Praise for The Complete Kitchen Garden:
“With charming hand-drawn planting plans, bright color photos, and tempting recipes. . . . Ms. Ogden’s book arms wannabe gardeners with all the tools to plan a productive garden before seeds ever meet the ground.”
—Wall Street Journal
"There's no reason a vegetable garden must be an eyesore, banished to the corner by the garage. . . . The Complete Kitchen Garden . . . combines design advice, garden wisdom and recipes."
-The Chicago Tribune
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Why a Kitchen Garden?
Sowing seeds and watching food grow goes back to the first hunter-gatherers, yet the earliest documented form of orderly kitchen gardens were the ancient Persian gardens from around 1500 BCE. This type of garden, called a Paradise garden, was located within a walled enclosure at the center of a home, and formed an outdoor room for entertaining, contemplation, and listening to poetry or music. The Paradise garden sheltered a vibrant collection of fruits and flowering plants, And always included a water feature in the form of a central fountain that split the garden into four squares symbolizing the four nourishing liquids found in Paradise: milk, honey, wine, and water. Each garden plot represented the four cardinal directions: North, South, East, and West. The Paradise garden style was adopted by the Greeks and Romans, and continued to be a source of culinary as well as aesthetic enjoyment.
During the Medieval era and the fall of the Roman Empire, anything that was considered sensual and pleasurable, which included beautiful gardens, was banned. Monasteries became the disseminators of the church doctrine; kitchen gardens were grown behind high walls and colonnades of tall trees, and were largely the domain of the monks and nuns. They cultivated a much simpler style of garden than was previously enjoyed, focusing on useful medicinal or culinary plants for the benefit of the community. Yet like their Persian precursors, these gardens were laid out in intricately patterned beds with espaliered pear trees, climbing vines, and vegetables planted in geometric grids. These monastery gardens served as a retreat for meditation and prayer, as well as a primary source of nourishment.
In turn, many of the features of these early medieval gardens inspired the gardeners of the Renaissance era. The fanciful parterre garden — featuring clipped yew, boxwood, and herbs planted in ornate patterns — was developed, and the Baroque period took this idea even further, giving birth to the kitchen gardens At Château de Villandry, best known as France's archetypal potager. Villandry featured seemingly endless geometric parterres edged in immaculately clipped boxwood to create subdivisions for ornamental vegetables and flowers. French and Italian gardeners continued to plant kitchen gardens, and their passion for Fresh cuisine has inspired Americans to savor the glorious connection between the garden and the dining table.
In this book you will find a range of kitchen garden designs that bridge the old with the new, building on the classic four-square concept, along with gardens that have contemporary appeal. A kitchen garden goes beyond the simple, straight rows of a vegetable garden to combine art and cuisine in ways that enhance the experience of growing food.
How to Get Started
Gardeners can always learn from other gardeners, and I'll admit that some of my best ideas have come from visiting other gardens. All gardeners are artists, and it's a bit of a mystery the way we can start with the same materials-seeds, plants, and soil-yet the results are always different. When I plant my lettuce in waves, I think back to a neighbor who painted the landscape from her upstairs window, blending all the patterns together into a patchwork of colors. The tall bamboo teepees at the entrance to my garden for my favorite purple pole beans, Trionfo Violetto, were inspired by a trip to Italy. Edible nasturtiums ramble through my garden, reminiscent of the garden at Giverny, where Monet filled the paths with these brilliant orange, yellow, and mahogany flowers. But when it comes to learning technique, only personal experience will suffice. Like cooking or any of the arts, once a basic foundation of garden skills is established, confidence will follow.
If this is your first garden, take time to study your backyard; follow the direction of the sun and how it moves across the sky in summer and the winter. Watch when a heavy wind blows to establish if you need wind blocks, and notice where the rain collects after a storm to see if you need to create better drainage. While you build your garden, find time to step back and allow your muse to guide you in creating a garden that is as beautiful as a painting and brings in elements that establish your own personal style. This might include ornamental sculpture, espaliered fruit trees, or a simple stone bench. Before sowing seeds, take a pointed stick to draw in the soil and visualize how the plants will fill in together as they grow. This will help you figure out how much room to allow between plants, and where to plant based on their heights. Think of your garden as a blank canvas for ideas.
A kitchen garden goes beyond the simple straight rows of an ordinary garden, to encompass a balance of color, texture, and form that is extraordinary. A true kitchen garden opens your senses in new and inspiring ways, both in the garden and in the kitchen. Plan to keep a sketchbook of ideas and to take notes and photographs to guide you from year to year, learning as you go. You'll be amazed how much information you can gather from simply observing and exploring the connections that allow all the elements in a garden to work together as a whole.
In this book you will find my own designs along with techniques and organic gardening methods to get you started. I expect you to adapt to fit your own style, your individual landscape, and your personal appetite, because there is always so much more to learn on your own. Plan to visit other gardens, but keep exploring ways to create a kitchen garden that expresses your own personality. Enjoy the process as much as the harvest, because both are equally important.
Step One: Soil
Soil is the most important component to a successful garden. Before you sow seeds or transplant seedlings, be sure your soil is rich in nutrients, weed free, and will allow roots to expand. Soil is a living, breathing organism and provides the nourishment that allows roots, shoots, and fruits to mature. While most soil contains the basic elements that plants need to grow, these elements are not always in the right proportions. Understanding how all the elements work together to produce the right balance will help you to build a natural blend of nutrient-rich soil that will keep your plants in good health.
Every region of the country has a different soil type, and learning about the soil in your region may help you understand what approach to take in your garden. start by taking a close look at the texture and composition of your garden soil. Soil is classified according to the size of its mineral particles, and can range from coarse gravel to fine gravel, coarse sand to fine sand, and silt. Each has its own attributes that will affect the growth of your plants. To get a sense of what kind of soil you have in your garden, squeeze a clump in your hand. If it crumbles or runs through your fingers easily, your soil may be sandy. Sandy soil warms up early in the spring, drains easily, and is aerated, so roots expand easily, yet it has no capacity to hold moisture, which means that nutrients will leach out. If your soil clump holds together firmly, it may be clay, which is dense and will hold water and nutrients, but can easily become waterlogged. The ideal blend is sandy loam, which combines the lightness of sand with the nutrients of fertile soil. Sandy loam soil will resemble a piece of dense chocolate cake when gently pressed into a ball.
Maintaining healthy soil is an ongoing process, which involves spreading compost and adding organic fertilizer in the spring and the fall, as well as planting cover crops that will naturally build up nutrients in your soil when edible crops are not growing. Adding aged compost to your kitchen garden will give your soil extra vigor and vitality, as well as encourage beneficial worms and microorganisms to flourish.
Be sure to keep the soil weed free for optimum fertility, and regularly Cultivate in-between rows to aerate the roots of the plants.
Garden Tip: Soil Test Kits
Soil tests are optional for the home gardener, but they are a good idea, for several reasons. A soil test is easy to do and will help you figure out what quantities of fertilizer and other soil amendments to add to fortify your plants for the growing season. New gardens will especially benefit from testing topsoil for any heavy metal residuals and to make sure that the proportions of soil amendments are adequate for your crops. You can buy soil test kits, though they are not as reliable as tests that are offered through your state's USDA extension service.
Step Two: Compost
Compost is the recycling of naturally decomposing materials to provide nutrients to your garden soil. Added to your garden at the start of the growing season and again in the fall, compost feeds your plants a blend of organic fertilizer — for free!
What can I turn into compost? It is easy to keep a bucket next to your kitchen sink to collect eggshells, coffee grounds, banana peels, old bread, and other kitchen scraps for a compost pile. Add to this spent garden plants, raked leaves, and grass clippings. Avoid meat, dairy, and other animal-based products.
How do I make a compost pile? If you can make lasagna, you will be able to follow a recipe for compost. The most important thing to remember is to create both wet and dry layers, as well as green and brown ingredients. Start with a bottom layer of twigs or old sunflower stems to allow air to flow up from beneath. Keep the compost covered, to prevent the neighborhood dogs from visiting and moisture from building up. Gardening and basic yard maintenance generate plenty of material, so find a place for both a hot and a cold compost pile.
When is compost ready? When the compost is ready, it should look like soil and smell sweet. When you squeeze a sample in your hand, it should form a loose clump. There should be no large clumps, but plenty of worms.
The Hot Fast Method: This method is contained in a bin and layered with equal portions of high-nitrogen greens (grass clippings, plant cuttings, fruit and vegetable scraps) and browns (fallen leaves, twigs, wood chips, and shredded paper) in order for the materials to properly cook. Bacteria are responsible for breaking down food scraps, and are especially active when combined with fresh air. Ideally, the compost will heat to 120° — 160°F to create a natural composting action. Maintaining a high temperature is a critical element for rapid composting, and can be checked by using a compost thermometer or feeling the warmth with your hand when you turn the pile. Proper layering techniques and turning the pile every other week to keep the oxygen flowing will result in compost within three to six months.
The Cold Slow Method: This method requires less science, but it can take up to one or two years for everything to fully decompose. Spent garden plants, weeds, old potted plants, and small twigs are layered with leaves, grass clippings, and wood ash in a loose, open pile. Instead of actively turning this pile, as with the hot method, allow the plants to decompose slowly. In fact, it's best not to turn this pile more than several times a year. The advantage of this method is that you can incorporate all of your yard waste, resulting in a larger quantity of finished compost for your garden. This method may require sifting the compost through a large mesh screen in order to remove stones and other debris that may not fully break down.
Step Three: Seeds
A true kitchen garden is built on a wide range of vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs. Knowing what to grow and when to start seeds indoors versus sowing them directly in the garden takes a bit of experience. My own kitchen gardens contain varieties that are not commonly available in garden centers, and each spring, I order fresh seeds from seed catalogs. I have my favorite varieties, but I make a wish list that combines a balance of both "tried and true" and "new and different" varieties to keep the garden fresh.
Seed catalogs are designed to charm the gardener with color photographs. Instead of being seduced by the pictures, learn to read the copy when you are deciding what to order. Look for helpful information such as tips for sowing seeds indoors, the number of days to maturity, descriptions of height, sun or partial-shade requirements, and ideal soil conditions for that plant. Most important (if you're choosing seeds that will grow into something edible), what does it taste like? After all, you are growing a culinary garden and knowing that the variety you are planting will be the best tasting should be the ultimate goal. Don't simply settle for the ordinary-go for the flavor.
When your seeds arrive, set up a planting chart based on how long each plant will take to reach maturity and whether the seeds can be planted directly in the garden or should be started early indoors. Planting dates will vary widely across the country; when you start your seeds, be sure you know your region's frost-free date. Many long-season crops, such as onions, and peppers, can be planted six to eight weeks before the frost-free date, while tomatoes, squash, and fruiting crops should be planted four weeks before this date. Lettuce, peas, and other cool-weather-loving crops can be sown directly in the garden as soon as the soil is prepared.
Each seed variety will germinate at a different range of requirements, but most vegetables require a simple process: Fill plug trays or small pots with fine potting soil, moisten the soil, and press the seeds in to a depth of one and one-half times the size of the seed. Cover with loose potting soil, and gently press so the seeds make contact with the soil. Keep the soil moist and warm until the seeds germinate, then move into a location with full sun or place under grow lights, until the plants are ready to transplant into the garden.
Seeds can also be sown directly in the garden; the process is the same. Mark your rows with a stick and make a straight line with twine. Sprinkle the seeds into the soil, allowing several inches in between. Cover the seed with fine soil, press gently, and water. Germination will vary depending on the season and the variety, but most seeds will germinate within three to ten days. If necessary, thin the rows to allow each plant enough room to grow to full size. You can collect your own seeds by selecting heirloom varieties and allowing the plants to produce seedpods. Harvest in the fall and keep seeds in a cool, dry location. Plant them again for next year's garden or pass them along to friends.
Step Four: N-P-K
As compost breaks down, it will release micronutrients in proper quantities to create nutritionally rich humus, making a lasting contribution to soil nutrition and overall structure. Yet sometimes plants need more of a boost. In fact, plants require sixteen different elements in order to grow, and bagged fertilizer provides three basic building blocks. These work quickly and will give your plants a powerful boost in the short term. Since you are growing food, be sure to select an organic fertilizer rather than a chemical mix.
Each bag will be marked with three numbers separated by hyphens, which are always in the same order and represent the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) in each mixture. For a vegetable garden, it is best to balance the numbers as evenly as possible, such as a 5-3-4 blend.
Here is how each of these ingredients works:
Nitrogen (N) is responsible for the growth of plant leaves and stems. It is beneficial for plants that are grown primarily for their foliage, such as lettuce, spinach, salad greens, kale, collard, and chard. Nitrogen is the element that is used up most quickly, and leafy plants benefit from frequent application, especially in the spring and fall. Yellowish leaves and stunted growth will indicate nitrogen deficiency. Keep the soil healthy with a cover crop such as buckwheat during the summer or winter rye grass for a fall and winter planting, which is then turned into the soil.
Phosphorus (P) is key in the development of fruit and flowers, and is especially good for the general well-being of all your plants. Adequate phosphorus in the soil is especially helpful in preventing transplant shock, and if plants show any sign of poor health, such as purple or yellow foliage, or stunted growth, it may be due to a phosphorus deficiency. Phosphorus is generally available in most soils that have been enriched with compost, but if your soil test indicates that you need more, a handful of bone meal sprinkled evenly over the garden will usually do the trick.
Excerpted from "The Complete Kitchen Garden"
Copyright © 2011 Ellen Ecker Ogden.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
From Art to the Kitchen Garden,
Why a Kitchen Garden?,
How to Get Started,
The Salad Lover's Garden,
The Organic Rotation Garden,
The Cook's Garden,
The Children's Garden,
The Culinary Herb Garden,
The Paint Box Garden,
The Patio Garden,
The Heirloom Maze Garden,
The Garnish Garden,
The Chef's Garden,
The Family Garden,
The Artist's Garden,
The Country Garden,
The Four Friends Garden,
Designing a Kitchen Garden,
Preserving the Bounty,
A Well-stocked Pantry,