So summer is here and that means lots of sun, sand, selling snow cones and....... a raised veggie garden. My daughter, Katie (who is only 8), and I have started our summer project and it is time to get messy and plant. What I thought would be difficult and rough has been superbly smooth.
Cool as a cucumber, Katie gently guides me through and says "Mom, are you serious?" "This is like, so easy and so much fun!", and besides, "I have already done this at El Marino with the Growing Great lady." Having two older brothers tends to root her in reality but she is such the little worker. We talk to people and study up a bit. We also find out that cucumbers, corn, squash and tomatoes grow really well in the summer. This is good because kids tend to like the sweeter vegetables the best (SUGAR)!!
We also decide to focus on tomatoes first and we want to plant both heirloom and cherry. She is shocked to discover that a tomato is actually a fruit (botanically), and not a veggie because of their use in salads and savory dishes. Also, tomatoes are relatively easy to grow because you can plant them year-round but July through December is their prime harvesting time.
After eating a gorgeous one from my neighbor, Sara Hartley's raised vegetable garden (right here in Culver City); I can truly say there is nothing like eating a ripe, juicy tomato right from the garden when it is still warm from the summer sun. This is great news because summer salads are my plan to get my kids healthy. Furthermore salads mean extra motivation for ripe and healthy vegetables! Sara plants both heirloom and cherry from the seed which is way to go. Sara has an incredible vegetable garden. Her raised bed consists of tons of herbs and vegetables. I constantly borrow her rosemary for my roasted chicken and basil for the pasta. She also has squash, eggplant, string beans, oregano, mint and lemon balm. I admire her knowledge of planting and sustainable way of living.
Even the formal definition of a tomato is scrumptious: A fruit that consists of a glossy, thin, smooth skin with a juicy flesh containing numerous, soft, edible seeds. The common tomato is the round, flat topped, red tomato with pinkish to red flesh (Beefsteak). The smaller ones are Cherry tomatoes. These can be red, yellow or orange with pink, red or yellow flesh. (www.freshforkids.com). The different color cherry tomatoes in a salad mixed with feta and avocado and a side of fish (my southern staple) or roasted chicken make for a beautiful look as well as an amazing summer meal.
Even better, according to Dr. Christopher Hebert, MD, of Tulane University, the health benefits of tomatoes are robust and are the following:
- Tomatoes contain natural sugars (both fructose and sucrose).
- Tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene, a specific cartenoid that scientists believe could be important for health in the prostate gland for men. Basically the riper the tomato equates to more lycopene.
- Cherry tomatoes (deep red colored ones are an excellent source of beta carotene).
- Tomatoes are good for the skin.
The DEAL: Planting Tomatoes: Once again, I asked Sara for her step-by-step plan of planting her delicious tasting and looking tomatoes: Her process of planting is all natural and organic of course and she even makes her own fertilizer. This is what she advises:
- Clean out the raised bed in April (Except the herbs). Again, as mentioned in my previous blog, this spring was unusually cool. Therefore, if that is the case, then start in May instead.
- Turn the soil (mix it up with organic mulch and use dark, potting soil)
- She then mixes in her own natural fertilizer by using egg shells, organic coffee beans and water
- Dig the hole
- Plant the tomato seeds
- Water gently 2-3 times per week
- Tomatoes grow best in warm, dry climates and with well-drained soil.
- The cherry tomatoes bloom faster than the heirloom.
- It is more beneficial to not use runoff water from your roof for your raised vegetable garden. Sara waters her garden every morning and sprays dish soap and water to get the bugs off.
- They are best planted into the ground as seedlings. You can grow tomatoes as seeds (leave them on the kitchen window sill) or purchase them as seedlings from a nursery. It takes up to 6 weeks from being seeds before they are ready to plant in the garden. It will then take another 3-4 months before the parent plant has flowered and are ready to eat.
- Refrigerating tomatoes before they ripen (a gorgeous reddish, orange) reduces their flavor. Therefore let them rest a bit in a fruit basket before eating them.
So enjoy your 4th of July and hopefully you will be eating tons of fresh tomatoes -- whether heirloom, cherry or beefsteak. Hopefully from your garden too!
If you need additional information on planting a raised vegetable garden, please contact Tom Stout at www.stoutdesignbuild.com.