We have finally beginning to see some warmer weather here in and around Chicago. That warmer weather brings thoughts of the vegetable garden. We can’t wait to get out in the garden and start working. However, here is one word of caution on cleaning up the yard and garden- wait until temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. Many butterflies, bees, and other pollinators overwinter in dead leaves and hollowed out stems of last year’s plants. If you clean up too early, you will literally throw out beneficial pollinators, so resist till it is warm enough.
So, we can at least plan. If you are a beginner, it is best to start out with just a few vegetables. A couple tomato and pepper plants are a good start. They are easy to grow and are usually resistant to many pests. Beans, cucumbers, and peas are also relatively easy and work well in small gardens as you can train them up a fence or trellis. Plant them in between the tomatoes that need a little more room.
If your soil is good, plant some radishes and carrots. Lettuce is great. It grows well in the early season cooler temperatures and can be harvested early as baby greens. Check out different varieties online now, as garden center plants are not out yet.
Study where you can place your garden space. It should get at least 6 hours of full sun every day. It should drain well. If you need to, check out raised bed gardening. They are easy to construct and will give your vegetables great space and soil to thrive. If you have pets, it is wise to be able to fence off the garden. Doggies don’t understand that young plants do not respond well to trampling. Do have your garden within sight of your house. Out of sight, out of mind as they say. You are more likely to keep up with the garden work if you see it every day. Most places are not graced with perfect soil, so you probably will need to augment. We usually add a few topsoil bags and compost every year, which seems to add enough to regenerate the garden.
So, start planning the summer vegetable garden. You will be rewarded with delicious, healthy vegetables and you will also benefit from the exercise. Studies are being done now showing that dirt contains a natural antidepressant. Mycobacterium vaccae is thought to have the same effect as Prozac. It raises serotonin levels. We old gardeners have known this for years; digging in the dirt makes you happy and content!
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH AND DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO