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Home & Garden

Learning to Grow in St. Charles: Easy-to-grow vegetables promise tasty payoff

Lettuces are sweetest in spring.
Lettuces are sweetest in spring.

Even the people who don't think they are vegetable gardeners plant a tomato or two in the spring, right?

Generally easy to grow, and with a payoff – juicy tomatoes straight from the vine, ripened in the summer sun – that I wouldn't trade for anything, they will always have a sunny spot in my backyard. But once you have mastered this mainstay of the veggie patch, what's next? Branching out can feel a little overwhelming. If you are looking to expand your repertoire, consider trying your hand at some of these other easy-to-grow crops.

Lettuces and other salad greens like arugula and spinach are easy to grow from seeds, and fun to harvest – just snip leaves off plants as needed, rinse, and toss into your salad bowl.

For the best flavor, early spring, when temperatures are still in the 50s to 60s, is the best time to grow these cool weather lovers. By the time the season heats up, plants shift to flower and seed production, and leaves can taste bitter. You don't need much space to grow greens, in fact many of them do quite well in containers and raised beds. Sun, or even part shade, is best, and plants should be watered on a consistent basis to prevent their shallow roots from drying out.

Cucumber is another easy-to-grow veggie that does well sown directly into the garden or planted in containers (look for the bush, not the vine, type) as soon as the soil is warm. They are climbers, so you'll want to stake plants as they grow, and choose a site that receives full sun. Prior to planting, incorporate compost or other organic matter into the soil, and keep them well-watered throughout the growing season. Once established, cucumber don't require much attention.

Root vegetables like carrots, radishes, and turnips are a fun way to get kids involved in the garden and familiarize your family with the different ways of growing and harvesting produce. Most root type veggies are hardy and can be planted in the garden in early spring and left to their own devices until harvest time. (Win!) Deep, well-drained soil, or a raised bed, is ideal for growing these guys (carrots, in particular), and a location in full sun is best. And if you are looking for a quick veggie fix, radishes mature in only about 20 days. A perfect choice for getting kids, or impatient grown-ups, excited about the garden.

• Sarah Marcheschi is a University of Illinois Extension Kane County master gardener. Email the extension office at uiemg-kane@illinois.edu for more information.

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