Gardening at Home

Benefits of Gardening At Home

When you grow your own food you are more likely to eat the fruits and vegetables you grow!

  • Builds self reliance and resilience – Learn how to feed ourselves so we don’t have to rely on others
  • Soil, water, sunshine and air can improve our mental health and wellbeing
  • Requires movement that makes us healthier 
  • Cost savings 
  • Intergenerational interactions – people of all ages can come together to garden 
  • Beautifies spaces 

Preparing To Set Up Your Space

The size of your space and your budget will determine how much food you can grow and which way to grow makes the most sense. 

Tools
  • Hand tools: shovel, rake
  • Twine, stakes and plant cages
  • Hose and nozzle or watering can 
  • Gardening gloves (optional) 
  • Wheelbarrow, tarp, or large bin for mixing soil (optional)

Keep tools clean and store them properly so they will last for longer

Assessing Sunlight

Different plants have different sunlight requirements, so it’s important to understand what type of sunlight you get in the area where you want to grow food. Check the back of your seed packets or research online to learn about the type of sunlight your plants need. The table above provides definitions of the different types of sunlight. One benefit of fabric grow bags and containers is that you can easily move them around your growing space to help them get the sunlight they need.

We recommend assessing the sunlight in your potential growing spaces. If possible, assess the sunlight on the same day or the next day after receiving your grow kit. While you’re assessing the sunlight, you can place your plant on a sunny windowsill inside or in a mostly shaded area outside.

Assessing Water & Watering Practices
  • Plants get water from rain or from us providing it.
  • Always consider where you will get water from before establishing your garden. 
  • Check your seed packets or seedlings for information on water requirements.

Watering best practices

  • Water is a finite resource which means that we could run out of it some day. Because of this, it’s important that we conserve or use as little water as we can when watering our plants.
  • Ideally water your plants each morning before it gets too hot (establish a daily routine)
  • Before watering, feel the soil below the surface to see if it feels damp (stick your finger in up to the first joint). If it is still damp you don’t need to water your plants. You also don’t need to water your plants if it has just rained or is going to rain.
  • For more guidance on specific water requirements for your plant check the seed packet or email CGF.
  • Water your plants slowly, making sure the water doesn’t flow over the sides of the container. Stop watering once you see water flow out of the bottom of the container.
  • Always water at the base of the plant and try to not get the leaves wet. Wet leaves attract pests and can cause diseases.

Please Note: Containers will dry out more quickly than raised beds and in-ground gardens. 

Types of Gardens

Container Gardens
All-in-One Solution

Container gardens, including grow bags like those in your Grow Your Groceries kit, are one way to grow food. 

  • Just a few bags or containers can yield a nice amount of food
  • Containers must be food grade (i.e. restaurant buckets, grow bags) or you could ingest plastic unknowingly
  • Can be moved as needed
  • If you rotate crops, you can grow a variety of fruit, vegetables, and herbs in just a few containers 

Raised Beds
Advanced Tools

Raised beds are another way to grow your own food.

  • While they might allow you more space to grow, they require more space and cannot easily be moved
  • Raised beds are more expensive to set up

In Ground Gardens
Nonstop Updates

In ground gardens are one other way to grow your own food

  • In ground gardens may allow you more space to grow but cannot be moved
  • In Chicago and the surrounding areas, soil is often contaminated so you must get a soil test before your grow in-ground or you could be exposed to toxins 

Soil Testing Resources

Organization Address Phone number Cost for home gardeners
Stat Analysis Corporation 2242 W, Harrison, Suite 200 Chicago IL 60612 (312) 733-0551 $60.00
A&L Great Lakes Laboratory 3505 Conestoga Drive, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46808 (260) 483-4759 Depends on type of tests. See costs here.

In-ground vegetable gardening is discouraged:

  • Chicago is a rust belt city. The rust belt is where industries were located in the United States, and as a result these places often have soil polluted with heavy metals including lead. 
  • Soil testing is required to determine heavy metal presence and concentration 
  • In addition to learning about pollutants, soil tests can help you determine the quality of your soil 

Pros & Cons
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The table below compares the pros and cons of the different methods of growing. 

  Container Gardens Raised Beds In-Ground Gardens
Pros - Convenient
- Avoids contaminated or low quality soil
- Grow in any location
- Extend growing season
- Accessible for kids, people with disabilities 
Allows plants to cohabitate together Fewer initial start up costs (if you’re soil is okay to begin with)
Cons  - Not suitable for all plant varieties
- Need to make sure container is food grade
More resource intensive to set up
Not portable 
Need to soil test before you can grow 

Decide What You Want To Grow

What to Grow & When

Container Sizes & Sunlight

 

If you are interested in helping Chicago Grows Food learn more about what grows best in which containers, please email chicagogrowsfood@gmail.com

Pollinators & Native Plants

Pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, and hummingbirds increase the health, fertility and productivity of our garden 

Pollinators are responsible for 70% of the food we eat 

Include plants around and within your garden to attract pollinators 

More information here: https://www.chicagobotanic.org/pollinators

Pros & Cons

The table below compares the pros and cons of the different methods of growing. 

  Container Gardens Raised Beds In-Ground Gardens
Pros - Convenient
- Avoids contaminated or low quality soil
- Grow in any location
- Extend growing season
- Accessible for kids, people with disabilities 
Allows plants to cohabitate together Fewer initial start up costs (if you’re soil is okay to begin with)
Cons  - Not suitable for all plant varieties
- Need to make sure container is food grade
More resource intensive to set up
Not portable 
Need to soil test before you can grow 

Set Up Your Growing Space

  1. Construct raised beds as needed or obtain grow bags or containers
  2. Purchase or make your own soil
  3. Add fertilizer
Where to Buy Items

Big Box Stores

Home Depot and Lowe’s offer gardening supplies such as tools, seeds, seedling and potting soil mixes

Grocery Stores

Jewel Osco, Whole Foods and Dill Pickle Co-op often have garden centers during the main growing season.  Check to see if they allow folks to use SNAP benefits to purchase seeds and seedlings 

Local Garden Centers 

Offer gardening supplies and staff are often very knowledgeable 

Recommended locations: Growers Outlet Co., Adams and Sons,  Farmers’ Market Garden CenterGethsemane Garden Center (more expensive!); Christy Webber Garden Center 

Farmers’ Markets

Farmers’ markets will often have seedlings at the beginning of the growing season.  The farmers will be knowledgeable about requirements for the plants.  Check to see if they allow folks to use SNAP benefits to purchase seedlings 

Soil

What Is Soil?

  • Soil is a living thing

  • A mixtures of minerals, water, air, organic matter, and countless organisms

  • Forms the “skin of the Earth”

How Does Soil Form Life?

Soil Resources

Soil for Container Gardens

You must purchase or make your own soil blend specifically for containers - topsoil will not be suitable

DIY Potting Soil for Containers Video   

Make your own soil 

  • Supplies: measuring container, shovel or trowel, large garden tub, wheelbarrow or tarp, water (if ingredients are dry)

  • “Ingredients”: 2 parts premoistened coco coir (or more peat moss), peat moss or potting soil; 2 parts composted soil or composted manure; 1 part perlite; ¼-½ parts vermiculite

  • Instructions: Fill your measuring container the correct number of times for each ingredient (i.e. 2 coco coir, 2 compost, 1 perlite, ¼ vermiculite) 

  • Fill containers almost to the top since soil will settle over time

     

Fertilizer

Soil that has compost added to it may not require additional fertilizer

Too much fertilizer is not better, so go light

Apply an all purpose organic fertilizer. You can purchase this at a garden center. 

Ask local garden center or U of I Extension for help selecting one if needed.

Image source: https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/garden-fertilizer-zmaz06jjzraw 

Plant Seeds or Seedlings

Seed Germination
Planting Dates

Planting dates depend on the last spring frost and the first fall frost - these numbers are estimated each year

See this guide for information about when to start seeds indoors (if applicable) & when to plant seeds or seedlings outside

Planting Seeds

Method 1: Direct Sowing

Necessary for: Root vegetables, vegetables that don’t like to be transplanted 

How to video 

Method 2: Starting Seeds Indoors

Necessary for: Basil, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Eggplant, Pepper, Tomatillo, Tomato

How to video

Method 3: Broadcasting 

Good for greens that don’t require specific spacing 

How to video

See this guide for information about when to start seeds indoors (if applicable) & when to plant seeds or seedlings outside

Planting Seedlings

Can purchase seedlings or start your own indoors 

Requires hardening off (how to video)

Planting seedlings how to video

Plant Spacing

Tending To Your Garden

Water

Watering

Just like humans, plants need water to survive. Plants get water from rain or from us watering them. It’s important to think about where you will get water from to water your plants.

Water sources:

  • Your house using a watering can
  • An outdoor hose with a spray nozzle
  • A rain barrel - please note that it is not recommended to use collected rain water for produce plants.

How much water do my plants need?

Check your seed packets or research online to learn how much water your plants need.

Fabric grow bags and containers dry out more quickly than raised beds.

Always consider where you will get water from before establishing your garden. 

Watering best practices

  • Water is a finite resource which means that we could run out of it some day. Because of this, it’s important that we conserve or use as little water as we can when watering our plants.
  • Ideally water your plants each morning before it gets too hot (establish a daily routine)
  • Before watering, feel the soil below the surface to see if it feels damp (stick your finger in up to the first joint). If it is still damp you don’t need to water your plants. You also don’t need to water your plants if it has just rained or is going to rain.
  • For more guidance on specific water requirements for your plant check the seed packet or email CGF.
  • Water your plants slowly, making sure the water doesn’t flow over the sides of the container. Stop watering once you see water flow out of the bottom of the container.
  • Always water at the base of the plant and try to not get the leaves wet. Wet leaves attract pests and can cause diseases.

Please Note: Containers will dry out more quickly than raised beds and in-ground gardens. 

Pests & Pests Control

Pests are not always bad - they are part of the natural ecosystem, but having too many pests can be a problem. 

Common pests: aphids, army worms, asparagus beetles, earwigs, psyllid leaf hopper, root maggot, spider mites, tomato hornworm 

Methods to control pests

  • Remove dead leaves and leaves that are touching the soil to deter pests
  • Water at the base of plants to deter pests
  • Remove pests by hand if appropriate
  • Use organic methods to control pests when needed

Image source: http://www.garden365.com/container-gardening/organic-garden-pest-control/
Pest Control Products
Weeds

Weeds are part of the natural ecosystem, but should be removed because they will compete with your plants

You must remove the weed at the root or it will grow back 

Common Plant Conditions

Blossom End Rot

Cause: not enough calcium in the soil OR inconsistent watering 

Plants affected: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash 

Solutions: 

  • Water plants regularly
  • Select plant varieties that are resistant to blossom end rot
  • Test your soil to see if you need to add calcium
  • Avoid damaging roots by staking or digging near mature plants

More information

Powdery Mildew

Cause: fungus 

Plants affected: Cucumber, Zucchini 

Solutions: 

  • Cut off diseased leaves
  • Apply Potassium bicarbonate, Milk, Neem oil, Vinegar, Baking soda, Garlic, Sulfur, or Copper fungicides

More information 

Image sources: http://frontrangefoodgardener.blogspot.com/2010/08/telling-powdery-mildew-by-its-spots.html

Harvesting Crops
  • Don’t assume that bigger is always better when it comes to gardening.
  • Often times plants and vegetables have the fullest flavor at their smaller sizes
  • Texture, tenderness, and taste are compromised when vegetables are not harvested at their peak ripeness
  • Check on your plants daily to ensure that they don’t become oversized. 
  • Harvesting doesn’t mean uprooting an entire plant from the soil
  • Pick and come back method: Pick outside leaves from lettuce, kale, and collards, leaving the small inside leaves to continue growing 
  • Fruit from tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and eggplant should be picked directly off of the plant’s stem
  • Herbs should be cut at the nodes, where the stems of the plant intersect
  • Use a clean shears or scissors to harvest 

HARVESTING VIDEOS

Preparing For Next Season

Document where you planted what during the current growing season - you will need this to plant crop rotations next season 

At the end of the season, remove plants including roots and plant debris from containers to reduce chances of overwintering disease

Add ½ to 1 inch of compost to the top of soil and mix in gently

Cover garden space  with leaves or straw (optional but helps to prevent soil erosion) 

Plan crop rotations - don’t plant the same things in the same spot

Keeps soil healthy - different plants need different nutrients

Prevents plant-specific diseases from transmitting if they overwintered in the soil

Additional Resources

Print Resources

Farming While Black, by Penniman, Leah, Chelsea Green Publishing (October, 2018)

The Kitchen Garden Growers Guide, by Albert, Stephen, Stephen Albert Publishing (November, 2011)

Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible, by Smith Edward C., Storey Books (February 2011)

Vegetable Container Gardening: A Quick Start Guide (Gardening Quick Start Guides Book 3), by Green, Martha, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (June 2014)

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