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First-Time Gardener Analyzes Results

When Shana Elbaum-Garfinkle decided to plant a vegetable garden in the spring she approached the project with the same scientific precision she applies to her work as a molecular bio-physicist.

Shana is a PhD candidate at Yale University , and her thesis explores the role of the protein tau , which is present in the brains of people with Alzheimer 's disease. "The big question in the field is why tau changes from a happy, flexible, singular tubule and self-reassembles to form big tangles," Shana says. "In theory, if we can figure out what causes the change, we can figure out a medication."

Shana put her skills as a researcher to work learning about vegetable growing. Her search led her to the Square Foot Gardening book, a system that works well for first-time gardeners. The couple built three 4-foot-square boxes, filled them with soil and started planting. Designs by Lee in Stamford supplied many of the seeds and seedlings they planted in their new beds.

As the growing season winds down, Shana is taking stock of her first year as a vegetable grower, creating a balance sheet of what worked and what didn't. Her biggest mistake, she says, was the trellising she purchased, which wasn't strong enough and collapsed in a storm.

She also realized that she'd planted too many tomatoes - six plants for two people. She was hesitant to cut off things that looked healthy even though she knew that pruning extra growth, like the sucker shoots on a tomato, can be good for a plant.

Shana planted several varieties of eggplant, peas, beans and zucchini and all did well. She says the butternut squash, a particularly vigorous grower, "went everywhere."

"We learned a lot about gardening and cherished everything we grew," says Shana. The garden turned out to be an perfect metaphor, as Shana's garden experience began at the same time she discovered she was pregnant with her first baby. "I realized that growing things needs a lot of patience," she says.

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