I'm an award-winning garden writer, speaker and consultant in Chicago, where I was on staff at the Chicago Tribune for more than 20 years. Raised on the South Side by an organic gardener and environmentalist, I now garden in a leafy suburb on the edge of Chicago--in the deep shade on the north side of a four-story building, in the sunny strip by the garbage cans, in pots on the third-floor porch and on the windowsills in the winter.

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The Edible Garden: What To Do When
by Beth Botts    


Use this timeline to stay on track in the vegetable garden. But be prepared to make adjustments depending on the weather.



Plan the garden. Rotate positions of crops. Don’t take on too much, but allow enough to donate produce to a food pantry. Browse catalogs. Order seeds. Start a garden notebook or journal to keep track of what happens when, what works and what doesn’t. Do germination test on saved seed.


Use seed packet information to plan out when you must sow each variety. Set up grow lights to start seeds. Plan for fertilizing and watering; if possible, lay soaker hoses in the garden before planting. Prune grapevines back by 75 percent and make sure their support is sturdy.


After soil thaws, dig compost or other organic matter into beds, but never dig when soil is wet. Early in the month, start seeds indoors for broccoli, cabbage, collards, cauliflower and herbs. In mid- to late March, start seeds indoors for eggplants and peppers. In late March, sow some seeds directly outdoors: leaf lettuce, mesclun, spinach, kohlrabi and turnips. Plant rhubarb or asparagus—both perennials—where they can grow for years. Surround garden with well-secured rabbit fencing.


Early in the month, sow seeds indoors for tomatoes and melons. In mid- or late April, direct-sow some seed outdoors: peas, radishes, carrots, chard, beets, lettuce, mustard greens, kale, turnips, scallions and sweet corn. Sow more at weekly intervals for a longer harvest. Direct-sow seeds for parsley, chives, dill, fennel, oregano, mint and tarragon. Plant onion sets and seed potatoes. Harden off seedlings of broccoli, cabbage, collards, and cauliflower before planting outdoors. If you started seeds of tomatoes and other vegetables in small cells, transplant to larger pots under lights. Keep floating row cover handy to protect garden crops in case of cold snaps.


Be wary of late frosts and don’t rush tender plants into cold garden soil. Early in the month, direct-sow bush and pole beans. In late May or early June, when soil is thoroughly warm and nights are above 55 F, set out transplants of eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. Install stakes or cages at planting. Apply slow-release fertilizer or compost tea. Protect transplants of peppers, squash, melons and cucumbers from cutworms with collars cut from paper-towel rolls. Keep soil moist but not wet, aiming for 1 inch of water a week from rain or hose. Spread mulch to hold in water, deter weeds and insulate soil, but keep it clear of plant stems. Weed thoroughly and frequently to prevent overwhelming weed crops later.


Early in the month, direct sow cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins and okra. Harvest leaf lettuce and other greens by cutting off largest leaves individually; plants will keep producing for several weeks. Pull scallions as needed. Harvest peas and sow another crop in their place. Harvest cabbage and broccoli when just mature but not tough. Stake and prune tomatoes as needed. Keep weeding.


Keep soil evenly moist to prevent blossom-end rot and cracking in tomatoes and squash. Water in the morning so foliage can dry. Start picking tomatoes, corn and other crops as they ripen. Keep up with harvest to encourage plants to produce more. Watch out for aphids, squash vine borers and cabbage worms. Continue to patrol for weeds. Start seeds indoors for fall crops of cabbage, collards, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. By mid-July, direct-sow seed for fall crops of green beans, snow peas and snap peas, beets, chard, kale and carrots. After raspberry harvest, prune largest canes to the ground, leaving a handful of canes for next year.


Check soil moisture frequently in hot weather and water as needed. Harvest madly. Compost spent plants, but put any diseased or infested plants in landscape waste bags for pickup. Keep records of harvest dates and which varieties you liked or disliked. By mid-August, direct-sow seed for fall crops of spinach, lettuce and other greens, turnips, radishes and overwintering onions. Set out seedlings of fall crops started indoors. Save seeds from open-pollinated tomatoes and other crops; once dry and clean, label seeds and store in freezer.


If fall rains fail to come, keep watering. Weed thoroughly to prevent perennial weeds from overwintering. Harvest herbs to dry or freeze except parsley, sage and chives, which often survive until Thanksgiving. Harvest fall vegetable crops as they mature. In late September or early October, plant garlic and shallots for next year.


Keep floating row cover handy to protect against early frosts. Harvest pumpkins and potatoes, green beans and peas before any frost. Other cool-weather crops can survive some frost, especially under row covers. Leave root crops such as radishes, carrots, beets, turnips and parsnips in the ground as long as it is not frozen; mulch heavily to delay freezing. Harvest Brussels sprouts after frost makes them extra-sweet. Pick all tomatoes; wrap unblemished green tomatoes in newspaper and store them in a dry place to ripen.


Clean up garden. Cut back asparagus and rhubarb. Collect fallen leaves for mulch and compost. Get a soil test. Spread cow or horse manure in garden beds to break down over winter; dig it in come spring.


Add a load of compost or a seed catalog gift certificate to your holiday wish list. Start dreaming.




A version of this article appeared in print in Chicagoland Gardening Volume XVII Issue I. Photos by Gerald Losik.


Posted: 02/29/12   RSS | Print


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