While visiting my parents in South Carolina for spring break, my mother gave me a wonderful present: a ticket to a presentation on kitchen gardens at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden given by Rebecca Bull Reed, Associate Gardening Editor for Southern Living magazine (thanks Mom!). Reed, a South Carolina native, has been traveling around the southern states finding examples of great vegetable and herb gardens, and along with Steve Bender and Gene Bussell, the other gardening editors, has put together some great articles on these gardens. Check out the links below to see some of those gardens on the Southern Living website. (I forgot to take my camera, so no photos of her presentation. Sorry!)
The point of the presentation was to encourage people to start kitchen gardens and provide smart tips on how to do it successfully as well as demonstrate some easy dishes to make from homegrown herbs and vegetables (The Lemon Thyme Cookies were to die for.) My notes do not completely cover Reed’s two-hour presentation, but here’s a brief summary of her tips (notes from me in parentheses):
- Soil is the most important component in a good garden. Without good healthy soil you will struggle. Fortunately keeping the soil healthy without harmful chemicals is easy. Add plenty of good compost.
- Make your own compost. All those vegetable scraps, eggs shells, coffee grounds and tea leaves are worth their weight in gold. Make sure you have a compost bin in your back yard and add all the above plus dead tree leaves. The formula for creating healthy compost is 1 part green (the stuff you save in your kitchen) to 2 parts brown (dead tree leaves, healthy leftover soil from repotting, etc). Add to it and turn it over regularly. Good compost takes 2 to 6 months to create. Cut your vegetables scraps small so they break down faster. Reed mentioned one gardener who runs all her vegetables scraps through the blender before adding to the compost bin.
- Raised beds are a great way to plant a garden, whether you build your own with lumber or buy a recycled plastic kit. You don’t have to till soil, just get the frames in place and fill with bags of garden soil and compost and top off with good hardwood mulch. Raised beds should be no wider than 4 feet to make it easy to reach the herbs and vegetables. Avoid using chemically treated woods such as railroad ties and pressure treated wood. (I have a blog post on how we built our raised beds coming soon.) Containers are also an easy way to grow herbs and vegetables. Reed recommended EarthBox containers. (I haven’t tried them yet.)
- Grow what you eat. Think about your favorite herbs and vegetables and plant those. If you start your own seeds, make sure you follow the directions on the seed packets as each plant has different requirements. If you buy seedlings, make sure you harden them off—bring outside for a few hours at a time for a week or so before planting—and make sure you wait until the appropriate planting time for your zone so your plants don’t freeze. (Don’t know what your zone is? Find it using the Arbor Day Hardiness Zones Lookup. Also check with your county extension office for last freeze dates in your area.)
- Suggested herbs: parsley, oregano, thyme, basil, chives. (I also suggest mint, but keep it in a pot to prevent takeover.)
- Suggested tomatoes: Amelia, Better Boy, Better Bush Improved Hybrid, Black Krim, Celebrity*, Cherokee Purple, Early Girl, Small Fry*, Sweet Million, Super Sweet 100, Viva Italia, Yellow Pear. (*=determinate, the rest are indeterminate)
- Suggested blueberries: Austin (early), Brightwell (mid), Climax (early), Powderblue (mid), Premier (early), Tifblue (mid to late).
A lot of you who Grow Your Own already know these tips, so pass along to any beginning gardeners you know. I also know that many of us could add to the list of herbs, tomatoes, and fruits, so feel free to share your favorites and any gardening tips you have in the comments.