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Good enough to eat
Planting your own kitchen garden can result 
in a bounty of fresh veggies right outside your door


April 2010

Nothing says summer like fruits and vegetables freshly picked from the garden. Whether your yard is big or small, anyone can grow a kitchen garden, and it’s easier than you think.

"Last year we noticed a huge increase in people planting vegetables," says Heidi Hornung, a landscape architect and manager of Shady Lane Greenhouses in Menomonee Falls. Hornung expects that trend to continue. "Because people are staying home more, they are finding fun working in their gardens. They also like control over their food, water and use of pesticides," she adds. Cable network cooking shows and trendy drinks have also impacted the desire for fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. For example, mint has become more common as a result of the popularity of mojitos and juleps.

Surprisingly, you don’t need to live in Florida to plant citrus. As long as they are taken indoors during cold weather, you can grow Meyer lemons, limes and kumquats in the Milwaukee area. Hornung has also seen a small surge of fruit trees: apples, pears and peaches joining longtime favorites like blackberry, raspberry and strawberry bushes. "Figs are easy to grow and they ripen in the summer so you get a lot of them. If you can grow a tomato, you can grow a fig."

Kathleen Awe, a master gardener with the Ozaukee Extension of Master Gardeners in Port Washington, says, "Vegetables fall into two basic categories: cool weather and warm weather. Cool-weather veggies can survive lower temperatures and are planted in late spring." Examples are spinach, celery, radishes, lettuce, peas, parsnips, carrots, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. Warm-weather vegetables need the consistent warmth of the sun to grow — beans, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant and squash shouldn’t be planted too early. "Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers need to go in as transplants, even after Memorial Day," Awe cautions.

If you are short on space, you can interplant your vegetables. Interplanting means planting two different vegetables either mixed together or in rows, one cool and one warm. One will grow early in the season and the other one later. For example, plant lettuce with tomatoes. Intensive gardening means growing plants close together, not in rows. This saves space and shades out weeds. If you want to have a vegetable that lasts throughout the season, try successive planting. Plant several rows of beans, then two weeks later, plant several more rows. If you have bad soil or little sun, Awe suggests planting vegetables in pots. "Use loose soil that you buy, not soil from your garden. Add granular fertilizer and water every day. Herbs also do well in pots."

Mix in flowers to add color and interest. Or be creative and put vegetables in your flower garden. Edge flowers with lettuce; combine rhubarb with your blooms.

Garden tidbits

• Basil deters flies

• Some flowers are edible: pansies, roses, day lilies.

• Horseradish and peppermint are invasive, so plant in pots.

• Soil is the most important part of gardening.

• Raised beds warm up and dry out faster.

• It takes three years to harvest asparagus after planting.

• Pumpkins need lots of space; they can choke other plants.

• Herbs attract good insects and repel bad ones.

• Heirloom tomatoes are ugly but taste good.

Gardening Guide

For details, refer to "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew, 2005;

• Select a location that gets at least six hours of sun every day.

• Good drainage is essential.

• Avoid trees and bushes — shade and roots can be disruptive.

• Stay close to the house for easy access to water.

• Do not use existing soil, instead mix equal parts compost, vermiculite and peat moss.

• If possible, make your own compost. plant your garden in squares and rectangles, not rows.

• Build raised boxes so soil stays above ground.

• Boxes should be no more than 4 feet wide and 6- to 8-inches deep — 4-feet-by- 4-foot or 4-feet-by-8-feet is good.

• Aisles between boxes should be 3 feet.

• Never step on the soil to weed or water.

• Based on the size of the mature plant, grow up to 16 plants per square foot.

• Plant two to three seeds per hole.

• Water often, by hand, using sun-warmed water.

• Harvest on a regular basis and rotate crops.



This story ran in the April 2010 issue of: