My grandmother had one and there’s a good chance yours did too. The concept of kitchen gardens is not new. My grandmother, well into her nineties, bristled at the thought of not gardening when her children suggested that she forgo all the hard work.
Her garden was about 50 feet by 30 feet, laid out in the classic form: higher plants to the west, shorter plants to the east – out of their big brother’s shadow. There were paths between the rows where one could walk. By their nature, these gardens are quite labor intensive and extremely inefficient. The raised bed method changed all that.
Using raised beds boarded by concrete block, my garden produces more than three times what my grandmother’s did, in less than a quarter of the space, with far less work. For instance, last season, I had eight tomato plants. We enjoyed tomatoes from those eight plants until two weeks before Christmas. And we still gave some away. We got tired of eating fresh green beans and I canned and froze enough to last all winter. All this and more from 250 square feet of raised beds.
In fact, once the garden was established, I doubt that I spent more than 15 minutes a week in there. I walked through in the early morning to check on predator damage, weeds and to see if any insects or diseases were at work. Then, a trip in the evening for dinner “stuff” and that’s about it.
But all this, of course, didn’t happen overnight. To establish a viable kitchen garden, you need three things: you must have good soil, as much sunlight as possible, and water. You can accomplish good soil two ways: you can buy rich, healthy soil, or you can treat your own with organic matter, but this takes time.
For my raised beds, I bought premium topsoil from a local sand and gravel company. This soil tested 7.5 Ph when I sent it to the UConn Extension Garden Center.
I use no pesticides or chemical fertilizer. Due to careful choices, my plants are virtually disease free. Utilizing raised beds, the soil never gets compacted and what few weeds pop up through the mulch are easily pulled by hand.
So let’s get started. I laid the concrete blocks right on the ground. My beds are four feet wide inside the block, so you can reach the middle from either side, and two courses high. The length can be whatever you like; mine are 50 feet long. The material used for the beds is not critical; I chose block because it’s convenient.
Next time, we’ll talk about what to grow.
Gene Henson is a University of Connecticut certified Advanced Master Gardner.