Would you like to grow bushels of healthy, organic food without breaking your back – or your bank account? Then by all means plant your vegetables as the colonists did – in raised beds.
My own kitchen garden – I call it “The Farmette” – is composed of twelve wooden boxes. Eight of the boxes are 4 feet wide, 8 feet long, 12 inches deep, and made from rough-hewn hemlock. Flanking the center path are narrow, 2′ x 8′ x 12″ boxes, made from pine. Pine is much cheaper than hemlock (or cedar), but it is perfectly acceptable for containing the soil in a raised bed.
I’ll confess that my garden is larger than necessary for a two-person household. But I don’t use all of the beds for food. Most summers, one box is reserved for a cutting garden; another is used for plunging my sun-loving houseplants. A garden with four 4′ x 4′ boxes would easily feed a family of four.
If you wish to transform a portion of your lawn into a kitchen garden, you do not have to remove sod or roto-till the land first. Simply map-out where your boxes will go, and then cover the turf with several thicknesses of newspaper (I recommend The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Times) or cardboard. Do not use plastic – it will interfer with drainage.
As for soil, my boxes are filled with equal parts composted cow manure, sand, and top soil, all mixed and delivered by a local farm. This blend is rich enough to nourish any kind of crop I care to grow, yet it is light enough for tender roots to penetrate easily.
A layer of mulch will reduce evaporation and smother weeds. Moisten the beds well, and then spread a two-inch thickness of either shredded leaves or chopped, weed-free straw around the plants. I mulched my beds with Mainely Maine “Salt-Hay Substitute” last summer, and found that my vegetables required water not more than once each week. Keep in mind that foliage, as it matures, shades the surface of a bed; it is this combination of shade and mulch that keeps the soil moist during hot, dry periods.
Boxes, good soil, and mulch…these are the keys to a kitchen garden that practically takes of itself, and makes the gardener feel like the Maytag Repairman. Well, I remember that television commercial! (photo: R.H. Blackburn)
Virtual Tour of the Kitchen Garden