For a few years, when the kids were little, I had a fairly good sized garden in our back yard – not huge but still plenty of room for lots of plants. It was a lot of work and to be honest, I wasn’t certain that the garden produce was worth all the effort and cost. Now I know some of you are shocked by that statement, but I soon found I could just as easily buy fresh produce during the summer months at the local farmer’s markets, even more so today as the number of markets has exponentially expanded in the past few years.
I had also tried canning and freezing my home grown produce and quite honestly, I didn’t like doing it, and so I raised my kids during the rest of the year on the frozen produce grown in the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant and found it quite tasty.
With more and more frequency, however, I found myself missing the fun of looking for a ripe tomato or finding a few cucs ready to be picked for supper or pulling up a fresh garden carrot which tastes better than any found at a grocery store. So this year I started to develop a small kitchen garden as an extension of my perennial gardens.
It all actually started when I found a beautiful heirloom tomato “pineapple” plant at the local garden center. I immediately knew I had to have it and without further deliberation, I set it in my brown cardboard flat provided at garden centers for all customers. I decided I also needed a roma and set that next to the heirloom. It didn’t stop there. I rounded the corner and there were the bins of onion sets. I love the smell of garden centers in the spring; it’s the mixture of the smells of fertilizer and onions and fresh air. Seriously. I decided right then that I was going to have the thrill of growing my own onions. I mixed together a couple of scoopfuls of yellow and purple onion sets in the bag provided. That, along with three bags of manure, was all I purchased for this year’s kitchen garden. I didn’t want to overdo it.
When I got home I decided to take this small piece of garden which I used last year to plant sunflowers and get it in shape for my little kitchen garden. It receives full sun during the day and the soil drains well. Don’t feel like you have to grow rows and rows in a huge bed. Work a garden into the space you have and into the size and shape you want.
I dug the soil up real well while incorporating the three 20 pound bags of manure – bagged manure is nice because it has been pasteurized, which kills the weed seeds; it’s fairly inexpensive and you can buy the bags at any garden center; the manure adds nutrients to your soil and it helps to improve the soil texture. Adding compost to the soil is also valuable, if you have a source for it. If you are wondering how much compost or manure to add to your soil, on average you should put it down about an inch thick. Then you need to really mix in the manure. Work your soil to a depth of at least 12 inches. I dug and mixed and dug and mixed and dug and mixed. You can also incorporate a 10-10-10 vegetable or all around fertilizer into the soil at this time. Just follow the package directions. I didn’t because I thought if I added any additional fertilizer, it would be around mid-summer. It turned out I didn’t need to add any additional fertilizer.
Now it’s time to start planting!
Onions basically come in three forms: seeds, transplants, and sets. I had purchased sets, little bulbs, and they are probably the easiest way to grow onions for the average gardener who just wants to grow a few fresh onions. If you want to know all the ins and outs of onions, and/or are seriously looking to grow rows and rows of onions for use through the winter, look at this link from the University of Illinois on onions. It’s very informative. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/onion.cfm.
Space onion sets about 4 inches apart and plant them about one inch deep, making sure the points are pointing to the sky, just a little of the point should be showing. The earlier you get sets in, the more green growth they will have before the bulbs start to form, and then the bigger the bulbs will be. In the North we grow long day onions – it’s what you will find at the garden centers – so when the days reach 14-15 hours, around the 21 of June, the bulbs will start to form. I planted my onions late because I really wasn’t planing on growing onions until I saw them at the garden center along with the tomato plants. The average date in our area for our last frost is around Memorial Day. It is generally considered safe to plant tomatoes or any other tender crops once that date has passed. Next year I will put my onions in about a month earlier.
I planted 2 rows of onions, following the shape of the garden, around the two tomato plants. Next year if I plant onions in this garden again, I will not plant onions near the sidewalk as they kept getting trodden on by a certain family member’s feet.
I like how my little kitchen garden looks. I think it is quite attractive!
I placed a thick of layer of leaf mulch around the tomatoes and onions. The mulch will protect the tomato leaves from soil born fungus and bacteria, help keep the soil moist, and it will keep down the weeds. Because onions have shallow roots, you need to keep the weeds to a minimum otherwise they will compete too greatly with the growth of the onion.
And they grew…
And they grew….
And they grew!
Some questioned why I wasn’t using tomato cages. I had this lattice in the garage, I painted it the same color as the shutters on the house, and figured it would work just as well. As the tomatoes got larger and larger, I cut an old white t-shirt into strips and tied up some of the branches. The softness and stretch of the fabric gave the tomatoes good support and some flexibility. The roma is a semi-determinate plant, which means it will only grow so high. It is very thick with branches and full of tomatoes. It takes up the whole side of the lattice. The heirloom pineapple tomato is indeterminate, which means it will continue growing and growing. I have yet to prune it, but I think I might have to start as it is starting to really shoot its branches out way beyond the lattice. For more detailed information on tomato growing check this U of Minnesota link: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/M1246.html
Just in the last week the romas have begun to ripen. I’ve picked two so far.
The heirlooms aren’t showing any color yet.
The onions, however, did what they are supposed to – they have fallen over on their own. They started doing this around a week a go. Today I went out and pulled some that had necks that were starting to turn yellow and definitely were done growing. Some I left in the ground as it appeared the leaves were still all green and maybe still growing even though bent over. I’ll keep an eye on them. I’ll not be saving my onions for very long – they didn’t get big enough for storage, but we will enjoy them for the next few weeks.
Next year: Will I plant onions and tomatoes again? Maybe, or maybe I’ll plant cucumbers and squash instead. I think I’m going to definitely add another “loop” of garden to my kitchen garden. The last time I planted leaf lettuce the cat walked through it and I kind of lost my appetite for it…I wondered what else had walked through it. Peppers, yes, I think I will plant peppers and cilantro and tomatoes – salsa! I’m starting look forward to next spring already! Thanks for stopping by! Add a comment if you like. I’d love to hear from you.