green, red, and white tomatoes in harvest bins

When the garden harvest has matured, the work has not stopped. In North Normal, a harvest of potatoes and onions is ending but the storage preparation has just begun. If your home harvest is happening now, don’t let poor handling rot the product of your hard-earned gardening season. Follow these simple steps to prepare your vegetables for short and long-term storage.  

3 large vegetable leaves

Summer is in full swing and your gardens are planted, but there is still one bare spot in the shade. In a vegetable garden, shade is a predicament.  Have no fear – food will grow here! Plant some leafy greens and lettuces in these spots and feast on many summer salads.

Red tomatoes in a black bin

When home gardens are bursting with an overabundance of fresh produce, growers start looking for ways to share their bounty. Backyard gardeners can help feed their community by donating fruits and vegetables to local food pantries.

Growers planning on donating to food distribution centers can take steps, even before they plant, to ensure they are providing safe, useable produce.

Tomato plant with yellow flowers

In late May and early June, folks worry it is too late to plant warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers. Plant now, the timing is perfect for rapid root establishment and healthy plant growth.

Two shovels laying in dirt

Your ambition to start your summer vegetable garden is stunting your tomato and pepper plants.

This Sunday, let Mom distract you from the gardening itch.

White onions with green tops growing in a raised bed.

Do you grow peppers and tomatoes every year? Are you ready to try something different (or maybe in addition to!) the same-old, same-old? Then you should try growing onions this gardening season. With just 30 square feet of planting area, you could grow the bulk of the onions you cook with this year.  

A young girl sits in grass with a pile of harvested vegetables

Cultivating a love and knowledge of gardening in youth can be a rewarding experience for all. A garden offers a place to learn, play, and grow through hands-on experience in the freedom of their own backyard. Kids LOVE to dig in the soil and get their hands & feet (or even head to toes!) dirty. Many of the gardeners today share memories of gardening at a young age with a parent or grandparent. 

A pile of freshly harvest red potatoes on soil

It’s almost gardening time! My family’s garden starts on April 1 with the planting of potatoes and onions. If you’ve never grown potatoes in your garden, try something different this year. Here are some helpful steps to achieve a successful crop of potatoes this year. 

It’s that time of year again… time to plant your tomatoes and peppers and get your summer garden going! Most gardeners have grown these before, but with a few tips and tricks, you can decrease disease prevalence, increase plant health and get a better harvest. One tip: prune them both!

It is recommended to prune your tomato and pepper plants at planting and during establishment, and depending on variety, throughout the harvest season as well. Of course, pruning practices differ between the two crops and within crop variety, so each are addressed here in turn.

Oats, Outi Mähönen, via Unsplash

Do you struggle with weed control in the spring before planting your summer garden? Does your garden lose topsoil after a heavy rain due to slope? Would you like to improve soil structure and add organic matter to your garden?

Backyard cover cropping is for you!

beet greens and red lettuce. Photo by Kelly Allsup

Every gardener should be thinking about growing their own greens in the spring. They are easy to grow, have large harvests, and taste best when grown in slightly cooler weather. The plants should be grown in full sun beds or containers.  

seedling under plastic lid. creative commons.

Originally published by Kelly Allsup on February 19, 2021.

Who would have known seeds would be the latest craze in 2021? Many seed companies are finding it hard to keep up with the demand and are out of stock or delayed in delivery. If you haven’t ordered your seeds, don’t fret, some are still available and your garden centers will not let you down on offering the average fare.

Seedlings growing in paper eggshell cartons

Originally published by Kelly Allsup, February 2, 2021.

Believe it or not, it's never too early to start making plans for this year's garden. Knowing when to plant for your area and getting your plants started right will help you maximize the growing season.

growing crops in bags

Patio containers will grow food and boast hues of silver and white, and I think we may even see gardeners experimenting with growing sweet potato vine towers.

garlic harvest. photo by Bill Davison.

Garlic is a garden favorite because it is so commonly used in our culinary world. Like many crops, fresh garlic grown in the home garden surpasses anything bought at the grocery store. It is a long season crop, planted in the fall and harvested in the summer. A cold period is required for garlic to produce bulbs.

full season french intensive garden

Connie Kostelc has been a Master Gardener volunteer for University of Illinois Extension in Livingston County for the last 22 years. When gardening for edible plants, Connie uses the French intensive raised bed method.

tomado demonstrating blossom end rot

1. Adding eggshells when planting tomatoes adds calcium and prevents blossom end rot. Fiction.

Eggshells add very little immediate calcium to the plant.

basil and pepper sharing a five gallon bucket

For the last two years, I have been gardening in five-gallon buckets. A team of Extension colleagues from the Horticulture and Nutrition programs are teaching area residents who do not have access to garden space how to grow and their own herbs and veggies. The ‘Garden in a Bucket’ outreach has already reached hundreds of people in McLean, Livingston, and Woodford counties.

kohlrabi fall season garden delight

In the heat of summer’s end, vegetable gardeners are often drained by the weeding and watering routine, and ready to put the garden to bed.

But fall provides a more comfortable environment and some of the most productive gardening of the year when vegetables are planted in late summer and mature in the cool temperatures of fall. Fall vegetables require less watering, and sustain less insect and weed pressure.

sweet potato held in black containers

This week’s gardening task includes planting sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes may be a long crop (4-5 months) but with a gardener’s care, one can have poundage of storable food.

Sweet potatoes, a tropical plant, usually need four to five months of warm day and night temperatures for optimal growth. Sweet potatoes are planted in late spring when weather warms. Sweet potato slips (shoots of mature potato) are planted in loose soil.

tomato trellised on straw bale garden

Tomato plants are warm-season vegetables that should be planted after the danger of frost. For our area that means early to mid-May. Hopefully no one planted theirs before last weekend’s cold snap! Here are some steps to remember when growing your newly planted crop.

1. The first question you should ask is “Are these determinate or indeterminate plants?” Each has different requirements.

LEGO art in the garden. Photo by Kelly Allsup.

Looking back, we may realize this was the year we had a surge in cultivating new gardeners and nature enthusiasts.

While most of my readers already garden and are looking for new tips and interesting information, we likely have brand new gardeners who can do without technical jargon and nuanced garden issues! Back to the basics!

Below are a few tips to be a successful new gardener.

kohlrabi at Garden of Giving

In the last article, we talked about starting seeds indoor with limited resources. A lot of seed can be started outdoors during the month of April.

Carrots can be planted by seed starting April 10. Carrot seed is so small that inevitably you must thin your seedlings, which can be quite a tedious task. My advice is to mix the seed with soil or sand to spread the seed more evenly.  When you do thin or clip tops with a pair of scissors, use the seedlings in a fresh pesto or soup. Be patient as carrot seeds can be slow to germinate, but water daily.

base of celery stalk sitting in water

Whether you have a young person at home for school closures, or are just young at heart yourself, experimenting with kitchen scraps can turn into a bountiful garden to enjoy again. Skip the compost bucket or garbage can, and re-grow your leftover veggies and fruits for beautiful houseplants and garden additions.

Kitchen scrap gardening reinforces the concepts of recycling and reusing, and learning plant parts.

The following fruits and vegetables are examples of plants that can be grown again and again:

beet greens and lettuce greens

Free time on your hands? Avoiding social spaces, but need some time outside?

First, remember that just because you're outside, the virus can still spread. If you're working with more than one person:

close up of cabbage

‘Tis the season for the garden seed catalogues. If you are like me, you are perusing through these catalogues that advertise 15 varieties of watermelon, 50 varieties of peppers, and even more tomato varieties to choose from. They all look amazing and are all claiming “vigorous!” “great flavor!” and “disease resistance!” So which one do you choose?

When do I plant? Should I plant seeds or transplants? What about seed spacing? Find what works best for backyard vegetable growers in Illinois!
male asparagus ferns on left, female asparagus ferns with seed on the right

Originally published by Kelly Allsup on February 11, 2020.

Asparagus goes great with hollandaise sauce, has a nutty flavor when eaten raw (wash it first, and cut off the lower third), and is always a welcome treat at a restaurant. With a little patience and some planning, you can grow loads of asparagus each spring.

Growing Requirements

Full sun is required.

Poor drainage in your asparagus patch will promote disease issues in the roots.