Ah, it’s finally spring in Chicago! Or at least the ground is thawing out.
What I mean to say is it's time to start thinking about your garden. Yes, even if you've never gardened before.
What should you grow if you are a new gardener? Well, in my opinion, you should try growing what you like to eat! I understand that can feel a bit daunting, so I’ve put together a specific things that you’ll probably be able to grow successfully even if you’ve never grown anything before!
OK, let’s go:
Green Beans - If you like to eat green beans, then you are in luck, because green beans grow like hot cakes in the Midwest. Follow the directions on the seed packet and you should be good to go. They are very prolific and hard to mess up. Just make sure you select “bush” varieties. Pop those seeds in the ground after June 1st!
Green Onions - It's hard to throw off these plants. They are natural pest deterrents, and they just keep growing, even if you ignore them for a while. They are sometimes referred to as bunching onions. You can start onions pretty much any time after the ground is thawed out. Go wild!
Herbs - Basil is a common beginner suggestion, and I would go along with that, but you might want to get it as a seedling/start*. Herbs like mint and oregano will come back year after year and will spread like wild, so only plant them in places where they will have room to expand or where you can keep them contained (like a big bucket or pot). Cilantro likes cooler weather and will quickly go to seed in the heat, so now is the best time to plant it, I promise.
Peppers - Sweet peppers, hot peppers, you name it. If you buy a plant that has been started for you, rather than attempting to start peppers from seed, they are relatively easy to grow. They don't require staking or pruning. They love to produce over and over again once it gets hot, like August/September. Peppers like warm soil, so wait until the first of June to plant them outside.
Peas - Peas are super easy to grow, but they like cool weather only. So, we should be planting peas like now. Which is to say you can plant them anytime after the ground thaws.
Salad greens - Salad Greens - lettuce, spinach, arugula, that sort of thing - come up quickly in the spring and stay with us for a while. If you like salad, they can be a good way to start growing now and get some food on the table before summer crops like green beans and peppers even go in the ground. You can plant this stuff as soon as the ground is thawed.
Most importantly, plants like their space - you know how seed packets list a recommended distance between seeds? Those recommendations are there for a reason. Follow those directions and your plants will thank you. Even if your garden looks a little barren or super spaced out while plants are growing, when roots and leaves have room to expand, it makes for better fruits and prevents disease. Remember this when you are putting plants in the ground!
(If you are uncertain about how many of a certain plant should fit in a space, this handy dandy square foot garden planner is a good resource.)
Have questions? You've got access to an urban farmer and horticulturist right here! Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Seedling/start: People use these terms interchangeably to refer to plants that have been started from seeds in a greenhouse and are ready to be transplanted into the garden. Starts can be bought at hardware stores, plants sales, or greenhouses to help you avoid the difficult process of growing your own at home. Plants that are not grown from seedlings are either grown directly from seed (like green beans) or cuttings (like some herbs, try it with oregano.)