Food-Gardening: Get a Natural Start with Tomatoes!

It's time to plant the summer veggie garden! Haven't joined the food-gardening craze sprouting all over the region? Now's a great time. Stores and farmer's markets are bursting with veggie starts, helping consumers stretch their dollars further with homegrown organic edibles. Metro's Natural Gardening Specialist, Carl Grimm, shows how to get your homegrown green on with the ever-popular tomato and other terrific edibles.

What can you plant right now? Almost anything you can think of - from eggplants, peppers and beans to squash and cucumbers. You can seed corn, peas, pumpkins, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, kale, lettuce, radish, carrots, and more. But let's talk about America's favorite garden plant: the tomato.

How do you know which tomatoes to grow?
Carl Grimm prefers a variety of tomato shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors with good production and disease resistance. His current favorites:
Sungold (ultra-sweet little orange ones).
Early girl (classic medium-sized slicer, super reliable).
Roma (for sauces and dripless sandwiches).
Green grape (looks green, tastes like candy).
Yellow pear (great shape and color despite its slight mealyness).
Go for the stoutest, biggest, healthiest-looking plants at the nursery or farmer's market.

How do you prepare the soil for veggies?
Use compost, compost and more compost! And if you don't have a lot of compost, use some all-purpose organic fertilizer, available at stores. Carl Grimm's current favorite fertilizer: grass clippings free from the lawn. He spreads them thick and digs them in to give new seedlings a little love.

How do you plant tomato starts?
Snip off the bottom leaves and bury part of the stem, so the plant grows more roots. Pretty simple.

What about pests and watering?
Regular watering and good soil fertility are keys to preventing plant diseases and pests. Be sure to water plants in the morning, which gives leaves time to dry out by nightfall. However, try not to let plants get drought stressed no matter what the time of day.

For slug-susceptible seedlings - peas and lettuce, for example - use a copper barrier such as cutoff deli tubs with copper tape attached. Other options include iron phosphate bait, which keeps slugs at bay during seedling time. It's nearly nontoxic to pets and people, but should still be used with caution.

Remember, you can grow a gorgeous, delicious garden without toxic pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Protect the ones you love by making your yard a pesticide-free zone and gardening naturally.

To learn more, grab your free spot on Metro's popular Gardens of Natural Delights tours. Register now by calling 503-234-3000.