Perhaps my least favorite part of winter is waking up to darkness in the morning. 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.
A Light Exists in Spring by Emily Dickinson
Starting a Garden: Begin with a Plan
The key to a successful and productive garden is a plan; it saves time and makes the garden easier to care for. By starting with a plan, you will be ready to get to work once planting time is here. So let’s get started!
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.
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!
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.
When it comes to planning and creating a garden, you need to determine how you’re going to grow your plants. There are a variety of ways in which this can be done, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The amount of space, as well as your gardening goals, will play a large role in the type of garden you choose.
In-Ground Bed (Traditional)
How well do you know your garden soil? Does it drain well or stay wet for a couple of days after a significant rain? What is the pH? Does it have sufficient nutrients available for your vegetables to use to grow? We often overlook the importance of soil management when it comes to building our gardens; however, soil is a foundational medium when it comes to plant growth. Soil keeps plant roots anchored and provides plants with essential nutrients, water, and air.
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.
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?
Have you ever tried growing squash, and had the plants completely take over your garden? How about growing tomatoes without a cage? Many of our most popular garden crops such as peas, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and melons grow as vines. They can take up a considerable amount of space in the garden. Providing support to these plants in the form of cages, stakes, and trellises can make growing them easier.
There are a variety of benefits to providing your plants with support.
As the saying goes, the only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes. If you’re a gardener, you can also include pests to the list of life’s guarantees. Now that it's started to warm up enough to get out and plant the garden, it also means it’s warm enough for weeds, insects, and diseases to become active too. So, get outside and start scouting your gardens.
Much like humans, plants require certain nutrients to live and grow. There are 18 essential nutrients that plants require to grow and survive. Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen are needed in the greatest quantity and are obtained from air and water. The next 6 nutrients are considered macronutrients; 3 primary macronutrients include Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium and 3 secondary macronutrients include Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur.
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?
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.
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 does tend to thrive more than tomatoes (warm season crop) in temperatures we are currently experiencing, between 60 to 70F.
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.
‘To-MAY-to’, “to-MAH-to’, they’re all the same, right? Well, according to Taste of Home magazine, there is a such this thing as using the right tomato for different recipes. Who knew? I guess this calls for some investigation into the different types of tomatoes.
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.
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.
Have you been there? A new recipe calls for some fresh basil or dried rosemary. After searching the fridge and spice rack, you realize you do not have what you need to give your meal that kick of flavor that herbs often provide. I have certainly stared down the barrel of an empty bottle of dried oregano. One of my saving graces has been having some herbs growing outside our kitchen window. Herbs are relatively easy to grow, provided you give your plants the right conditions. Let’s examine some common herbs that might get you out of a culinary crisis.
Having 8+ years of experience with growing field corn and a master’s degree in crop science, I thought I knew all there was to planting sweet corn; however, my first time planting it was a flop. I planted the seeds as if I was raising 350 bushel field corn (who doesn’t want lots of sweet corn?) which resulted in lodged sweet corn plants. Come to find out; you don’t plant sweet corn exactly the same as field corn.
Home remedies abound in the horticultural world. Some gardeners swear by their mixtures of a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but Extension does not readily recommend the use of homemade pesticides. Perhaps your anti-Japanese beetle potion warded off the critters last year. But what if you get the amount of ingredients out of balance next time or what is happening in the long-term to your plants, soil, and environment? Salt and vinegar are two common ingredients in many purported weed remedies found on the internet.
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.
Boredom. I hear that’s a thing when living in a pandemic. During pandemics of historical note, Sir Isaac Newton uncovered the marvels of calculus. Before that, it is said Shakespeare wrote some of his best plays while sheltering-in-place.
Was it boredom that inspired such achievements? Perhaps. However, I prefer to argue that Newton was already a genius and Shakespeare’s masterful writing was honed over his lifetime. That at least makes me feel better that, even after months, I still haven’t fixed our dripping bathroom faucet.
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.