Contain your garden and grow with abandon

May 30, 2009 

Carol Stein grows it

After a trip to buy gardening supplies, Debbie pointed out that the choices can be confusing. I stick to a few simple rules that work for most vegetables.

Gardening is as much an art as it is a precise science. The variables from garden to garden are staggering -- weather patterns, soil types, quality of seeds or starter plants, how much you water, and more.

This is why I abandoned row gardens years ago and started using containers to grow food crops. Using containers makes the process more uniform and easier to remember.

Soil is the key, and I make my own mix: one part composted animal manure (turkey compost or Black Kow) and three parts fluffy potting medium, also called soilless mix (MetroMix, Fafard or MiracleGro). Potting medium is a sterilized, soilless mixture that stays loose and airy -- and, just to confuse you, may be labeled "potting soil." Bags marked "garden soil," "topsoil" or, in some cases, "potting soil" usually contain dirt as a filler. Dirt tends to compact, squeezing out needed oxygen. So, read the label and pay a little extra for the good stuff.

Containers. Make sure they're clean and have drainage holes. Clean used containers with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water to remove soil-borne diseases. Terra cotta pots dry out quicker than glazed ceramic or plastic pots, so use terra cotta for plants that require less moisture. Use light-colored pots for root crops such as beets or carrots so the soil stays cooler.

Seeds. Read the instructions for when and how to sow them and how much space they need to mature properly.

Water deeply once or twice a week, or when the soil feels dry when you stick your finger about two inches into the soil. Mulch containers with a couple of inches of mini-pine bark nuggets or leaf compost to retain moisture and block weeds.

Never give up. Analyze your mistakes and adjust accordingly. Also, send your vegetable gardening questions to The Tasteful Garden. We're happy to help.

Debbie Moose cooks it

As you can see, you're lucky that Carol is the one offering the gardening information in this column.

I abandoned the effort to raise tomatoes last season, following years of frustration -- plants that bore one or two tomatoes, making them the most expensive 'maters ever. But I have high hopes for the Sweet 100s and Bush Champions that I planted in pots on my patio in April. The patio is the one place in my yard with any chance of getting enough sun.

When I get on a gardening tear, I don't like to stop. I like to have everything I need ready to go, and go at it for hours. The problem with such power gardening is meals. Especially if you have other people in the house who aren't about to touch a trowel, but who still expect to be fed, and by you.

When I'm tired after a day in the yard, I may not be up for going out, and the idea of ready-made food (and an adult beverage or two) is very appealing. A little planning, and you can have some great food in the refrigerator, just waiting for lunch or dinner.

Put some dishes together the night before that could serve for either meal, depending on how long you plan to labor among the flora. Bean and potato salads are even better if they sit in the refrigerator overnight, giving the flavors time to blend. Stash some hummus or tabouli in the fridge, with some pita, and you have no worries.

Want a hot meal? Stock your freezer with your favorite soup. It also will serve you well on those busy, what-am-I-going-to-eat days. I like to prepare vegetable or black bean soups, both of which freeze well in airtight containers.

My favorite quick meal is pimiento cheese spread on toasted bread. Pimiento cheese was the peanut butter of my childhood -- something we always had on hand to satisfy at lunch or snack time.

And a pimiento cheese sandwich is even better with thick, juicy slices of those fresh tomatoes. A girl can dream, can't she?

Reach freelance writers Debbie Moose and Carol Stein at tastefulgarden@hotmail.com.

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