When you are just starting out as a new gardener it can be quite overwhelming to try to decide what to grow in the space you have. Most of us are growing in smaller spaces and must choose wisely what will take a spot in our garden. Below are 5 tips for choosing what to grow in your kitchen garden. I hope they take the pressure off of your decision making process.
- Know Your Season – Certain food crops do best when the temperatures are cool, others when it’s warm and others when it’s hot or even cold. Knowing which season you are growing in will help you pair down your options. Writing out your monthly average temperatures, both highs and lows can show you which season you are in for that month based on the Arc of Seasons. (The Arc of Seasons, as taught by Nicole Burke of Gardenary and Rooted Garden, is a simple way to look at what is possible each month based on temperatures.) Ex: Cool Season: 35°F to 65°F (1.6°C to 18.3°C), Warm Season: 65°F to 85°F (18.3°C to 29.4°C), Hot Season is considered to range from 70°F to over 90°F (21°C to 32°C), the Cold Season is below freezing to just over 40°F (4.4°C) Once you know your temperatures you can match it up to plant families that do best in that season. Cool season plant families include Brassicaceae (Brassicas) and Apiaceae (Carrot family), warm season plant families include Cucurbitaceae (Cucumber family) as well as Solanaceae (Nightshades)
- Look To Recipes/Meals – Make a list of common recipes or meals you like to make often. Break this list down further into specific ingredients. From these ingredients, make a list of things you can grow or want to grow in the space, time and temperatures/climate you have. These will be the key plants you should grow because you already know you eat this food often. This works best when you are eating seasonally as the majority of the ingredients will be growing at the same time in your garden.
- Optimize Your Growing Space – There are *two main ways you can pack your growing space full: square foot gardening or intensively planting that is like square foot gardening, but the plants are laid out in rows or circles or another shape to optimize the amount of food crops you can grow in a small space. I suggest doing either of these. The main difference is how you want the garden to look. Do you want plants intermingled or do you want groupings in squares and rectangles? The choice is yours, I say experiment with both and see what you like best. (You can follow the square foot gardening spacing, but not utilize the squares.) This will help you see exactly what will fit in the space you have. *You can also grow vertically!
- Pick Something New – I always suggest trying out something new in your garden each season or year. Definitely grow those things you know you love, the things that you know work well in your garden and you know exactly what you’ll do with the harvests. Adding something new to try can help you find new favorites that you end up growing for years to come. You may find they either taste better, the texture is better, it the pests leave them alone more. It could be an entirely new to you food too! When choosing something new to grow, I suggest growing at least 2-3 plants to get a real idea of how it does. If you only grow one and it doesn’t turn out well, you might not know it was just that plant. (If you grow more than one plant, you will get to know it more easily.)
- Grow What You Love – This maybe should have been first on the list! Once you know what grows well in each season, the very best thing you can do is focus on those food crops you love. If you are growing things just because it’s all the rage on social media or because it looks good in pictures, but you don’t want to eat it, leave it out of your garden planning. Focus on what you love and you’ll be happy, even when disease or pest pressure strikes your garden.
Each season and every year you have the opportunity to start again. Even within a season, if there is still time you can start fresh. There are options galore for the kitchen garden. Have fun, enjoy the process and before you know it, you’ll be harvesting your favorite food crops!
If you need help planning your garden, I have very limited spots available for online 1:1 coaching sessions. You can find more information here: Garden Coaching