Cindy Shapton speaks and writes when she is not in the garden. Keep up with Cindy on her Facebook page, The Cracked Pot Gardener, and get a copy of her latest book at


A Kitchen Garden in 5 Easy Steps
by Cindy Shapton - posted 06/11/18

We chose this spot for our kitchen garden – in full sun, already fenced in, water nearby, and not too far from the kitchen door. Perfect!

Do you have a yard full of grass and a longing for fresh produce to feed your family? Why not install a kitchen garden? One that is easy to build and won’t require much maintenance, where you can grow fresh veggies, small fruits, herbs, and maybe even some cut flowers.

Sound too good to be true? Follow these 5 simple steps and you will be growing in no time.

The fence actually adds more gardening space by providing a structure for vining crops to grow vertically. These luffa, or “dishcloth,” gourds bloomed nonstop until frost and produced a pile of sponges while delighting the bumblebees.

Step One: Where and How Big (or small)?
“Location, location, location,” is a term used often in the real estate business, but it also applies to choosing the perfect place yard for a kitchen garden. Use the following criteria to find the best location:

1. Sun – Chose a site that receives full sun six or more hours per day. A level spot is ideal, but a hillside can work, you will just have to do some terracing to keep your garden from running away.
2. Water – A hose bib, rain barrel, or other water source nearby is essential since a productive garden needs approximately 1 inch of water a week.
3. Proximity – Ideally, your kitchen garden should be in a “high-traffic” area close to the kitchen or doors where you see and walk by it daily. This way you won’t forget to water, weed, or harvest on time. You are also more likely to notice any problems in their early stages, when they are much easier to rectify.
4. Call 811 – Know where your utility and gas lines are and don’t plant a garden on top of a septic tank or drainage area.
5. If you have a fence that you can incorporate into your plot, all the better to protect your plants from critters (if that is a problem) and vertical space for vining crops.

Now that you have the perfect location, you need to determine the size. If this is your first garden, start small. Be successful, not overwhelmed. Gardening takes commitment and time, but don’t worry if this is your first foray in food growing – there’s no better way to learn then to just jump in.

One way to think of the garden is in square footage and how much is needed per person. Once that is established, then you can fill in the blanks, so to speak, with plants. Mel Bartholomew, author of Square Foot Gardening, suggests one 4-by-4-square-foot garden per adult to grow salad; another 4-by-4-square-foot garden to grow enough vegetables for supper meals; and a third if you’d like extra veggies for preserving. That is a total of 48 square feet per adult.

A quick and easy garden: Using a 25-by-4-foot-wide roll of landscape fabric and six or eight large wheelbarrows of compost dumped in mounds, I created a cucurbit boarder in a couple of hours that required no glyphosate and no weeding. You could plant any vegetables in mounds and tomatoes and climbing beans would love the fence.

I added cardboard to extend the bed to sidewalk and to reinforce the fabric where I accidently tore it with the wheelbarrow. Then I threw down some old hay, planted seeds for squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, and gourds. I added more straw mulch after the plants emerged.

John Jeavons writes in his book How To Grow More Vegetables that the average person needs 100 square feet for fresh vegetables and another 100 square feet for vegetables to preserve. The square footage will need to be increased in a row-type garden to allow room for paths between rows.

I’ve heard others recommend two 4-by-4-foot raised beds per family member to grow vegetables for fresh use with enough leftover to preserve.

In my kitchen garden, I have three 4-by-8-foot raised beds per person, which is 96 square feet per person. By planting spring, summer, and fall crops I usually have enough to eat fresh with plenty to preserve and share. I also sow seeds in succession throughout the season in order to have a continual harvest using less space.

Step Two: Prepare the Site
Before building beds all you are going to do is cut the grass short (unless its winter) and then cover the entire area with landscape fabric or thick cardboard, being sure to overlap well so no unwanted flora can pop through later. The ground covering will remain as a foundation for raised beds or mounds of soil that will be brought in and placed on top. You may need to use rocks or boards to hold it down until you get everything in place.

We built raised beds using 10-inch wide pine boards. It’s more interesting and fun if the beds are different sizes and shapes.

Step Three: Build the Beds
If you decide to go the DIY route, there are a several ways to actually construct the beds. These are two that are quick and easy using pine boards. You can adjust to your building materials.

For one 4-by-8-foot bed you need three 2” x 10” x 8’ boards. Cut one in half. Using corner brackets (3” x ¾”) on the inside of the box, connect the boards together with screws. For added support, use a 4-foot board in the center of the bed. This is optional, but may keep bed from bowing later. If you don’t have corner brackets, use a 2” x 2” x 10” wooden stake and install several screws from the outside boards into the stake on each corner.

Another fast, easy way to create garden beds that will last is to use treated lumber totally lined (sides and bottom) with heavy black plastic. Place them in a sunny spot (before lining) and they are ready to go. No need for a weed barrier underneath the beds.

What materials should you use to build the beds? There are several options, depending on your desires and pocketbook. You can use wood that hasn’t been chemically treated; pine boards work and are inexpensive, but will have to be replaced about three to five years. Plastic or composite boards may not look as natural and will cost more, but they will not have to be replaced. Treated lumber will last a long time and can be used if you are willing to staple in a heavy plastic liner. Cedar is a good choice – it costs a little more, but is natural and is not prone to rotting quickly.

Stacked stone or brick is pretty and will never rot. Concrete blocks are inexpensive and easy to use plus create nice pockets for perennial herbs, but don’t look as nice.

Raised beds or mounds can be anywhere from 4-12 inches or deeper. Root crops, such as carrots and potatoes, benefit from a deeper bed whereas crops such as salad greens and peppers don’t need deep beds.

We set our wooden beds on top of plastic before filling them. This is composted horse manure we bought in bulk from a local farmer.

This is what it looks like two years later. The plastic is still under the entire area and the space around the beds is covered with wood shavings we got – for free – from a local sawmill. I add fresh shavings every spring.

Step Four: Fill the Beds
Soil is the foundation of your kitchen garden so this is where you really want to spend your time and money. Don’t settle for mediocre when you can have a magnificent productive garden with fewer insect and disease problems.

When it comes to filling the beds or making mounds, you have several choices. You can buy a mix of soil-type products to fill the beds. Mel Bartholomew, author of Square Foot Gardening, recommends equal parts of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite.

A mix of potting soil, topsoil, peat moss, leaf mold, compost, and soil conditioner will give you nutrient-rich fill with great drainage.

How much compost or mix does it take to fill a bed? For a 4-by-8-foot raised bed that is 10 inches deep, it will take 1 cubic yard to fill. For mounds, I dump one large wheelbarrow full per mound.

Now simply enjoy your fresh and organic produce to feed your family … there’s nothing better. Check out these ‘Circus Circus’ carrots we grew! • The border garden provided fresh, organic produce through the summer and we harvested pumpkins, gourds, and winter squashes in the fall. • ‘Lemon’ cucumber is an old-fashioned variety that Grandma grew. The fence was perfect for them to climb up.

Step Five: Plant!
Make a list of the vegetables you actually like to eat. Include one or two that you can’t get at the store – this will motivate you when it’s hot and you’re tired. Since this article is about installing a garden, we’re not going to list every potential vegetable, cultivars, planting times, etc. That’s an entire other article!


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 30 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Shapton.


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