We’re at the starting line, waiting for Mother Nature to pull the trigger on another season of growing. Gardeners, take your marks.
If your plants didn’t produce like they should have last year or you are planning to garden in a new space this year, get a soil test. A soil test can indicate nutrient deficiencies, the level of acidity, and the amount of organic matter in the soil. Recommendations are made based on the test results. For more information on collecting samples and contact information for area soil-testing facilities, call the Master Gardener Help Desk at 630-584-6166 weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
As anxious as we are to get in the garden, be sure the soil is ready to be worked. Digging and walking on wet soil causes damage to the soil structure that can take years to correct. To find out if the soil is ready, dig a shovel full of soil, take a handful and squeeze it. When you open your hand the ball of soil should crumble easily or fall apart if it’s dropped on the ground. If it does, garden on. If the soil, however, stays in a tight ball, wait several days and try the test again, but stay out of the garden for now.
Choose the vegetables you will grow. Consider family favorites and popular requests for dinner. Make a map. Rows should run north and south so crops don’t shade each other. Observe the sun exposure in your garden. If growing trees are casting more shade than they did when you started gardening there, think about moving the garden. Or grow leafy vegetables like kale, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and even broccoli and cauliflower that will produce in shadier conditions.
Decide which vegetables will be seeded directly in the garden and which will be purchased as transplants. Check the expiration dates on seed packets and make a list to take to the garden center.
If the soil in the garden is ready and weather permits, it’s time to plant cool-season vegetables like beets, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes and spinach.
If the soil in the garden is too wet, plant some in pots. Lettuce is pretty planted with pansies. Many cool-season vegetables grow and mature quickly enough to be harvested in plenty of time to replant containers with summer annuals.
Diana Stoll is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.