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When growing organic food, consider what you like to eat


So you have decided you are going to grow some healthy organic produce in your own backyard or patio. Great!

What are you going to grow? First rule: Plant what you are going to eat. If you hate tomatoes, don’t rush out and get some tomato plants because everyone says it is time to plant the tomatoes.

Give a little forethought not only to what you will eat, but also whether it makes sense financially to grow it. If you have a small amount of space and your two favorite things are strawberries and zucchini, remember that it costs a lot more to buy strawberries while squash is usually inexpensive and plentiful. Most vegetables need quite a bit of sun; a minimum of six hours will do, but they can handle the whole day.

At this time of year, we are finishing up the cool season growing period. That doesn’t mean we have to rip out our lettuce and broccoli, but as they finish bearing their crop of edibles, you can start interplanting young plants of the next thing you want to grow.

The warm season brings a huge amount of desirable veggies into season. The two largest groups are tomatoes and peppers. Tomatoes range from mini blueberry sized treats to large slicing size fruits. Some of the favorites are Sweet 100s, Grape, Yellow Pear, Sungold and Cherry in the smallest sizes; medium-sized include Roma, Patio, Lemon Boy and Heatwave; and the largest the grow well here are Celebrity, Early Girl, Better Boy and Champion. That is not to say you can’t grow Beefsteak tomatoes here, but they do present a bit more of a challenge.

Peppers are a huge group that includes sweet bell peppers in red, orange, gold, chocolate, lilac, deep purple along with the traditional green. Other sweet peppers include Sweet Banana, Gypsy and Cubanelle, often used in cooking. And then there are the hot peppers in every degree of hot one can imagine. They range from mellow and tasty like poblano and Anaheim; to midrange hot like jalapeƱo, cayenne and Hungarian Wax; to the ultrahot competitors habanero, Scotch Bonnet and Caribbean Red.

Tomatoes and peppers are by no means the only thing to grow in pots or small beds. Today there are selections of cucumbers, melons and squash that grow in bush forms rather than rambling vines. These not only take up much less space, they also make good companions to upright plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and beans so each can have their own space in the sun while their roots share the underground space.

There are also fruits that make fine container plants. Blueberries are a lovely small shrub, while strawberries are more of a ground cover, which can be planted in combination or by themselves in hanging baskets or strawberry jars. Raspberries and blackberries grow on “canes,” which are basically upright stems that are dormant in winter, leaf out in spring, bear fruit in summer, and are replaced by a new cane the following year.

There are plenty of other things to grow as well, and herbs make great companion plants with vegetables, so it’s quite easy to grow everything one needs for salsa in one pot! Think about what you like to eat and the garden will follow – it’s only natural!

Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at familyplus@tucsoncitizen.com.




When growing organic food, consider what you like to eat

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