Warm, humid summers make Illinois a great place to grow vegetables. Consider drawing a plan of your garden to show what types of plants go where. Include provisions for planting tall plants, such as corn, in the north end of the garden where they won't block smaller plants from getting sunlight.
Eating fresh vegetables picked from the garden remains one of the top reasons for growing a vegetable garden. Vegetables out of the garden cost less than buying fresh produce at the market. Vegetable gardens provide a great summer project for the whole family. Plus, vegetable gardening provides plenty of exercise and fresh air.
One of the most important aspects of vegetable gardening involves choosing the best site. The site needs at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. For gardens receiving less than that, consider growing vegetables such as spinach and lettuce that require a bit less sun. Avoid sites near trees and shrubs, as these plants steal the nutrients and water your vegetable plants need. The site needs balanced soil that provides good drainage. Testing the soil before planting helps determine what nutrients and minerals need to be added. Make sure the site is close to a water source since the garden requires regular watering during the entire growing season.
For gardeners with limited space or inadequate soil, raised beds make a good alternative. Raised beds consist of areas cordoned off with small 1- to 2-foot walls with good soil added to each section. Container gardening offers another way to enjoy fresh vegetables when space is at a premium. Vegetables that grow well in containers include tomatoes, peppers, Swiss chard, cucumbers and herbs.
To get a head start, some gardeners plant seeds inside, then transplant the small plants into the garden once the danger of frost passes. Some plants such as tomatoes, peppers and onions grow well this way, while beans and carrots grow best when sowed directly into the garden.
While vegetable gardens benefit from regular watering, especially when rain falls less frequently, some plants require more watering at certain times during the growing season. Watermelon and summer squash require regular moisture during the early growth stages as well as at blossoming and when fruit develops. Muskmelons require regular watering, but once the fruit reaches a good size, too much water negatively affects the quality. Cucumbers require steady watering with an inch of water per week in addition to rainfall.
Vegetables need nutrients and minerals to produce a bountiful crop. For organic growers, consider using peat moss, compost or cow manure as a source of fertilizer. Otherwise, use a general fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, to promote green growth, root health, vegetable development and resistance to disease.