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The Garden Scoop

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest

With last week’s Easter snow, it is hard to believe that the frost-free dates for our area are fast approaching.  Hopefully April will follow a more March-like tradition of “in like lion and out like a lamb”. 

The “frost-free” date for the Champaign area is around April 15th, which is the spring median date for overnight lows above 32⁰, meaning we still have about a 50/50 chance for frost on that date.   By April 30th, the chance for frost in our area drops to about 10%, with the latest recorded date for temps below 32⁰ being May 21st. 

Knowing these statistics, gardeners decide when sensitive plants can be put out in the garden.  It is always a guessing game as we never know exactly when our last frost will occur.  Some vegetables we plant have a much higher tolerance to frost than others and may be planted sooner.   All these factors, combined with the busyness of other things in our life, can make gardening in April a complicated puzzle to solve.  Do you want to stack the odds in your favor and wait until May, or risk some early season frosts to gain a few more weeks of the growing season?

This year, solving the equation for how and when to plant vegetables crops can be much easier with the release of newly updated edition of a longstanding University of Illinois Extension publication.  The third edition of “Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest” was very recently released and is now available for purchase. 

This valuable reference discusses all major and minor vegetable crops in the Midwest, providing recommended varieties and very specific information on when to plant, spacing and depth of planting, care throughout the growing season, common problems and best harvesting practices.  It is a comprehensive guide to successfully growing vegetables in our area containing useful tips that have been field tested for almost 40 years. 

The first edition of “Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest” was released in 1978.  It was authored by prominent Extension Specialists at the time, with Joe Vandemark and Bill Courter as lead authors.  The basic idea behind the publication centered on creation of a comprehensive guide to Midwest vegetable gardening that could be used by beginning home gardeners. Over the years, beginning gardeners and experienced growers alike found this publication extremely useful, making it one of the primarily reference publications for vegetable growing in Illinois. 

In the mid-nineties, Extension Specialist Chuck Voigt joined Joe Vandemark to develop and release the second edition of this publication.  This is the edition that currently sits on my shelf and has been used each year as reference for my own vegetable gardening activities.  Up to his recent retirement in 2016, Voigt had been working on an updated edition.  So, a team of Extension Specialists, led by Elizabeth Wahle, took up the project and completed the recently released update.

“We decided to keep the focus on the beginner, not production gardening,” recalls Wahle, although she admits there is something in this edition for all.  “A lot of time was invested in updating the recommended varieties so gardeners would have more information on the individuality of specific vegetable varieties, “says Wahle. 

Wahle’s team did an excellent job updating recommendations for specific varieties of vegetables to reflect current availability, which is invaluable to gardeners from beginner to advance.  For convenience, variety recommendations have been organized into their own chapter, listing quite a bit of additional detail on each to include information such as days to maturity, relative disease resistance, and a comments section that directs attention to other important specifics.

Another wonderful attribute of this publication is the photography.  “Line drawings included in past editions were sufficient, but this recent update includes actual pictures that add much more detail,” says Wahle.  The high quality images included in this update replace or supplement line drawings in older editions to add a magnificent new level of detail.

The updated edition of “Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest” may be purchased at the U of I Extension office at 801 N. Country Fair Drive in Champaign or online at I highly recommend adding this publication to your personal gardening library.  It will inevitably be quite helpful in solving the spring puzzle of when and what to plant.