by Marnie Record, workforce specialist, Value Added Local Foods Program, Lincoln Land Community College
A flower grows in a crack of cement, last year’s composted pumpkin sprouts new vines, and a tomato plant overtaken by weeds still produces ripe fruit, demonstrating that plants will grow and flourish under the most haphazard conditions. Getting the most of out of a garden space, however, requires careful preparation.
This year I’m committed to planning my garden. During the past few years of disorganization I’ve amassed a compelling case to do so. There was the time that a row of carrot fronds started poking through the soil where spinach had already claimed space. Then there was the summer I spent weeding a mostly empty garden bed that I never seemed to find the time to plant. And I once had a family member greet me by saying “no more kale” instead of “hello.” That was the spring where there seemed to be no end in sight for the quantity of kale produced by only a few plants.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Laying the groundwork now will prevent time and money loss as the season progresses, and produce the desired garden fruitfulness. Drawing from my mistakes and experiences, here are five steps to plan for your best garden ever:
- Location, location, location. Start with a place that offers full sun for at least eight hours per day, a nearby water source and healthy soil. If you want to know about the quality of your soil, a basic soil test runs about $10-20 and the University of Illinois Extension lists Soil Testing Labs on its website. Consider planting near the home or workplace for greater convenience.
- Crop timing. We can grow three seasons of crops outdoors in Illinois – spring, summer and fall. Efficiently utilizing the same space, you can grow a cool crop like lettuce in the spring, a warm crop like green beans in the summer, and another cool crop like spinach in the fall. Knowing your first and last frost dates will guide your planting calendar. Illinois is in the 5, 6 and 7 USDA plant hardiness zones. You can check the USDA website to identify your location’s zone number. The time to plant seeds and transplants is different for each vegetable plant. Table 1, modified from a chart created by James Schmidt of the University of Illinois Extension, shows recommended planting dates for many vegetables that can be grown in central Illinois.
- Crop selection. Choose vegetables that you are most likely to eat. You can also grow crops that are more expensive to buy in the grocery store to cut down on grocery bills, or grow crops that are easier to produce such as radishes and green beans. Include flowers. Not only do they add beauty to the garden, they attract pollinating insects. Plant multiple varieties of the same crop to see what does best in your particular space. Decide whether you want to start with seeds or plants, but either way, picking the highest quality product will give you a better chance of a successful harvest.
- Planting schedule. The planting schedule contains the type and quantity of each crop you plan to plant, the planting date range and estimated harvest range, the planting location for each crop, specific spacing required between plants and rows, and trellising or support required. Planting all your carrots on the same day means that all the carrots will be ready for harvest on the same day. Plant successions of crops to spread out your harvest and ensure a continuous supply throughout the season.
- Map the garden layout. This can be done with graph paper and a pencil, or there are many online garden planners. Draw the garden area showing the dimensions of the garden. Using your chosen list of vegetables, arrange the crops on the map according to the amounts you wish to grow, dates to be planted and space available. Consider planting perennial crops such as asparagus and strawberries in a location where they will not be in the way of preparations for future plantings. Plant tall crops, such as corn and sunflowers, on the north side of the garden so that they will not shade low-growing crops.
With the hard part completed, wait for the trees to bud and the spring peepers to sing, and put your garden plan into place. Like anything else, plans inevitably change. But with a plan, we are more likely to adjust and move forward. Without a plan, we could easily become completely derailed.
Want to start a garden and don’t have the space? Check out Grow Springfield’s list of community garden options in the Grow Springfield Garden Directory: http://www.growspringfield.org/. Community gardens in central Illinois are typically places where a community of individuals garden their own space in the same area, or sometimes where a group of people cooperatively garden a designated area.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Value-Added Local Food, Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, and Baking/Pastry and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.
|Vegetable||Recommended planting period for central Illinois|
|Asparagus||March 15-April 15|
|Bean, bush, snap||April 25-July 15|
|Beet||April 10-July 15|
|Broccoli||April 10-May 1, July 1-15|
|Cabbage||April 10-July 15|
|Carrot||April 10-July 15|
|Chard||April 10-June 1|
|Corn, sweet||May 1-July 9|
|Cucumber||May 10-June 15|
|Eggplant||May 10-June 15|
|Kale||April 1-30, July 1-August 1|
|Kohlrabi||March 25-April 5, August 1-10|
|Lettuce||March 25-May 15, August 15-September 15|
|Okra||May 10-June 15|
|Onion, from plants or sets||March 25-May 1|
|Parsley||April 10-May 1|
|Peas||April 10-May 1|
|Pepper||May 10-June 1|
|Potato||April 1-15, June 1-10|
|Pumpkin||May 20-June 10|
|Radish, spring||April 5-June 1, August 20-30|
|Rhubarb||March 25-May 15|
|Spinach||March 25-April 15, August 15-30|
|Squash, summer||May 10-June 15|
|Squash, winter||May 20-June 1|
|Sweet potato||May 10-June 1|
|Tomato||May 10-June 1|
|Turnips||March 25-April 15, August 1-15|
|Watermelons||May 10-June 1|
Source: James C. Schmidt, University of Illinois Extension