Extension Educator, Horticulture
So you want to plant a vegetable garden?
Healthy food, fresh food, local food, cost savings. The reasons vary but more and more people are interested in vegetable gardening. Our enthusiasm bubbles over in spring, but when summer rolls around with its accompanying weed and water worries some gardeners may be ready to throw in the trowel. Here is my heart-to-heart talk on ways to avoid the summer doldrums.
Start small – 10 feet by 10 feet (3 meters by 3 meters) garden bed or an 8x4 foot raised bed can provide a large quantity of vegetables yet is not so overwhelming to maintain. Read Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew or attend UI Extension telenet program Tuesday April 13 at 1:00. To find the program nearest you http://web.extension.illinois.edu/state
Consider vegetable gardening in containers or just add a few vegetables such as lettuce or spinach to flower beds. Containers will need to be watered every day but will not need to be weeded.
Think about how much time you have to spend each week in the garden. For a small garden figure at least two hours a week over the summer spread over a few days. Develop a habit as to when you attend to your garden especially if it is not in your own backyard.
Select "easy-to-grow" vegetables - leafies (spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard), leeks, onions, garlic, shallots, radish, snow peas, snap peas, carrots (short varieties), beets, sweet potatoes, okra, turnips, greens (collard, mustard, turnip, beet).
Some vegetables are prone to insect and disease problems. Generally problems are easily managed with these "sort-of-easy-to-grow" vegetables - snap beans (bush), tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage.
Some vegetables can have major problems that can cause crop failure. The "not-so-easy-to-grow" vegetables are cucumbers, melons, squash, zucchini, and sweet corn. "Next-to-impossible-to-grow" include celery, iceberg lettuce, peanuts, and artichokes.
Understand frost dates. Average date of last frost is mid April. Date of last spring frost is mid May. Average date of first frost in fall is October 15.
Determine the best planting time for our area for each vegetable. Dates are based on the vegetable's ability to tolerate frost and whether they grow better in cool or warm weather. Contact our office for the fact sheet "Planting/Harvesting Time for Central Illinois".
Best planted in garden as transplants – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onion (sets), rhubarb, asparagus, sweet potatoes.
Best planted in garden as seeds – leafies, beets, peas, greens, carrots, radish, snap beans, sweet corn, squash, turnips, cucumber.
Do not work the soil when it is too wet. If you do it will turn to hard clumps. To test - squeeze a handful of soil. If it stays together when you tap it then the soil is too wet.
Feed the soil that feeds your plants. Rather than relying on fertilizers, add compost to enrich the soil.
Enlist a garden buddy to help. You will be so busy talking you will be done working before you are done talking. Then next time you help in their garden.
There will be rabbits (more than likely). Best bet is fencing such as chicken wire. To install - form an outward facing 90 degree angle then bury the bent wire so rabbits will not dig under fence. If any repellant is used, be sure it is labeled to be used on edibles.
There will be bugs. Learn to love not-so-perfect vegetables. Often bug problems can be solved with picking them off or a heavy stream of water. UI Extension can help with pest identification and management options.
There will be weeds. Mulch with compost, straw or grass clippings to keep weeds from germinating.
There will be successes and there will be failures. Relax and enjoy the process.
Even experienced gardeners do not have perfect gardens. With your first bite into a vegetable you produced, it will all be worthwhile.