Continuing a discussion about designing your home kitchen garden, I finally get to share the story of a visit I made to photograph a garden that was full of surprises. Nearly every week I drive past a property on which a collection of raised garden beds sits back just a few feet from the road. Last season I saw weekly changes in those beds as trellises appeared in some, then seedlings, and eventually mature vegetable plants.
One Saturday in mid summer, I stopped at the house there and knocked on the door. A suspicious woman came to the door, and after an awkward moment I explained that I write about gardening and had been enjoying her raised bed project. I asked whether I could photograph her vegetable garden and tell about it in my blog.
I must have been sincere enough because this woman graciously broke away from a tomato-processing project in her kitchen and took me for a rather mind-boggling tour.
First, we went around the house to a large area planted with fruit trees and shrubs. These were relatively new plantings, and she was still coaxing them along without significant harvest. It showed great promise for coming seasons.
We went back around the house, and where the entrance walk met the driveway we passed a thick stand of raspberry plants. From there, we walked down the driveway and I admired the variety of crops that grew in a series of raised beds. The woman was self-conscious about weeds (prominent in at least one photo here), but there were plenty of tomatoes, winter squash, zucchini, and other food crops—certainly enough for a couple whose kids had grown and moved away.
After I shot a few photos, I was thanking my new gardening friend and preparing to leave when she asked, “Do you want to see the rest of it?” Instant intrigue.
Of course I followed my host past the last raised bed and up the hill alongside a barn. About 50 yards from the last raised bed, we came upon a kitchen garden bed that covered at least an acre!
My new gardening friend explained that her husband loves to plant stuff. She gets to deal with the resultant produce. Most of the kitchen gardeners I visited last summer had lost patience with garden maintenance, and weeds were prominent. Goodness! When you’re dealing with an acre or more of crops, you’d be weeding for hours every day to keep them under control! No matter: as long as your crops grow taller than your weeds, you’ll have a decent harvest.
While this enormous planting bed held corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, and vegetables I didn’t identify, that wasn’t the end of it! We walked past the chicken yard attached to the barn, and through an ornamental garden next to the house. There, up against a tree line, was another kitchen garden, this one decked out with various flowers for cutting.
My kitchen gardener friend explained that her goal is to stay out of grocery stores and farmers’ markets; if she preserves a quarter of the food she grows, I imagine she never buys produce from any other grower.
Early spring should find you out in your home kitchen garden setting fruit plants and cold weather vegetables. For those who are adding to their gardens—or just taking up kitchen gardening, early spring is a time for laying out a plan: building raised beds, cutting sod, or otherwise terraforming your yard.
Many wonder: what is a good vegetable garden layout? I maintain that there is no single answer. Much depends on the terrain in your yard.. If you have a flat, open lawn, you can have a traditional garden, a square foot garden, a raised bed garden, a vertical garden… you have enormous latitude for your vegetable garden layout.
If your yard features a steep hillside, or dense rock piles, or soggy depressions, or concrete or asphalt walks and patios, you might need to exercise your imagination to come up with a workable vegetable garden layout. Raised planting beds, containers, sloped or stepped beds… plants really don’t care how you lay things out; given sunlight, moisture, some warmth, and some nutritious soil, they will do their darndest to grow up and produce food for you.
Last summer and fall, I photographed more than a dozen kitchen gardens in central Pennsylvania. Actually… not all of them were kitchen gardens, but when they inspired thoughts of interesting ways to grow food in challenging landscaping, I took photographs.
This and several upcoming posts will present the kitchen gardens I photographed last year. I’ll include comments to provide encouragement in case you face similar challenges when planning your own vegetable garden layout.