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Growing great tomatoes

PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia-area master gardener Lois Fischer insists that there are no hard and fast rules when keeping up a garden, and that even she, a hyperkinetic retiree, has limited time and energy.

PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia-area master gardener Lois Fischer insists that there are no hard and fast rules when keeping up a garden, and that even she, a hyperkinetic retiree, has limited time and energy.

That said, she insists that weeding, like keeping up with the laundry, "isn't really that hard if you stay up with it." An hour a week should do it.

As for growing tomatoes, here are some of Fischer's tips:

Be as organic as you can. One easy trick is to plant nasturtiums, which are natural aphid traps. Remove other bugs by hand, with a hose or insecticidal soap.

Move nutrient-hogging tomatoes around in three-year cycles, to help soil recover. (One thought: Peas and beans replenish nitrogen.) In the interim, if space is limited, plant one small tomato plant per large plastic container, using three parts potting soil, one part compost. Shredded leaves work great.

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Stake or cage your plants. Water in the morning and from below. Wet leaves promote fungus.

And try some of Fischer's favorites: Juliet, small, red oblong, prolific, good for sauce; Sungold, yellow cherry, "super, super, super sweet," Fischer says; and Lemon Boy, mildly tangy flavor, true lemon yellow, big fruit for slicing.

Fischer likes tomatoes with imaginative names. Get a load of Box Car Willie, Pineapple, Granny Smith and Mortgage Lifter.

"How can you resist?" she asks.

She also goes for oddballs like Garden Peach, which is small, peach-colored and slightly fuzzy, and interesting colors, like the Russian blacks or mahogany-hued Cherokee Purple.

And she likes exotics, like the Polish Soldacki.

If you're feeling inspired, there's still time to sow cilantro and arugula and, later on, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and salad greens.

But tomatoes will have to wait ... till next year.

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