by Ryan Pankau, University of Illinois Extension
In recent months, many of us have found plenty of time around the house for new gardening ventures, which has led to an explosion of gardening activity this spring. I have been thrilled to hear from gardeners around the state who are doing everything from planting a tree or a new pollinator garden to trying new crops in their vegetable gardens.
Among the many options, home vegetable production remains one of the most popular gardening activities. It is a great way to grow some of your own local foods that can be harvested at peak ripeness for fresh and nutritious veggies that have a much smaller footprint.
Everyone at Illinois Extension is receiving a ton of new requests each week as home gardeners reach out with their questions and concerns. To help you all find answers to your questions, I thought I would cover a number of resources in this blog post that are available through Illinois Extension.
Extension Educators around the state write a number of weekly blogs that can help with questions about seasonal gardening issues. Many of us focus on timely topics that are related to things going on in our very own gardens. In the month of May, I wrote a series on starting new vegetable gardens covering the basics for anyone starting a new veggie patch. My weekly blog, The Garden Scoop, is available by clicking here or by going to https://go.illinois.edu/GardenScoop.
Some of my cohorts write a blog called Good Growing that covered a ton of great vegetable gardening topics throughout the spring. Check out their archives or subscribe to receive new blog posts by clicking here or by going to https://go.illinois.edu/GoodGrowing. For a complete listing of Illinois Extension blogs, you can search by subject matter by clicking here.
Perhaps my all-time favorite, Illinois-specific gardening resource is a great book by Illinois Extension called, Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest. This manual was originally published in the 1980s and was most recently updated in 2017 to include new varieties across the board and plenty of other great information. It covers everything from starting seeds indoors to care throughout the season and appropriate harvesting and preserving techniques. It is available for purchase by clicking here or by going to https://go.illinoi.edu/vegetablegardening.
If the resources above still leave you with questions, there are a variety of ways to connect with Illinois Extension for answers.
Our most recent project for answering gardening questions and discussion is a new Facebook group called the Illinois Extension Horticulture Group. This project was launched by a team of Illinois Extension folks from around the state. Our goal is to provide a forum for discussion of gardening topics in Illinois that would be moderated by a group of Extension Horticulture Educators, like me. As moderators, we provide answers to questions, post new content, share events, and other information that is of interest to the group.
After only a few weeks of existence, our Horticulture Group is approaching five hundred members and I have been amazed at the great discussion that has unfolded. We’ve seen pictures and posts from around the state and it has been a blast seeing what everyone is up to in their gardens. If you are interested in joining our group, you can find us by clicking here or at https://go.illinois.edu/HortGroup.
For the past few years, I have been participating in another Extension Program on social media centering on the discussion of gardening questions, called Live with the Horticulturists. This is actually a live show that we broadcast over both Facebook and YouTube every few weeks throughout the growing season. My two co-hosts, Candice Hart and Kelly Allsup, are fellow Extension Horticulture Educators and between the three of us, we have complementary areas of expertise allowing us to cover a wide range of topics.
For each show, we do pick a theme and provide a live demonstration or pictures and descriptions of the subject matter, but the main focus of the show is answering audience questions. Our audience truly drives the discussion and I just love all the great topics that come up. This year we have started inviting special guests with additional expertise to widen our discussion topics. I am really excited for our upcoming shows this summer as we have a spectacular lineup of guests to fuel the discussion. To tune in, please visit the Illinois Extension Facebook Page or our Horticulture YouTube Channel for more information about the show.
If you are interested in a more local outlet for gardening questions, many Master Gardener groups around the state field questions in their respective counties. In my Extension office, the Champaign County Master Gardeners have a Horticulture Hotline available for anyone to access. This service has been a part of the Master Gardener program for many years, answering hundreds of local gardening questions each year. To reach the Horticulture Hotline, you can call 217-333-7627 or submit an online request by clicking here or going to https://go.illinois.edu/CCMGHortHotline. Or, connect with your local Illinois Extension Master Gardeners by finding an Extension office near you, click here for more information.