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Their Crop Runneth Over

An enthusiastic spring can lead to an overproductive summer. Next year, get smart. Meanwhile, when the garden explodes, get creative in putting up and sharing.


It seemed like a good idea in April to plant 20 tomato plants for your family of three, but now it's July and there's enough fruit on those vines to feed half the county. And that's not counting the 12 zucchini plants, eight varieties of lettuce or the pumpkin patch.

What do you do once the neighbors are turning down your offers of more free produce?

First, realize you are not alone. Over-planting is the most common mistake gardeners make, according to the National Gardening Assn. It's not entirely the gardeners' fault, however. Spending the winter reading seed catalogs can skew one's understanding of how many vegetables to plant.

"Most beginning gardeners tend to start too big with too many plants and end up with more work than needs to be done," said Charlie Nardozzi, horticulturist for the National Gardening Assn., based in Vermont.

The association has guidelines for some of the most popular crops to help keep gardeners from over-planting.

"The figures are per person based on an adult. So if you have kids, increase by half," Nardozzi said.

Here are estimates of amounts to be planted to supply one person with a season's worth of produce:

* Broccoli, five plants per person.

* Peas, a quarter-pound of pea seeds.

* Swiss chard or other dark greens, one-quarter of a seed packet.

* Snap or bush beans, a half-pound of seeds.

* Carrots and lettuce, half a seed packet.

* Cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, melon and zucchini, two plants per person.

Another way to avoid bumper crops is to use a method called succession growing. For example, plant one-fifth of a seed packet of carrots every couple of weeks instead of the entire package at once.

"That way, you never have too much coming up at once," Nardozzi said. "This is an excellent idea, especially in warm climates."

All this is great for next year, but what do you do with the produce section taking over the backyard right now?

Drying excess vegetables and fruit is one option. There are a number of food dehydrators on the market, or the sun can do the job.

Lois Shayne Edds of Tustin found a way to sun-dry tomatoes. "I worked at UC Irvine, and the parking was [not covered], so I just put the [whole] tomatoes on cookie sheets and placed them in the back window [of my car]," said Edds, 72. "The windows are rolled up, so there is no dust or flies, and it only takes a day and a half to dry."

Once the tomatoes are dried, Edds stores them in jars in the refrigerator. "With some I add garlic, basil and olive oil."

The thrice-climber of Mt. Whitney also suggests drying vegetables for backpacking. "You have to take food that is light. Just add bouillon, and you have a good nutritious meal," Edds said.

Linda Black of Fountain Valley uses a dehydrator for many of her bumper crops, but she cans tomatoes. Tomatoes are the easiest vegetable to can because there is no need for a pressure cooker.

"It's simple, safe and you don't have to worry about botulism," Black said.

Black follows the canning directions in the "Ball Blue Book Guide," published by the Ball canning products company. A guide can be obtained by calling Ball's parent company, Alltrista Corp., (800) 240-3340.

"They tell you not to keep them too long, so I make sure they're all used up within the year," Black said.

Geri Cibellis of Villa Park, president of the Orange County Organic Gardening Club, offers a different approach. She picks some of her vegetables when they are still small and eats more of them in a serving. "The squashes lend themselves to being harvested early. Then they're the little gourmet vegetables you pay a fortune for in the stores," she said.

For tomatoes, what she can't eat fresh Cibellis squeezes into tomato juice or cores and runs through the food processor to freeze in containers.

Cibellis has also donated her bumper crops to food distribution organizations. A national campaign encourages home gardeners to "grow a row for the hungry."

The program is sponsored by the Garden Writers of America and the Ferry-Morse Seeds company. To receive free seeds, a gardener promises to donate the food grown from the seeds to a local food bank. Seeds can be obtained by calling the Ferry-Morse Gardener's Helpline at (800) 238-3400.

When excess food is harvested, it can be taken to any local food bank. Many religious organizations also accept home-grown food donations.

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