A Beginner’s Kitchen Garden

We built two raised beds in our backyard on Sunday.  My husband broke off pieces of old picnic tables for the wooden sides and we filled it with compost that we’ve been collecting for a while.  Every year I try to push myself one step further to reducing my “carbon footprint” and this is my challenge this year.  The more self-reliant we can be, the less we have to rely on planes & trucks to carry our (organic) goods around for us.  I feel that no matter how insignificant my life may be compared to the entire earth, my one vote may make the tiniest difference, may tip the scales slightly in our favor.  By the way, on Earth Day, April 22nd, Tuesday at 7pm Tricia, Denise & Cameron will be leading a book discussion on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver which is about this subject.

                                               lettuce-growing.jpg                           

I am not very knowledgeable on the subject of gardening but self-education is what the library is all about.  So I checked out piles of books on the subject.   The first thing I learned was that my little dream garden I was imagining is called a “kitchen garden” which is a small garden, usually outside a kitchen door, with just enough of an assortment of vegetables, herbs and flowers to use for a lovely dinner.  This is our starting point.  Our goal is to have a permaculture garden for our backyard.  Here are some materials we’ve learned a lot from:

The Natural Way of Farming: the theory and practice of green philosophy by Masanobu Fukuoka:  This is a very conceptual book about how much energy you use and what your actual “energy profit” is.  His belief is that nature is more powerful than humans and instead of us trying to harness the power we should just sort of guide the nature to our backyard.  There’s good information on companion planting in this book. 

Jeff Ball’s 60-minute Garden (by Jeff Ball :o):  This is where we got the idea for the raised beds.  Mr. Ball writes about tunnels, mini-greenhouses and extending your growing season.  He’s practical without overwhelming the beginner.  He also has lots of interesting ideas on natural ways of dealing with problems such as using garlic & onion sprays as pesticide and using sunlight to get rid of infestations. 

Let it Rot by Stu Campbell:  This is a small educational book without a lot of filler.  It has light humor, it’s very practical and inspirational.  The author talks about how the temperature outside affects the different microbes in the compost pile.  (At a lower temperature certain bacteria are working, and as the temperature gets higher different bacteria take over). 

Chicken Tractor: the permaculture guide to happy hens and healthy soil: by Andy Lee & Patricia Foreman:  If you’re thinking of having chickens, here’s some inspirational reading for you.  What you do is build a large pen for the chickens that can be moved around the yard.  The chickens get rid of bugs (ticks too, though guinea fowl have more of a tick-tooth), eat weeds and fertilize the ground.  Then you move them to the next spot, etc. etc.  as a slow-moving tractor. 

The Permaculture Garden by Graham Bell:  This is our highest goal for our backyard.  The author has some really cool ideas for one-day projects with some truly satisfying outcomes.  We’re planning on trying the “German Mound” and the “Sheet Mulching”.  :o)  The basic point is that you could spend the same amount of time & energy maintaining a grassy lawn as you could keeping a “permaculture” in your backyard. 

Writings to Young Women by Laura Ingalls Wilder:  I wrote a previous blog on Laura, but at the time I hadn’t yet read this book.  She discusses different topics in this collection of magazine articles, but many of her stories and anecdotes have to do with farming and gardening.  I love her story about her husband’s apple orchard and how he discovered natural ways of pest management by using (or allowing) quail to roam freely and eat the bugs.  :o) 

The Organic Gardener by Catherine Osgood Foster:  Foster writes a lot about learning by doing and experimentation.  She has a different approach than most how-to books.  This is really well-written and practical to New England.  She is pro-composting and anti-tilling.  A lot of other garden authors reference her in their books. 

Crockett’s Victory Garden by James Underwood Crockett:  Crockett is a little more conventional than the other books I’ve reviewed here.  What’s really nice about this book is that he has the instruction arranged month by month.  This way you have a checklist of what to plant and what to harvest and whatever else you should be doing.  

The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch:  Cameron (on staff) is a prolific gardener and she recommended this book to me.  It’s an encyclopedia of many different kinds of vegetables, herbs and fruits with descriptions on how to plant, grow and harvest each kind.  It’s easy to use and there are lots of simple explanations and drawings to help you start out right.  A plus is that the author is experienced in New England and actually started in Litchfield.    

 If you’re looking for some gardening books that are more about flower and ornamental gardening you may want to try 100 Easy to Grow Native Plants for North American Gardens by Lorraine Johnson:   Obviously this book promotes native plants vs. invasive species.  This helps you make beautiful flower gardens.  There are lots of pictures which show the different stages of plants so you can see what they look like before and after they flower.  It also has good information on companion planting.  Roses Love Garlic by Louise Riotte is good in that way too.  Gardens of Japan by Toyo Okamoto is a beautiful picture book for inspiration… fantasy gardens!  It’s written in Japanese & English. 

letterj.jpgJesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant at the Oliver Wolcott Library and is currently humming the song “Sweet Caroline”….

4 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Kitchen Garden

  1. Well, we were inspired…went right outside and made the first raised bed… thanks for the inspiration..

  2. Thanks, Jesse! I’m going to check out the book about the Chicken Tractor which I’ve heard about and actually seen it done. We’re getting chickens again and would like to learn more about how they can benefit the sustainability of our farm. I’m also going to check out the books “Permaculture Garden” and “Writings to Young Women”. I’ve been reading and benefiting a lot from Laura’s writings about how they gardened, farmed, and cooked in the past. Thanks for the good information!

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