One of the best memories of summer I have as a child is going into the garden, picking a tomato, cleaning it on my pedal pushers, and taking a bite. The warm, ripe taste of that tomato made me a vegetable gardener for life.  

Whether you have an acreage, a backyard, or a balcony, you can grow vegetables.  And gardeners who plant vegetables are happy people! Recently, a study of urban gardening, noted that vegetable gardeners were shown to have a boost in their mental well- being similar to those who walked or biked for exercise.

Vegetables need 6-8 hours of sunlight to produce. I stick to my favorites; tomatoes, zucchini, and beans.  My garden is small, so I plant pole beans instead of bush beans. I use garden twine to make a teepee of bamboo sticks for the beans to travel up.

 I’ve learned to just plant one zucchini plant. They are prolific! Zucchini is best when about seven inches long. If a few become too large, stuff them. Combine cooked sweet Italian sausage, breadcrumbs, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil and add to a zucchini that has been sliced in half, seeded, and steamed for 4-5 minutes. Finish cooking on a grill and top with provolone.

Tomatoes, however, are my favorites. I like small cherry tomatoes and large slicing tomatoes.  In the garden, I use pantyhose to tie the tomatoes to wooden stakes. Pantyhose stretch and can be repositioned easily without damaging the vines.  The most delicious way for me to eat a tomato is sliced along with mozzarella and drizzled with a balsamic syrup, sprinkled with basil leaves.

I keep things simple and fertilize with composted manure and mulch with straw. Watering should be done low, being careful not to splash onto the leaves. Drip hoses work well for watering only the roots.

If your garden is on a balcony, use containers that fit the plant and your space. Your local garden center will have suggestions on what vegetables will be best, such as Patio Tomatoes. As with flowers, vegetables in containers will need to be watered frequently, especially during the hottest summer days. 

As more and more benefits of gardening are realized, perhaps the best one of all is that a great tomato, still warm from the garden, makes you smile.

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