Easy to maintain, critter-resistant and delicious, a Northern Michigan pizza garden in a pot is a great gardening introduction for Up North kids. Start with a plastic pot - they're lighter and retain moisture better than clay pots - that measures 24 to 36 inches in diameter. Set the pot in a spot that receives at least five hours of sunlight each day--perhaps on the deck overlooking Lake Michigan?
Fill the pot with an equal-parts mixture of potting soil, peat moss and vermiculite, plus the recommended amount of slow-release (14-14-14) fertilizer for your container size.
After the danger of frost has passed, typically around Father's Day in Northern Michigan, plant a paste-worthy tomato plant: short, large-load varieties like Roma and Viva Italia tomatoes work well. At least 12 inches from the base of the tomato, plant basil, oregano and - if you have room - a few bulbs of garlic and green onions.
Encourage the kids to water regularly and teach them to pinch off tomato plant suckers (the skinny sprouts that grow between the main stem and branches). Basil and oregano leaves can be harvested throughout the summer - pinch from the top to encourage new growth and keep plants bushy and squat, not skinny and scraggly.
In about 80 days, depending on variety, the tomatoes will ripen. At harvest time, wash and dice them, use a potato masher to create a paste and let simmer with herbs, garlic and onion. Spread the homemade sauce on dough, add cheese and favorite toppings and enjoy!
Lynda Twardowski is assistant editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.