Seed catalogs are rolling in just in time to mentally escape if only for a few precious moments from winter’s tight hold on us all. This is an exciting time for gardeners both old hats and beginners a like. Dreams of starting a spring garden fill our heads much the same as lollipops and candy canes fill the heads of our children at Christmas…it is all we are able to think about us lovers of compost and muddy muck boots. So I thought it would make for a good post to talk a bit about the three (P’s) of the perfect organic kitchen garden. Planning, preparing and planting. These are the essential components that make for successful gardening experience. Too many of us…including myself have jumped too quickly into putting our gardens out just to find later in the season if we would have just taken the time to better plan and prepare we would have been able to reap greater rewards with much less effort and cost.
You wouldn’t build a house without a house plan nor would you sew your own clothes without a pattern. The foundation of a good garden starts with a great garden plan.
Get the information you need to plan wisely…
(a) Know your climate-growing zone.
My growing zone is 6b here in middle Tennessee. But within my properties climate zone are micro growing zones scattered about the farm. These are areas that depending on their geographical locations and attributes can raise or lower my ability to grow outside of my 6b zone. For instance my farm which is located in a valley that is flank on both side of the property by tall wooded hills. In the fall and early spring my farm runs a higher risk of frost damage even when my neighbor across the road doesn’t. The reason is the cold air that flows off the hills settles in this valley where my farm is located. This section of the farm with the lowest land fall and just so happens to be where my production field is located this is where the heavy moisture ridden cold air becomes still and rests low to the ground allowing frost to form more easily. Because of that I have to plan to be ready with extra protection for my garden even when the temperatures drop below 45 and there is moisture in the air and clear skies overhead. Knowing your own properties microclimate gives you an edge in what to plant when and how to protect your efforts. Retail plants have labels that will tell you what climate zones any giving plant will survive in. You should stay within your suggested planting zone for best results.
(b) Deciding on the best site for your garden.
One of the most common mistakes people make when choosing a location for their garden is placing it too far away from their home. Usually this is because of aesthetic reasons being that most kitchen gardens are considered annual plots. Meaning they will not be pleasing to look at all year around. And there is truth to some of those concerns unless you intend to create permanent pathways and add hardscape to your garden area. But I will tell you this…if your garden is more than 300 feet from you home chances are during those hot summer months that 300 feet will seem like 3000. The farther the garden the less attention it will receive. It’s best to build a small planting bed close to your home that you use for a garden or use containers on your porch or deck then plant your garden in the back 40. Your new garden location will need the following:
- 6 to 10 hours of full sun
- well draining soil….do not pick a location that will hold puddles of water nor is too rocky
- free of shallow water lines, gas lines or field lines
(c) Water source, storage and wind breaks
Another common mistake new gardeners can make when choosing a location for their garden is placing it too far from a water source, than having to run an extra long and heavy watering hose to their garden. Again this will take it toll on a gardener during those hot summer months when your garden may need daily watering. I have been there and have made this mistake myself so believe me when I tell you taking the time up front to plan your location wisely is my top recommendation for have a successful and gratifying gardening experience. We use drip irrigation here on the farm to water our vegetable, herb and flowerbeds. To learn more about drip Irrigation visit dripworks.com they can help you in designing a drip irrigation system that is right for your garden plan. By using drip irrigation you not only will be using less than half the amount of water but in addition you will be also helping to keep soil borne diseases from being splashed upon the lower leaves of the plant. Drip Irrigation works by using a long tube line that has very small holes that releases a small drip of water right at the base of the plant. The system works on a timer so you can set it to begin watering at 5am to 7am in which the continual drip of water will be absorbed slowly and deeply straight to the root of the plant. No waste and no wet leaves or splashing of soil onto the plant. A drip irrigation system is not expensive and will pay for itself in so many ways by the end of one hot summer.
Another consideration for your gardens location should be storage. Shovels and hoes and rakes are all part of your gardens investment and its nice to have them close at hand during what time you have to work in your garden. Having some sort of storage space near your garden will save you from having to leave a chore to find another tool located across the yard or field…and that will get very tiresome quickly.
If you live in an area that is known for high damaging winds you will need to locate your garden in a protected area or install a windbreaks. This can be done by planting a row of tall trees or locating your garden where a building or your house can break the wind before it blows your corn stalks to the ground.
(d) Hard-scape, raised beds and pathways
If you decide that your garden’s location will be a permanent home you may want to consider hard-scaping in your overall garden plan. Hardscaping are things like fences, walls, arbors or structures that will become permanent additions to your garden. A good fence is a must if deer present a problem. Raised beds like the ones we use here at Madison Creek Farms are all part of our hardscaping. Having a permanent location for your garden allows you to consider making your kitchen garden more visually pleasing as well as more user friendly. Rule of thumb when it comes to pathways and raised beds in your garden layout. If you are building a raised bed to plant in make it no wider than 4ft. This will save you from having to go from side to side when you’re planting the bed or weeding the bed. The pathways should be at least 2.5 ft wide and 3ft is optimal for moving wheelbarrows and other things long the pathway.
Having a mixture of perennial plantings and annuals will also keep your garden interesting to look at all year-long. So think about planting borders of perennial landscaping plant and flowering bushes along the perimeter of your kitchen garden.
There are a couple of good on-line garden planners that can help you layout your garden plan.
this site offers a free on-line garden planer with tips on planting.
I love this site! It has a click-able gardening zone map and a zip code local gardening guide.
Start small and grow slowly
It’s easy to get excited and bite off more than we can really chew…so start small. Gardens have a tendency to get out of control if not given enough attention. And a kitchen garden needs a lot of attention. So start small and expand only when you feel you can take on more weeding, planting and harvesting. Don’t over do it the first year or two or chances are you will get discouraged. It’s best to grow well then grow large. Learn about how to grow just a few plants well then move on to adding a couple of more plants next year. Each plant requires different things and they have their own pest, diseases and growing needs. Once you master growing a few tomatoes and peppers then next season move on to adding a couple of squash and beans plants to your garden. Slowly learning and slowly growing your garden will not only help to lessen the workload of gardening but will result in a better outcome and investment.
Next installment of growing the perfect organic kitchen garden: Preparing
We will be rolling up our shirt sleeves and putting on our muck boots…Now that you have your garden plan its time to put your pencil down and grab a shovel…we will be preparing your new kitchen garden site.