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How to make a kitchen garden

By Mark C. Carroll

Neighbors and fellow gardeners, I hope you are enjoying tomatoes, berries and other early summer harvests. While still being cautious, there are some exciting opportunities to learn from the comfort of your own home.

For example, the Virginia Cooperative Extension is hosting “Get Gardening” learning events live on Facebook every Thursday at 2 p.m. (www.facebook.com/VCEMasterGardenerProgram). I was inspired to write this article by watching the following video: Kitchen Gardens by the Henrico Master Gardeners (pubs.ext.vt.edu/SPES/SPES-225/SPES-225-video.html). From the video, I was surprised to learn that kitchen gardens have a history as far back as the Middle Ages, when monasteries grew food for consumption by their devotees.

The video was more about gardens near the house than Kitchen Gardens. So, I wondered about and provided some actual “inside the house” Kitchen Garden recommendations?

Challenges to an in-the-house kitchen garden include:

  • Children: Children can benefit greatly from living with a garden in their kitchen and they are much more likely to eat anything they helped grow. That is a benefit, but young children like to put almost anything in their mouths, so make sure that your plant selections are not poisonous. Potatoes, for example, would not be a good choice with young ones around because every part of the plant except the potato is poisonous.
  • Pets: Pets can also be inadvertently poisoned by plants. Additionally, they present unique challenges, like how to get the cat to stop digging the plants up. If only they would re-pot them, I would put them to work. Dogs called by nature might want to visit plants for other reasons. You probably want to place them where your furry friends have limited access, so you can minimize mess.
  • Other challenges include how to pollinate plants indoors, managing pests and how plants can be placed for organization and efficiency.
  • This could require a little research. Older children might be able to participate by doing some of the research for you, and inadvertently (wink, wink) learn a little something themselves.

If it is that challenging, why bother?

  • There is no better way to get fresh, high-quality food, seasonings and herbs than to grow them yourself in your kitchen, where you control the environment
  • Learning opportunities for you and your family are priceless, and mostly inexpensive
  • Having plants indoors improves air quality and aesthetics
  • Just the satisfaction of seeing something grow, that you influenced and cultivated, can make you happier and reduce the stress of being at home

Here are some Kitchen Garden recommendations:

  • Start small — perhaps some lemon balm, chives, peppermint or rosemary
  • Grow what you use; if you do not like the taste, choose something else
  • Plant what you are passionate about growing or using in your kitchen
  • Look for areas in the kitchen that might not be very functional for other uses
  • Build your kitchen garden slowly, so you do not get overwhelmed