I have a confession to make… I am not that into kitchen gardening. Don’t get me wrong, I love that we grow our food. I love to harvest our food and eat our food. I love to be eating the things that we have grown during the summer months right into the depths of winter. It makes me feel satisfied and productive and just a wee bit “Little House on the Prairie” smug. But every year it takes an awful lot of work to get The Coopermarket ready to plant and it falls right at the time that everything else suddenly needs doing (spring cleaning, weeding the rest of the garden, birthing my babies…. I always have my babies at the busiest time of the gardening year!). And even though in winter I am super motivated to buy seeds and plan my kitchen garden, by the time the warmer weather rolls round the enthusiasm is already starting to wane a bit (or a lot).
I imagine that I am not alone in this. Kitchen gardening is so much work and it is so ephemeral… you aren’t growing 20m high trees that will live for generations to come, or watering a beautiful camellia that will provide flowers for decades. Nope, you are digging and forking and weeding and mulching and watering and netting and fighting off the possums and the cockatoos and the rabbits, all for a bunch of stuff that will be gone by the end of summer or autumn. And let’s be honest, you could pop out and grab it all at the local supermarket for not a whole lot of money and a whole lot less work. But we do it year after year anyway because the food we grow at home is just so much yummier and fresher than anything at the grocery store, and because it is just so cool to grow actual FOOD!
So, assuming there are other people out there who lack motivation to start or keep going in the kitchen gardening department, I have compiled some of my "it doesn't have to totally suck the life out of you" tips....
Start small… really small
Honestly, putting a single tomato plant in is great. Maybe some herbs. Even if you have a huge amount of space, you don't have to use it all, and certainly not all for food. Maybe chuck a few flower seeds in there, a few carrot seeds, some basil. See what pops up... But don't feel like you have to have a huge garden to make it "worthwhile". Some of our best Coopermarket seasons have been ones where we have only fully used a few of our beds, when we felt like we could manage the smaller amount that we were growing.
You don’t have to grow all. of. the. things
You will be tempted. When you are pottering in the hardware store and see the racks and racks of seeds or the punnets of seedlings, they will call your name... But seriously, if you know you have no intention of eating Brussels sprouts, it's probably not worth the effort to grow them. Every year I make this mistake. Every single year. Which leads me to...
You don’t have to learn from your mistakes the first time (or second or third)
In the kitchen garden it doesn't matter if you stuff up... You pull it all out and start again next season. Unlike in the ornamental garden, there's not much to lose so there's very little to worry about. Try things. Try them again next year if you've forgotten what you did last year. The worst that can happen is that you get a failed crop (or actually the worst that can happen is that you plant 8 zucchini plants all at once and wind up with 17 gazillion zucchinis over the course of a few weeks...).
It’s okay to buy seeds from the supermarket (or hardware store, or two dollar shop, or wherever else you find them)
Sure you can buy them from the special seed catalogues but you don't have to and it's truly much of a muchness. Basil is basil. So don't get too caught up on getting some fancy seeds from a specialist gardening company (but maybe try to avoid Monsanto seeds because they are evil).
Actually, it’s okay to not buy seeds at all
Seedlings are great too! Why buy a packet of 400 tomato seeds when you want one or two plants? If you want to grow from seeds do it, otherwise go with whatever works for you. This year I am doing everything from seed. This time last year I was a million weeks pregnant and being a total grump about it, so I bought seedlings of everything that I wouldn't succession plant (tomatoes, chillis, peas, beans), but seeds for the other things like lettuce (which I knew we would plant a bunch of times over several months) and root crops (which don't really do well from seedlings as they don't like to be moved once they are on the grow).
A “messy” garden is often a productive garden
My garden is a mess and is super productive. Permaculture gardens always look whacky but produce heaps of food. I'm sure the perfectly neat potagers do well too, but seriously, don't get caught up on precisely neat rows or perfectly weeded spaces.
It’s okay to let things go to seed
Good for the bees, great for seed saving.
But it’s also totally okay not to save that seed
If you save seed you are awesome. But it's totally okay not to - you can always buy more next year. One day you might decide it's worth saving, or maybe you won't. I don't save seed (or haven't yet... I'm trying to dry some pak choy seed as we speak because I managed to let almost all of it go to seed this year without harvesting. I consoled myself with all of those bees we fed).
Even one tiny tomato that you grow yourself will make you super happy
Seriously, it will!
Sometimes harvesting can be just as time consuming as planting
Harvesting our tomatoes last year was epic. We had around 50 or 60kgs by season's end and it was a lot of work to get them all in before the first frost turned them black. We did it, but only just.
And sometimes you (shhhhhh!) won’t eat all of the things that you grow
Sometimes things will rot on the plant because you forgot to check them or couldn't be bothered to harvest them right at that moment. Sometimes you will harvest and they will rot on your kitchen bench or turn smushy in the fridge drawer. It happens. You'll probably feel guilty every time, but it'll pass. People waste food that they buy too so don't let it stop you from trying to grow more of your own.
Despite the fact that growing your own food makes you feel super happy and productive, you might need to motivate yourself to start all over again next year (and the year after and the one after that)
Which is why I'm writing this post. To motivate myself. Again.