rotted pumpkin

As the calendar turns from October to November, toothy Jack-o’-lanterns start to look like deflated basketballs. This means millions of Americans need to dispose of billions of pumpkins. While many people toss these festive yet mushy winter squash into the trash, this adds an immense amount of organic material into the landfill. Typically, in a landfill, this material gets buried and rots in an environment devoid of oxygen, which creates the potent greenhouse gas methane.

pumpkins

Why are we talking about pumpkins in June? Because if you want home-grown pumpkins for Halloween, it is best to get them planted now!

Good Growing Fact
Did you know Illinois is ranked #1 for pumpkin production with more than 10,000 acres planted in 2019? Morton, IL, is considered the Pumpkin Capital of the World because 85% of the world’s canned pumpkin is packed there.

garden with fruit and veggies

The year of 2020 brought a new experience for many as over 20 million novice gardeners picked up a trowel for the first time according to Bonnie Plants CEO Mike Sutterer. New adventures come with excitement; however, as those rose-colored glasses become clearer with further attempts and another year of gardening, the frustrations and failures can grow. Therefore, we have come up with some tips to help those 2nd time growers stay optimistic.

How to successfully grow asparagus in your garden. purple-green asparagus spears emerging from soil.

Asparagus is one of the few perennial vegetables that is commonly grown in gardens. But don’t let that intimidate you - it’s a relatively easy crop to grow. However, you’ll need to exercise some patience when growing asparagus.

2021 All-American Selections winners

Out with the old and in with the new. A new year means the garden catalogs are starting to arrive and that it’s time to start planning this year’s garden. Whether you’re just getting started or you’re a veteran gardener, consider growing something new this year in your garden.

a large tobacco hornworm feeding on a tomato leaf

Several different types of caterpillars will feed on tomatoes. The most well-known, and probably most dreaded, are the tomato (Manduca quinquemaculata) and tobacco (Manduca sexta) hornworms. These large (up to 4 inches long) green caterpillars have a prominent “horn” on their rear end (thus their name) and can do quite a bit of damage to tomato plants.

cool season crops

As we enjoy fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and other vegetables from our garden this summer, it is time to start planning the garden for fall production. Many of the cool-season vegetables we plant in early spring can be planted again in late summer to early fall to extend the growing season and have fresh produce for a longer period.

close up of a person holding freshly harvested onions

We’ve made it through spring, and we’re into summer. Whether you started your first garden this year or you’re a veteran gardener, we’re coming up on the heart of harvest season. One of the (many) advantages of growing your own vegetables is that you can harvest your produce at its peak quality. Knowing when exactly you should harvest something can be difficult to determine, especially if it’s your first time growing the crop.

Growing Garlic

I love garlic. I just so happened to marry a woman who did not. But something magical happened during her first pregnancy. She developed a taste for all things pickled and garlicky. Since then we have been throwing garlic into almost everything we make.

The Many Different Types of Cucurbits

Cucurbits are members of the Cucurbitaceae family and are home to some of the most popular garden crops in the world. This article will dive into the three main categories of cucurbit crops: cucumber, melon, and squash. Each one of these categories could become a book unto itself and we only touch on the subcategories of each.

bright yellow flower

Cucurbits, which include squash, cucumbers, gourds, watermelons, and cantaloupes, are some of the most popular vegetables planted in the garden. Plants in the cucurbit family have similar growth habit and requirements for production. Cucurbits are best identified by their prostrate, vining growth; large, lobed leaves; and bright, yellow flowers.

Planting

How to Grow Tomatoes

I think my wife likes to torture me. Multiple times a year she buys grocery store tomatoes. You might know where I’m headed with this. These tomatoes are very often bland versions of their flavorful kin. Slicing into the tomato I am usually met with a solid white center. To turn up the flavor I pile the bacon on top of my tomato slice during the assembly of the traditional bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich.

three lettuce varieties

Did you hear about the tomato and lettuce? Well, the lettuce was a-head and the tomato was trying to ketchup.

I haven’t seen any lettuce and tomatoes racing lately; however, being a fairly hardy, cool-season crop, lettuce tends to thrive more than tomatoes (a warm-season crop) in temperatures we are currently experiencing, between 60°F to 70°F.

Sweet potato harvest

Very often what grows in a garden are those fruits and vegetables we enjoy eating. Though, sometimes our gardens may exceed our appetites. After growing fifteen kale plants, my family determined, we probably could live off of two. And ten cherry tomato bushes were nine too many. One vegetable, my family does enjoy regularly is sweet potato. Baked, boiled, or fried – sweet potatoes are used more often than potatoes in my home, making it a good candidate for the garden. Let’s examine what it takes to grow sweet potatoes in our Central Illinois climate.

Sprinkler head

Watering. The inescapable task of any garden. No matter what, at some point, you will need to water your plants. That’s just the fact of the matter here in Illinois. We do get lots of rain, but then there are times we go through some very hot, and dry weather.

Can Watering Wait?

Cold frame with vegetables growing inside in the fall.

Are you waiting on the edge of your seat, ready for that frost-free date to pass so you can safely plant your tomatoes in the garden? If you know any vegetable farmers, they already have tomatoes in the ground. But you can’t fit a high tunnel in your backyard. Maybe the front yard? Nah, the neighbors won’t like that one bit. There are strategies to get you out in the garden sooner by extending the season. Let’s cover some early- and late-season strategies for the home gardener which don’t involve 100-foot long high tunnels.

What is Season Extension?

basil seedlings in seedling flat

Much like humans after being cooped up all winter, plants require acclimation to the outdoors prior to being transplanted outside; for plants this is termed hardening off. Hardening off is the process of slowly introducing plants to outdoor conditions after being started indoors.

Weed free tomatoes

Weeds are everywhere. If we could add one more thing to life’s certainties I would argue “weeds” should be added to the list. Our soil is full of seeds, lying in a dormant state waiting for the right conditions to germinate. Each time we disturb our soils through tilling, planting, raking, even pulling existing weeds, we provide the opportunity for new weed seeds to sprout in those locations. So if you are just starting a garden, or are a green thumb backyard grower – what can you do to help manage the weeds that will undoubtedly pop up in your tomatoes and salad greens?

basket with tomatoes, peppers and summer squash

Once the weather starts to warm up, we can start thinking about planting our warms season plants outdoors. Warm season plants can further be broken down by their frost tolerance to tender and very tender plants. Tender plants are injured or may be killed by a light frost but can withstand cool weather, while the very tender, in addition to being damaged or killed by frost, may be injured by cool weather.

Kale

For many, gardening takes place in the summer. However, for me, and a growing number of gardeners, we are growing in the garden nearly all year long!

Lighting

Perhaps my least favorite part of winter is waking up to darkness in the morning. Even worse while being at home during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, it has been cloudy for nearly a week! This morning, as I led my half-asleep six-year-old down the steps into the living room, we were greeted with streams of light coming through the windows. After the short days of winter and several days of cloudy, wet weather, the sun was a welcome sight. I'm not the only one welcoming the longer days and more sunlight; plants also need adequate light.

Scarlet runner beans growing on a fence

When we think of the typical home landscape, our garden areas are usually separated by the type of plant being grown. We have a separate bed for flowers and ornamental plants, one for vegetables and one for herbs. Often the vegetable and herb gardens are tucked away in the backyard and out of view from the neighbors. However, in recent years there has been an increasing trend to incorporate edible food crops into landscapes or edible landscaping.

pictures of the 2020 AAS Winners Cucumber Green Light F1, Pumpkin Blue Prince F1, Tomato Apple Yellow F1, Tomato Celano F1, Tomato Early Resilience F1 Watermelon Mambo F1, Coleus Main Street Beale Street, Echinacea Sombrero® Baja Burgundy, and Rudbeckia x American Gold Rush

The garden catalogs are coming thick and fast this time of year. There may be no better way to beat the winter blues than to thumb through these catalogs and start planning this year’s garden (it will be time to start seeds before you know it). While making plans for this year’s garden, take some time to review your notes from last year. What varieties and cultivars did you grow last year? What produced well, what didn’t? What tasted good, what didn’t?

picture of sweet potatoes in a bucket and yams in metal bowls

Pass the sweet potatoes. Or is it pass the yams? We often use these names interchangeably, but in reality, they are two very different plants. So, what is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?

Parsnips

I love parsnips. But have you ever bought parsnips at a grocery store? Let me share my experience. At the checkout lane, the cashier always has a befuddled look when parsnips are up for scanning. A look that I know all too well.

“Oh, those are parsnips,” I tell the cashier.

Satisfied the cashier enters the code and scans the root vegetable, usually adding, “Hmm, looks like white carrots.”

Garlic cloves

Want to get a head start on planting your vegetable garden for next year? Then garlic is the plant for you! Garlic (Allium sativum) has been grown for thousands of years as both food and for medicinal purposes. It has a long growing season, which may seem daunting. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to grow and typically has relatively few pest problems.

broccoli plants in a mulched garden

Planting a vegetable garden doesn’t just have to occur in the spring. Many of the vegetables that we grow in the spring can be also planted in late summer or early fall.

By the time summer rolls around many of our cool season plants that were planted in the spring are past their prime. They become tough and bitter and will often bolt (flower). By planting these cool season crops again you can extend your gardening season and have fresh produce throughout the fall.

Blossom end rot is the scourge of many tomato growers. In addition to tomatoes, it can also be found in peppers, eggplant as well as squash and watermelons. When it comes to tomatoes, it is most commonly seen on larger fruited varieties, with long-fruited varieties (Roma type) being more susceptible than round varieties. Blossom end rot starts as a light tan water-soaked lesion (spot) at the end of the fruit where the blossom was (opposite end from the stem). The lesion will continue to grow and eventually turn black and leathery.

tomato plant

Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown vegetables in home gardens. While tomatoes are relatively easy to grow there are a few diseases you should keep your eye out for. Two of the most common diseases people encounter are early blight and Septoria leaf spot. Both of these diseases are caused by fungi. Consistently wet conditions are required for both of these diseases to develop, which we've had plenty of.

squash bugs

If you've ever grown squash or pumpkins (or other cucurbits, like cucumbers) then you've likely encountered squash bugs. Squash bug (Asasa tristis) adults are brownish-black and about 5/8 of an inch long. The adults will overwinter in protected areas (under plant debris, around buildings, etc.) and emerge in the spring. When they emerge they will seek out cucurbit plants to feed on as well as mate. Females will lay clusters of about 20 bronze colored eggs on the undersides of leaves, commonly where two veins meet to form a V, or on stems.