Vegetable Growing Guide

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So you want to start a vegetable garden, but you aren’t sure what to plant or when to plant it…. Don’t fret – we’ve got you covered!

While it does take time and effort to become a master gardener, getting a garden started is not terribly difficult. You don’t need to have a large outdoor area to grow your own vegetables. In fact, you can grow herbs, salad greens and other small plants on a window sill or in a tiny, concrete city backyard.

What Should I Grow?

The type of vegetables you grow depends on the types of vegetables you and your family eat and on much space you have. If you eat a lot of salads, grow a mixture of salad greens, such as arugula, romaine lettuce and spinach. Zucchini, tomatoes and hot or sweet peppers are also good vegetables for beginning gardeners. Look for plants that are bred to resist disease. Keep in mind that you most likely cannot save the seeds from such plants, according to the University of Illinois Extension.

When Should I Plant?

Different vegetables need to be planted at different times. Some vegetables are quick growers and are ready for you to eat them within a month, while others take months to mature. You can plant cold-hardy vegetables, such as spinach and peas, about a month before the last frost date. If you grow from seed, you may start certain plants, such as peppers or tomatoes, indoors a month or two before the last frost date, then move the plants outdoors a few weeks after the final frost.

Where Will the Plants Flourish?

The tags of the seedlings should specify whether your vegetables want full sun or partial shade. If you grow from seeds, it should be listed on the seed packet. Watch your gardening area before planting to gauge how much sun it gets. Usually, south- or east-facing yards or windowsills get a great deal of sun, but the sun can be blocked by a large tree, building or fence. You should also take how much wind the area gets under consideration. A very windy area can damage your vegetables plants.

How Much Space?

Certain vegetables, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and winter squash, need a great deal of space to grow and generally do not produce high yields in containers. Other vegetables, such as arugula and spinach, do not need much space at all and will grow happily in a small, 6-inch deep pot. If you only have a small outdoor space or a windowsill, look for dwarf varieties, such as Tom Thumb peas, Chinese ornamental hot peppers or Toy Boy tomatoes.

What Soil Should I Use?

Good soil is one key to a healthy garden. If you are growing your garden in the ground, we recommend you have your soiled tested — before you get started — to make sure it has all the needed nutrients. You should also test the soil for any unwelcome elements, such as lead. If you grow in containers, do not use garden soil. Use a potting mix or else the soil may harden in the pots, choking the plants.

Keep in mind- even if you don’t get perfect vegetables from your garden the first time around, it’s a fun project. Get the kids involved and make it a family activity. They’ll love the chance to get a little dirty. Teach them responsibility by having them water the veggies!

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