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  • Lisa Liss / Special to The Bee

    Students at Woodlake Elementary in Sacramento planted tomatoes, onions and garlic for a salsa garden. Eight plants gave them plenty of tomatoes for chili, spaghetti sauce and salsa.

  • Lisa Liss / Special to The Bee

    The Woodlake Elementary garden produced lots of salsa as a gift for the Wind Youth Center.

  • Ron Cardillo Photography

    Big Daddy tomatoes were a hit for Vicky Rodgers of Fair Oaks.

Seeds: A frustrating year for Sacramento-area gardeners

Published: Saturday, Sep. 1, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6CALIFORNIA LIFE

As the maxim goes, all gardening is local. This summer in Sacramento, make it hyper-local.

That's the most plausible explanation for the harvest of 2012. No two gardeners seem to have the same results.

Some had bountiful squash, others nary a crookneck. Tomato vines proved stingy in Yolo County yet offered a boatload of sauce makings a few miles east.

Judging from my own community garden plot in Sacramento's Bill Bean Jr. Park, tomatoes took their sweet time to ripen. A week of triple-digit days finally reddened their skins. But their numbers are still paltry. Here it is September and only the reliable mini-plum Juliet is providing much fruit.

Lack of tomato-growing prowess can feel humiliating – especially for someone who's supposed to be a gardening pro. It's frustrating and upsetting. It can convince novices (as well as seasoned counterparts) to just quit.

At least I'm not alone in my tomato blues.

"It's been lousy for tomatoes," said organic farmer Suzanne Ashworth of Del Rio Botanical in West Sacramento. "Too cold, too hot, too late; they just haven't been happy all summer."

"Tell that to my fifth- and sixth-grade 'Tolerance Kids' and they will beg to disagree," said teacher Lisa Liss. "We planted eight plants in March, and have made chili, spaghetti sauce, soup and tons of salsa."

At Sacramento's Woodlake Elementary School, the students grew Roma tomatoes and other varieties plus jalapeños, onions, garlic, cilantro and more makings for salsa. It would be a gift for the neighborhood's Wind Youth Center, which serves homeless and impoverished children.

"My Tolerance Kids group (which meets after school) works on many projects through the year, promoting and teaching about tolerance through community service," Liss said. "Our goal was to have all the produce to make salsa for the Wind Youth Center. We did that and more."

One great tomato can make a season – especially the discovery of a new favorite.

Vicky Rodgers of Fair Oaks found that tomato in Big Daddy. Started indoors from seed, Big Daddy found its groove with that August heat. And these tomatoes really are huge – just one is a handful.

"These hybrids weigh over 1 pound each," Rodgers said. "They put Big Boys to shame – 100-degree weather works for them! Not only that, they are delicious."

Big Daddy was a surprise late-summer hit, months in the making.

"This is the first year I've grown the Burpee Big Daddy tomato," Rodgers said. "I ordered two packets of seed from Burpee last winter and planted my packet in a seed starter indoors in March. The other packet went to France!

"About eight of the strongest plants were planted outside in May and grew very quickly," she added. "They are in full production now and we are picking gorgeous tomatoes."

Not all of them weigh a pound, but they tend to run toward extra-large.

"The flavor is outstanding," added Rodgers. "I will plant them again next year."

Rodgers also got a good harvest from her Romas.

"My husband and I made pasta sauce and froze it – we had so many tomatoes over the weekend," she said. "In the past, I have grown Early Girl because I love getting tomatoes before anyone else."

While stimulating tomatoes, those 100-plus days in mid-August dried out pollen in squash blossoms. No pollen means no squash. (Did you think you were the only one who couldn't grow zucchini?)

But otherwise, squash are having an excellent season, Ashworth said.

Tell that to my crooknecks.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington



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