Creating a kitchen garden - U of I Extension

News Release

Creating a kitchen garden

This article was originally published on March 4, 2015 and expired on June 30, 2015. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

URBANA, Ill. – While the rising cost of groceries may be one practical reason for the increased interest in vegetable gardening, another reason is that many people also desire to control chemical applications that are made to the food they eat. Some of those gardeners may be proponents of organic gardening, which uses no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, or they may be simply choosing to limit their use.

“After scares in recent years with Salmonella- and E. coli-contaminated produce, some people also feel safer growing their own food,” said Jennifer Nelson, a University of Illinois Extension educator.

Many gardening catalogs and magazines encourage growing “kitchen gardens,” which may have many definitions. “Basically, the idea is to have a small planting of food crops near the kitchen door, making it easy to step outside and pick whatever is needed while cooking,” Nelson said.

“The garden may be planted in a container or in the ground, depending on your situation,” said Nelson. “During this time of year, a large pot planted with lettuce would be a great way to start your kitchen garden. A small plot or several pots of your favorite herbs would also be a flavorful option.”

Nelson said that one way to maximize production in a space as little as 4 feet by 4 feet is to consider the square-foot-gardening method described by author Mel Bartholomew. Each crop is grown in a 1-foot by 1-foot-square raised bed with a rich mix of peat, vermiculite, and compost. “I have grown vegetables in wide rows or blocks for years, but after I made my first attempt at the ‘true’ square-foot-gardening method, I see some definite advantages,” Nelson shared.

One advantage Nelson described is less soil compaction. “When you plant in raised beds, ideally you never step within the bed, you step around the edge completely outside the growing bed. The soil stays nice and loose, perfect for root growth,” she said.

Another advantage Nelson highlighted is weed control throughout the growing season. “Planting seeds like green beans in a grid pattern or broadcasting tiny seeds such as lettuce in a block as described in the square-foot-gardening method creates an environment where the mature plants will shade out most weeds as they appear.”

Because the soil is typically not compacted in a raised bed, it is very easy to remove any weeds that germinate while the desirable plants are still small and unable to shade out the weeds.

Either of these advantages applies to growing in containers as well, Nelson pointed out. “Starting with a small kitchen garden is great for people new to vegetable gardening, but also for people with busy schedules or limited space. If you don’t have space or time for a raised bed, a few containers can still grow a surprising amount of produce,” she said.

“In the first years at our home, my husband and I planted vegetables in the beds around our patio, just outside the kitchen door,” she said. “Even though we have a dedicated vegetable garden today, we continue to plant vegetables around the patio. All these years we have had a kitchen garden without realizing it!

“Having the plants so close to where we spend a lot of time outdoors is convenient, and the plants get a lot of attention as a result,” she added. “Most of the people I know who have ‘discovered’ or ‘rediscovered’ vegetable gardening in recent years did so for very practical reasons like spending less on groceries. But they continue growing vegetables when they realize how wonderful fresh homegrown produce tastes.”

U of I Extension offers websites for beginning and experienced gardeners. Visit “Watch Your Garden Grow” and “Illinois Vegetable Garden Guide” through the “Fruit and Veggies” topic area on the Hort Corner website at

News source: Jennifer S. Nelson, 217-877-6042,

Source: Jennifer Nelson (Schultz), Extension Educator, Horticulture,

Pull date: June 30, 2015