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Gardens are always a source of great pleasure to the young and old alike. Be it a vegetable or a flower garden, it has been the monument of one's self-respect and accomplishment through ages. The peace and satisfaction that lies in planting a seed, watching it sprout, nurturing it grow, let it spread it's branches and finally witnessing it bear flowers and fruits, is simply beyond explanation. It is like giving birth to a baby and watching it grow and mature.

Gardening is an art. Flower gardens are a common sight but that doesn't mean they are any less than a vegetable garden. My personal favourite is a vegetable garden since it is uncommon, both attractive and productive and has a different kind of joy underneath it. Growing vegetables in your own garden using the least amount of chemicals and then taking the fruits directly to the kitchen ensures a good and safe source of nutrients from the freshest of the fresh vegetables. Does that sound interesting? You may jolly well find all your favourite vegetables all through the year either as canned or frozen forms, but the preservatives added to maintain them at that state take away some of their nutritional values. You may enjoy the taste of the food prepared from them but that would not be so healthy as that made from something fresh. I know this sounds scary but the truth is always bitter. So don't waste your time and space and start gardening. The benefits of fresh, crispy vegetables are overwhelming.


I'll provide you with some helpful tips and tricks regarding growing a kitchen garden along with growing some of my favourite as well as 'essential for health' vegetables.



How to Start?

Plants need to photosynthesise, ie, prepare their own food with water from the soil, carbon dioxide from the air and most importantly, sunlight. Different plants have different tolerant levels and thus behave differently under various sun conditions. Some fruit abundantly in profuse light while others need diffused or partial sunlight for half of the sun period (the time during which the plant receives sunlight). So the performance of the plants depend mostly on the selection of planting area where there is sufficient sunlight according to the plants' needs. Choose a small acre of land for your gardening and expand it later. Acquire knowledge about the various successful and ornamental vegetable gardens from books, magazines and botanists and plan your garden. Prepare your mind about how much time you want to spend tending your garden and the size of your planting area that will be comfortable to handle by you. Then choose the plants you favour and your land can support with the amount of sun it receives. Get some professional help in designing your garden because other than the plants, you may later on decide, amazed and inspired by the beauty you created, to add a little more color by decorating it with a fountain, a small paved path, fence, trellises, bird-bath, statue, stone footings or even spread out a lawn table and some chairs.



Learning about the habit and habitat of the plant is essential

I have already pointed out that the sunlight requirement of each plant may vary from that of the other. So choose plants accordingly that are all suited in the particular plot. Also some plants grow in rows or hills on tilled lands, while other can be planted in groups. In addition, knowledge about the climatic conditions of the place, the humidity of the air, soil conditions like texture, salinity, pH, water holding capacity, microbial life forms etc, water requirement of the plants, their frost tolerance, whether they can be row-planted or furrow-planted, their companionship with other plants - all are essential to develop a luxuriantly fruiting garden. The viability of the seeds, their planting method, depth of soil, distance from the fellow plants vary according to the different genera and thus a careful study is needed.
Don't be afraid! Your reward is waiting!



Prepare the soil first

Determine the type of soil with the help of an expert because different soils has different requirements to support biological life. The soil type, sandy, clayey or loamy, amount of aeration in the soil and it's water holding capacity circumscribe the type and quantity of fertilizer needed to fortify it. Dig down deep into the soil, at least 2 feet (moisten it first, if necessary), remove all sorts of weed roots and seeds from the planting area, crumble the soil clods until they are very fine with a tiller or a spade, turn over the soil several times and add about 2-3 inches of compost. Compost includes any biodegradable material which can be broken down into a fine, dark humus. Well rotted livestock manure is the best choice for getting a clay or sandy soil into shape. Whatever you use for compost apply it often, like once in the spring and once in the fall. It will take a few seasons to improve a poor soil type. One more thing that you can do is raising the seed bed. Besides enclosing your garden and making a good growing medium, a raised bed helps planting and weeding much more easy.





Planting of seeds

Seeds need to be collected from the local nursery in packets. Buy variety seeds to gain the maximum success. Read the instructions carefully and then proceed. Some seeds need to be planted indoors first and then transplanted to the field under the sun after the seedling has grown for a few weeks. Others can directly be planted in the field.
It is a nice experience to behold how the seeds germinate and the first leaves appear, as if, a plant is awakening from a deep slumber. Sprinkle water, as necessary, and slowly dig the soil weekly or semi-weekly to help the delicate roots respire efficiently. Vigorous digging can damage the roots that are not yet properly grown and thus can kill the plant at a very early stage.
So, be careful!



Take care of the seedlings

Damping off: The young seedlings, being tender, are often subjected to fungal attacks to the stems at the soil level resulting in a condition called damping-off. The fungal spores are very minute, often microscopic. Since they are not clearly visible, the seedlings can be affected by the slightest negligence and can die overnight. A tip to get rid of these fungus infections is by sprinkling little water and keeping the surface of the soil dry. A wet surface is the most favourable condition to enhance fungal growth. You can cover the soil surface with a thin layer of sand which will help keep the stem at the soil level dry where the damping-off starts. Since the acid soils are highly susceptible to fungal infestation, it will be best to use neutral pot soil for the initial growing stages of the seedlings. Identify the affected seedlings by their bent and discolored nature and remove them as soon as possible. Change the soil before any more of them gets affected. Seedlings planted indoors are more vulnerable to damping-offs.

Hardening off: The simple but crucial process of acclimatising seedlings to life in the garden from a life indoors is called hardening off. Like a fish in new waters, the seedlings, so far in an artificial greenhouse, when grown enough to be transplanted to the garden, often find it difficult to adjust to the unfamiliar conditions of the outdoors. Start hardening 2-3 days defore the actual date of transplanting by placing then first at cool, shady places and exposing them gradually to the sun. Water them well but do not subject them to the harsh rain or wind which may hamper the delicate stems. After about 3 days, keep them in the direct sunlight for half the day and bring back to a shady place afterwards. After treating the seedlings this way for about a week, they are now hard enough to be safely exposed to the sun all throughout the day and ready to be transplanted. Do it in a cloudy day with a low temperature to allow the seedlings better adjust to the change in environment. See to it that they do not fall prey to the notorious garden pests like deer, dogs, critters, rabbits, moles etc at this sensitive stage. Fencing would be the best idea. Watch for insect infestation. Well spacing between the plants and occasional application of insecticides wil contain the insects and keep them at bay. But, nevertheless, proper spacing, weeding and fertilizing is a good way to prevent disease and insect infestation without having to resort to harmful insecticides.



Fertilize your plants

Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are known to be the best and most essential fertilizers needed for plants. Different plants have different levels of hunger and for that you need to treat each variety separately. Apply them in granular or water soluble forms so they are easily absorbed.
The organic mulches (grass clippings, fallens leaves, straw, bark etc) improve the soil by adding nutrients as they decompose and encourage earthworm activity. Mulch improves the appearance of your garden, and keep dirt from splashing up on your flowers and vegetables when it rains. However mulch in wet weather may hold up too much moisture thus may attract snails, slugs and even rodents to damage your plants.




Now you know the basics of gardening. It's time to start your garden. You may fail initially but do not give up that easily. Plants are not machines but biological lives. Just like a baby, if they do not get the proper care, they will succumb no doubt.

All set, let's now discuss about the vegetables that you have been so long waiting to grow. You will experience a certain thrill that you have never felt before when you see the first flower coming and more, when the fruit develops from it. Take my word for it.



* Growing Mustard:

Mustard is one of the most commonly grown plants in a vegetable garden. It is soft and herbaceous and is very popular because of it's pungent odour. When you have a field full of mustard plants, they make a beautiful sight with small yellow flowers whose 4 petals are arranged in the form of a cross.

Planting -

Sow the seeds during spring time in a moist soil under the sun and harvest late in the summer when the pods mature and the seeds inside ripen. Mustard doesn't a lot of a care and grows luxuriantly and easily on varied soil types.

Harvesting-

Harvest the pods after 2-3 months and separate the seeds in a jar.

Uses -

Mustard powder or paste is a delicious salad dressing due to it's pungency. Various spices, pickles and sauces are prepared with these seeds. Imagine what you can do with a further knowledge from the cook book. A mustard bath, where the powder is mixed with hot water, is comforting for sore and aching feet and relaxes and revives the entire body.



* Growing Beans:

Beans, known as string beans some time earlier, can be grown as bush or pole varieties producing a heavy yield. They can be called protein packets because of their high protein content.

Planting and fertilizing-

Plant the seeds during mid-spring to late-summer in a neutral or alkaline, well drained warm soil under full sun. They are less tolerant to frost and make sure that the frost period is over when you sow the seeds. Beans have the capacity to draw nitrogen from the air and fix it to their roots. So some additional compost and manure will be just fine for it's growth. Add lime if the soil is acidic. The shallow root system demands watering at the times of sowing, the appearance of seedlings and during flowering. This nearness of the roots to the ground level makes weeding difficult. So maintain extreme precaution while weeding. The pole varieties need about 8 feet tall trellises or poles to support them.

Harvesting-

After about 10-12 weeks it's harvest time. Start picking the beans frequently and carefully without damaging the stems. This facilitates the appearance of more flowers and thus greater yields. The best time to pick is when the pods break easily from the stem and the seeds remain not yet fully developed.

Disease and pest resistance-

Beans are mostly affected by anthracnose, bacterial blights, common bean mosaic, and rust. Consult a botanist and horticulturist or get some help from books and catalogs to plant resistant varieties. Rotate planting beans with other plants to get rid of the seed borne diseases. Keep the garden area clean and devoid of any affected plants, dead and decaying materials that can be the host of various diseases. Baited traps, soap and powder sprays on damp plants will help you keep the aphids, beetles and red spider mites at bay.

Uses -

Because of it's high nitrogen content, beans are highly proteinaceous and are indispensable for both young and adults.




* Growing Beets:

Beets is a root crop and the thing we eat as vegetable (beet) grows under the soil and is a modification of root. It requires lots of phosphorous and less nitrogen than most other crops. Excessive nitrogen will lead to the formation of abundant leafy top and thin roots.

Planting and fertilizing-

Beets can be planted in spring or late summer. Planting in a cool weather will be the best since the roots can dry up during the hot weather. Seeds can be sown directly in the garden under the sun. They are slightly frost tolerant. Apply superphosphate in the soil to fertilize the plants. Beets need an alkaline soil, and the addition of a pound of lime for each square yard of bed will sweeten the soil. Maintain a steady water supply for quality beets. A light mulch around young beets will help the soil retain the necessary moisture. Avoid damaging the roots while weeding. Minute apllication of boron enhances the taste as well as improves the growth.

Harvesting-

Harvesting starts after 3-4 months when the beets mature. Baby beets can be harvested earlier.

Diseases and pests -

Beets are seldom attacked by insects and diseases.

Uses-

Because of it's betacyanin pigment, beet has it's red color which makes it very popular as a salad material. It is highly nutritive and can be eaten raw as well as cooked.



* Growing Coriander:

Fan shaped feathery coriander leaves and seeds are very popular in the kitchen to enhance the taste of curries. Coriander looks like flat-leaved parsley. The seed is sold both whole and ground and is the main ingredient in curry powder. It has a sweet taste reminiscent of orange peel.


Planting -

Coriander grows well in dry summer and humid climates. It needs a lot of sun. After the cool weather and frost are all gone, the seeds are sown in the garden. Growing in containers can also be successful in a sunny corner in the verandah. The stem is soft, weak and herbaceous and has a mouth-watering aroma.

Harvesting -

Cut the tender leaves before complete maturity to catch that delicate flavor. Store in air-tight plastics in the refrigerator and do not let dry outside, otherwise you are done with the flavor.

Uses-

It is used as a spice or dressing in Indian and some of Asian foods. Coriander makes good pickles with lemon and sugar, and a pinch of salt.




* Growing Cabbage:

Cabbage is known to be the largest bud. It can be grown in a wide range of climates but is not tolearnt to extreme heat.

Planting and fertilizing-

Plant in a well drained, sunny location and keep the soil well watered since the plant grows very fast. Enrich the soil with compost or manure before planting. Growth of leafy portions demands excessive nitrogen supply. Sow the seeds indoors on trays or large garden bowls and then transplant at the appearance of 5-6 leaves.

Harvesting-

Harvesting or cutting of the heads can be done after 14-16 weeks when the heads mature.

Uses -

Cabbage id a very popular vegetable as it has got a lot of green leaves. It can be eaten both as cooked or as raw (the young ones) in salads.



* Growing Garlic :

Garlic is one of the most favourite spices in Indian food. It can be had both as cooked or raw. Growing them from the bulbs is easy. It thrives mostly in winter.

Planting and fertilizing-

The cloves separated from the bulb can be planted pointed end upfacing upwards. They grow well in loose, moist soil fertilized by manure.


Harvesting -

The top of the plants fall over to indicate that it is harvest time. Dig down and after collecting the bulbs, air dry them before storing in jute bags to prevent rotting by the soil moisture.

Diseases and pests -

The yield may be reduced by small insects called thripes which feed on the leaves thus weakening the plants. Splashing the plants with cold water may inhibit their infestation and keep them at bay. Eliminate the weeds from the nearby areas and apply soap sprays to avert other pests. Stem borers like onion maggots are not uncommon. Main area of their attack is the plant bases where they lay eggs. The larvae crawl inside the stem and suck the sap leading to drying up of the plant body. It is best to protect the base by making tarpaper collars around them or by sprinkling the soil with wood ashes, diatomaceous earth etc.
Garlic may suffer from neck rot disease because of ill treatment of the harvested crop. They must be well dried in open air and warm temperature before storing to prevent this disease.

Uses -

Because of it's delightening flavor, garlic is used as spices in many Asian food. It can also be used in salad dressings or picles, sauce or salsa etc and is also good for heart diseases, arteriosclerosis, protective against cancer, colds and flu. It improves clood circulation.



* Growing Corn


Corn is a warm weather crop needing bright sunlight. The beautiful corn plants are a feast for the eyes as the female flowers mature to develop fruits. The male flowers occupy the topmost position in the plants and their pollen fall on the female flowers down below on their receptacles. Do not splash down the pollen grain at the time of dispersal or else the productivity will be less.

Planting and fertilizing-

Enrich the soil well in advance before planting with manure. Plant seeds 8 to 10 inches apart in a furrow or trench, then hill the plants as they grow. This will help you to get rid of weeds. If you plan to plant different varieties and get a hybrid, then plant them at least 100 ft from each other to ensure efficient cross pollination.
These plants need a lot of water during the tasseling and kernel forming time. Well water the soil upto 4 inches in depth to get the maximum results.

Harvesting -

After 12-14 weeks, check the plants if they have befome ready to be harvested. The husk turning green, brown silks and well-filled ears indicate that they are mature enough to be plucked.

Uses -

Corn is an extremely nutritional food at it can be had at breat or lunch or anytime during the day. It is a very popular food among the Americans and somewhat to the Asians.




* Growing Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a very tasty vegetable with a beautiful appearance when grown in your garden.

Planting and fertilizing -

It is less tolerant to hot weather and thus need to be protected from the sun. It also has less tolerance to frost. Sow seeds in trays and transplant after 6 weeks in a cool weather to a soil rich in manure and organic matter. Water well avoiding the heads and add additional nutrients or manure to the soil. It needs a lot of fertilizing.

Harvesting -

After 4-5 months it is time to cut down the heads. If delayed, they lose their fiemness and discolor.

Uses-

Cauliflower is a good vegetable. Both the head and the leaves can be cooked.



Overall tips

Enough of planting and harvesting. Take some additional care to succeed in your endeavor.

Winter Protection -

The delicate plants may or may not survive the harsh winter conditions for which you need to take some actions. Erecting wind breaks by netting or webbing will help stand against strong winds. Erect poles and put up the wind breaks.

Mulching -

For hardy perennials, mulch is often the best protection. When applying mulch, remember that mulches with small individual particles, such as coffee grounds, should be applied in thin layers while a courser mulch such as straw or pine needles can be applied liberally. Leaves and grass clippings that are abundantly available are a good source of organic mulch and are easy to apply. Plastics help to keep the soil warm and should be used in case of only those plants that can thrive in warm soil. Another source of mulch is hay which is cheap and readily available and adds organoc matter to the soil. Manure is a good fertilizer.
However, while mulching, weed seeds may come by to contaminate the mulch and hamper all your effort. So keep a good eye on it.


Cover or Green Manure crops -

The plants grow in certain seaons and for the rest of the time your garden remains barren. So to prevent soil erosion and compaction that may result, cover up your land with some cover crops that are grown only when the land is kept unused to retain it's structure and fertility. A cover crop should be tilled under about a month before you plant your garden. Buckwheat is a good choice for summer planting. It matures about 40 days after planting. Just before it flowers, cut it down and till it under.


Some beneficial Insects-

Insects play a great role in plant life. they are one of the most important pollinating agents by transferring pollen grains from the male organs to the female receptacles thus playing a major role in their life cycle. Also some large beneficial insects feed on the smaller harmful insects thus checking their infestations in the garden. But by applying the various pesticides to get rid of the harmful insects, we kill those helpful to us too. A knowledge about the good bugs is thus necessary here. Predatory mite Geolaelaps control thrips. Phytoseiulus persimilis help iradicate spider mites. Aphid Midge Aphidoletes aphidimyza and lady Beetles Hippodamia convergens check aphids. Mealybug Destroyer Cryptolaemus montrouzieri control mealy bugs. Spined soldier bug Podisus maculiventris eats on colorado potato beetle. Further knowledge from a professional regarding the availability of these pests , their sustainence, life cyclye etc on specific crops will be helpful in the long run.


Rabbits Control -

Rabbits make most of the lawn and gardens their homes as they can easily find their food for living. Beans, carrots, lettuce, peas are some of their favourite foods. So control them before they eat and mess up all your garden. Put up fences or barriers all around the garden or use sme repellents. Keep these chemicals away from children in a safe place. Another alternative is to set up traps with baits.



Deter the birds -

The birds are very clever to attack the crop as soon as they mature. Some crops are invaded even as early as before ripening. They may help in one respect by attacking the insect pests but your fruits are not spared in the process. So you better try to distract them by scaring or annoying to share your crop. The use of various types of scare crows, made up of straw as well as plastic or paper are good and efficient methods of repelling them. Position them in various locations in your garden to make it look as if they are moving around. Flashing lights, unusual noise, house pets can also help in the process. Providing them alternative food may help you to some extent. If all fail, try covering the whole field with a net or wire mesh.




Watch and learn from other gardeners. Discuss with experts and read books to get the maximum benefits out of your toils. All the best. Happy gardening!!