The Kitchen Garden Diaries; Top tips for creating your very own
12 January 2018 - by Niamh Mullally

Propagation Manager Niamh has put pen to paper and designed a wonderful new Kitchen Garden as part of the Edible Jungle in Suffolk. The Kitchen Garden will not only provide our Norfolk and Suffolk Cafés with the most unusual and exciting produce, it'll also become a beautiful new feature for you to visit this summer.

Niamh's collated all of her darkest secrets, hints and tips for creating your own Kitchen Garden in the first of her Kitchen Garden Diary entries. Shhhhhhhhhh.....


Niamh Mullally, Propagation Manager

Grow what you want to eat.

This sounds obvious, but if no one likes courgettes then don’t grow them! You must be motivated in all weathers to tend to this garden. If you must convince people to eat the produce or it gets left behind on the plate, then really…what’s the point? Look at what you put in your trolley when you shop. Imagine how good you will feel knowing there were no food miles involved in your seasonal meals.

Start sowing vegetables from seed.

There are several reasons why this is good practice. It’s the only way to ensure your seedlings are chemical free, it’s not difficult to achieve and it's much more affordable. The other bonus is that you will have seeds left over for successive sowing. I recommend Franchi seeds for this as the quantities are always generous. As a rule of thumb sow the second tray of seeds as the first is being planted out. Don’t ever discard any seeds packets, if you haven’t the room to plant the seedlings grow the seeds as micro veg in a seed tray, these can be snipped when needed and added to salads. Broad bean seeds can also be grown for the tips which are delicious wilted with new potatoes. Peas too can be grown for their shoots, but both need to be protected from the appetites of the hungry spring mice that can squeeze through the smallest gap.

Broad Bean Shoots

Broad Bean Shoots

Don’t be afraid of unusual varieties.

A bean is a bean. However, a basket of green, yellow, and purple beans is a joy to harvest and cook with. Salad doesn’t just mean lettuce. When you select your seeds think taste, colour, and texture. In the winter this can easily be achieved by including some spinach and oriental leaves. These will bolt in the summer so the young tender leaves of ‘burnet’, ‘pink stemmed radish’ and ‘magenta chard' will add flavour and extra dimension to salads. Round courgettes seem to have a smaller water content and are perfect for sauteing.

Coloured beans

Coloured beans

Feed your soil.

Do this in advance of planting. I prefer to use a sea weed based fertilizer, but bone meal or blood fish and bone works equally well. If you are hopeful for harvests all year round, this should be done twice a year. March and September.

Embrace the straight lines!

It becomes incredibly satisfying to watch the vegetables mature in an orderly fashion and helps you with calculations for future crops. Achieving this requires some self-control. Never, ever plant all your seedlings from the tray. Hold back 30% so that any casualties can always be easily replaced. Another good reason to sow your own seeds.

A border or bed is not necessarily a flat planting space.

Its design is in your hands. A vertical screen can be used for beans, sweet peas, and small pumpkins. The shade created by this combination can be incredibly useful in the summer months. Lettuce, spinach, and some herbs will relish this.

Under-plant.

Kale for instance has a planting space of 18 inches to two feet depending on the variety. Use this space wisely and have fun. Patterns of different tones of radicchio and lettuce are easy and are ideal as they thrive in semi shade and are low growing (remember don’t plant them all!), and will make you smile smugly when they mature.

Rainbow Chard and Endive

Under-planting Rainbow Chard with Endive Mix


Chard and Raddicio

Under-planting Chard with Radicchio

Incorporate soft and hard herbs into the design.

Parsley, basil, and coriander are good choices to start with. Rosemary grows well in a container that can be placed in the sunniest spot. Mint should only ever be grown in its own container so that you can control its tendency to become invasive. I always include a line of chives as these are bee friendly and perennial, the flowers can be used to make to a simple pink chive infused vinegar. All these herbs are easily grown from seed.

The planting distances are only a guide.

I have always planted a bit closer together than advised and have achieved bigger harvests as a result. It also means less weeds.

Incorporate flowers both ornamental and edibles.

Bees and butterflies will arrive, trust me you want this. The bonus of course is that you won’t have to make a dash to the local shop and pay for overpriced insipid bouquets when the need arises. Dahlias, sunflowers, nigella, and zinnias are all great cut flowers. The easiest and most reliable edible flowers are calendula ‘orange king’ and cornflower ‘blue boy’. Violas and pansies are essential for a continuous supply of edible flowers in the winter months. Sow these from seed every year, again ensuring they are chemical free.

Edible Flowers

Edible flowers

Learn the art of preserving gluts.

Pickling is a pretty simple process and the practice recently has leapt from its wartime ration like reputation to the ultimate in cool upcycling of home-grown gluts. Pickle bars are popping up in most cities. A pickled mild chilli for instance is a taste sensation, cutting through the heavy flavours of rich cheese and the inevitable fatty textures of some cured meats. Tomatoes can become chutney, ketchup or even be fermented. Radicchios and spring onions are also wonderful pickled and who doesn’t love a side dish of some home-made kimchi?

Kimchi

Kimchi

Be quirky.

Its your space and should reflect YOU. Don’t be afraid to incorporate your own personal idea of garden art. Whether it be a planted welly, an old mirror, or some home-made vintage bunting just have fun.

Invest in some evergreen architectural plants.

Artichokes or cardoons are easily grown in any soil and give height and structure. Angelica is a visually stunning plant but take care to remove its seedlings as it can become a thug. For the larger budget I would recommend a bay tree or two and for instant impact invest in a mature olive tree.

Olive trees

Olive trees

Install some seating.

This is where you will sink, feel proud and will reflect on your achievements. Put it in a shady sheltered spot so there will be no hurry to leave on a searing summer day. It will be a great place to sit and watch those happy butterflies.

Sketch it out.

If you have any unwanted rolls of wallpaper these are perfect turned inside-out to start mapping out your design. A roll of lining paper works too. Map out the beds with care, hopefully they will be overflowing with produce so the width of pathways is important to get right first time. A metre is the smallest width advisable, as you will need to be able to push a wheelbarrow around your plot.

Kitchen garden design

Suffolk Kitchen Garden Plan

Happy gardening!

Niamh

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the next instalment and visit the Cafés to sample some of the fabulous produce from the Edible Jungle already in use.

 
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