News from the Research Desk

News from the Research Desk Blog

Hardening Off

pepper plant seedlingsThe average date for the last frost in this area is May 15, though each year’s weather conditions can vary widely. Early to mid-may is generally the time to start the hardening off process for tender vegetable seedlings started indoors, e.g. tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, basil etc. Hardening off in preparation for planting out in the garden involves slowly exposing young seedlings to the elements to strengthen them.

 

About 2 weeks prior to transplanting plants outside, it is recommended to start the hardening off process. Start by placing plants outside during the warmer part of the day (typically between 12-5 PM) for about 2-3 hours; gradually increasing the amount of time each day. After working the plants up to being outside for 10-12 hours a day for a few days, leave the plants outside for 24 hours for a couple days. Once you complete this, your plants are ready for transplanting. During this period of hardening off, gradually reduce how often you water; however, don’t allow the plants to wilt. It is also not recommended to fertilize the plants before or during the hardening off period.

Illinois Extension: Good Growing

Now that the days are warming up, it’s safe to bring seedlings outside to acclimate. It’s best to place them in a shady and not too windy spot the first time they are exposed to the elements. Strong sunlight can quickly burn young leaves and strong wind can be equally as damaging to tender stems and leaves. A warm and shady place is the best bet for the first time outdoors.tomato seedlings

Hardening off seedlings requires consistent attention: seedlings need to be transferred outside and back inside for several days, placed in and out of shade when outside (too much mid-day direct sun too soon should be avoided) and sheltered from strong winds. Weather conditions and nighttime temperatures need to be monitored regularly. Temps may still dip in to the lower to mid 40’s, in which case the seedlings will need to be brought back in so they are not damaged by the cold, even later in the process. A good rule of thumb is to begin to leave seedlings out all night only when they are ready and the nighttime temperatures are above 50 degrees. After a few days of being out all day and night, the seedlings are ready to be set out in the garden.

For more information, please log in to the Web Resources page (MPPL card number and PIN required) and access Article Finder. There, you can search for current how-to gardening articles (try using the terms: “hardening off,” or “vegetable gardening”).

If you need assistance with access or other questions, please contact us via Live Chat: bit.ly/MPPLlivechat; email: info@mppl.org; or phone: 224-210-5198, if we don’t answer, please leave a message–we’ll call you back.

May is the Second Cruelest Month

According to the writer T.S. Eliot “April is the cruellest month” but May is definitely a close second. In less than a week’s time May weather can range from sunny and 80 degrees to a freeze warning and 30 degrees.
It’s easy to be tricked in to thinking that warm weather has finally arrived but don’t be fooled by May!

Illinois hardiness map

When planting anything out in the garden in May, the current, forecasted and historical weather conditions should be considered. The average last frost date in northeast Illinois is May 15 but frost and freezes often occur later in the month. The USDA maintains plant hardiness zone maps that can be helpful for determining when and what to plant for a geographic area. This area of Illinois is typically considered Zone 5 but as global temperatures continue to increase, northeast Illinois is creeping towards Zone 6 especially in Chicago’s heat island.

Tomato/peppers/eggplant/squash and many annual flower seedlings start to be available to purchase in early May. Many vegetable gardeners like to get their gardens planted as early as possible but planting warm-weather vegetables/flowers too early can result in plant damage.

A good rule of thumb for when to plant tender vegetables and flowers in the garden is to wait until night time temperatures remain above 50 degrees, generally near the end of May or early June. Sometimes planting early can pay off if temperatures do not dip in to the 30-40’s but some gardeners wish to wait until all threats of frost are past.

covered garden

Low tunnels are a great way to get a jump on the growing season, especially for cool weather vegetables. These mustard seedlings and radishes were direct seeded in a low tunnel on April 5, 2020.radishes and mustards

Depending on the severity of the winter, cool weather vegetables can be planted in the previous Fall, then overwintered and harvested in the early Spring.

This bib lettuce was planted out in a low tunnel in October 2019 and is ready to harvest now in early May.green salanova

It’s best to be patient though, when planting warm-weather vegetables in the garden if you want strong and productive plants! Summer is coming.

For a selection of current magazines related to vegetable gardening (or any subject you can imagine!) check out our offerings from RB Digital.  You will need your current MPPL Library card number and PIN–then follow the instructions to get started.

If you need assistance with access or other questions, please contact us via Live Chat: bit.ly/MPPLlivechat; email: info@mppl.org; or phone: 847-253-5675 and leave a message–we’ll call you back.

Hunting for Banana Bread Recipes

loaf of Mango Banana Bread

If you’re like me and have been panic buying bananas, you’ve definitely tried turning the overripe ones into banana bread. I’ve done three of them. You might have a favorite recipe in a book or have gone to Google or YouTube to search one  out.  I tested three of our web resources.

AtoZ World Food is perfect for researching world cultures, world food, finding great pictures, with a catalog of thousands of recipes. A search for banana bread results in 10 different banana breads from various “Banana Lands,” for example, Bermuda, Brazil, Angola, or Zimbabwe.  One I think I’d like to try is the Banana Mango Bread from the Dominican Republic.  I’m not going to repeat the recipe here but have linked to it in the previous sentence, but just as soon as my banana pile turns black, this is what I’m doing.

For current recipes, I looked in PressReader, a great source for streaming current magazines and newspapers from around the world. It is easy to search but the results change day-to-day since they do not keep more than three or four back issues.  A search will look through all 7,000 different publications and give results from only the last three days.  Right now, I find banana bread with lots of variations, including blueberries, chocolate, oats, and sometimes measured out in grams and baked in Celsius.  This source is excellent for many reasons. I feel up-to-date on how the Coronavirus Quarantine prompted an explosion in home baking and have found a wide variety of recipes.

The other web resource I searched is Global Newsstream. This is not a streaming source but a straight up database of newspaper articles from thousands of papers dating back to the 1980’s (generally).  I did a search for the phrase (in quotation marks) “banana bread recipe”. There were 618 results arranged from most recent to the oldest, a 1985 article called 1955 Banana Bread Recipe has Become a Kitchen Classic published in the Toronto Star. This recipe contains shortening so I won’t be trying it, ever.  I had to click through four or five more articles until I got one that did much more than mention banana bread. Global Newsstream is good for many different areas of research but was not the immediate reward I thought it would be.

Now off to the kitchen to eat a fresh banana.

Asparagus!

asparagus on a wooden cutting boardAsparagus is one of the earliest spring perennial vegetables–after it is established in the garden, it will yield edible spears year-after-year.

Now is a good time to plant asparagus crowns.asparagus crowns

Asparagus should be planted in a location with lots of sun in fertile well-drained soil. Asparagus needs to mature up to 3 years before spears can be harvested regularly.

Once established, asparagus will produce spears for up to 8 weeks starting in April. A bed of asparagus, if well-tended, can last 20-30 years!

Unfurling asparagus spear: Unfurling asparagus spearThese asparagus spears have been grown from asparagus crowns planted on April 1, 2017. This is the first year they will be harvested:asparagus spears popping out of the ground

For a selection of current magazines related to vegetable gardening (or any subject you can imagine!) check out our offerings from RB Digital.  You will need your current MPPL Library card number and PIN–then follow the instructions to get started.

If you need assistance with access or other questions, please contact us via Live Chat: bit.ly/MPPLlivechat; email: info@mppl.org; or phone: 847-253-5675 and leave a message–we’ll call you back.