Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Planning and Preparing the Kitchen Garden

The daffodils and the forsythias are in bloom so, according to ancient lore, it's time to plant the peas. I love the start of the gardening season -- digging,  planting, and getting dirt under my fingernails. Equally, I love PLANNING my vegetable garden. I have a fenced-in kitchen garden with picket fencing on two sides and pasture fencing on the remaining two sides. (I wish the picket fence went all the way around, but I cannot afford it.) The area is approximately 35 feet x 37 feet. The focal point of my kitchen garden is my potting shed, which has an acrylic glass roof on the south side.  In the kitchen garden we constructed four raised beds, several grow-boxes, and I also use grow-bags. I added another deep grow-box for parsnips this year (I think my garden is full now!) The long 'lasagna' bed along the picket fence contains perennial flowers, strawberries, rhubarb, and 3 blueberry bushes.  I grow my vegetables and herbs in raised beds for several reasons: they provide better drainage, I can more easily control the growing medium, they heat up faster in spring (important in the short-growing season of the Pocono Mountains), and they are not effected by toxins from the walnut tree in the vicinity. Also, when the soil is shin level, weeding and harvesting is less hard on the back. My kitchen garden is located in an area of full sun.

Behind the fence, the forsythia is just coming into bloom.

To get the most out of my space, I plan carefully each year beginning with a rough sketch. I try to group vegetables of the same family together then follow a four-year rotation. I rotate the crops to avoid diseases. This is especially important with crops in the tomato and brassica (cabbage) family. I don't plant large amounts of anything, preferring to have a variety, with just enough for H.H. and me. There is always a small surplus for the neighbors and the local food bank. I plant enough beets for canning, and I freeze tomatoes, rhubarb, and make freezer pickles. Here is my 2013 garden bed planner ...

Each year, I purchase a couple of tomato plants and some sweet peppers, but the rest I grow from seed. I start a few seeds indoors and sow the majority directly into the ground. Timing is everything, so I don't rely completely on ancient lore. You need to know the last freeze/frost date for your area, so call the local Cooperative Extension office, or you can go to Dave's Garden to calculate the last frost/first freeze dates by your zip code. The last freeze/frost date in my area is May 23, but can be as late as June 10. The first frost is October 5, but can be as early as September 12. This gives me a frost-free growing season of around 123 days -- not very long, is it? I use a chart to determine seed-starting dates. For example, peas can be direct-seeded into the garden 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost (which is this week), and beans two weeks after the last spring frost. It is really not complicated although I was a bit overwhelmed when I started, but now I use the same chart every year.

I have two deep boxes now, for root vegetables such as parsnips.
If you have questions about planting vegetables, there's a lot of help to be found on the Web. I am having fun with a Web app for gardeners called Sprout it. I learned about it from my friend Mary Anne who loves technology and gardening equally. I've mentioned her wonderful blog, Leafport, before. Mary Anne provides in-depth reviews of gardening apps that even I can understand. Click on Sprout it for her review. I am looking forward to reading her latest article, Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens. Do check out Mary Anne's blog!

I mulched all the beds and set up the pea tunnel and cucumber frame before sowing seeds.

It is important to prepare your garden beds before you buy your plants. I prepared mine last weekend. I loosened the soil with a shovel then added several inches of compost. I will use a square-foot garden grid in some of the beds to help me with seed-spacing. The snowpeas are in the ground on each side of the pea tunnel, and lettuce planted underneath the tunnel. I put a set of onions along the south side of the shed. I sowed a row of spinach, also. I have started cabbage and broccoli indoors. Next time I'll show you my seed-starting setup.

H.H. and his brother-in-law are insulating the potting shed. I want to take advantage of solar heat with the green-house-type window. I am hoping the temperature inside the shed will stay above freezing overnight without using a heater. I hope it is ready for when my seeds need to go outside.

Insulation in progress

 In the meantime, I am enjoying the spring plants in bloom at last: especially primroses, hellebores, and pulmonaria.

The phoebe returned to my garden a week ago -- didn't get a picture yet. All the frogs are awake in the pond, including the big bullfrog.

Nessie our bullfrog is a 'monster'.

There are lots of frogs' eggs.

Must close now and get back to work. This is my busiest time and I love it!

Happy Gardening!

Pamela x

The Potting Shed, 2011

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  1. Pam, the insulation in your shed is looking good. I'm sure it'll make a fine "oversized cold frame" for your seedlings.

    Where did you get your pea tunnel? I've been using pea fencing from Burpee for my cukes but that tunnel looks nice and sturdy - I'd like one like that (and thankfully there's still time to get one)!

  2. Mary Anne -- I love the cold frame analogy! I got the pea tunnel from Gardeners' Supply. P. x

  3. I love this time of year, busy, busy, busy. It's great to finally have the weather we need to get some jobs done. I've done lots of seed sowing and the windowsills are filling up fast. Your Kitchen Garden is so neat and tidy, it won't be long until all those raised beds are filled with lovely veggies.

  4. Hi Pam...your vege garden is so wonderful! I love your much work and thought goes into it. Your raised beds are so neat and organized. I am scared to death of frogs and toads, so I would not go anywhere near Nessie!

  5. I've always been envious of your kitchen garden, Pam. We've downsized ours since there's only three living here now, soon to be only two. What a great idea to add more variety. I think I'll add that to my to do list. Still working on the Spring cleanup here, temps are still below freezing at night, not much warmer during the day. We need more sunshine. My getting older bones don't work as well in the cold.

  6. What a wonderful vegetable garden, and you are so organised! Your shed looks like it's going to be a great place to keep your seedlings nice and warm too.

  7. Lovely bullfrog you have in your garden and your vegetable garden looks so clean and fresh for the new start.

  8. Oh for the day when I too will again be as organised as you are. Wonderful Bullfrog!
    Bridget x

  9. It's my busiest time too and I also love it. Your raised beds look so full of promise. No wonder you're enjoying the work. Your "Nessie" is cute and boy has she been busy making babies. :) Happy spring!

  10. Looks like a great Garden Plan.
    Pretty flowers, too!
    I have lettuce, carrots and onions growing now. Tonight is our last expected frost date. Forecast is for 36F with clear skies. Just this week I planted Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans. Hope to get FordHook Bush Beans planted next week, and it will be warm enough to set out Tomato plants and Hot Peppers.
    Happy Gardening!
    Lea's Menagerie

  11. Hello! I've just found your blog by searching for Cottage Garden blogs. We moved to Japan (for good) two years ago and I am just now starting some serious gardening. I've never done it before so I've a lot to learn! I've already gotten some great tips from your blog and started following it! Happy Spring!

  12. My goodness bullfrogs yet but lots of spring peepers and our daffs and hyacinths are finally blooming. You have such a wonderful veg garden so much bigger than mine. I planted peas but nothing else yet. I was hoping this weekend to get a few things started but we are cold again.

  13. My goodness but are you not the most organized gardener around! I'm afraid I am much more moment to moment with my veggie plot. I've planted my snow peas, lettuce, kale, bok choy and potatoes.

    The tomoatoe seedlings have done great indoors and can't wait to get outside, but still too cold. Frogs are also great! We have a few in our pond that serenade us on warm summer evenings:)

  14. What a great overview of the start of veggie season. I've never heard that about daffodils and planting peas but I'll keep that in mind. My daffs still haven't come up but my pea bed is ready and waiting! The timing of veggies really is critical isn't it? I always have a hard time remembering when each individual type is supposed to go in.

  15. Great plan.. It would definitely be an awesome garden.

  16. My goodness Pam, your kitchen garden is awesome. Oh to have so much space! Our vegetable garden is quite small, but we don't care to be canning and freezing either. we just grow what we can eat.

  17. Interesting post - you've found a way to overcome the problem of the short growing season by planning really well. Good point about rotating crops - I know farmers do it but I never thought of doing it in my own garden.

  18. Charming post, everything looks wonderful.

    Daddy Mack always said, when the Whippoorwills called, "Time to plant peas." I think he was talking aout field peas (like black-eyed peas) in the South, not your peas that we call Garden Peas or English Peas.

  19. Your garden is looking great even before you get the plants in! I love love love the picket fence!
    I also enjoy drawing up a plan for my potager in spring. Right now it's full of winter crops like leeks, broccoli, cauliflower, spring onions and calendula. Also the last of the peppers and chillis because we haven't had enough frost to kill them yet.
    Hope you're getting some nice weather for spring.

  20. Great post! You make it sound so easy! I wish I had this much space for a kitchen garden. And that frog is crazy lookin! Jeannine

  21. You have an amazing garden set-up! It looks wonderful and I'll be checking back for updates. I also wanted to say thank you for mentioning Sprout it. One of our top priorities is helping gardeners figure out when and how to plant because it can be complex and it really matters.

    Happy gardening!

    Sarah Bush, Sprout it Founder

  22. How impressive this is, Pam. You will have the most beautiful kitchen garden ever. My veggie garden is quite large, but I could use more space...always.