Growing your own food can be an incredibly rewarding experience, especially for local food enthusiasts. It doesn’t get any more local than fresh vegetables right out of your backyard or community garden! This guide will take the novice gardener through some of the basics and also provides helpful resources for even the more experienced gardener. So, interested in growing food to feed yourself, your family, or your community? Let’s get started!

Planning your garden

It’s no surprise that winters in northeastern Illinois can be brutally cold. Those frigid winter days provide the perfect opportunity to plan your garden. Using an online garden planner can help you organize and visualize your space. It can be tempting to grow one of everything, but realistically you may only have room for a few favorites. You will also want to find out when to plant certain vegetables.

Choose your crops carefully, keeping in mind the space you have available. You might also want to consider which crops grow well with each other through companion planting. If you are planning on growing perennials, keep in mind that where you put them now will be their spot for future seasons as well.


Make sure to consider whether you are using containers, raised beds, growing in-ground, or some combination thereof—each has their advantages and disadvantages. Soil health and amendments are also an important part of gardening. Check out DK Organics, a great local resource for compost, topsoil, and more.

If you are looking for seeds, check out the Round Lake Area Garden Club, who manage a seed library. You can also get seeds at local feed stores: the Grayslake Feed Sales or Wadsworth Feed and Saddlery.

If you are looking to buy plants for your garden, consider supporting your local farmer or plant nursery rather than a retail store. Lake County has a ton of plant sales that are typically held in early to mid-May each year. Also, you can often find plants for sale at your local farmers market as well.


The most rewarding part of gardening is tasting the fruits of your labor! It’s important to know when and how to harvest each crop. Depending on your crops, it is possible to harvest from your garden year-round by knowing what’s in season.

Eating seasonally is a rewarding and fun experience! Check out this great seasonal food guide. There are also plenty of resources with seasonal cooking recipes for you to try out.

If you end up with a bounty of vegetables, you can preserve your harvest by canning, freezing, fermenting, and so much more!

What’s next?

As you progress in the garden, you may want to check out Mindful Waste in Barrington for an introduction to hot composting or vermicomposting. Composting is easy and is a great way to build soil health and reduce food waste!

You may also want to learn more about planting to attract pollinators, or connect with the Lake County Beekeeper’s Association to learn about beekeeping to encourage pollination for honey production. The Lake County Forest Preserves is a great resource on the importance of planting native species in your yard.

Below, you’ll find additional resources about where to find good products, how to manage pests and disease, and helpful gardening tips.

Happy gardening!


If your harvest is bountiful and you have excess produce, consider donating it to a local food pantry. Food pantries welcome fresh, healthy produce for their clients! Find a food pantry near you and contact them for drop off and donation information.

You can also grow food specifically for a food pantry! Contact a food pantry in your community to see whether there are specific or culturally relevant vegetables that their clients would enjoy.

Gardening Resources:

Local Resources and Organizations

Mindful Waste – information and resources about composting and food recovery

University of Illinois Extension Lake and McHenry Counties – tips for growing, pest management, how to harvest, preserving the harvest, and much more

Lake County Beekeepers Association – information about utilizing honeybees for pollination and crops

Freemont Township Community Garden – a community garden that is a learning resource for individuals or groups interested in gardening

Garden Planners
Seed Catalogs
Soil Improvement
Local Feed Stores
Pest Management
Helpful Tips
Looking for more information about vegetable gardening basics? Check out the University of Illinois Extension’s “A Taste of Gardening Guide” for info about pest control, storing vegetables, and more.

Local Plant Sales!

Most plant sales are held annually in early/mid May. Have a plant sale to list here? Contact [email protected]