It sounds really odd to talk about starting a kitchen garden when we are into autumn and the nights are getting chilly. Many of us are starting to find our tomatoes singed by the cold, and plants quivering, resulting in lower yields.
But it’s actually a good time to talk about it because around this time, many of us are filled with regrets over what could have been, a summer where we said to ourselves we would try this or that and that didn’t really happen. My regret list this summer is quite a long one. The papaya and Japanese cucumber should have gone into a bigger pot, I should have moved the sugar canes outside earlier, weeded more and planted the lettuces away from the sun ….. Ah well… Every season is a season of many regrets because the weather is always changing so it’s hard to predict what would do well and what wouldn’t.
This blog post is really about the regret for some that a summer came and went and they didn’t really start on anything. It’s for those who tell me constantly how tiring it is after awhile to feed, weed, harvest, trim and it just doesn’t seem worth it. And it’s for those who had a patch but just couldn’t keep it up. If you fall into that category, let me give you some comfort. We’ve all been there. In fact, I am still there. My celery is a shambles and my Kale is caterpillar eaten. There are weeds all over my Chinese broccoli and I probably weed it once a forthnight only when I harvest a few stems. What you must know, is that you don’t have to get it 100%.
In planning and planting a kitchen garden, there are a few useful tips I have learnt over the years.
- Make sure you have plants that are easy and will make you feel satisfied with the KG even when everything else looks like hell. These are spring onions, beetroot, beans, chilli (better to be in the greenhouse), herbs such as thyme, sage, rosemary (basil is harder than most people think). Have more of them because you can either dry or freeze them or left on the ground till you want them.
- If possible try to have raised beds, right up to the waist level. It’s hard to believe how much inertia there is to bend down and weed but it is a real crippling inertia. At waist height, you could do it while you’re on the phone or walking around.
- Have a gardening satchel with weeding gloves, wire and secateurs and always wear it the moment you step out into the garden. You’d be surprised how easy it is to weed if you have everything with you rather than going in and out of the shed/house. You’d pick at something even while you relax and walk around your garden.
- Get help for some of the tough jobs. Every garden has it. Digging up the beds, putting in manure or compost. If you don’t feel up to it, there are gardeners in your neighbourhood who could be your odd job man for an hour or 2 a week for about £15 an hour so if you can afford it, get someone to help. Your pride is less important than peace of mind and happiness from watching things grow.
- No matter how tempting it is, don’t attempt the more challenging crops such as brassicas unless you have the suitable frames and netting. Aphids and caterpillars will eat them up in seconds and you will just end up feeling frustrated. Also avoid corn if you have squirrels. There are some crops that will just frustrate you so stay clear of them for your own good.
- Know when to kick back and relax. The busiest time for a kitchen garden is April and May where everything is being planted out. You should have absolutely nothing else to do in June, July, August and September except harvest, weed and feed which is a once a week job or less if you do a bit everyday.
- You must understand that a kitchen garden is never 100% ‘ok’. There will be crops that just didn’t emerge and those that perform poorly. And there will be those you feel you don’t have the energy to maintain. Scale back to work on those you can manage and let the rest go to ruin. It’s ok. There is always next year. But don’t let it paralyse you to the extent that everything is ruined. Work on the few that you have a good relationship with, and can work with you. They deserve your attention.
- Turn on music. There is nothing like music in the garden to relax as well as fortify you and you feel able to take on the tasks. And you’d be surprised. Once you finish weeding, feeding, harvesting and trimming, it has only been an hour and you still have the entire day to enjoy! The thought of the work is always harder than the actual.
My plants are like my pets. They constantly act up and occasionally behave well or badly. You don’t have to talk to them, but generally, after a few weeks, you can sense them. If they are turning yellow, they might need some nitrogen, and some crops absolutely hate weeds whilst others don’t care. You’ll get a sense of it after awhile and it will start to be more enjoyable.
Keep everything manageable and you’ll soon feel good enough about yourself to handle some of the more challenging crops. Remember, there is always another season!