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Country Living’s

Ultimate American Kitchen Garden

Feast your eyes upon the potager of our dreams, designed by Jon Carloftis and overflowing with amazing edible plants handpicked by the nation’sbest chefs. READ ON FOR: An easy-to-replicate plan 100 heirloom-plant picks How-to advice on starting seeds, perfecting soil, and more Plus: recipes that make the most of those fresh vegetables— turn to page 115!

DAN BARBER

executive chef–co-owner of Blue Hill in New York City RICK BAYLESS

executive chef–owner of Frontera Grill in Chicago JOHN BESH

author of My Family Table CRISTETA COMERFORD and SAM KASS

executive chef and assistant chef of the White House MELISSA HAMILTON and CHRISTOPHER HIRSHEIMER

authors of Canal House Cooking GREG HIGGINS

executive chef–owner of Higgins in Portland, Oregon PETER HOFFMAN

executive chef–owner of Back Forty West in New York City DEBORAH MADISON

author of Seasonal Fruit Desserts

‘Serrano del Sol’ peppers (chosen by Rick Bayless)

‘Lincoln’ leeks (chosen by Deborah Madison)

MICHAEL PALEY

‘Fairy Tale’ eggplant (chosen by Dan Barber)

written by KATE KARAM reported by JOURDAN CROUCH photographs by VICTORIA PEARSON

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executive chef of Proof on Main in Louisville, Kentucky FRANK STITT

executive chef–owner of Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham ALICE WATERS

executive chef–owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley


Keep critters at bay— without hiding your bounty behind a solid fence. Mesh netting (here,

draped over repurposed tobacco sticks) virtually disappears, yet still foils most furry thieves. The scent of marigolds—like these ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Lady Primrose’ varieties—helps deter aphids and other small pests. Also in this corner of our garden: ‘Pipian from Tuxpan’ squash, ‘Victoria’ sage, and ‘Chianti’ and ‘Vanilla Ice’ sunflowers.


The stylish way to support climbers:

Birch tepees provide structure for cucumbers, beans, and peas. Hyacinth beans scramble up an arbor constructed of reclaimed poplar, while ‘Bashful’ and ‘Mammoth Russian’ sunflowers grow behind it.

Start here!

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t’s true what they say: The best-tasting tomato is always the one you grow yourself. But which tomato to grow? With some 3,000 heirloom varieties out there—from ‘Ananas Noir’ to ‘Green Zebra’—the possibilities can be downright paralyzing. And that’s before you even begin to contemplate other crops. So we turned to the real experts: chefs renowned for their skill with fresh vegetables. Alice Waters, the woman who practically invented the farm-to-table movement, weighed in. As did Peter Hoffman. And Rick Bayless. These slow-food pioneers, as well as 10 of their peers, delivered the momentum—selecting nearly 100 incredible edibles— that set our organic kitchen-garden project in motion. Corralling that gigantic plant list into a sensible, stunning plan: CL contributing editor Jon Carloftis, who’s designed gardens for Julianne Moore and Jerry Bruckheimer but remains a country boy at heart. Carloftis sited our potager at his alma mater, the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and convinced his mentor, horticulturist Sharon Bale, to lend a hand. The duo divided the 32' x 56' plot into a grid of 12 raised beds, defined by paths edged with marigolds (said to repel pests) and covered in pine straw—an affordable alternative to hardscaping that also gives veggies the acidity they crave. “Every time it rains, acid from the straw is released into the soil,” the designer explains.

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The first step to creating your own organic kitchen garden is choosing the ideal spot: a flat, level site— near a water source—that receives eight hours of sunlight a day. Next, you’ll want to get a handle on the quality of your dirt. TEST THE SOIL ›Squeeze a handful of soil into a ball. It should hold together yet break apart evenly. If you get a hard mass, there’s too much clay; if it won’t hold together at all, the problem is sand. ›Check the pH. Vegetables desire acidic soil, with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Most nurseries sell a test kit for under $10 (Antler King, $8.99; woodburyoutfitters .com). Or send a soil sample to your local co-op extension (csrees.usda.gov/ extension).

SEE HOME COOKING, page 115, for recipes that put the chefs’ plant picks to good use.


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Enjoy tomatoes from July to October by choos-

ing a mix of early- (4, 6, 10); mid- (3, 7, 8, 9); and late-season (1, 2, 5, 11, 12) plants. See our plan on pages 112 and 113 for the chefs who recommended these varieties.

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AMEND THE SOIL ›Begin with organic compost, layering on a few inches in the spring and again after fall harvest. Depending on your soil issues—sand, clay—you may need to add mulch (to help retain moisture) or sand (to aid with drainage). A layer of pine straw can increase acidity. For more details, consult The Practical Organic Gardener ($15.95; Silverleaf Press), by Brenda Little. ›Or gain complete control with raised beds, which allow you to start from scratch soil-wise. Visit gardeners.com for easy-toassemble beds from $40. SOW THOSE SEEDS ›Read the packets. Even the most experienced gardeners turn here for info about depth and spacing. ›Get a head start indoors. In colder climates, cultivate long-season, warm-weather vegetables (eggplants, peppers) inside. Burpee makes a fuss-free kit (XL Ultimate Growing System, $19.95; burpee.com). › Plant outdoors once all danger of frost has passed. Before you move seedlings— or sow seeds directly— outside, consult the Old Farmer’s Almanac for typical temperate dates in your zone (almanac.com). WATER THE RIGHT WAY ›Reward vegetables with a deep root soak; watering the leaves can lead to powdery mildew. To be safe, opt for a simple drip-irrigation system (Rain Drip Landscape, $27.62; sears.com).

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Lettuce—the gift that keeps on giving! Salad lovers, take heart: You can sow leafy greens, like this tasty baby romaine, several times during a season.


Root vegetables need room to grow. For crops that require depth—carrots, sweet potatoes—consider tall containers; your back will thank you! In addition to White Hamon sweet potatoes, this three-foot-high barn-wood box holds nasturtiums, prostrate rosemary, ‘Genovese’ basil, and ‘Tricolor’ and pineapple sage.

Other moves that sync with Carloftis’s pretty-is-as-pretty-does strategy included birch tepees and a handsome poplar arbor, to support climbers, such as beans, peas, and cucumbers. Barn-wood boxes and recycled bourbon barrels supplied the necessary depth for root crops like sweet potatoes and carrots. And a fence of tobacco sticks, draped with sturdy netting, deterred (most) critters, beautifully. “Structure adds style,” Carloftis declares, “and that’s what separates us from Neanderthals.” But, woe, the best-laid plans.… Remarkably persistent rabbits, contaminated compost, heavily compacted soil—and what turned out to be Kentucky’s second-wettest spring on record—all conspired to wreak havoc. “It was,” says Bale in her matter-of-fact way, “the perfect storm for failure.” And yet, come July, when we bit into that first ‘Early Girl’ tomato, infinitely juicy and still warm from the sun, all was forgotten. Convinced? You’ll find a complete guide to growing your own kitchen garden on these pages, plus recipes that make the most of the chefs’ beloved edibles, beginning on page 115. And whether you use those first ripe tomatoes to whip up Peter Hoffman’s hearty pork stew or simply sandwich a few slices between white bread, you’ll experience the sweetest satisfaction, that of knowing I grew this. U

SEE SHOP GUIDE, page 138, for product information, plus details on the chefs.

›Avoid under- or overwatering with a moisture meter (Bond Moisture Meter, $7.64; amazon.com). FEND OFF PESTS ›Build fencing to block out animals. When dealing with deer, go a minimum of eight feet tall. To stop rascally rabbits, install the barrier to a depth of at least eight inches under the soil surface. › Repel aphids and slugs, organically, with a topical pepper spray (Hot Pepper Wax, $9.75 for 32 ounces; amazon.com). Floating row covers also provide an impenetrable barrier. FEED THOSE PLANTS Apply an organic foliar spray, like Jon Carloftis’s Bloom & Fruit, weekly ($33.90 for 32 ounces; 859-940-9696).

WIN IT! Pledge to donate excess produce from your own garden, and you could nab one of two sets of outdoor furniture from CL’s Kmart line! See pages 10 and 138 for details.

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