In my current work in progress, I have placed a large, modern, garden just outside the kitchen door of the ranch house. In the days before refrigerators and all-night grocery stores, nearly every settler planted a kitchen garden once the house was finished, be it soddy, cabin or a mansion. But what exactly is a kitchen garden?
It’s just what the name implies: a garden planted near the kitchen in which you grow all the vegetables needed for every-day cooking, as well as a variety of herbs to add sensational flavor to every recipe.
“The bulk of homesteaders’ diets were harvested from their claim or gathered from the wilderness that surrounded them. “Store-bought” items consisted of those few items which could not be grown, shot, picked, or made on the farm… the homesteaders…often lived a prohibitive distance from the nearest store, and “trips to town” were few and far between.
“…Many families planted two gardens a year: one in the spring, which would supply greens, peas, and radishes, and one in the summer, which would provide heartier vegetables such as pumpkins, beans, potatoes, and squash. Settlers brought seeds with them to their new homes, bought them once they arrived on the frontier, or wrote to relatives “back East” asking for a hasty shipment. Creating bountiful gardens required constant vigilance against gophers, deer, bears, crows, and a host of other “invaders.” A successful garden was critical to homesteaders’ ability to feed themselves and their families; a single heavy storm or an unexpected frost could, in fact, destroy half a year’s supplies.
[Christopher W. Czajka, PBS Frontier House Essays, ]
Here’s an example of the plantings in a recreated 1800s kitchen garden at the NEW HAMPSHIRE FARM MUSEUM:
“…Peas, snap and shell/ Onions, sweet, yellow storage, red, and red storage/ Leeks, early and late types/ Scallions, purple and white/ Cauliflower (some spring, mostly fall)/ Celeriac/ Lettuce/ Mesclun mix (mixed lettuces and other greens)/ Spinach/ Herbs: Basil, Dill, Parsley, Cilantro, (Cumin?)/ Bok Choy/ Cabbage/ Broccoli/ Fava Beans (trial size planting)/ Swiss Chard/ Kale, green curly (Winterbor), red curly (Redbor), Red Russian, Lacinato/ Collards/ Beets/ Carrots/ Hakurei (Salad) Turnips/ Radishes/ Beans, green and dry types/ ParsnipsTomatoes, red types, cherries, heirlooms/ Husk Cherries (Ground Cherries)/ Peppers, sweet and hot types / Eggplants/ Cucumbers, pickling and slicing types/ Summer Squash, yellow, Pattypans, Zucchinis/ Potatoes, early, mid, late types, (fingerlings, reds, whites, blues, golds….)/ Corn, sweet, ornamental, popcorn Brussels Sprouts (fall only)/ Muskmelons/ Watermelons/ Winter Squashes/ Pumpkins, Jack-o-lantern, pie, mini types, and gourds/ Fall Turnips/ Rutabagas (for storage).“ http://www.farmmuseum.org/farm.html
The lady of the house might also plant herbs and flowers in her garden, for cooking and for medicinal use. And just because they looked pretty on the table. I remember my grandmother, who grew up on a North Dakota homestead, telling me which plants in her extensive kitchen garden were to eat and which were there to ward off pests, both insects and deer.
When I was growing up, we had a garden, though it was planted more with an eye toward supplying our favorite fruits and vegetables rather than a balanced diet: strawberries, melons, sweet corn, green beans, tomatoes… Mostly I remember it was hard, hot work.
Do any of you have a “kitchen garden?” Did you grow up with one? What was it like?