nasturtiums, roses, cosmos, lavender.
6: Use natural pest management: If your garden is small, then you can manually check and remove grasshoppers (kids love this one), grubs, slugs and snails and remove them from your garden. If you notice problems, you can google natural pest solutions, do some research on why that particular pest is there and find a natural remedy. This may include a garlic and chilly spray, a container with a mixture to attract bugs away or other. Plants are susceptible and affected by weather, soil deficiency, over and under watering, competitive plants, toxins in the air and pest invasions.
7: Fertilise your gardens: Fertilising is a must if you are going to grow food. Our soils (In Australia especially) are depleted of many valuable nutrients and fertilising can add nutrients to both plants and soil, increasing fertility and strengthens plants. Natural fertiliser can come from collecting seaweed from your local beach (check regulations, but in most states you can collect up to 20 kg per day for personal use) or purchase some seaweed solution, purchase or build a worm farm (you wont regret it), feed them your scraps and use the worm wee (liquid gold as we call it) watered down as a nutrient rich liquid fertiliser once per week. You can use casting to fertilise and build healthy soil as well, and you can purchase organic fertiliser pellets (dynamic lifter, sea mungus for example) that you can manually spread around your garden to provide rich nutrients (nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus etc.).
8: Make compost: No matter what size your garden is you can provide free compost to increase your soil fertility and reduce your household waste at the same time completing a nutrient cycle. You could choose from building a compost pile, purchasing 1 or 2 compost bins or a compost tumbler in which you place your food scraps (vegetable and fruits), with broken up paper, leaves, grass clippings etc. and within a matter of weeks provide a turn around of rich delicious compost. If you want to get back to nature composting is a must. Good for you, good for the planet and great for your garden!
9: Bring back biodiversity to your gardens: Encourage wildlife by having some of the following: A few rocks, stones and areas for lizards to inhabit, a bird bath for those beautiful specimens of the air, get some native bees (not as scary as it sounds) and fall in love with their tiny weeny lifestyles of goodness and once again plant flowers for the insects such as butterflies, dragonflys and bees.
10: Fruit trees in pots: There are many dwarf variety of trees that love to grow in medium to large pots. Trees like lemons, limes, blueberries, strawberries, grapes all grow wonderfully in small spaces. They like specific soils so research and create the perfect environment for them to thrive.
11: Put a chair in your garden: There is nothing quite like sitting in your chair in a late afternoon or early morning, with your cup of tea or fresh juice, your reading material of choice and just sitting in your little bit of growing paradise and marvel at the wonders of your creation. You are nourishing yourself, the earth and the wildlife by growing a kitchen garden and if you can appreciate its beauty in all its forms, then that is an added freebie that will enhance your lifestyle.