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Learning to Grow: Planning a vegetable garden in time for spring

Published: Friday, April 12, 2013 4:10 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Provided photo)
Lettuce can be interplanted with onions in a garden bed.

For me, spring is like New Year’s Eve – a time to begin planning a new vegetable garden and making all kinds of resolutions – I will stay ahead of the weeds, I won’t plant more than I can manage, I won’t buy plants as soon as the big box stores put them on sale, and I won’t buy more than one cherry tomato plant ... and just like most new year’s resolutions, these promises will be broken in the first months.

One way to avoid some of these pitfalls is to plan your vegetable garden. For the first time in my nearly 10 years of vegetable gardening, a friend and I are sharing a community garden plot located part way between each of our homes. I’ve already got the graph paper out and have begun laying out our 20-by-30 area. By putting our garden ideas down on paper and having a plan, hopefully we will do better at managing our garden resolutions.

According to a state climatologist, over the last 30 years the frost-free date in our area is about April 27. That means there is a 50/50 chance that we will have a frost after that date.  The earliest day of last frost over the last 30 years is April 5 and the latest frost has been May 27 – so you can see that the date varies greatly. 

When the community garden opens in mid-April, the first items planted will be very hardy vegetables – potatoes and onions. Ready also are broccoli and cabbage from transplants, and spinach, peas, and lettuce from seed. Very hardy vegetables are typically planted four to six weeks prior to the frost-free date. Next, the frost tolerant vegetables – cauliflower transplants and carrots, parsnips, beets, and radishes from seed. Frost tolerant vegetables can be planted two to three weeks before the frost-free date. Tender vegetables that can be planted on or just after the frost-free date are beans and summer squash from seeds and tomatoes from transplants.

Finally, the warm loving vegetables are planted two to three weeks after the frost-free date. These include watermelon, cukes, peppers, eggplant, and sweet potatoes.

Since the garden is not directly out our back doors, we plan on planting “lower maintenance” vegetables – ones that don’t require daily harvest such as lettuce, beans, cucumbers, and the single cherry tomato plant. Those vegetables I will save for my home garden for easy harvesting. 

One more factor taken into consideration when laying out the garden design was the amount of produce that will be generated. My friend and I will never be able to consume all that we grow so we are planning on donating fresh produce to the local food pantry.   

What is your garden resolution this year?

• Vicki Hagstotz is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166.

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