Geri Nikolai: It's time to start that vegetable garden

Geri Nikolai

It’s too early to plant most flowers outdoors, but vegetable gardeners can start having fun in the dirt now.

Cool-weather plants like peas and lettuce will grow better if they go into the ground now. When they’ve matured, you can use the space for warm-weather plants that you harvest in fall. You’ll have to wait until mid-May to plant most veggies, which prefer warmer temperatures both above and below ground.

Because of the economy and “green” awareness, there may be more new vegetable gardeners this summer than we’ve seen in a long time. If you’re a novice, here are some tips. The most important piece of advice, though, is go ahead, give it a try. Once you’ve got the seeds/plants in the ground, nature will pretty much do the rest of the job for you.

University of Illinois Extension offers these reminders:

- Choose a sunny location. Most veggies need 6-8 hours of sun each day.

- Don’t go crazy buying seeds. There are lots in each package, so you probably don’t need three packets of sweet corn. Read the labels to learn about your plant, including how long it will take before harvest. You might want to buy all hybrids, which have higher yields and are more resistant to disease than others. Also, look for vegetables that have earned the All-America Selections award.

- If you’re using old seeds, check them for germination by placing some in a wet paper towel. Roll it up, put it in a warm area and mist daily to keep it wet. Unroll it in two weeks and see what you’re got. If fewer than half the seeds have germinated, throw them out.

- Some seeds are so tiny you simply cannot spread them out when planting. In that case, you’ve got to go back a couple of weeks later and pull and discard plants until they are thinned enough so the survivors can grow as they should. I know, I know, they’re all your babies, but you want carrots a little bigger than a pencil, right?

- Put the tallest plants at the north end of the garden.

For a great list of common garden veggies and how to grow them, log on to this site:

Green roofs around the world

We like to think America leads the world in everything, but that’s not always true.

Other nations, for example, are way ahead of us in understanding the value of green roofs.

Green roofs are specially built rooftops with soil and plants. They make sense because they reduce rain runoff, cool cities, cut energy costs and, if done right, add to a roof’s life span.

Chicago, where Mayor Richard Daley has pushed green roofs for more than a decade, has about 500 green roofs. But that nice big number figures out to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of Chicago’s roofs, according to a story Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune. In Germany, where local governments charge building owners for roof surfaces that lead to rain runoff, 15 percent to 20 percent of the country’s flat roofs are green, the Trib reported.

It’s not just Germany. In Toronto, builders of new buildings of 21,528 square feet or more have to cover part of their roofs with plants.

My favorite green roof mentioned in the article is on top of the Uncommon Ground restaurant at 1401 W. Devon Ave. in Chicago, where the restaurant grows many of the vegetables it serves its patrons. Now that makes sense.

Geri Nikolai writes about home and garden for the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star. Contact her at 815-871-6850 or