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Fresh things come to those who wait

All grown up: A monthly series

POSTED: September 11, 2009 1:00 a.m.
KRISTEN MORALES/The Times

Tomatoes are growing well in the garden.

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Five months after putting them in the ground, I can finally say I have some tomatoes.

Within that time, one wilted, one turned out to bear yellow cherry tomatoes and two others have turned into plants more resembling shrubbery than tomato plants. But I can also report that I've been able to supplement some of my farmers market purchases with a fresh tomato here and there from my garden.

Overall, it was a season of learning. Since I expanded my garden this spring, doubling its size in a terraced effect in my sloping backyard, I wanted this past summer to be a test of how much I could actually fit in it.

You see, I had this pipe dream that I would be canning homemade tomato sauce by the end of July, pulling up zucchinis until the hot weather finally left and enjoying some surprises, like carrots and beets, in the process.

Well, like I said, it was a season to do more experimenting than picking. And while I do have fruits to show of my labors - specifically, a freezer full of squash that's been sliced, diced, breaded and chopped - I have even more lessons to apply to next year's garden.

You can never do enough planning

I started out this summer with a dozen or so packs of seeds, all of which I purchased because I knew I liked the vegetables. But, that didn't necessarily mean they were well suited for my garden, nor would I have enough room to grow them. Thank goodness I was able to spill over into my neighborhood's community garden, where six squash plants provided well throughout the summer.

Also, when planning where your varieties of plants will grow, make sure you draw a little scale model of your garden, and draw in the plants - REALISTICALLY! Where I originally thought I could get three tomato plants turned into two, which made for a glut of little starter plants when it came time to put them in the garden.

And while we're on the subject of planning, plan ahead to rotate out early crops for mid-summer ones, and then plan a spot for fall ones, too. I was lucky enough to score some large pots for some spinach and lettuce seeds, but they would probably be better served in my garden next year, planted where some beets or carrots might have been in the spring.

Those pesky pests

Let me just say, I tilled up a few rows of soil, worked in some soft compost and set in some beet and cauliflower seeds a few weeks ago. Before long, tiny shoots were coming up, and I was very proud of my babies.

But come last week, I went out to do a little watering and what do I find, but a few seedlings strewn about and opossum foot-sized depressions along the row of baby beets. It was a massacre. At least they didn't touch the cauliflower - yet.

But in all seriousness, the garden gets attacked on all fronts, especially if you're like me and try to use as few chemicals as possible. I think a lot of the bug problems are taken care of with a combination of Seven Dust (I did one application in the spring, and that was it) and spacing the plants so there's enough airflow around them. That way, they get enough sun to ward off any rot and you're not constantly tugging at them as you walk around the garden.

Be thankful for what you get

Now that I have five tomato plants laden with tomatoes - yes, they're still green, but I'm still counting them - I've realized that to have enough tomatoes to make quart after quart of spaghetti sauce, I would need a garden easily double the size, all dedicated to tomatoes. So, I've learned that an occasional tomato sandwich that shares the plate with some zucchini stir fry or some beans is preferable to just one big crop.

And let's not forget that squash. I must admit, I'm pretty proud of those, even though I've picked a few the size of a baseball bat. My little chest freezer is about half full of them, so I know I'm well stocked for winter with at least one home-grown vegetable.



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