Grow your own greens with kitchen gardens!

Do you have a kitchen garden in your window, or maybe your backyard? If not, you're in luck - it’s the perfect time of year to get one started! Learn about the rich history (and future!) of kitchen gardens and then try three easy ways to start your own. They’re cheerful, they’re fun, and they’re a great way to get your kids excited about greens.

Historically, kitchen gardens were a separate space made in a larger garden where vegetables, fruit and herbs were grown (often along with ornamental flowers) to feed a family. Kitchen gardens are present throughout human history, and they exist in many forms around the world today. In this post, we’re going to take a look at three distinctive kinds of kitchen gardens before making our own - it's easy to get one started even on windowsill, and it's a great way to guarentee you fresh greens  in between shopping trips.

Some of the earliest kitchen gardens we’ve been able to study are from the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, where about 500 domestic gardens were covered with volcanic ash, including kitchen gardens or hortus. Archaeologist Wilhelmina Jashemski was the first to study Pompeiian gardens and to identify the specific plants that grew in these gardens by casting their roots in plaster. Urban Pompeiians grew grains and grapes in their gardens, as well as figs, olives, cherries, rosemary, beets, and other fruits and vegetables—and today, many of these kitchen gardens are being replanted and recreated in the archaeological site of Pompeii (you can visit the site yourself via Google Street View) to help us better understand the past. Recreating these gardens helps us to understand more about what Romans ate—you can try a few of their recipes for yourself here. For more of a taste of Roman life, check out this cooking video on re-creating Pompeiian bread, or try making your own Roman kitchen garden by planting a pot of herbs like rosemary and thyme. Once you’ve tried your hand at Roman cooking, be sure to enjoy it outside! Roman gardens weren’t just a food source: they were also the perfect place to enjoy a meal together in the shade.

Looking at a different kind of historical garden, in the 1940s during World War II, Canadian families living in cities were encouraged to grow their own Victory Gardens. These simple vegetable gardens were framed as helping the war effort, although war officials huffed that inexperienced urban gardeners were wasting Canada’s seed supply as they learned how to garden. Still, at the peak of the Victory Garden effort in 1944, over 200,000 of these urban gardens were producing more than 57,000 tonnes of vegetables—not such a waste of seed after all! Popular crops included beets, beans, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, turnips, squash and swiss chard. People were encouraged to can their crops (you can try this yourself here) and, of course, to eat them up!

What do you imagine a futuristic kitchen garden will look like? Right now, sailing above our heads, the kitchen garden on the International Space Station is giving us a glimpse of the future with its Advanced Plant Habitat. Growing plants in space is hard -- without gravity, the plants need to be told which way to grow through specially timed lights—but the garden is important for astronaut health and morale. Astronauts rely on a lot of pre-packaged food for their meals, and so fresh vegetables and fruits are always very welcome! Plus, just seeing the greens growing is enjoyable for the crew. Right now the plant habitat produces Mizuna mustard greens, Waldmann’s green lettuce and Outredgeous Red Romaine lettuce (they’ve also grown Chinese cabbage and zinnias in the past!). In the future, they hope to grow beans, peppers and even berries. 

Ready to start your own kitchen garden? There are lots of ways to do it. Check out our tutorials on starting an indoor, outdoor or micro kitchen garden, using everything from kitchen scraps to sprouts. While you’re waiting for your greens to sprout, test your kids—would they recognize these common ingredients if you saw them in a kitchen garden? We’d love to see your gardens and hear about what you’re planting—join our communities on Facebook and Instagram today!

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