For many gardeners around the state, getting started has meant rethinking expected planting times outdoors. Knowing our typical dates for sowing seed directly into the garden and setting out vegetable transplants have been or will be different this season has created some challenges.
If you are a family gardener who loves starting seeds indoors to be transplanted into the garden, start seeds later so the transplants will not be leggy. How much later depends on the vegetable and how many weeks it will take to reach a good transplant size. That information is on the seed packet. Some seed can take four weeks or more.
There also are differences in how many growing days we get; the very northern part of Illinois can be as few as 140 days while the very southern part of Illinois generally could be as high as 200 days for growing. This translates into how many vegetable gardens we actually get to plant. Southern Illinois can plant three complete gardens including successive plantings, while northern Illinois has to overlap by planting the summer crops before the early spring crops have finished and get the fall crops in by mid to late summer.
Three tricks for the northern gardeners that help get the most of the garden is sowing short-season and long-season crops in the same row. An easy example is radish and carrots together. Radishes are a short crop marking the slow to germinate carrots (This is a space saver for any smaller garden regardless of where in the state you live).
Another is making sure you set out the tomato and peppers transplants at different times. Tomatoes are just a little tougher than peppers with about a two-week difference.
The third trick of the trade is one is not limited to northern Illinois, and can be used statewide. Sow successive plantings. Snap beans come to mind. Sow several rows using a 10- to 14-day interval to give you plenty of beans for fresh table use without overwhelming you over a several week period. Once the first row has slowed production, you have a space in the garden to sow or transplant another crop.
To get the most sunlight into the whole garden, gardeners should also plan for those vegetables that get some height, keeping in mind the sun/shade pattern from early morning to late in the day. Lastly, gardeners absolutely do their best to get their garden in in a timely manner, yet Mother Nature can make a mess of those best of intentions.
Richard Hentschel is a University of Illinois Extension educator.