If you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you probably have experienced the sticker shock that I have recently.  The increase in prices, to me anyway, seems incredible.  I was particularly struck the other day by how much canned vegetables have risen in cost; items I paid 40 or 50 cents for a year ago now cost $1.09!  After my last trip to the store, I decided—this was going to be the year I got back into vegetable gardening.  I, like many people I’m sure, have taken for granted cheap, readily available, nutritious food.  Living in the Midwest, the farm belt, is a bit of a luxury, for we almost always have fresh, inexpensive food at markets nearby.  But with the downturn in the economy and rising costs associated with more expensive fuel, food is growing more expensive and harder to obtain.  So…’s the perfect time to “grow your own”!  Growing your own vegetables and fruits is easy and fun, and it’s a great family activity—kids love to help in the garden.  There is something really satisfying about picking a ripe beautiful tomato, or digging up some new potatoes and cooking them fresh from your backyard.  And on top of all that, home grown vegetables and fruits taste better than anything you can buy in the store!  Let’s look at a timetable for planting some of your favorites, as well as some recommendations for a few of the best performers for the Kansas City area.

Mid to late March is not too early to get started in your garden.  It’s time to plant peas, by seed, and there are several good bush varieties, or you can use a trellis of sorts to hold climbing varieties.  You can harvest peas in late May.  St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally the time to plant potatoes, and we agree it’s a great time—two of the best performers are old standbys, Red Pontiac and Kennebec.  (A special thanks to Nick Rivard of Nick’s Greenleaf Gardens for his recommendations.  Nick is one of the finest growers in the area and raises wonderful fresh produce as well as beautiful ornamentals.  If you’ve never seen Nick’s mums in the fall, you’re missing out!!)  April 1st  is right around the corner and there are a number of cold hardy veggies that can be planted then.  Onion sets or plants can go in—“Candy” or “Texas Sweet” are two favorites.  Cole crops also go in April 1st; plant young transplants of cabbage “Stonehead” or “Tasty Late”, Broccoli “Ironman”, Cauliflower “Snowcrown” or “Snowball”, Head Lettuce “Great Lakes” or Leaf Lettuce “Black Seeded Simpson”.  Radishes are grown from seed starting April 1st and just about any variety does well here.  Starting in mid-April you can plant strawberries and kids just love these; for our area two of the best varieties are “Earliglow” and “Allstar”.

From May 1st to May 15th you can start planting sweet corn, though you need a fair amount of room to grow corn.  Nick has two favorites he raves about—“Incredible” for a yellow corn and “Serendipity” for a bicolor.  Both, he says, are wonderfully sweet and great to eat!  Mid to late May is finally the time most gardeners are waiting for—danger of frost is past and it’s time to plant tomatoes, peppers, and a whole range of other favorites.  Our favorite tomato varieties are “Celebrity” (plant this one if you only plant one variety), “Better Boy”, “Jet Star”, “Goliath”, and for heirloom tomatoes “Cherokee Purple” and “Brandywine”.  In sweet peppers, “Jupiter” or “Big Bertha” for green, “Red Knight” or “Karma” for red, “Golden Bell” for yellow, and “Valencia” for orange.  For green beans, we like “Blue Lake”, and “Top Crop” for all around performance and “Kentucky Wonder 125” for fresh eating.  Try “Jade” green beans if you want a really long bean that’s interesting.  Good cucumbers for the K.C. area are “Dasher II” or “Sweet Slice”.  A good yellow squash variety is “Early Prolific” and for a white squash, our recommendation is “White Bush”.

Finally, around the first of June, it’s time to plant melons, though they are not the easiest crop to grow in the Kansas City area.  For cantaloupe, Nick recommends “Ambrosia” and for watermelon the old standby “Charleston Gray” has been the best.

Don’t forget fruit trees to supplement your food supply!  Though they take longer to produce and require adequate space to plant, fruit trees are reliable and easy to grow.  Apples and pears are probably the best adapted to our area and reliably produce great crops in the fall.  Peaches can also be grown successfully here, but the vagaries of weather, insects, and disease make them a little more difficult.

This year, get the family together and have some fun outside—plant a garden.  You’ll be glad you did, and the food you put on your table will be nutritious, healthy, delicious, and save you money!  If you need planting tips, or help getting that garden plot prepared and started, contact your friends at Greenleaf Garden Services.  We’ll be glad to help!  Happy gardening!

Contributing editor:  Don Archer, Don Archer Designs in partnership with Greenleaf Garden Services