By Steffie Littlefield
One of the greatest trends in backyard gardening is edible plants. This includes herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Many of my clients this year have wanted to know the proper location and have requested a plan for a home kitchen garden where their family can grow foods for the table in their own backyard.
Herb gardening has always been popular mostly because it is so simple to grow a few fragrant and edible herbs in pots or in your flower beds, and so rewarding when you can harvest and improve your menu with fresh cut herbs. The next most common is tomato gardening. No store-bought tomato can compare with vine-ripened beauties from your own garden. Just identify a small open site with lots of sun and you’ve got a tomato patch. But with the interest in adding organic foods and healthy greens to our diet, many people would like a small vegetable garden to make eating better more affordable.
The best time to plan and install a vegetable garden is in the months prior to planting. Identify a location on your property that has easy access to water, more than 8 hours of sun and where you can daily visit or watch your vegetables as they grow and ripen. My recommendation is to build raised beds with 2″x10″ cedar boards, creating 3′ wide by 8-16′ long boxes, with sides attached to 2″x2″x14″ stakes in the corners that are pounded into the ground for stability. These boxes are then filled with an even mixture of compost and topsoil. I personally use soaker hoses for watering and have these dug into the beds before I plant. These hoses are part of a full network of hoses that are regulated with a simple timer at the outdoor faucet to insure my garden is watered all summer long. When planning for more than one bed, allow at least 4′ in between the beds to make it easy to maneuver a wheelbarrow or cart. These new beds will settle quite a bit the first year and will need to be refilled before planting the next spring. Worm castings are a great organic way to fertilize these new beds. If rabbits and/or deer are a problem plan to use some fencing around the garden. If squirrels are raiding all your tomatoes put a wire fence cover on a back bed to keep them out.
I like to dress up the beds with herbs and seasonal flowers along the edges. I even have several beds devoted to strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. These and some perennial crops such as horseradish, asparagus and rhubarb extend my harvest season from early spring into early winter. Growing your own vegetables allows one to experiment with unusual and unique crops such as blue potatoes, banana potatoes, red shallots, healthy greens, white eggplant and specialty Italian or heirlooms tomatoes. Nothing beats fresh picked green beans, really ripe tomatillos, small round lemon cucumbers or serving your own juicy home-grown watermelon. Starting seeds indoors and rotating cool season and warm season crops makes a vegetable garden almost a 12 month project that produces bountiful rewards.
Steffie Littlefield is a horticulturist and garden designer at Garden Heights Nursery. She has degrees from St Louis Community College at Meramec and Southeast Missouri State University and is a member of the Gateway Professional Horticulturist Association (GPHA) and past president of the Horticulture Co-op of Metro St Louis.