It is far easier to plan a kitchen garden where the garden is a new one. The gardener who takes over a garden used by previous occupiers may first have to remove shrubs and trees. Not only do trees, shrubs and hedges rob the vegetable garden of plant foods, but they cast shade over the growing plants. Few of the vegetables we grow tolerate shade and the site for the kitchen garden must, therefore, be quite open and unshaded. Brick walls and wood fences cast shade, too, but a wall or fence at the north side is often advantageous in protecting plants from cold north winds.
In the past, many kitchen gardens on large estates were laid out in front of a south-facing wall and many sites may be made more suitable for vegetable cultivation if windbreaks are set up to break the force of strong westerly or easterly winds. This is particularly true of gardens in coastal areas and although chestnut or wire mesh fences are worth consideration, living windbreaks such as blackberries are more decorative and useful if trained to a strong trellis.
Provision must be made for paths, a garden shed, the cold frame, a site for compost heaps and possibly for a greenhouse. Even in the large kitchen garden, the number of permanent paths should be the minimum necessary, but sufficiently wide for the barrow to be wheeled comfortably without damage to plants nearby. During the season, temporary paths covered with straw, bracken or peat, allow all crops to be reached with ease. The garden shed may be erected in any out-of-the-way corner provided it is linked to a permanent path so that the gardener does not get wet feet when visiting the shed in winter.
The site for the compost heap may be somewhat shaded, but not beneath large, spreading trees. Sufficient room must be left for two heaps because when one is fermenting, another will be built alongside it. There must also be sufficient space left for turning and sifting compost. The gardener who uses animal manure will also beans leave a few square yards where dung may be stacked. Here shade may be of value in preventing the manure from drying out in summer. Both the cold frame and the greenhouse need a south-facing, open site.
Although most vegetable crops are temporary, rhubarb is generally considered as a permanent kitchen garden crop because the clumps remain in the same soil for around ten years. When allocating a plot for rhubarb, the gardener should bear in mind that although the plants tolerate some shade, crops are better from plants grown at some distance from walls, fences and trees or hedges.
Good cultivation is essential if the best results are to be obtained. The plot should be dug over with great thoroughness and weeds, both annual and perennial, must be kept down.
Vegetables of one plant species do not extract the same quantities of soil chemicals in the ground as do plants of a different species, but the manuring plan and the cropping plan take this into account. After the soil has been well dug and all weeds and weed roots removed, the garden should be divided (on paper or, at any rate mentally) into three plots. These divisions are made so that what is known as crop rotation may be practiced. This practice is also aimed at preventing a build-up of soil pests in any one part of the garden. It is understandable that if cabbages and their close relatives, for example, are grown for several years in the same piece of ground, the soil will be impoverished (unless the manuring program is a very generous one) and that pests, which thrive on the roots of the brassica group of plants, are likely to increase. A three-year rotation is generally advised and the following plan suggests how this may be carried out.
The kitchen garden is divided into three plots of approximately equal size—A, B and C.
Plot A cabbages, cauliflowers, brussels sprouts broccoli, kale, savoys, turnips. Possibly inter-cropped with radish and lettuce.
Limed in late autumn, if necessary. Manured or composted during winter digging
Plot B potatoes, followed by broccoli, spring cabbage or leeks.
Not limed. Manured or composted during winter digging
Plot C carrots. parsnips, beetroot, peas, beans summer spinach, onions.
No manure or compost except for pea and bean trenches and for onions. Wood ashes (if available) forked in and a complete fertilizer, such as Growmore, may be applied just before sowings are made
Plot A cabbages, brussels sprouts, cauliflower broccoli, turnips
Plot B beans, peas, miscellaneous. small crops Plot C potatoes, carrots, beetroot, lettuce, onions
The crops shown in Plot C above will be grown on Plot A, crops in Plot A on Plot B and those in Plot B on Plot C
Plot A potatoes etc
Plot B cabbages etc
Plot C beans etc
The position of the crops will be as follows :
Plot A beans etc
Plot B potatoes etc
Plot C cabbages etc
Fourth season In the fourth season, the rotation starts off as in the first year
Until recently the vegetable garden was regularly dressed with animal manures. Those gardeners who are able to obtain farmyard or stable manure (at reasonable prices) are well advised to use them. For all other gardeners, home-made garden compost adequately replaces large quantities of animal manures. Other organic manures such as municipal compost, seaweed, wool shoddy and spent hops are also of great value in maintaining soil fertility and in improving the actual structure of the soil. Manure, compost or other bulky organic materials should not be applied in an unplanned fashion.
This is not only because the gardener may have to purchase organic manures but their addition to parts of the garden may lead to poor crops. In the case of parsnips, for instance, the roots are ‘fanged’ instead of being single, straight and plump, if the crop is grown in soil which had been recently manured. With other crops, there is generally sufficient food left from a previous manuring.
Inter-cropping is referred to in the manuring plan. This practice allows two plants to grow in the place of one. Inter-cropping is of great importance in the small kitchen garden. For good results the soil must be very fertile so that neither of the two crops is starved of food. It is also essential that the rows should run from north to south so that shade does not fall throughout the day from the taller on to the shorter plants.
Too much shade of this nature is liable to lead to troubles with pests and diseases. Here is an example of inter-cropping. Rows of peas, which make 1m (3ft) high bine, are sown 1m (3ft) apart, leaving 1m (3ft) between which may be used for radish, spinach or lettuce.
Successional cropping is somewhat similar to inter-cropping because many crops, grown for successional crops, may be cultivated between or alongside vegetables needing more time to reach maturity. The aim of successional cropping is to prevent gluts and shortages. The gardener must be able to assess how many lettuces, peas, summer turnips, radishes etc, the family will require from a single sowing. He sows or sets out plants accordingly and he continues to sow every few weeks, providing he has the space for the sowings. He may start with radish, for example, by sowing three short, close rows under cloches in March. A short, double row is sown outdoors in early April, followed by a sowing between the pea rows in mid-April.
Further small sowings are made in May, June and July. By sowing in this manner, there will be a supply of fresh, young radishes from mid-May until October. Lettuce seeds should be sown in small batches between March and August. For successional crops of peas, the gardener should bear in mind that there are early, mid-season and late varieties. All three kinds may be sown at around the same time and the plants will come into bearing successionally. There are also varieties of heading broccoli (cauliflower-broccoli) for cutting during the autumn, late winter, spring and early summer. With potatoes, there are kinds which bulk up for lifting in June and July; others mature more slowly for late summer use. Main-crop potatoes are not dug and stored until the autumn.
Catch-cropping, like inter-cropping, is aimed at using every available square inch of the garden. It means no more than making use of any vacant plot for a quick-growing vegetable. Radishes may be sown in April on the site reserved for outdoor tomatoes. The radish crop will have been pulled for use before the tomatoes are set out. The soil banked on either side of leek or celery trenches may be cropped with radish or lettuce.
Even the most experienced gardeners quite often fail to regulate the supply of vegetables throughout the year. In most cases, the weather is to blame. A warm June, for instance, may hasten the summer and autumn cabbage crops but lead to disaster among the lettuces which bolt at once after forming hearts. A severe winter may cripple broccoli and spring cabbages. So very often, too, due to the vagaries of the weather, there are many fine lettuces and radishes for use when the family is away on holiday. Arrangements should be made for these crops to be harvested and shared by neighbors while the family is away. Unless friends, relations or neighbors help in this way, the gardener is likely to return from holiday to find his bean plants covered with a useless crop of old, stringy pods.
Planning starts in January when the seed cataloges are studied and orders placed for seeds and seed potatoes. Variety is of great importance and the good gardener is always able to harvest something fresh at any time of the year. During the winter, home-grown produce generally consists of cabbage and allied greens together with fresh or stored roots. The owner of a large kitchen garden should consider buying a deep freeze cabinet in which surplus summer vegetables and soft fruits may be stored for winter use so that the diet is more varied. The forcing of such crops as seakale, chicory and endive prevents monotony in winter fare.