WJ: What kind of sun exposure do I need?

Lentz: If you are going to grow vegetables, you are wasting your time if you are trying to grow things in a lot of shade. However, root plants such as carrots and leafy plants like lettuce need less sun as opposed to plants from which we eat the fruits, such as tomatoes and peppers.

WJ: What is a square foot garden?

Nekrosius: The best example of a square foot garden is the Smart Home Organic Garden at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. In the past, they have done beautiful gardens of spinach. You can also do it with lettuce, especially red lettuce.

WJ: What kind of containers should I use?

Lentz: If you have a small space, you can plant vegetables in almost anything that is large enough [at least 1, 3 or 5 gallons and light colored]. Get some good soil and make sure the container, whatever it is, drains. I’ve seen people use wheelbarrows, all kinds of pots and even an old leather boot. But remember that plants do need a reasonable amount of soil to do this. Beyond that, give it a shot because gardening is as much of an art as it is a science.

WJ: What kind of fertilizer should I be using?

Nekrosius: Typically in Illinois we have very clay soil, so you always have to amend it. Organic is best, including compost, compost tea, well-rotted leaf mold and manures. What I love to do is, in the fall, amend the soil with maple leaves or elm leaves, which are perfect for digging into your garden then, and by spring you won’t even see them because they will have rotted down and be gone.

WJ: What is a raised garden?

Lentz: If you want to spend a little extra time, you can build a raised bed with something that holds the soil and raises it above the level of the surrounding dirt. A raised bed is usually not wider than four feet, so it is a bit easier to get at. There are materials out there now that are made from recycled plastic, so as gardeners we have the opportunity to provide a market for the containers we dutifully put out in our bins.

WJ: How can I maximize the output of a small garden space?

Nekrosius: Growing cucumbers up a fence, for example, is great, as is growing pole beans in a teepee, which will keep you in fresh beans from summer into fall. You can also try sequential planting with cut-and-come-again vegetables such as sweet peas, radishes, beans, and lettuce. My favorite is Swiss Chard. But I think urban gardeners should grow dill, oregano, thyme, sage, chive, cilantro, basil and Italian parsley. Basil, for example, can be cut down to three inches once a month. One basil plant can yield 20 cups over the season. But herbs tend to be slow to start, so I buy them as plants from the Oak Park Conservatory’s annual herb and scented plant sale in early May.

WJ: Do marigolds and herbs stave off pests from vegetable gardens?

Lentz: There is no solid literature that really confirms that certain flowers or herbs ward off pests when planted among vegetables in a garden. I practice integrated pest management – I don’t use synthetic herbicides or pesticides and my garden has a wide variety of plants that attract beneficial insects that tend to keep the bad-guy populations down.

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