Carmia Feldman

Growing fruits and vegetables can be an attractive exercise. Geoffrey Wood will discuss food and landscape ideas at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Seeds: Food garden best started in small bites

Published: Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 - 9:48 am

One gardening trend has yet to wither: People want to grow what they eat.

That's likely to be evident this weekend at Cal Expo during the annual Northern California Home & Landscape Expo. More than 30,000 people are expected to turn out for this huge show, produced by Gary Brown Enterprises. Among the nearly 600 vendors and exhibits are several dedicated to home food production.

From seeds to harvest to preservation, this backyard bonanza is a popular home show topic and one gardening category that continues to mature. New products keep cropping up to meet increased demand, often from gardening novices.

The possibility of producing home-grown vegetables and fruit has created millions of new gardeners.

But will they keep gardening? Often, they get frustrated because their early harvests don't meet their dreams or investments.

Maybe they don't want to be full-out backyard farmers, but they'd like to squeeze in a Meyer lemon or a kumquat next to the patio.

This year's expo is putting added emphasis on edible landscaping and vegetable gardening with new exhibits and workshops loaded with practical advice.

Jenn Hammer, a "vegetable gardening coach," provides inspiration with her edible display garden at the expo. She repurposed a wide assortment of castoffs – from plastic bottles to an antique washtub – for a creative container garden. For folks with no room, vertical gardens get plants off the ground and onto walls.

Her display focuses on vegetables with something for gardeners of all ages. Much to the delight of youngsters, worms in the vermicompost bin demonstrate how they wiggle waste into fertilizer.

"I let people play in the dirt and give them some different ideas," Hammer said.

At her Antelope home, Hammer gradually converted her garden to vegetable production.

"First I took out the back lawn, then the front lawn went," she said. "All I've got left is a small space for the dog."

Hammer, concerned about her family's health, decided to grow as much food as possible. She uses what she's learned to help others and puts out information on her blog at jennsgardeningspot.blogspot.com.

For beginning gardeners, Hammer's advice: Start small.

Many beginners fail because they try to do too much their first season.

"A lot of people tend to start to grow big instead of starting small," she said. "People don't realize how much work a garden can be. They start planting too many things and get overwhelmed. Your first year: Get one tomato, two peppers and one squash (all as transplants). Then, see how you like it."

Vegetable gardens demand attention for success. They need some coddling – and definitely weeding.

"If you've never grown anything before, start with herbs," Hammer said. "They're small. They're easy. Then, add the tomato and the squash. Don't start out trying to do everything at once. Build your experience."

Hammer uses herself as an example.

"It took me 10 years to take over the whole backyard and front yard. I now can everything we grow."

In the "start small" category, edible landscaping is a logical bridge.

Edible ornamental expert Geoffrey Wood will present ideas to squeeze beautiful food-makers into almost any landscape. His talk is set for 2 p.m. Sunday in Cal Expo's Pavilion building.

Wood, a Sacramento County master gardener, sees many spaces for edible plants among ornamentals. Citrus can do double duty as privacy screens or hedges. Lavender and rosemary fit into low-water landscapes. Strawberries form an attractive border or ground cover. Blueberries make a pretty shrub. Chard and kale look interesting as a backdrop for marigolds, which are tasty, too.

"Edible landscaping is definitely an up-and-coming trend," he said. "There's so much more awareness about local food, slow food, organic farming. Edible landscaping is part of that groundswell."

That represents a major shift, he added, and a return to roots.

"We've seen a change of mind-set," Wood said. "After World War II, victory gardens were actually outlawed in a lot of communities. Just a few years ago, edibles were allowed in the front yard again."

Wood recommends three plants to add color, form and food to sunny spots – that same beginner's assortment: Tomato, pepper and squash. Ripening tomatoes are eye-catching, peppers come in a rainbow of colors and squash have impressive big leaves and a plentiful harvest.

"Edible landscaping combines form and function," he explained. "In particular, I really love Thai peppers. They're so colorful – purple, yellow, red. They fit in anywhere."


NORTHERN CALIFORNIA HOME AND LANDSCAPE EXPO

Where: Cal Expo, 1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento

When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. today and Sunday

Admission: $7; children age 12 and under admitted free

Details: www.homeandlandscapeexpo.com

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