In our busy lives running between work and getting the kids to practice, it often seems like much less of a headache to just grab some takeout and not have to worry about running to the grocery store. But, whoever said fresh food had to come from the produce aisle? What if you could get all the ingredients for your favorite meals without ever having to leave the house? That’s what kitchen gardening is all about and we’re here to give you our top tips to making it happen for fewer grocery runs and pizza bills all year round.
So...What is a Kitchen Garden?
Even though you might not have called it a “kitchen garden”, there’s actually a pretty good chance that you have had or may already have a kitchen garden right at home! It is defined simply as “growing fresh fruits and vegetables within view of your cooking space”—from a spattering of herb containers on the window sill to a tremendous tomato plant perched on the back porch.
Though they may seem like a newer concept, kitchen gardens date back to pre-revolutionary France. Originally known as “jardins potager”, they differ from traditional gardens in that they were made with grazing in mind. Larger garden plots were designed for full-scale tending and harvesting to produce piles of produce that could be sold at markets or prepared for storage later in the season. Kitchen gardens, on the other hand, grew fruits and veggies in much smaller quantities meant to be picked at throughout the season and thrown into whatever meal was gracing the table that day...
The concept made its way overseas during World War I and, most notably, in World War II, when growing locally became a truly patriotic statement. In fact, in 1943, around 40% of all American produce was grown in backyards. Unfortunately, its popularity waned and slowly grew out of fashion until its most recent rediscovery and growth from trend to lifestyle.
The overall goal is to grow your own food as close to your kitchen’s back door as possible. Be ready to get out there a lot, snipping off fresh herbs and plucking perfectly ripe tomatoes. Grow whatever makes you happy and what you know you’ll use frequently, making sure to harvest a little bit every day. You can think of it as your own mini produce aisle, where there’s always something in season!
Starting Your Own Kitchen Garden
It’s important to remember that your kitchen garden is yours and should be an extension of your kitchen pantry. It’s about you and what you enjoy eating and cooking, so start with a selection of fruits, herbs, and veggies that you love.
You’re a busy person, so launching into a full-scale overhaul of your dinnertime process is likely something you don't have time for. So, start things off small with a couple pots of herbs just to get the ball rolling. Choose those you are familiar with and use often in cooking—like rosemary, basil, or mint. These will get you into the routine of regularly snipping away to add them to your dishes as you go and prepare you for larger things to come.
Once you’re used to the daily herb harvests, you can start looking at other fresh favorites, like tomatoes, peas, or lettuce. Remember: you want things you’ll use over and over and make part of a regular routine. Again, just start small with a few pots on the porch and don’t be too worried about making sure everything matches. Being hidden away on the back patio, your kitchen garden is the perfect place to experiment with your eclectic side. Here, you can do away with the perfectly coordinated containers that bring your front porch aesthetic together and you can instead begin mixing and matching different colors and patterns to suit your true style!
What to Grow in Your Kitchen Garden
It’s simple to say that herbs and kitchen gardens are a perfect pair. They need regular pruning to grow and thrive into big, bushy beauties, so regular daily grazing are what these plants are all about. If you love pizzas and pastas, oregano will be an excellent match. Love Middle-Eastern meals? Coriander is your go-to. No matter which herbs you pick, remember to give them plenty of sun, and take it easy when it comes to watering.
In the veggie realm, salad greens and cherry tomatoes are no-brainers. With these two always outside your door, fresh salads are always steps away. Other favorites for packing fresh snacks and lunches on the go are mini cucumbers and peas!
When it comes to fruits, strawberries do extremely well in small containers. Other berries, though, like raspberries, blueberries, and currants, will be happier in a full garden or raised bed.
Plants that don’t do as well in kitchen gardens are brassicas, like broccoli and cauliflower. The warmer temperatures of containers will make these veggies bolt to seed and they aren’t exactly made for a grazing harvest. We’d also avoid anything that takes more than 80 days to mature and anything that grows too big. Growing squash right outside may seem like a perfect idea, but just one will quickly take over your container and demand water every day. Learn more about growing veggies with our seed starting guide.
If you are short on time, and your healthy food goals seem hard to reach, a kitchen garden may be your solution for kid-friendly and pet-safe houseplants! You’ll always find farm-fresh (or should we say patio-fresh) fruits, veggies, and herbs just in reach, no grocery bags required.