Season Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook
Well now, we made it through a winter of mild temperatures and it feels grand to be heading into March with the LOCAL food blog where we can get ready for planting our kitchen garden outside. I was pouring over the book, Designing the new kitchen garden: an American potager handbook, which caught my fancy. What resounded deeply was the part about the connection formed with nature! Kerry Kelly, annuals buyer for Homestead Gardens, also highlighted this sentiment in the questions I posed to Homestead Gardens.
I also just bought Martha Stewart's new Entertaining (big) book where her private properties are all shown! I sit there and wonder why anyone needs a garden with 400 peony plants and how many "attendees" does it take to maintain this grandeur? Anyway, what always comes to mind for me (as much as I adore the Kitchen Garden) is the amount of time and money to take it to 'fruition' and then keep it up! Questions which come to my mind are of the design aspect as well:
Love This: Gardener’s To-Do List for March
From Organic Gardening: a zone-by-zone to-do list for the month of March.
1. Should I go with a theme such as traditional, arty, free form?
In my mind, the theme is not as important as ease of use, unless you are lucky enough to have unlimited space and time. Adequate access to the garden is necessary--plan space for pathways anywhere it is too far to reach over, otherwise you will be constantly walking on and compacting the soil to get to things. You need to keep the architecture of your house in mind, as well--a formal, stiff, structured design would feel out of place with a Cape Cod, for example.
2. What will give me the biggest bang for the buck? This pertains to produce as well as flowers.
For vegetables, indeterminate hybrid tomatoes, especially cherries such as Sweet 100 or Sungold will produce a lot of fruit all season. Also, they can be grown over an archway, large trellis or teepee to save space. Stay away from heirlooms unless you have unlimited space, or the flavor far outweighs the limited yield compared to newer hybrids. Swiss chard is an excellent and attractive vegetable to grow, especially the Bright Lights variety. They are much more heat tolerant than other greens, and very cold tolerant as well. They can be cut several times if a few central leaves are left. Leaf lettuces are great for early spring, as they can also be cut and will re-grow. They can also be planted in between other taller crops like tomatoes and peppers, and will appreciate the shading. For cut flowers, marigolds would be a good choice as they are useful in the vegetable garden, and will also bloom all season. Zinnias and cosmos are excellent for cut flowers and bloom prolifically, but they would want a leaner soil than the veggie garden would provide--too much love will cut back on flower production.
3. How much time do I need to allocate each week to keep it up?
Kerry: Time depends on how big the garden is--don't plant bigger than what you can deal with. Plan on a minimum of weekly watering, and time for deadheading, weeding, and checking for insects and disease. Time can be saved with soaker hoses (which not only saves watering time but also reduces chance of disease since foliage stays dry), slow-release fertilizer application at planting, and mulching to alleviate weeds.
4. If I build a raised bed, how long will that structure last?
Choose longer lasting materials if that is a concern--stone or cedar
Choose metal if that is a concern--more costly, but will last indefinitely
6. Do I need to hire a professional to maintain this garden?
That would kind of defeat the purpose in my mind, at least for the average homeowner. If you're not going to care for it, you're probably not going to go out and harvest it, either. If it's so big that you need a professional gardener, it's probably too big. If you can afford that professional gardener, then you can probably also afford to buy all organic produce and cut flowers, so what's the point? Part of having a garden, especially a kitchen garden with vegetables, herbs, and flowers that you will bring into your home is the connection you form with nature and with growing things. Without that spirit-renewing connection, you may as well simply shop for what you need (and admittedly, shopping can be a spirit-renewing experience for some of us, too). Maybe your professional gardener takes care of the rest of the landscape, but the kitchen garden is your opportunity to experience a security in what ultimately you are making a part of yourself when you eat it! Even if your kitchen garden is a few pots of herbs and a patio tomato on your deck, the feeling you will get when you put what you grew on your family's dinner plate is one to be genuinely savored.