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How does your summer vegetable garden grow?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one inspired by a gorgeously sunny Sunday to hit the nursery and get started on my summer vegetable garden. My favorite local stop --  H&H Nursery in Lakewood -- was jam-packed, particularly the section selling vegetable starts.

Normally, I game-plan my summer garden like a college freshman on his first date. I’ll spend a couple months browsing the various catalogs and weighing the merits of pole versus shelly beans, this variety against that. Anticipation is part of the fun of gardening. Garden

But this winter was so crazy I wound up being spontaneous. I got some Blue Lake green beans to go up a trellis and Cocozelle zucchini to mound in front of them. As usual, one raised bed will be a lettuce mix.

I’ve gone back and forth about tomatoes -- living in Long Beach only a couple miles from the ocean, our May gray can last until early August, which does not encourage great fruit. Tomatoes would rather be in Bakersfield, and though I like my home-grown 'maters as much as anyone, that’s a sacrifice I’m not willing to make.

Gradually, I’ve whittled my selection from a dozen plants to probably half of that this year. I’ve got old favorite Brandywine -- I might get only a dozen or so fruits from it, but they are great -- and a couple of mini-tomatoes -- Juliet and SunGold. These fruit and ripen reliably even in cool weather.

That chicken-wire contraption you see in the front of the picture is my latest innovation. This is actually my second summer garden this year. The first I planted several weeks ago, but it was very quickly un-planted by the neighborhood cats, which regard my raised vegetable beds as super-deluxe litter boxes. So Saturday, a friend and I screwed together some 2X4s and topped them with chicken wire. Let’s see the kitties dig through that.

I’ve still got one raised bed to plant, sometime in the next few weeks after I harvest the last of the winter/spring crop of beets and shallots. It gets pretty good sun, so more tomatoes? Or do I go for eggplants and cucumbers? Or maybe something entirely different?

What do you suggest? And what have you planted in your summer garden?

-- Russ Parsons

Photo of tomatoes and cat-proof garden by Russ Parsons / Los Angeles Times

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I've constructed a raised bed too, filled with Calabrese Broccoli, Zucchini, celery, beets. and then another part for heirloom San Marzanos and Florentine Beefsteaks, and a trellis of spring peas. You can see them (and the journey to getting them to grow) on my blog, makemehungry.com

I've got plenty of round-two seedlings that need to be adopted, if you'd like to give them a home! ;)

Go vertical! Get high! Make some screens with posts and large gauge wire and plant peas, beans, cukes, etc. (The last 3 are fine in cool weather).

If you are growing more food than you need,visit www.AmpleHarvest.org - a non-profit that helps diminish hunger (and help the environment too!) by enabling gardeners to share their garden produce/herbs with neighborhood food pantries.

The site is free both for the food pantries and the gardeners using it.

Created by a CNN Hero and backed by Google.com and the USDA, nearly 4,000 food pantries nationwide are already on it and more are signing up daily.

It includes preferred delivery times, driving instructions to the pantry as well as (in many cases) information about store bought items also needed by the pantry (for after the growing season). Free AmpleHarvest iPhone & Android apps are also available.

See www.AmpleHarvest.org/waystohelp to see how you can help (without spending a dime) in your own community.

If ya can, it's simply impossible to have too many tomatoes! And that way you can have great tomatoes from your pantry in December.

I'm SO with you on H&H...the best ever. Last year was my first with the raised beds, and I went a little overboard on the lettuce - I think I will keep it down to 3 or 4 varieties this year!
By all means, go for cucumbers....so great in your fresh-picked salad.And I was also glad I planted arugula, which is great when you mix it in with a couple of lettuce varieties. And thanks for the tomato ideas - I will probably plant more this year.
I can't wait! I'm going to plant this weekend!


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