Kitchen Gardens



Similar names: Permagardens, Permaculture gardens, Vegetable gardens, Urban gardens

Kitchen gardens consist of pieces of land close to households in which plants such as vegetables, herbs, and fruits for use in the kitchen are cultivated. These gardens can include space for livestock, (fruit & nut) trees and hedges cultivated for fodder. Kitchen gardens have long been practiced with the intention of providing subsistence and a variety of food for small households, whilst also providing an additional source of income when surpluses are generated and sold at the market. With a few adjustments, this practice can be adapted to most kinds of ecosystems, and even in highly urbanized areas, with the aid of pots and containers. This intervention is most suitable for flat or gently sloped terrains (0-5%), however, to obtain a lower slope in hillside conditions, it can be combined with Eyebrow terraces. Gardens can also be created in schools and other public facilities, involving the entire community.

  • Improve soil health
  • Increase vegetation
  • Increase crop yields

The following are general guidelines which should be adapted to the contextual conditions and the available resources that already exist in your area, without the need to buy external materials.

  1. Location/Design:
    Before establishing a kitchen garden, it is important to carefully select where to place the plots of soil or “garden beds”. Study the area around your house as the placement and orientation should be strategically chosen to control exposure to strong winds, sunlight, rain, water resources and other important factors which may affect the success of the kitchen garden.  Since kitchen gardens require irrigation, it can be useful to combine this intervention with rainwater harvesting techniques or the re-use of domestic wastewater, especially in dry areas. These include: rooftop rainwater catchments, harvesting ponds, jumbo jars, ring tanks and many more, click here to read more about water harvesting methods. There are also ways to optimize irrigation such as drip irrigation.It is common practice to put fences or hedges around the garden to prevent wild animals or livestock from entering it. Access to water is equally important, as vegetable gardens will require watering, at least in the initial phase.
  2. Soil preparation:
    When creating the beds, leave space for a footpath between them to make each area accessible. Following this step, prepare the soil, making sure that it is soft, not compacted and free of weeds and big rocks.To improve the ability of soil to retain water and to stimulate crop growth, it is also important to incorporate some organic matter. There are different ways of doing this, one of which is the “garden layering” method (also called “lasagna garden”) which consists of alternating layers of nitrogen-rich (fresh) and carbon-rich (dry) biomass within the soil. Another way to increase soil organic matter is to integrate kitchen vegetables or crop residues and compost during the years (click here for a detailed explanation about compost). A good practice is to use the unused parts of the vegetables and the vegetable plants, cut them into small pieces and bury them in the soil in order to preserve the most amount of nutrients possible in the soil and to increase organic matter.
  3. Seeding:
    The seeds are then placed and gently covered in the soil and carefully watered.  You can plant different combinations of species and it is good practice to always plant some nitrogen fixing species - such as beans and other legumes - as they will partially restore the nutrients in the soil. With some experience, you will learn which combination of species grow well in close proximity to each other. However, it is always important to rotate the vegetables’ position over the years as this will result in a better soil quality and a better yield in the long term.If the circumstances allow, it is good to select one or two plants that give the best vegetables and keep their seeds in order to be able to plant them the following year.
  4. Mulching and cover crops:
    For good soil conservation and water retention, it is important to always keep the soil covered. This can be achieved by mulching (see the Mulching intervention), being careful to leave the space for the seedlings to sprout. To prevent leaving the soil bare and exposed, it is good practice to plant cover crops: fast-growing plants that are planted to cover and enrich the soil, preventing soil erosion, and not for the purpose of being harvested. Cover crops usually include species such as cowpeas, rye, vetch, mustard, clover, or other species that can be used as fodder or mulch material once the vegetable planting season starts again.
  5. Adaptations to climatic conditions:
    In dry areas:
    Water can be a limiting resource which can be a problem even when rainfall catchment techniques are applied. In these cases, a number of actions can be taken to further optimize soil moisture such as using swales or planting adaptable trees that will provide shade to the kitchen garden, as a way of minimizing water loss from soil. More can be found here
  6. Maintenance:
    The Amount and cost of maintaining kitchen gardens will depend largely on the type of gardening being done, as well as the type of produce being grown . Basic maintenance of the garden is necessary: frequent watering (around 3 times per week), soil quality maintenance (e.g sufficient fertilization), pest control, etc.

In very wet areas or areas with very poor or hard soils:
Consider building “raised beds” to drain the excess water which tends to accumulate in the soil. You can find more information about raised beds here: Source.


  • Oftentimes, it is important to consider the fencing of a kitchen garden. Theft or grazing / destruction by animals is something to take into account. 
  • Kitchen gardens may be prone to pests. Nevertheless, it is important to consider the harmful effects of (overusing) chemical inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers for the soil in the long run. 
  • When installing kitchen gardens, care must be taken with the soil, water and fertiliser in order to revive and maintain the soil quality and ensure crops are well cared for.

This intervention contributes to:

Estimation of costs & benefits of intervention:

Description Costs
Labor costs PKR Rs.380 (USD $3.63)/day
Labor time Each woman had to spend 1.5 hours/day on the kitchen garden (30 hours per month on garden activities = USD $13.02/month)
Benefits On average, 28kg of product was sold in one month, 28kg product/month/household. Average income USD $13.39/month/household.
Savings USD $9.56/month/household saved because of availability of vegetables.

Source: case based in Pakistan in Sindh province, 2016.

This technique is often practiced by women and elderly people as they tend to be the closest to the household. A good example of women empowerment through the adoption of kitchen gardens can be found here.

Kitchen gardens are sometimes used to promote community participation. A good example can be found in Laos. Click here to know more.

Another example of school kitchen gardens can be found here.

An example on how kitchen gardens can provide subsistence for families in Nepal can be found here.

  • If you would like to know more about how to start a garden or a school garden, here is a complete guide which covers a wide range of topics, from how to set up the garden to how to preserve the food that you harvest.
  • Rainwater harvesting:
    Click here for free webinars about water harvesting techniques.
  • Composting:
    - A step-by-step guide
    - Fast composting