Seed selections at The Growing Place are all non-GMO and certified organic. Some seeds to start now include kale, lettuce, spinach, radishes, beets, carrots, Swiss chard, peas and parsley. If you are new to growing your own vegetables, don’t be afraid to try. Peggy Knight, TGP staff and vegetable expert, encourages “Lettuce seeds can be dropped on top of the snow and the seeds will germinate as the snow melts.”
Do you prefer to start with an established, healthy plant to grow instead of starting from seed? Many vegetables can be planted in April, such as asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, onion, peas, and spinach, to name a few. Choose what you plant according to what you like to eat. For tomatoes, peppers, squash, and other warm season veggies it’s best to wait until the soil temperatures have warmed up a bit, usually mid- to late-May. Their growth can be stunted if planted when it’s too cold.
In the early spring, as long as the soil is workable, you can plant. Water needs to slowly move through the soil and the roots require air and water to breathe. Peggy suggests “If the soil is like clumpy coffee grounds, it is workable. If you compact it in your hand and it forms a ball, you cannot plant.”
Vegetable gardening can be beautiful as well as healthy. Try staking sugar snap peas or Malabar spinach on a trellis. Peggy plants leeks and onions in the back of her flower garden. “They give a nice vertical presence behind the flowers,” she says. Think out of the box and plant veggies in a circle with stepping stones. And don’t forget the flowers! Pansy, marigold and nasturtium flowers are edible as well as beautiful and will add color to a vegetable garden.
A kitchen garden for fresh salads, salsas, and herbs can be grown in containers or raised beds. Amend the soil by adding organic material like leaf mulch or garden compost as well as starter organic fertilizer like Espoma® Bio-tone to help provide the nutrients your plants need. You can also apply Espoma® Tomato-tone or Garden-tone once every 2 weeks to feed your plants. Depending on the size of your container, it may need more frequent watering. The larger the container, the less you will have to water.
While cool season veggies can tolerate a light frost, we recommend that you cover your plants when a heavy frost is expected. Peggy said her Brussels sprouts were touched by frost once and turned slightly sweet. The University of Illinois Extension provides an online Planting Chart and Veggie Guide for Illinois: http://extension.illinois.edu/vegguide/step06.cfm.
Here at TGP we grow 140 varieties of vegetables and 120 different herbs in our production greenhouses at the Aurora location. They are all grown in an organic soilless mix using organic fertilizers and beneficial insects!