Gardening brings us together both physically and virtually. Like cooking, it's a universal topic and easy to get started. But no matter how much you know, there's more to learn.
Food unites gardening and cooking. Interest in edible gardening continues to skyrocket as more people want to grow their own food. (Starting that first garden is the topic of most of this section.)
That demand also spurred us to create a "virtual garden." We've joined the social media world with a new Facebook page devoted to our readers' gardening adventures, starting with a focus on food.
Find it at https://www.facebook.com/SacBeeGarden On that page, gardeners can share their comments and photos. You're invited to ask questions as well as offer your own advice or observations. We'll post weekly topics, then let our SacBeeGarden friends dig in.
As part of our SacBeeGarden, we'll chronicle a real community plot as we test new plant varieties and different techniques such as straw bale gardening and grafted tomatoes.
We'll also branch out from edibles into other garden-related topics. To keep our conversation current, we've set up a Twitter feed. Follow this virtual garden's growth @SacBeeGarden.
Excerpts from both Facebook and Twitter will be part of our Saturday Home & Garden section. In addition, readers can submit their garden photos and stories by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org (remember to put "SacBee Garden" in the subject line). Or mail it to: SacBee Garden, Home & Garden, Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852.
Hold off on tomatoes
As warm as recent weather has been, still hold back on the tomatoes. It's just too early to put those Early Girls in the ground. And think twice before you dig up the whole lawn.
"The most common mistake I see in new gardeners is that they try to plant too many things," said Sacramento gardening coach Jennifer Hammer, author of Jenn's Gardening Spot blog.
"Plant what you are willing to maintain," she added. "Don't make your first garden so overwhelming that by mid-summer you're giving up."
Hammer who replaced her lawn with food crops will be one of the experts helping our SacBeeGarden thrive.
And those March transplants are awfully tempting; tomatoes are our No. 1 backyard crop. It's a beginner's mistake.
"They plant out too early when the weather isn't quite ready," she said. "For instance, some stores have tomatoes out (for sale) and it entices a new gardener and we are still a month or so away before tomatoes should be in the ground."
Remember: It's not the heat of the day, but the warmth of the ground that determines the best planting date for hot-weather seedlings. Although daytime temperatures have climbed into the 70s, nights linger in the low 40s too cold for baby tomato plants.
Instead, wait until mid- or late April, when nights are steadily above 50 degrees. Premature planting just makes the young plants struggle; they won't reward your early-bird status with more fruit.
Everybody has a favorite tomato. Cherry tomatoes are the easiest to grow. But which one?
"Sweet Million or Sun Gold cherry tomato," recommends radio host "Farmer Fred" Hoffman. "Sweet like candy! You'll have a hard time bringing them indoors. They are that tempting to munch on right off the vine while working in the garden."
Hammer's pick: Black Cherry tomato. "Very sweet yet flavorful medium-sized cherry tomato," she said. "I love eating these right off the vine. They have a beautiful dark brownish-red color; very delicious."
Among the big heirloom tomatoes, chefs prefer Brandywine. It's still the pick of many experienced home cooks and gardeners, too.
"My favorite tomato is the Black Krim," Hammer said. "It's a dark burgundy color with a little bit of green around the top. It's a savory tomato with a smoky flavor. I also enjoy Aunt Ruby's German Green. It is a very large green tomato with a tart flavor my favorite for making fried green tomatoes."
What's your favorite tomato? What will you plant this spring? Click on to Facebook and tell us!
It may be a little early for those tomatoes, but it's time to make our SacBeeGarden grow.
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her in Twitter @debarrington.