Start off your vegetable garden with nutrient rich, well draining soil, as most problems with vegetables and herbs can be linked back to soil preparation and nutrient deficiencies. Begin planting early with Cole Crop vegetables from the cabbage family. These early season vegetables can be planted outside approximately five weeks before the danger of frost is over. In the Chicago area, the last frost is approximately May 15th. Coles prefer a temperature of 60 to 65 degrees during the day, and can tolerate some frost. They are intolerant of temperatures above 70 degrees and will often exhaust themselves when summer arrives. They also prefer full sun to light shade – sun most of the day with only several hours of shade.
Early in the season you’ll find a variety of vegetables that can be planted in the beginning of April, strong enough to take the cold weather. Crops that can be planted early include: asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, garlic, globe artichoke, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, rhubarb, rutabagas, spinach, swiss chard, and turnips. You can also plant some of these again in late summer and early fall for one more harvest before winter returns. In the fall season, a light frost actually enhances the flavor in brussel sprouts, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas and turnips. Asparagus, globe artichokes and rhubarb are perennial crops, meaning they come back on their own year after year. Most other varieties need protection from the frost. Remember: It is never too early to start vegetables and herbs and they can be grown year round as long as they are in the required temperature and light. This may require some protection from the frost until the weather warms up consistently. Keep plants covered until danger of frost is gone.
All root or tuber vegetables, including asparagus, beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, and turnips, are tolerant to frost if they are below the ground level. Potato foliage is sensitive to frost, but new leaves will grow to replace the damaged ones. Tender vegetables, not considered cole crops, can be planted on or just prior to the last frosts in the spring include beans, corn, and zucchini. Small corn plants may survive a frost because the growth point of each plant is insulated beneath the surface of the soil.
Heat loving vegetables can be planted one to two weeks after last frost. These vegetables are cucumbers, egg plant, melons, peppers, pumpkins, squash and tomatoes. If planted too early the cold can stunt future growth for weeks to follow. It’s better to wait until the weather is right. Snow on your crops in the spring or fall usually will not hurt them because the snow serves as an insulator. You only need to worry about your crops if the snow is exceptionally heavy and wet. Alsip Home & Nursery has a expansive selection of vegetables in our greenhouse starting in mid-April and a large assortment of seeds in our Lawn & Garden department that you can start at home. Our full line of vegetable seeds are available now.