Time to get dirty.
The summer gardening season fast approaches and the Southland is blooming with news and opportunities to turn your thumbs green.
Among the trends growing in popularity are raised beds, said Nancy Kreith, horticulture educator for the University of Illinois Extension, Cook County in the Matteson office.
“It’s not a new concept at all,” she said. “I’ve been working with the extension for 15 years and even as an intern we were building raised beds, mainly in urbanized areas where there might be problematic soil.”
But the older society gets, she said, the more it seems to value raised beds. And as their popularity grows so do options for buying and building them.
“Now it’s more for accessibility,” she said. “So beds are getting higher. Now we have them on legs, salad table style, or prefab on four legs,” she said.
You can buy them already assembled or build them yourself from a kit. They come in plastic, recycled composite lumber and cedar. You can even build your own from untreated pine. She recommends you increase durability by adding galvanized brackets in the corners and maybe the center.
Other options? Fabric beds, she said, and some people are converting animal troughs into beds by pick-axing some holes in the bottom for drainage.
“It’s definitely because of the aging population but I think even new gardeners want to keep it simple. I find a lot of people don’t garden because of time. So having something simple appeals to them,” she said.
“Everybody wants something convenient, even if they’re in a townhome or condo, they want to be able to just reach out their back door. These prefab styles are often accommodating to that,” she said.
“You can really get creative,” she said.
For people who use a wheelchair, she added, make sure the bed is at least 27 inches high and preferably on four legs so the chair can get under it. That way, the gardener doesn’t have to turn and work from the side.
For those who prefer to stand and work, go with a 3-foot height, she said.
Whether you go with wood, resin or steel, all raised beds should be four feet wide and accessible from all sides, she said. “Never wider than that.”
Mother’s Day marked the unofficial start of warm season planting, Kreith said.
That means cool weather plants, such as spinach, lettuce and Swiss chard, should already be taking off. They don’t fare well during summer’s long days of sunlight, which causes them to bolt and shoot up flowers.
That also means it’s time to get those tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini in the ground, she said. When the zucchini is winding down at the end of July, get those cool weather crops ready for replanting in August.
“That way you make the most of the growing season,” she said.
Use a good soil mix, one with high organic matter, Kreith said. A topsoil can be heavy in clay or sand, either draining too well or not enough. So don’t use more than 40 to 50 percent topsoil in raised beds.
•Square foot gardening works well in a small space. Use a special soil mix, one that is a mixture of compost, peat, soil and minerals like vermiculite or pearlite, she said. Divide your space into square foot sections and plant very intensely, such as nine spinach plants or 16 carrots per square foot.
•Straw bale gardening also has been gaining in popularity over the past few years, Kreith said. Simply convert a bale of straw by adding a nitrogen-rich fertilizer so it starts the decomposition process of breaking down the bale and then plant. “It’s something kind of innovative,” she said. “It works and it’s cheap.”
•Ketchup and fries. If your gardening style is trendy, you may already know about a new grafted plant called ketchup and fries. It’s a combination tomato and potato plant, she said.
•Become a Master Gardener. The 2018 Cook County South Suburban Master Gardener Training and Certification Program will take place this fall at rotating locations in the Southland. It begins Sept. 4 and runs 11 consecutive Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Extension horticulture educators will deliver a comprehensive training covering home landscape and gardening topics. To apply visit go.illinois.edu/cooksouthmg. Application deadline is May 21. All instruction, manuals and materials are included in the $350 program fee. For more information e-mail Margaret Burns-Westmeyer, at [email protected] or call 708-679-6894.
Local gardening events
•Evergreen Park Public Library, 9400 S. Troy; 708-422-8522; evergreenparklibrary.org
- Plant sale May 23-26. Bob Erlich, curator of the Evergreen Park Public Library’s garden and monarch waystation, offers plants from his home garden, including common and tropical milkweed, bee-lovin’ perennials and vegetable plants. Proceeds fund maintenance of the library garden.
- Garden Club of Evergreen Park Plant Sale, 10 a.m. to noon June 9. Happy gardeners will find perennials, unique potted arrangements and handmade cards as well as gardening advice and a drawing for garden- and summer-themed baskets. Proceeds benefit the Garden Club of Evergreen Park and the Evergreen Park Library Foundation.
- Plant a Summer Herb Bowl, 6:30 p.m. June 21. Master Gardeners from the University of Illinois Extension South Cook Unit will help you to plant a bowl of savory herbs. Fee is $5 fee.
- Making Time for Nature, 6:30 p.m. June 26. No preparation needed. Just bring yourself (and a friend) for this laid-back walk with nature, led by Mary Miritello. She will provide some inspiration from nature writers. Meet at 50-Acre Park (91st and California).
- Vermicomposting, 6:30 p.m. July 12. Composting with worms gives you a convenient way to dispose of organic waste, such as vegetable peelings, and saves space in the county landfill, which is good for the environment. It also gives worms a happy home and provides a way for you to nurture plants. Vermiculture recycles food waste into a rich, dark, good-for-your-garden soil conditioner. Presented by Master Gardeners from the University of Illinois Extension South Cook Unit.
- Succulents Workshop, 6:30 p.m. July 17. Growing a succulent container garden is easy. They come in an array of colors and leaf textures and are very low-maintenance plants. All materials and instructions for care will be supplied.
•Matteson Public Library, 801 South School Ave.; 708-748-4431; http://www.mapld.org/
- Green Thumb Garden Club will be container designing, 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturday.
•Blue Island Public Library, 2433 York St.; 708-388-1078; blueislandlibrary.org/
“Seed Bombs,” 5:30-6:30 p.m. May 21 Clay, soil, and seeds are all you need to make a seed bomb. Let it set, and then let it fly, into an abandoned lot or other public space in need of a little greenery. Nature does the rest. Open to all ages but under 13 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
•Oak Lawn Public Library, 9427 Raymond Ave.; 708-422-4990; https://www.olpl.org/
Pantry Garden Helpers, 3 p.m. July 18. Kids age 11 to 14 can earn community service hours by helping with the Oak Lawn Community Garden’s food pantry plots at 5220 105th St. Dress for the outdoors and bring a water bottle.
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