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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Vegetable Gardening – What's normal for 2012?

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

By all measure, this spring has certainly been one to remember and we are not done setting records for the year. Growing degree days, a measurement of temperatures that horticulturists use to measure plant and insect development is well ahead of normal, We have accumulated Growing Degree Days that would normally be with us mid-May! Now that we have had some strong cold weather in the last few days which helps slow the growing degree days, gardeners are being reminded that caution is still needed when the thoughts of planting the garden come up. May 5th remains the average frost free date around here and that still means a 50/50 chance of having a frost on that date.

Our normal growing season provides us with somewhere between 160 and 170 growing days in Northeastern and Northwestern Illinois. All those growing degree days mentioned earlier really don't count against the vegetables yet, since we have not planted them. If you have not purchased your seeds yet, read the seed packet and there you find the expected days till harvest. This information will help you plan out the garden for the whole season.

No matter how impatient we get and how much we want to have the first tomatoes in the neighborhood, waiting is still a good idea. The soils may have warmed up, yet cold night temperatures can set back any of our tender and warm loving vegetables. Looking at a traditional vegetable gardening schedule, the first crops in should be those that really prefer cooler or cold soils to grow in and that can tolerate those colder air temperatures. If you stop by the garden centers you will find transplants of cabbage and lettuces for example. Gardeners can sow directly as well for crops like onion seeds or sets, peas, radish, leaf lettuce and leeks. If you have a permanent spot for perennial plants, asparagus crowns and rhubarb could be planted.

It has been a great season to get into the garden early and prepare the soil. Before you put in transplants and sow any seeds, amending the soil is really easy. Composts out of your own compost bins or well-rotted manures can be used. One caution would be if you are considering horse manure, it should not contain saw dust that would have been used for bedding. If you are taking manure from an existing pile, clean off the outer edge that will contain weed seeds and dig into the pile for your compost. If you are going the raised bed route, amending the soil that goes into those beds is really beneficial for aeration and drainage. This activity is something you can do while you are waiting to plant.

As you do begin to plant and continue to plant your successive crops in the garden, the weather has also promoted the insects that normally feed on our vegetables. I have seen insects out feeding on ornamentals that are about 3 weeks ahead of normal. There is no reason to think that those vegetable insects will not be ready and waiting to feed on our vegetables too. Make the most of your garden, plant the vegetables your family loves and try a new one that may become a family favorite.

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