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Inch by inch, row by row: Home and community gardeners harvest more than a crop

"Corn is probably my favorite," Margaret Rusch said. "I also like being outside, working in the sun."

"It's so beautiful here," said Fan Chen. "When the sun goes down behind those trees in the evening, it's such a beautiful place."

Chen has already harvested some Chinese greens that don't mind the frost.

"These last few days," she said, "I'm here almost daily. After the garden gets established, it's just watering and weeding."

Getting it established can be tricky. The most important things to do?

"You need good sun; fertilize; keep the weeds out; at first, water a lot," said Plummer. "Once the garden takes hold, you're OK."

"Keep the ground fluffed up," Giniecki said. "Weed. When you see farm fields, you don't see weeds. A lot of people throw their plants in the ground and walk away. If you don't weed, you're wasting your money. You have to have a love for it."

"Disease-resistant plants and a healthy garden soil," said Larry Sombke, who has the Web site beautifuleasygardens.com and is WAMC's natural gardener.

"A lot of compost is the No. 1 solution," said Sombke, who goes weekly with his wife, his two blue barrels and his little dog to collect compost from his town's transfer station.

"Compost is free in a lot of towns," he said. "It's worth a phone call. Most soils need decomposed plant material. Adding organic matter aerates the soil, retains moisture and encourages deep root growth."

The benefits to gardening?

"It's good exercise," Sombke said. "It gets you out, and it gets you thinking about the environment."

Oh, yeah, after all that work, there's the fresh produce.

"Tremendous, superior flavor," Sombke said of homegrown produce.

"Nothing's as good as a freshly picked tomato," Plummer said.

"You can taste the difference in the tomatoes and the greens. It may be psychological," Chen said.

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