Starting your own kitchen garden is easier than you think
By Nicole Johnsey Burke
That’s the answer most give me when I ask them about the first plant they bought for their garden.
There’s something quintessential about the garden tomato and it’s true: the taste is incomparable. But there really is so much more you can grow and enjoy from the kitchen garden. And many of these plants are much simpler to grow than tomatoes, taking up less space and less time.
The easiest way to bring spice into your kitchen from the garden is to literally grow just that: spices. Or, as we like to call them, ‘culinary herbs.’ And good news for us: culinary herbs are the simplest plants to grow in the garden. More than 90 per cent of our culinary herbs are in the Lamiaceae (otherwise known as the ‘mint’) family. This means most of these plants have similar growing conditions like a well-draining sandy soil, lots of sunshine, and less than one square foot per plant.
You can grow herbs alone in their own raised bed or container or you can interplant them along the borders of your garden where you’re growing other foods too. (This is my favourite method).
Rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, marjoram, winter savory…these are just a few of the herbs that grow well and easily and can be cut from again and again (and again).
Beyond herbs, you can grow loads of unique greens when you have your own kitchen garden. Greens can be planted by seed directly in the garden and most will need less than 1/3 of a square foot (not including kale and collards that take up 1 square foot each). Leafy greens are the cornerstone of a plant-based diet and you can have so much more variety, freshness, and nutrition when you grow your own.
In the cooler seasons, you can grow Romaine, Buttercrunch, Red leaf lettuce and lots of spring mix varieties as well as arugula, radishes, spinach and Swiss chard. (Did we mention leafy greens love the cool weather?)
But even when temperatures rise, you can continue to grow kale, Swiss chard, hot weather mustards, as well as unique varieties like Amaranth greens, sweet potato greens and malabar spinach.
Just a few bites of freshly cut greens will pretty much spoil you for life and make it difficult to go back to those boxed and bagged (and trucked) varieties from the grocery store.
Finally, you can definitely grow unique fruits in your kitchen garden to take the flavour in your plant-based recipes to a new level. Here’s where the tomatoes finally come in!
Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, courgette, gourds, and peppers all grow in 100s of varieties-not just those typical red, green and yellow types we set stacked high in the produce section. Try heirloom and new local varieties of each plant to see which ones you like best (and which ones grow with the least amount of fuss). Both your mouth and your eyes will love the new colours and flavours and your brain won’t mind all the things it’s discovering either.
If variety is the spice life, then your life will definitely be more spicy when you’re growing more of your own food. Start with herbs, move to more leafy greens and then branch out with new heirloom and unique varieties of your favorite fruiting plants.
Even from a small space, you can grow big results that bring your plant-based diet to a whole new (spicy) level.
By Nicole Burke, author of Kitchen Garden Revival