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A Large Kitchen Garden

not a small kitchen garden

I just returned from a visit with neighbors whose activity completely fails the criteria for a small kitchen garden: He tills a plot that is 11 yards across, and 33 yards long. He starts spring crops early, plants summer crops in their place as they expire, and goes back for another round of spring crops as summer draws to a close. She spends hours a day from late spring to early fall processing food into jars and freezer packs. In fact, as I approached this morning, they both were shucking their last ears of sweet corn—clearly enough to can or freeze.

We chatted before I began a photo shoot in their garden (click the lead photo in this post to see all the photos on, and a chipmunk snuck under the table and tried to grab a kernel of corn from her sandal… it startled us, and we startled it with our reactions.

My neighbor’s garden is extremely traditional. They’ve lived in their house for fifty years, and simply carved a garden plot out of the yard (it’s a very big yard). There’s no transition from yard-to-garden… except that the grass ends and then there’s exposed soil. The garden is large, so you need to walk in it to reach the plants, and the rows are close together.

At the near end of the garden, I found long-necked squash weaving among tall sweet corn stalks. Sunflowers defined the garden’s edge, though they’d faded: their heads dry and drooping ground-ward. There were rows of tomato plants hugging the ground, and other rows of tomatoes staked and upright. Beefsteaks and Italian tomatoes—the first for salads and sauces, the second specifically for sauces.

bean flower

There were huge cabbages, a row of green beans, another of wax beans, and a third of lima beans. The cucumber plants were spent, but tucked next to them was a pocket of young lettuce and flowering bean plants—recent planting. Interestingly, the cucumber plants were withering where peas had grown in the spring. There was a partial row of pretty green-and-purple-leafed plants I mistook for turnips, but it turned out they were beets.

I believe she mentioned that she has already put up 50 pints of tomato sauce, but it was clear there’s another ten pints of sauce on the plants. They didn’t have much luck with beans this year as they rely only on rain for water, and it has been dry. Still, the recent rains have revitalized things, and it looks as though some bean-picking will soon be in order.

All this as the season is winding down. Still, in our hardiness zone 5b, we might not see killing frost until mid October. A lot of new beans can grow in 30 days, and you could even get some decent young lettuce if you started from seed now.

My neighbors have peach and apple trees in their yard. The peaches are all harvested, and the apples will provide enough for the season without creating pressure to preserve them. A small grape trellis holds an awesome crop of what look like concord grapes—I should have asked while I was there, or tasted one. I also failed to ask how they use the grapes, but she did comment that the grapes would be the last of the big chores before the garden is done for the season. My mom used to can a mixture of grapes, sugar, and water; we’d drink the liquid from these jars and toss the grapes. This juice absolutely rocked compared to commercial grape juice.

My neighbor’s compost heap stands about five feet deep, and must be at least 12 feet on a side. No doubt there is a thick layer of rich mulch at the bottom. As he uses no chemical preparations, he must move a lot of compost to till into the garden each year.

Yes, it’s a large kitchen garden, but even with all that space, they get more production by staging crops according to the seasons. This is an important technique especially for the owner of a small kitchen garden who wants to get the most from little space.

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