While having nothing to do with my small kitchen garden, this photo clearly illustrates autumn… and autumn frosts have all but killed my garden for the year. Autumn is the ideal time to prepare new planting beds for the next growing season.
It’s mid-autumn in my small kitchen garden, and there’s not much left for me to do in it until late winter. However, in hardiness zones 5, 6, and higher (most of the continental United States), there are still many warm days ahead of us. For people who don’t yet have gardens in their yards, these remaining warm days provide perfect opportunities to get ready for next spring.
If your small kitchen garden necessarily must live inside, or is a container-only affair on a balcony, deck, patio, or limited yard, this post won’t help much. But, if you plan to create planting beds in—or on—your lawn (or a paved area), this post is a good place to start.
Build Your Small Kitchen Garden Now
There is no better time than autumn to build a new garden bed. Reasons?
- You don’t have to wait until the soil thaws
- Chances are, the soil now isn’t saturated and muddy; during the spring thaw, you’re not likely to be so lucky
- You have many days to work without concern about finishing in time to plant
- Nurseries, garden stores, and other soil-suppliers are less busy in autumn and may offer discounts
- Other outdoor maintenance tasks tend to diminish in the fall
- Building a planting bed now means it’ll be ready for early vegetables as soon as the soil thaws next year
Small Kitchen Garden Design Strategy
Blog entries and articles abound about how to create a kitchen garden. So many of those articles cover the same four or five basic points. Forgive me if you’ve already read these, especially since they may seem rather obvious:
The house we bought in central PA had a raised planting bed along the south-facing property line. The hill to the left in the photo is above the garden, and water gathers at the bottom, saturating the soil during rainy years… bad especially for my rhubarb which completely died out during one very wet season.
Sunlight—find a place in your yard that will get direct sun for at least six hours a day. More is better.
Drainage—identify the “wet” places in your yard and work around them. By wet, I mean places in your yard where water tends to pool (or flow) during heavy rain or lengthy wet periods. Wet soil can drown the roots of a plant. It can also promote rot and disease that can spread to your plants and result in poor crops. You can put a garden in an area that gets wet, but if that’s your best location, build a raised bed to keep your plants’ roots above the moisture.
Soil quality—I’ve yet to meet a homeowner who says, “I really lucked out. Every inch of my yard is rich, fast-draining soil just loaded with humus. If I drop a seed in the dirt, it grows like Jack’s beanstalk.” If your soil is pure clay (as mine is), building a raised bed may be the easiest way to create a garden. Once you’ve built the bed’s containing walls, you can have high-quality topsoil delivered to fill it. If you want to plant directly in the ground, you may need to mix sand, humus, and silt in with the naturally-occurring soil.
Proximity—It’s a KITCHEN GARDEN! Life with a small kitchen garden is easiest when that garden is near your kitchen. (Sorry. I warned you these items are obvious.) In my experience, there’s no better place for a kitchen garden than right outside the kitchen door… but sunlight, drainage, and soil quality trump nearness to kitchen. Oh! And is there a faucet handy from which you can run a hose? I hate that my hose attaches to a faucet about a third of the way around the house from my garden.
My raised planting bed consists of two layers of pressure-treated gardening ties, held together and into the ground by 12-inch galvanized steel stakes. The anti-rodent fence sits on the raised bed’s retaining walls, with PVC plugs to keep it from sliding off (a recent design innovation that hasn’t yet won me over).
Exposure—This is a huge issue that is of small importance. Huh? Well… a lot of kitchen gardens are dirt patches carved out of large yards or fields; with no special protection from the elements they do just fine. However, it’s painful to lose even a tiny amount of produce you grow in a small kitchen garden; there isn’t much to begin with. So, if you can, put your small kitchen garden behind a barrier from the prevailing winds. If you’re in a city neighborhood, a suburb, on within a small town, the surrounding houses probably provide ample protection against high winds. If you live on a large lot, your house or garage might make a good windbreak.
But consider other sources of aggravation: a garden bed under the eves may suffer heavy damage if your rain gutters overflow and splash onto the plants below. Trees to the north of a garden (in the northern hemisphere) can overhang a garden without shading it… but branches that fall from those trees can crush vegetable plants, and fallen tree seeds can increase your weeding chores. If there are deer or large rodents in your neighborhood, they may harvest your goods before you do… Choose a location that gives your small kitchen garden every chance to prevail against nature.
Size—Wow. Only you can answer the question: How big my small kitchen garden? You can get a surprising amount of food from a modest planting bed. For many years, I had a planting bed that was 14 feet by 14 feet and I crowded my plantings. It was easy to grow more than we’d eat in a season, and we froze a lot of vegetables to use over the winter. If you want to grow big crops such as corn, squash, and melons, you won’t get as much out of a small space… though there are strategies for getting two or three types of vegetables from the space recommended for a single variety.
Don’t Start Yet
My next several posts will extend this discussion about building planting beds for a small kitchen garden. We’ll talk about advantages of raised-bed gardens, about how to build raised beds, about how to cut sod and remove it, and about how to amend soil so your plants will be happy in it. We’ll also explore strategies to fit more into less space.
If you haven’t done this yet, please refer to my earlier post about kitchen garden design for inspiration about how you might fit a small kitchen garden into your yard.
In case you want to learn more faster than I’m presenting it, here are more articles about building planting beds; specifically, raised bed gardens:
Meandering . . . » Blog Archive » Growing Green! – Register Log in Entries RSS Comments RSS WordPress. I have a garden!! (and it’s safe from dogs!!) This beautiful little veggie raised bed garden resulted from much consulting and lots of sweat from mom and me. Mom probably would not have volunteered had she known quite how bad it was going to be (and hot, so hot!), but she did and I couldn’t have done it without her (or Geli and Paul, who got us more soil with 10 bags of 2 cubic feet were not enough!).
how to build a raised bed garden – a raised bed garden allows you to have greater control over the soil you are using in your garden. it also puts the garden at a height that is much easier to maintain and work with. many veggies will thrive in raised beds. …
Creating a Raised Bed Garden – The first step in creating a raised bed garden is to decide how large you’d like it to be. It should be no wider than 4 feet, so you can reach comfortably to end to plants from both sides, but it can be as long as you’d like. …
Creating a Raised Bed Garden – If your current planting goals involve plants that require good water drainage, I am sure you know how frustrating it is to have a yard that just won’t cooperate. Some plants can handle the excess water that comes about from being in an …
maintaining a raised bed garden – after you’ve built your frames, you need to mix your soil and put it into the frames. if you like, you can use about 25% soil from your own garden as a base. you can then add in equal parts sand and compost. …