Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Planning a Kitchen Garden

Garden sign

In these last few days, I have been thoroughly immersed in planning next year's garden. Last year, I expanded the area of our yard planted to vegetables by moving azaleas and creating a garden bed alongside our front walk. This was quite successful, since I was able to take advantage of the sunniness of the front yard, and there was already an existing bed with defined boundaries. The one caveat was that, when the tomatoes finally really got going, it got a little difficult to walk up to the front door. Maybe slightly less leggy varieties are in order for the front yard.

Ahh, but it still wasn't enough! It was perfect for experimentation, for learning what kind of yield to expect from each type of plant, but in the end, I only got one eggplant. And it was beautiful and delicious... and I want more.

Pumpkin patch

So the plan for this coming growing season is to take a whole section of backyard, build four raised beds, and have a true kitchen garden. I want to see, if we plan well, how much of our own food we can produce. Of course, we still have those pesky HOA restrictions against chickens (grumble, grumble), so this experiment will be limited to fruits and vegetables.

I've chosen the site of my kitchen garden with several things in mind. For one, proximity to the kitchen! I can step out the back door of the kitchen, cross the deck, and pick some green beans. Also, in our largely shady yard, this spot is one that gets a bit more sun, as there is a small gap in the canopy of oaks. I can also keep an eye on it from the kitchen. And last but not least, it doesn't interfere with the more decorative landscaping in other areas of the yard.

One of the biggest investments we will make in our new garden is to fill the raised beds with good soil. To enrich the soil and keep it well-fed throughout the growing season, we hope to make use of our own compost for the first time this year. First, we have a traditional compost bin that has been happily working away at our leaves and kitchen scraps for several months now. We made it out of a big plastic bin, and have been very happy with how unobtrusive it's been. Easy!

But the compost I am most excited about will come from my very first livestock! They may prevent me from keeping chickens, or goats, or a pig, but they cannot take away... my WORMS! That's right, folks, I am the proud owner of a Worm Factory, currently home to 500 red wriggler worms, who are already hard at work processing our kitchen scraps and old newspapers into nutrient-rich castings. By summer, we should have a good regular supply of compost, including worm tea to use as liquid fertilizer!

The dead of winter is the perfect time for browsing seed catalogs. (If you have a favorite, please do share in the comments, I am always looking for new sources.) Once again this year, I will be using 100% organic seeds. In the past, my seeds have come from Seed Savers Exchange and Seeds of Change, both of which I have been very happy with. Choosing exactly which variety, narrowing down the range of what we will grow (from "everything!" to just "what will fit in our garden"), dreaming of what it will all look like and taste like... ah, this is what winter is for. And since we start as much as possible from seed, there's no time to waste -- some things actually need to be started in February! Before we know it, the dining room table will once again be covered in trays of seedlings!

A few new books have been well-springs of inspiration as I plan this year. The Backyard Homestead is full of practical gardening advice, as well as tips on preserving and extending the harvest (and lots of fun daydreamy projects like building a chicken coop... someday!). Also, I am loving The Family Kitchen Garden, a book I picked up a few days ago and have hardly put down since. So much wisdom about gardening with children, including great practical advice on companion planting. This is very useful, since this year I fully intend to be a bit less whimsical in my garden planning. For instance, I will not plant a melon right next to my eggplant -- I spent the whole summer pulling melon tendrils off the poor innocent eggplant plant, muttering things like "keep your hands to yourself, sheesh!"

In June, when I'm outside trying to keep the weeds and bugs away from my precious veggies, I may question my sanity for ever having such grandiose dreams of backyard food production. But for now, snug in my warm house with the seed catalogs and the gardening books, it feels right to plan and to dream.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I am so with you. Winter is the perfect time for this type of thing. (Last night, I was planning how to grow a white lotus by the front door. We'll see how that goes.)

    Also, I'm doing the same thing for vegetables... raised beds. I was just talking to my sister about how I plan to built 4 to 6 of them (or as many as I can manage to build in the garage this winter).

    We've got worm bins too, but since those beds hold A LOT of soil, I plan to do sheet composting for quite a bit of it. I think it should work if I don't add more than a couple feet at a time. We'll see.

    Last year's garden was a flop, so I have big plans for this year's. (Including a drip system... hopefully.)