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Vegetable and herb gardening is “in” and studies indicate it will continue to grow in popularity.  The reasons are as varied as the people who garden.

Some do it to save money. Others want to ensure their food is chemical-free, and as safe as possible. Still others grow their own vegetables because fresher is just better. Many do it because gardening is good for you and some because it's still fun to play in the dirt.

Whatever the reason for opting to join the seven million Americans who grabbed their gardening gear and grew their own vegetables and herbs last year, the road to success is basically the same as everyone else's—planting at the right time, making sure the soil's in shape, weeding and watering responsibly, and feeding and nurturing plants. The backyard gardener doesn't need a farm-sized backyard—or pocketbook—to do it.

Avid gardener Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants, the largest producer of vegetable and herb plants in North America, grown locally in 75 locations nationwide, offers some time-saving tips to make the growing easy:

* Survey the soil: The first step is to decide where to put the garden. Good soil is key. The best soil is loam—a soft, dark, crumbly dirt. Loamy soil holds water, allows for drainage and is easy to dig. To break up clay or sandy soil, add peat moss and bone meal so that these soils can also be productive gardening bases.

* Size up the space:  When plotting out the size of the garden, be sure it's big enough to yield a good harvest to make efforts worthwhile.  If there is limited yard space—or none at all—grow vegetables and herbs in containers on a deck, terrace, balcony or even on the windowsill.

* Let the sunshine in:  Plants need plenty of sun—at least six hours a day. A sunny and open location is the best bet for producing a plentiful harvest.

* Pick the plants to suit the plot:  Grow vegetables that are expensive to buy in the grocery store or at the farmer's market, such as tomatoes and peppers.

* Time-saving transplants:  When planting begins, opt for transplants—seedlings that have already been started—rather than starting from seed. Transplants will save time because plants are six weeks or older when put in the ground, and harvesting begins much sooner.

* Feed the food:  Vegetable plants will need food and water to survive and grow. When feeding plants, try to avoid chemical fertilizers that could potentially seep into groundwater.

* Water, water, water:  Give the garden a good watering once or twice a week, although some crops may need more water, especially if a particular climate is very hot. A thorough soaking, allowing the water to penetrate four to six inches into the soil, is better for plants than frequent shallow watering.

For more information on gardening advice, visit

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