Now that May has arrived, there are many vegetable crops that can be planted, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, okra, corn, beans, squash, peanuts and basil. With our cool, moist spring, it isn't too late to plant kale, kohlrabi, cabbage or broccoli, either.  A mix of all these crops will let you enjoy fresh vegetables with every meal, all summer long.

          Over the past ten years, Community CROPS, a Lincoln non-profit organization, has helped people grow healthy food and live sustainably. Our network of community gardens provides vegetable garden space for those who need it, resulting in a diversity of edible plants growing in each plot.  We offer dozens of classes each growing season, as well, open to anyone who wants to learn how to grow more food and how to cook tasty dishes with fresh vegetables. CROPS is currently getting ready for the annual plant sale, held Sunday, May 5, 11-3 at EcoStores, 530 West P Street.

          Community gardeners are a diverse mix of people, some who grew up here in Lincoln, some who have immigrated to Nebraska from other parts of the world.  Those from elsewhere grow a diverse range of crops, including some less familiar to us but which still grow quite well.  For example, okra is a hibiscus relative with a beautiful flower, and a tasty edible pod.  When harvested young, it can be eaten raw and has a tasty green-bean like flavor.  Sweet potatoes have a gorgeous vine that is easy to tend, and act as a living mulch to deter weeds from growing. Peanuts are also a popular community garden crop that are fun to grow.  Kids love watching the runners flower and then bury themselves underground to grow a peanut.

          What if you don't have a vegetable garden yet or you need a bigger one?  Look for the sunniest spot in your yard, as most vegetables need full sun.  This might mean your vegetables will grow in a side or front yard, but that's fine.  Vegetables are beautiful, productive plants, and they deserve to be the center of attention.  If you don't have space in your yard, talk to a neighbor, as there are plenty of empty pieces of land that are currently just being mowed.  Community gardens at the thirteen locations around Lincoln are another great way to get a garden space, but unfortunately the Community CROPS gardens have filled up for 2013.  Sign up begins again in February 2014.

          Once you have decided where you will put your new or expanded vegetable garden, consider sheet mulching the area to start the garden rather than tilling.  Sheet mulching involves laying down cardboard directly on top of the grass or weeds already growing.  Then cover the cardboard with 2 to 4 inches of mature compost and top with straw or leaves as mulch.  Shallow-rooted plants, such as lettuce or strawberries, can be planted directly into the compost.  For deeper-rooted plants, such as tomatoes or trees, poke a hole in the cardboard and plant the tomato in the dirt below.  The cardboard will keep the weeds from growing and help keep the soil underneath moist.  This no-dig method mimics the way nature creates soil and gives you a quick, easy-to-build and productive garden bed for little cost.

          Almost every gardener grows tomatoes for their delicious flavor and ease of growth. Hundreds of types of tomatoes exist, in all different colors, shapes and sizes, ranging from the tiny currant tomato to the gigantic Pink Brandywine.

          Pink Brandywine is one of the mainstays of the heirloom tomato market.  These large pink-red fleshed tomatoes have fantastic flavor.  One slice of a 1.5 lb Brandywine tomato is so big, you just need one for a sandwich.  Brandywines also have unusual “potato-shaped” leaves, which are smoother and less lobed than the traditional tomato leaf. These tomatoes have been popular since the late 1800's with gardeners, but has never been commercialized due to the delicateness of the fruit, so you have to grow them yourself to experience the delicious flavor.

          Looking for a cherry variety?  Kids love picking these miniature tomatoes, and really go for the sweet taste, especially if they have helped to grow them. Adults enjoy them, too, in salads, or sliced on a homemade pizza.  Super Sweet 100 is an abundantly fruiting hybrid cherry tomato with 1” bright red fruits. Sweet Olive is a grape-shaped bite-sized tomato that is also good for containers.

          There's also a wide variety of pepper plants available.  California Wonder is a good standard pepper that grows well, an open-pollinated variety that is tasty and great for stuffing. Early Sunsation is a heavy-yielding thick-walled bright yellow pepper.

          Every garden needs space for some herbs, along with the vegetables, to add flavor to your favorite dishes.  Basil is easy to grow and has a wonderful flavor.  Genovese is the standard, but there are many others such as Spicy Globe Basil, which grows in a tidy compact bush.  Cilantro is another favorite for a variety of cuisines, as is mint in all its forms.  How about Ginger Mint or Apple Mint?

          The possibilities are seemingly endless.  Pick a few varieties of edibles you like to eat, plus some new ones you would like to try and get planting!  You'll enjoy the bounty all summer long.

Copyright 2013

          You can buy these varieties and many more at retail locations around town, or stop by the Community CROPS 10th Annual Plant Sale on Sunday, May 5, 11am-3pm at EcoStores, 530 West P Street (look for signs at the intersection of West O Street & Sun Valley Road).  The Plant Sale will have over 45 varieties of tomatoes, 20 different peppers, and dozens of herbs, along with many other vegetables and a wide range of perennials, including gorgeous hybrid daylilies, all at very reasonable prices.

          Contact us at or (402) 474-9802 to learn more about our plant sale, classes and programs.