Want to grow vegetables and herbs? Why not hit two targets with one shot and take advantage of your garden to integrate plants that also feed pollinating insects, butterflies and birds?
Whether it’s a traditional kitchen garden that incorporates flowers and berries or an ornamental garden enhanced by vegetables and herbs, the creation of an edible garden not only allows you to grow your own food but also gives you a chance to feed insects and birds. And that means feeding biodiversity!
And if all you have is a balcony? It’s every bit as easy to grow food plants in containers.
What are the criteria for getting kitchen garden certification?
To have your edible garden certified, you must at a minimum meet the following three criteria:
1. Grow a diversity of edible plants (vegetables, herbs, edible flowers or berries), depending on available space.
2. Integrate into the arrangement a diversity of plants that provide a source of varied food for useful wildlife, throughout the season:
- for pollinating insects: nectar- and pollen-producing plants and/or berries, depending on available space.
- and/or for butterflies: nectar-producing plants and host plants
- and/or for birds: plants producing fruit or seeds owers or berries, depending on available space.
3. Tend the garden in an environmentally-friendly way: choose suitable plants, feed plants with compost, use water wisely, show tolerance in the face of pest and disease problems, and so on.
- Think about including “heritage” or “ancestral” varieties. Growing them offers the gardener the pleasure of discovering little-known varieties and at the same time makes it possible to preserve the genetic diversity of our food.
- Integrate, as much as possible, native species into the arrangement. To verify whether a species is indigenous to Québec, consult VASCAN, the Database of Vascular Plants of Canada.
- Practice, if possible, plant rotation.
How to make a kitchen garden?
To make a kitchen garden, there’s nothing simpler. Tailor your planting to the space available, and don’t hesitate to blend herbs with edible flowers, berries with nectar-producing plants, vegetables with flowers! You’ll end up with not only a terrific harvest but a variety of wildlife as well.
Step 1 – Choose the design that suits you
Depending on your tastes, available space, features of the site and your gardening experience, your food garden may take different forms. Here are some examples:
- traditional kitchen garden adorned with flowers and berries
- ornamental garden punctuated with vegetable and fruit plants
- potted kitchen garden on the balcony brightened up with some nectar-producing plants
Let your imagination run free!
Step 2 – Create a diversified garden
A varied menu
Grow a diversity of edible plants (vegetables, herbs, berries or edible flowers) that will not just please your taste buds but also contribute to attracting a variety of useful organisms.
If you want to invite bees, bumble bees and the other pollinating insects into your garden, add flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen. A number of herbs can play that role if you let them flower. Opt for plants with single blooms, since their nectar and pollen are generally more abundant and more accessible to pollinators.
For butterflies to feel at home in your arrangement over the long term, grow host plants that caterpillars feed on, as well as nectar-producing plants intended for the adults.
Also think about offering food to birds by putting in plants that produce fruit or seeds.
Organize your planting in such a way that you’ll have flowering or fruiting plants throughout the season.
To learn more:
Heritage or ancestral varieties
Think about integrating “heritage” or “ancestral” varieties. Growing them offers the gardener the pleasure of discovering little-known varieties and at the same time makes it possible to preserve the genetic diversity of our food.
Introduce, as much as possible, plants that are indigenous to Québec in your arrangement. Those species offer shelter, food and breeding grounds to native wildlife. They also add to the plant biodiversity in your garden. They can be integrated right into your layout or else planted as a border.
To learn more:
Step 3 – Tending the garden in an environmentally friendly way
Practice, if possible, plant rotation in order to reduce the incidence of diseases and pests. This technique consists in not growing the same vegetable (or a vegetable from the same family) in the same location for two years in a row. A four-year rotation is even more effective, but harder to bring off in small gardens.
Compost and natural fertilizers
Nourish the soil and plants with compost and, if needed, natural fertilizers.
To learn more:
Growing edible plants often requires a lot of water. Adopt practices that make it possible to reduce water needs and improve your watering techniques. Also think about installing a barrel in order to collect rainwater.
To learn more:
Since your kitchen garden is a corner of green that nature finds inviting, you’ll have to be accepting about the presence of insects (such as caterpillars, which will turn into butterflies) – and learn to share some of your harvest with the birds!
Bear in mind that the vast majority of insects are harmless or even beneficial, and there’s no need to intervene at the sight of a nibbled or blotched leaf. Little imperfections are an integral part of the beauty of life.
The useful organisms present in your garden contribute to the ecological control of pests. If a problem involving insect pests, diseases or weeds calls for attention on your part, apply cultural, physical or mechanical control methods. Use low-impact pesticides only as a last resort.
To learn more:
- Control methods
- Biological control: how to attract the right insects to your garden
- Pests and diseases
- Getting to know low-impact pesticides
Taking it a step further
- Attracting pollinators to the garden
- Attracting birds to the garden
- Container gardening
- Edible flowers
Did you know that…
Flowers turn into fruit thanks to the gatherings of pollinating insects, who contribute to the transportation of pollen from one flower to the other. This flower-pollinator “partnership” is vital for your kitchen garden. By adding flowering plants, you provide pollinators with a source of nectar and pollen. Once in your garden, the pollinators will also visit your edible plants. Their flowers will be pollinated in turn, fostering the production of vegetables and fruit. A win-win exchange of services!