Select On-Line References for Kitchen Gardening

Prepared by Catherine Connor, Extension Master Gardener
February 2021 update –  Extension Master Gardener Susan Wilhelm

Planning | What & When | Soil & Water | Pests & Disease | Additional Resources

Planning & Selecting an Approach

Spinach, lettuces, onions.

Spinach, lettuces, and onions at the Tancil Court Children’s Garden

Maintaining a kitchen garden is a rewarding, albeit time-consuming endeavor. As you start or join a garden, you will want to give thought to goals, space limitations, and other considerations.

Once you have a space in mind, you should refine your approach and consider the structures needed to support your plants. For example, you might grow in raised beds, using intensive gardening methods, or you might grow in containers on a patio, balcony, or rooftop. Here are a few places to start:


What and When to Grow

Virginia Plant Hardiness Map

Your approach must consider available space, the purpose of growing and your climate.  Your plants’ performance is governed by the length of the growing season (i.e., time between frost dates), winter lows, summer highs, timing and amount of rainfall, wind, and humidity. It is also governed by the microclimate of your garden, such as sun and wind exposure and other considerations.

In planning the garden, you should consider incompatible and companion plants, as well as the need to rotate crops over time to ensure plant and soil health. As you develop a crop growing sequence, you might also consider the use of cover crops in the rotation. Cover crops prevent erosion, fix soil nitrogen, and replenish organic material, improving tilth and fertility

In selecting varieties, a basic understanding of terminology, such as hybrid, open-pollinated, and heirloom varieties will be helpful in making choices, especially if saving seeds is a consideration. You will also need to decide whether to plant from seeds (direct sowing), transplant seedlings you grow yourself, or transplant seedlings you purchase at a store. Methods for growing seedlings vary. While it is common to grow seedlings for spring planting indoors, you can also grow them outdoors, as in “winter sowing.”

Healthy Soil, Water Quality & Irrigation Options

Healthy soil and adequate water are essential to plant health. Understanding what constitutes “healthy soil,” and the relationship between soil, water, and plant roots will help guide gardening practices.

Wise selection of irrigation options will contribute to crop health, conserve water, reduce erosion, and protect watersheds.

As previously mentioned, the use of cover crops can improve and maintain soil health. Another time-honored method for improving soil fertility over time is the use of good-quality compost as an amendment, something you can produce yourself. Composting is a great way to reduce food waste that would otherwise go to the landfill.

Rain Barrel at Fort Barnard Community Garden

Irrigation at the AFAC Walter Reed Annex Garden in Arlington on Walter Reed Drive
Photo © 2018 Catherine Connor

Limiting the use of chemicals in your garden will help both soil and waterways.   Finally, you should periodically have your soil tested.

Manage Pest & Disease – Attracting Pollinators & Other Beneficials

Beneficial insects for enhanced pollination and biological control  from the University of Missouri IPM page.

From time to time, you will encounter problems while growing your crop. Understanding the concept of “integrated pest management” (IPM) will help you select effective practices that consider the entire ecosystem, not just the garden bed itself. If you use pesticides, even when they are approved for organic gardening (and then as a last resort), you should be mindful that certain products may harm pollinators, and that inappropriate use of chemicals may pollute waterways.

Making a deliberate effort to attract pollinators and beneficial insects, your garden helpers, will improve the health and fertility of a kitchen garden. You may also need to manage rabbits, deer, and other wildlife that might otherwise enjoy your crop.

If you need to call the Extension Office for help, be prepared to provide details, including insect and plant specimens.

Additional Resources