Last week, you were taken on a visit to the Chicago Botanic Society for the Garden Chef series.   Hope you were able to visit and catch some of the chef demonstrations as well as sample their flavorful dishes, full of garden fresh ingredients.

If you don’t already have your own garden from which to select those fresh veggies for your cooking projects, why not start one this year?   You still have time.

The Chicago Botanic Society’s educators have the knowledge and experience to teach anyone at any level how to plant a garden.     Here’s a primer, with ideas and suggestions from the Botanic Society:

You’ll learn to select the proper place in your yard to plant your garden.     Keep it small and simple at first as you develop your skills.   It’s best to use a space that gets six to eight hours of sunlight each day, is close to a water source, and conveniently located so you can easily give your vegetables all the TLC they will require.

In selecting the vegetables you want to grow, consider every member of the family.   Your child may be more willing to eat veggies if their colors are pleasing to the eye.   Also look at hardiness.   Veggies that tend to do well in a spring/fall chill are greens and lettuces, spinach, peas, potatoes, carrots, cabbages and onions, among others.   Consider also your space.   Veggies that grow in bush form require less space than ones which grow on a vine.

The Botanic Society also says to “draw it out.”   Create a preliminary map of what you want your garden to look like.   You’ll make better purchasing decisions at the store.   Remember to plant taller-growing varieties in the back or on the sides, with smaller veggies in front, to prevent overshadowing.     Plant in rows or bands, and don’t forget to place a seed packet marker at the cap of your veggie aisle so you recall what’s planted there.

Your garden can have a more sophisticated form in addition to function.   Chicago Botanic Garden’s Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden can advise you in beautiful and creative formats that please your eye and go a long way toward curb appeal.   Everything will look good enough to eat with the design ideas of the Regenstein, so check them out.

If you and others want to truly dig your garden, you have to dig your garden.   Proper timing is key.   Dry weather and soil are your cues to start digging.   Small roots will not survive wet, heavy soil.   Soils can be lightened and nurtured with your own compost mixed in during spring and late autumn.   A truly organic garden you will have.

Worried about possibly tainted soil?   Too much clay in soil?   A raised bed outlined with untreated lumbar may be for you.   Once you have a boxed bed, you can fill with topsoil, compost and leaf mold.   Smaller forms such as containers/pots used by some gardeners can use the same ingredients.   Also consider testing the soil for contaminants-you may find a raised bed to be unnecessary.

If you decide to plant seeds, you’ll want to be sure they are hardy enough to withstand the coolness of spring and fall.   Again, think greens, lettuce, peas, carrots.   You can also plant these indoors to be on the safe side, and they’ll sprout in a few weeks.     As these cooler-weather crops don’t do well once summer heats things up, also purchase such transplants as cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant and place them in your garden.   Usually by late May, there is little chance for frost.     Your cool-weather greens can be planted again as fall crops.   Generally, you will find more variety in terms of the more unusual or heirlooms when planting seeds versus transplants.   Heirlooms tend to be more flavorful and hardier to chilly weather, not to mention flying pests, than hybrids.

Do you know the difference between a weed and a seedling?   You don’t want to pull out your growing veggie plant you mistook for a weed.   Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, so be careful in your weeding.   A few inches of mulch will diminish your weed growth.   Regular watering-not drowning-at the roots of the plants (not on foliage) is also key in growth and maintenance of your plants.

And speaking of roots, take the heartfelt advice of Chance Gardener, “As long as the roots are not severed, all will be well with the garden.”

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