Various vegetable in a raised bed

Chicago Home and Lifestyles – So, you want to start a garden.

Various vegetable in a raised bed

The first thing you need to do is look at the space that you have. Do you just have a patio? Then maybe you need to do container gardening. You can have a successful garden even on a small deck if you live in a condo. Even if you do have a lot of room in your backyard for a regular garden, it’s a good idea to make a raised bed. A raised bed will keep the soil soft and not packed down from people walking on it. Raised beds are also good for drainage and will stop any pooling of water. 

The soil you use for your garden will definitely make the difference between success and failure. The soil you have may be good, but it’s usually not as great as you think. I live in Chicago and the soil we have here is very clay-like, meaning it’s very thick and hard and it’s not really good for drainage or most plants. You can get tests at Home Depot and places like that, but it’s probably just as easy and more accurate to send out the soil to a lab for an analysis. This is usually relatively inexpensive, around $20 or so. Google soil tests in my area and you should be able to find somewhere to send it. But, if you are container gardening, the best way is to use fresh soil that comes in bags from your garden center. Miracle-gro has an all-purpose garden soil that I’ve been using for years, and it works very well and actually contains fertilizer. This also works well with raised beds, and if you find your soil is decent you can augment with the bagged soil by mixing them together. It works well for me!

Next thing we need to think about is: what are we going to grow? Check out how much sun your area gets each day. Many garden vegetables need a lot of sun, specifically at least six hours a day of direct sun. A good rule of thumb you can use: if you pick fruit off the plant it tends to need more sun. So, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers all need more sun. But don’t think that you can’t plant tomatoes just because your sun cover is less than 4 hours a day. Think about the size here also. Yes, of course beef steak tomatoes are huge and need a lot of sun, but there are other versions, cherry tomatoes and plum tomatoes that are much smaller and don’t need quite as much sun. Fun fact, most greens don’t need much sun, they actually do better without direct sunlight. Things like leaf lettuce, kale, and other greens.

Planting from seed is more difficult than getting transplants. A few things that do work well from seed are different lettuces, radishes, and carrots. But everything else I would consider getting transplants, you will definitely have better luck. So in a month or so head out to your local garden center and see what they have. All of the plants in your local garden center will be plants that will be successful in your area. They are all grown now to be resistant to disease and that’s a good thing. So, let’s try to get out and grow a few things!

Kathleen Weaver-Zech and Dean’s Team Chicago