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Basics Of A Kitchen Vegetable Garden
The only thing that distinguishes a kitchen vegetable garden from any other sort is that the garden plants are specifically selected to be eaten. Given that, the primary consideration in choosing your plants is what you will use, either for your own consumption or as trade items at a local farmer�s market. (Of course the climate in your area and the length of the growing season are also major factors.)
Your primary goals are to save money, to provide yourself with a healthy source of fresh food, and to have some fun in the process. There�s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing something you�ve grown with your own hands on your dinner table. But how to start?
Where to Plant Your Garden
Obviously you can only use the land available to you, if there is any, or you can augment what space you have with containers. Figure out how much room your plug plants will need and plan accordingly. Tomatoes and peppers grow to a large size and do quite well in containers with cages for stabilization. Carrots and lettuce, on the other hand, do well planted in rows.
If you or someone you know is handy with tools and if you have access to a little lumber and some screening material to use in the base of the boxes for drainage, you can use terraced, graduated beds and plant stands to squeeze in as much growing room as possible. Pick a place with plenty of sun that is well drained. Herbs, for instance, take six to eight hours of sun per day.
Your soil will need to be well turned and most likely enriched with a good quality bedding soil available from your local plant nursery. Make sure that the soil your purchase is appropriate for the plants you�ve selected. Talk with the staff at the nursery and they will help you select the right materials as well as any fertilizers that might be necessary based on your soil type. (It�s not a bad idea to take in a small sample of soil for their examination.)
What to Plant in Your Garden
If you want to start small and get a lot of bang for your buck, begin with tomatoes. A single plant can produce more than 100 lbs. of tomatoes over a growing season, an estimate that is actually on the low side. Since tomatoes in the store average 1-2� ($2-4 USD) per pound and because they are so versatile (tomato juice, sauces, salsas, or simply eaten fresh), the plants alone can significantly augment your diet while being kind to your pocket book. The volume you produce will also make it easy to share with family and friends or to trade your tomatoes at a farmer�s market for other kinds of vegetables. (Pepper plants are equally hardy and prolific.)
Other garden staples to consider include:
� Lettuce, which naturally compliments the tomatoes.
� Okra and eggplant, which are well suited for small �left over� spaces.
� Herbs, which are excellent for spicing dishes, a fragrant addition to your yard, and often a natural insect repellant. Good herb choices include: anise, coriander, dill, fennel, and perennials like thyme, oregano, chives, tarragon, sage, and rosemary.
If you don�t plant any other herbs, go with the rosemary. It�s incredibly hardy, smells wonderful, is excellent for cooking meats, and can even be dried into potpurri.
How to Tend Your Garden
Frankly, the biggest investment you will most likely spend on your garden won�t be monetary, but will rather be a commitment in time planting, weeding, and watering. When you purchase your plants, discuss their needs with the nursery staff. It�s always a good idea to select things with similar watering requirement or to arrange your garden in such a way that segments can be watered separately, with some areas receiving more and others less. Learn what insects are likely to damage your plants, how to watch for them, and what to do when they show up. (You don�t want to just use any insecticide on your garden. Remember, you�re going to be eating these plants!)
In most cases it�s a good idea to start small and to add to and expand your garden in subsequent growing seasons as you get more comfortable selecting and caring for your plants. You�ll have some failures; everyone does, it�s just part of the process. But you�ll also augment your diet with healthy, fresh food, cut down on your grocery bill, and create a fun activity for your family or for yourself (and get some exercise in the process.)
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