There’s a fundamental philosophy behind my fascination with the small kitchen garden: don’t bother planting something if you’re not eventually going to eat it. Sure, I enjoy looking at flowers, and I admire the attractive displays of my neighbors. However, I really despise yard work (including gardening). So, I try to reduce the labor involved in every aspect of growing my own produce.
Smaller is better
It’s a lot less effort to till a seven foot row than it is to till a twenty foot row. If I want twenty feet worth of beans, can I get it out of that seven feet of tilling? It’s less effort to fill a pot with soil and plant herbs in it than it is to dig up a spot in the garden, fight back the weeds, and manage herbs there. Especially were there no garden space already cut out of my lawn, I’d look for simple strategies to use whatever space could accommodate with the least amount of sweat equity. Hence, my emphasis on the small kitchen garden.
With emphasis on small, you can quickly end up in the realm of “clever.” For example, those trellises against your house that have useless (but attractive) clematis threaded through them could, instead, support an early crop of peas followed immediately by a climbing bean. The hole in your lawn left when you removed an old stump could handle two staked tomato plants. If you have to grow sweet corn (I put it this way because sweet corn takes a lot of space to produce very little corn), fall back on the classic trick of planting climbing beans as well that will use the corn stalks as trellises.
Plant vegetables for decoration
Patios and decks offer opportunities to squeeze more food out of your yard. Rather than planting flowing ground cover along your patio or path, try a salad pack of lettuce seeds that combines several varieties of lettuce in the same envelope. The leaves provide decorative color variation at your outdoor events, and a salad course at many meals. Instead of clumps of flowering plants along your house’s foundation walls, plant broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbages of differing colors and sizes. Of course, climbing beans are a fine choice to plant at the base of each of your deck’s support posts—assuming they get adequate sunlight.
I recently saw a small kitchen garden that really spoke to my heart: I passed a house at which the Township authority had cut down a tree in the boulevard, leaving a large, low stump between the sidewalk and the street. The homeowner then planted a hill of squash, and trained the plants over and around the stump! It’s an attractive ground cover that will produce an abundant crop (see photo).
If you want to grow your own produce, there’s almost always some way to get it done.