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.

Row cover protecting some lettuce

It feels like spring has sprung and boy it sprang hard. Despite the dizzy use of the different forms of “spring”, Illinoisans can relate. Several days above sixty and even a few above seventy degrees in early March has pushed growth in many early perennial plants. Buds on trees and shrubs are swelling ready to pop at a moment’s notice. Many of our cool-season vegetables have also put on significant growth. And yet, by the time this article is printed, we will likely be back to more seasonable spring weather. Chilly, rainy, and mud…everywhere.

pink seed cards made for Valentine's Day

There are many different stories as to how we came to celebrate St. Valentine. Some stories say Valentine was a priest that secretly wed young couples. Others say he helped Christians escape prisons before being imprisoned himself. Before being put to death, he wrote a love letter and signed it “From your Valentine,” which is still used to this day.

worms feeding on food waste creating compost

Being two weeks into the new year, I hope those of you with new goals of healthier eating are still going strong. If things didn’t work out the way you had planned, no worries; vermicomposting can help you get rid of all those fruits and vegetables that have gone bad and provide a nutrient rich material that can be added to our plants. Vermicomposting is the process of using various species of worms to decompose organic waste such as food scraps. It is also a great option for winter composting when our outside pile has become dormant.

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.

Sweet corn

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.

green, yellow, and red habanero peppers

Peppers are a popular plant in the home garden. They come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and heat. From the bright colors of sweet bell peppers to the face-melting heat of the Carolina Reaper, there is a pepper for any taste. In addition to their culinary uses, peppers can also make great additions to ornamental beds due to their bright colors.

squash bug nymphs feeding on pumpkin vines

Cucumbers, melons, squash, and pumpkins are collectively known as cucurbits. Because these crops are related, they are afflicted with many of the same pests and diseases. Here are some of the most commonly encountered pests and diseases in cucurbits.

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

a green tobacco hornworm on a tomato stem

Tomatoes are the most commonly grown plant in the home vegetable garden. Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow, and there is a wide variety of different types. If you’re growing tomatoes, you’ll more than likely encounter a few pests and diseases along the way. So, let’s take a moment and talk about some common issues we encounter when growing tomatoes.

different types, sizes, and colors of tomatoes

‘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.

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.

orange, white, purple, red, and orange circles arranged in a circle. Carrots still have leaves attached.

Rabbits love them (at least in cartoons), and so do we. Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables in the United States. On average, Americans eat around 8 pounds of fresh carrots a person (with an additional 1.4 pounds of frozen carrots). Not only are carrots a great snack, they’re also relatively easy to grow in the home garden.

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?

corn seedlings with fertilizer

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.

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?

Spade in garden soil

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.

lettuce and potatoes in an in-ground garden, vegetables in a raised bed, and herbs in pots

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)

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.

Vegetable garden sketch

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!

Site Selection

blazing star seedlings under grow lights

Spring is finally here! March 19, 2020 is the earliest first day of spring it's been in 124 years. Many of us are finding ourselves spending more time at home and looking forward to gardening, in many cases for the first time. In the coming weeks, the Good Growing team - Chris, Katie, and I - will be doing several articles on starting a garden.

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.