Skip to main content

Plan your vegetable garden around your family

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

Growing your own food is easy and fun. This year I will write more spotlights on backyard food production in this column. To get us started, here are excerpts from an article written by my colleague Richard Hentschel.

Richard writes that a well-planned vegetable garden is easy to care for and harvest. They are also more productive and, in the long run, less expensive that the unplanned attempts a food growing, especially for the first-time gardeners. To be successful, only plan on what vegetables your family is willing to eat. That is not to say you should not try something different each year, just be sure you plant enough of what they will eat too.

Once you have that list in mind, locate the sunny spot in your yard. That could be on the side of your home or even a couple spots catching morning or afternoon sun. A full day's worth of light is best, eight or more hours a day, yet leafy vegetables can grow just fine with a partial day's sun.

Soil drainage is really critical for good vegetable plant production. Hopefully the sunny spot also drains well after a rain event. Gardeners can raise the bed by adding soil, organic matter and working that into the soil profile before you plant to increase water drainage.

Using the list of what the family will eat gives us a good idea of how big the garden needs to be. This, along with the time you and family are willing to spend in the vegetable garden, should be taken into account.

Make your garden big enough to provide the vegetables you need for fresh daily table use, but not so big that it becomes a burden on you and the family. For example just two tomato plants will supply you with fresh tomatoes all summer, especially if one of those is a cherry tomato. If space is limited, you can even grow them in a container.

Even a small area can produce a spring, summer and fall garden full of vegetables if some basic planning is done ahead. For example, when the early spring lettuce is done, you will have room for snap beans. Or sow radish and carrots in the same row, where you'll harvest the radishes first and let the carrots continue to grow.

Consider that some crops do need more space to grow. Sweet corn is great, yet you only get one or two ears per plant after growing it for several weeks. Squash and cucumber plants that vine out can take over part of the lawn. If available, consider growing bush types, grow them in a separate garden area, or grow them vertically on a trellis.

University of Illinois Extension has lots of resources available to help you plan your backyard food garden. The Illinois Vegetable Garden Guide at is a good place to start. The website author, Extension Specialist Jim Schmidt, includes 10 basic steps to a successful garden, discusses garden problems and their control, and provides tips on growing specific vegetables.

I truly hope that everyone reading this article will grow at least one food this summer in their backyard, in a patio container, or on their kitchen windowsill. If you need help any step along the way, please contact me or a Master Gardener at or 309-685-3140309-685-3140.



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.

You'll need Skype CreditFree via Skype