By Pat Sherman
Health-minded and socially conscious San Diegans are following the lead of First Lady Michelle Obama , who in 2009 started an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt's victory garden during World War II.
Kathleen Probus, who teaches vegetable and tomato gardening classes at Walter A ndersen Nursery, says there is substantial
interest in home gardening these days. The reasons she hears include concern about chemical pesticides, fertilizers and genetically-modified produce, food allergies and recent E. coli and salmonella scares.
"People want to know where their plants came from and make sure they're not feeding their family something harmful," she says.
Getting started: sun and soil
Longtime San Diego weatherman and environmentalist Loren Nancarrow (a Fox 5 San Diego news anchor) has authored several books on the subject of organic gardening, branding himself as a local expert on the subject.
Excited to start his onions this season, Nancarrow suggests first-time vegetable gardeners start small, choosing the sunniest spot on their property.
"How you start will determine whether you continue," he says.
He suggests digging out existing soil and replacing it with nutrient-rich compost, which is available for about $12 a truckload at the Miramar Landfill.
"The added benefit is you really don't need to add any fertilizer on top of that, because the compost itself will feed the plants," he says. "With chemical fertilizers, those chemicals go straight to the plant and they grow beautifully, but the soil becomes completely worthless-and that's what's happening across America right now."
Nancarrow suggests purchasing or constructing a raised bed, and adding drip irrigation or a recycled soaker hose, so that water permeates the soil and reaches the root system.
Probus advises first-time gardeners to plant vegetables appropriate to the season.
"March is right on the cusp between the cool season and the hot season," she says. "Start with more of the beans and bell peppers. You can grow some of the earlyseason tomatoes like Early Girl, San Diego, Celebrity and Champion, though it's still a little early for the larger varieties."
Condo owners and renters might consider windowsill gardening.
"If you don't want to have to bend over to pick your vegetables, you can just pick them out of a small box that sits on top of a sill or
hangs off a wall," Probus says. "It's just easier."
Though windowsill gardens are good for smaller vegetation, Probus says people should realize their tomatoes and peppers may not reach the same size as they might outdoors.
Tips for starting a vegetable garden
• Plant in the sunniest portion of the yard
• Replace or enrich existing soil with compost
• Choose plants appropriate for the season
• Purchase or construct a raised vegetable container garden
• Add a drip irrigation system
Vegetables to plant in March: cabbage, carrots, beans, zucc hini, pumpkins, melons, some tomatoes
Summer vegetables: Tomatoes, chilies, corn, cucumbers and peppers
Winter vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and kale