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She Raised her Beds for Terrific Tomatoes

Last summer, Sabrina Darnowsky's plants threatened to take over her Cincinnati neighborhood.

"The tomatoes are a sprawling mass of vines that I'm sure would engulf any small children that might pass by," she said in the midst of a huge harvest last August. "The peppers are fabulous, the cantaloupe has left its bed and is getting acquainted with the strawberries."

In fact, from six, 4-by-4 foot raised beds, her harvest included 120 peppers, 200 tomatoes (not including the cherry tomatoes which she didn't count) and 20 pints of green beans.

Good soil, good humor and raised beds, that's the secret, Sabrina said.

All of her raised beds are narrow enough that she can reach every plant without stepping on the soil. "That way they don't get any foot traffic and the soil doesn't become compacted," she said.

In the spring, she prepares the beds carefully, adding compost and loosening the soil. She is committed to organic gardening, and adds slow-release organic fertilizers to the soil for heavy feeders, like tomatoes.

Sabrina is passionate about gardening. And it all started two decades ago when she planted a packet of wildflower seed.

"I was really taken with some of the different flowers that came up," she said. "Then I was hooked. I started noticing the flowers in other people's yards and trying out new plants at home."

A few years later, she added vegetables to her garden. Now, the garden has become a project she can share with her husband as well. Together, they grow vegetables in the six raised beds, flowers in two more beds (one 6-by-50 bed and one 12-by-50 bed) and an herb and rose garden (he's the rose enthusiast).

They grow two crops per season, starting in the early spring with peas all along the perimeter of the gardens, spinach, carrots and broccoli. As those crops mature, they plant heat-loving plants: tomatoes, peppers, beans and cantaloupe.

The Darnowskys start all of their plants from seed. Those plants that need a head start indoors are grown in the basement with a Three-Tier Deluxe Light Garden. Last year, they grew over 300 seedlings with their setup. Seedstarting is a family effort.

"Alan will say: do you want to go downstairs and look at our babies," she said, laughing. "And we'll have seedstarting weekends together. It's a great project that we can share."

In the winter they plan the season and decide on a few new plants or gardening techniques to try.

"We just get so much pleasure out of the veggie garden," she said. "We eat fresh produce all season long."

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