In the context of coronavirus, Robin Gale-Baker, from Sustainable Macleod, discusses the emergency kitchen garden. She has also written articles for this website about growing broad beans, cauliflower, eggplants and capsicums, garlic, other vegetables, apricot trees, blueberries, medlar trees, persimmon trees, other fruit trees and herbs. Also articles on codling moth, growing techniques, mulch and shade cloth.
An emergency kitchen garden consists of quick growing veggies from each of the major categories of vegetables: root vegetables, onion family, leafy greens, Asian greens, brassicas, legumes and herbs. In 4-8 weeks, you could be harvesting young, tender veggies.
The following were planted in a 2 square metre patch at the Macleod Organic Community Garden on 15th March, some as seeds and some as seedlings:
- Root vegetables: seeds of 2 types of baby carrots, 2 types of baby beetroot, 4 types of radishes, plus seeds and seedlings of kohlrabi.
- Onion family: seedlings of spring onions and chives.
- Leafy greens: seedlings of spinach, silverbeet and 2 types of lettuce plus seeds of wasabi rocket.
- Asian greens: seeds and seedlings of pak choy and bok choy plus seedlings of tatsoi.
- Brassicas: seedlings of purple and green broccolini plus 2 types of kale.
- Legumes: seeds of bush peas and sugar snap peas.
- Herbs: seedlings of parsley plus seeds of chervil and coriander.
Most seeds were up 8 days later.
The keys to success are how you prepare your soil and how often you water your plants.
A slightly acidic soil (pH of 6-7) is ideal. Buy a pH kit from a nursery (or borrow from a friend) but do follow the instructions especially the one that tells you to dig down 10-15 cm for your soil sample. Note that, for ‘technical reasons’, pH kits don’t measure the pH of compost correctly.
The best way to bring your soil towards pH7 is to add compost. Also, if your soil is too acidic then you can add dolomite or mushroom compost. If it is too alkaline then you can add sulphur or even azalea mix. To enrich your soil, add compost but not manure (especially fresh manure): manure can cause forking of root vegetables, over-growth at the expense of heads of brassicas, and soft leaf on leafy greens.
Root vegetables and the onion family require a very fine soil. Dig your soil over, removing clods and sticks and stones to the depth the vegetable will grow (plus a bit) and dig in the compost, likewise breaking it up if necessary. As we are looking for crops to grow quickly, it is worth doing this for all the veggies.
The way that you plant is important too. With seedlings, bury them so that the base of the bottom 2 leaves are covered with soil, particularly for brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflowers, etc) as this anchors them in the ground so that they will not wobble in the wind (which can prevent them producing good heads). Some seeds will give you a head start if soaked overnight (e.g. beetroot, silverbeet and spinach).
Watering is a must. Water your veggies at least twice a week, deeply, even if it rains. Under 10mm of rain is useless. If you have a heavy downpour, check how far it has penetrated by digging down into your soil – you will often be surprised by how dry your soil is. Water transports nutrients to the plant and is essential to its healthy development. Mulching will also help. Finally, my experience is that parsley and lettuce are bad companions as are peas and onions so plant these at least a metre apart.