The secrets of a kitchen garden

I think a kitchen garden is a must for any cook, nothing can beat the flavour fresh herbs add to a dish and it doesn’t get any fresher than plucking what you need straight from the garden! Whether you have a balcony, a courtyard garden or a full size yard there is always room for a kitchen garden.

Over the last couple of years, Mr B and I have been busy turning our courtyard garden into a productive garden. We have focused on growing plants that will be meaningfully productive in the space that we have, as well as a few items cultivated for the thrill of having grown it ourselves!

When we first started, we had herbs in pots all over the garden and we planted the odd crop here and there, we had some amazing successes and some complete flops but it was all part of the learning process. Here are a few things we learned:

Some vegetables are just not worth growing, year to year, in a small space.

Things like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are lovely to have in the garden, but they are very large plants and you need a good number of plants to completely provide for yourself. On the other side of the coin, crops like lettuce, kale, silverbeet,  lebanese cucumbers and cherry tomatoes will give you abundant harvests, and some of them multiple or continuing harvests, and don’t take up much space at  all.

Plan out your little plot.

Have a good think about what you want to grow in your kitchen garden and take the time to look at the different conditions there are in your garden space. Is there a patch that always receives full sun? Is there a patch that is shaded by surrounding structures different times of the day? Is there an area that stays damp or receives a lot of run off when it rains? Once you’ve observed your space you can make a garden plan of what you are going to plant and where it will do best.

Another good place to start when you’re planning out your kitchen garden is with plants in pots. This way, you can make a start on your garden by planting some of your favourite edibles, but as you watch your plants grow and learn their needs, they are very easy to reposition.

In a small kitchen garden, the herb is king!

Herbs are an excellent way to make use of a small kitchen garden, they can be grown in pots on a balcony or even in a window box! In our space, we are currently growing thyme, lemon thyme, basil, thai basil, oregano, margoram, flat-leaf parsley, mint, vietnamese mint, dill, sage, tarragon, lemon grass, nasturtiums, a bay tree for bay leaves and a kaffir lime tree. The brilliant thing about herbs is they take up so little space for the reward they give. These days, it is a very rare occasion that I have to buy herbs in my weekly shop and the herbs I am using are always as fresh as possible and none go to waste.

Succession plant for success.

To succession plant, is to plant out a crop in stages or, for year round cultivars, having your next round of seedlings ready to go when the current ones get tired. The advantage of succession planting is to prevent, or lessen, the glut of produce that comes when a crop is planted all at once. For example, once you’ve decided where your tomatoes are going for the summer, and how many plants you need to fill your space, divide it up and sew batches of seeds 2 or 3 weeks apart. You’ll then have tomatoes all summer long rather than having a mass of them all at once.

The technique can also be applied for herb growing. Some herbs like coriander, which bolts to seed quickly, and annuals like basil, dill and parsley only last so long in the garden. Once you’ve grown these plants a few times, you’ll get to know how long they last in your garden if you have established seedlings on standby, you’ll never be without your herbs.

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