Harvest Day started simple. Volunteer master gardeners got together to share their home-grown bounty and talk crops. They went over what worked (and didn't) at their community garden and started planning for more seasons to come.
"That was back in the 1980s," said Judy McClure, Sacramento County's master gardener coordinator. "Sometime in the late 1990s, we decided to open the event to the public and it's just grown amazingly."
Harvest Day today ranks as the largest free garden event in the greater Sacramento area. More than 2,000 people are expected next Saturday at the master gardeners' Fair Oaks Horticulture Center in Fair Oaks Park.
"Harvest Day brings together the best horticultural minds in the area," said Sacramento radio host "Farmer Fred" Hoffman, who will be among the event's featured speakers. "No matter the discipline fruits, vegetables, ornamentals, pests, diseases, trees, shrubs, landscaping, water efficiency there will be an expert at Harvest Day.
"And that's why I like it so much," he added with a smile. "When someone approaches me with a tough garden question, I can just point them in the direction of someone who will know the answer!"
Representatives from dozens of garden groups will be on hand to offer advice. Tended by master gardeners, the 1-acre facility is itself a working, growing demonstration of what works for Sacramento gardens.
"We try to give back to the community what they ask for how to get the maximum benefits from gardening," McClure said. "This is a feel-good, happy, productive event. It's incredibly positive. There's something for everybody, regardless of their level of gardening expertise."
Harvest Day has grown along with its host garden.
"We have some very interesting new things," said Tracy Lesperance, who is co-chairing the event with Julie Oliver. "We have an espalier project with peach and cherry trees. We did a straw-bale garden trial with pumpkins and sunflowers. Our composting group continues to grow and will offer worm bins (for sale) with filler and starter worms."
Massive oak trees will provide patrons a shady canopy while listening to presentations. Refreshments will be available from Drew-ski's Hot Rod Kitchen and Wicked 'Wich food trucks, a first for this event.
Harvest Day culminates the local programs of the University of California's Cooperative Extension. In total, Sacramento County's master gardeners average more than 12,000 hours a year in volunteer time, McClure said. The group has 200 certified master gardeners its most ever including 42 who just graduated after intensive training.
The most-asked question at Harvest Day?
"It's usually about watering," Lesperance said. "How should I water my tomatoes or fruit trees? After that, it's pruning. We'll have plenty of experts available."
The center's large vegetable garden and demonstration orchard will attract loads of visitors. But the facility also offers an impressive WEL (water-efficient landscape) demonstration garden.
"The community has been asking about how they can attract more native pollinators to their gardens while still saving water," McClure said. "During Harvest Day, we'll be emphasizing the flowers in the WEL garden to show that it can be beautiful, attract pollinators and save water."
One of the most popular features every year: Fruit tasting.
That's always been a big hit, said Hoffman. "One constant over all those years (since the event began) is the Dave Wilson Nursery fruit-tasting, where people can try fresh-picked pluots, apriums, peaches, cherries, nectarines and even some unnamed varieties that have yet to be introduced to the general public."
Some of the demonstrations are very specific. For example, Sacramento County agricultural adviser Chuck Ingels tested methods of controlling powdery mildew on grapes. During this trial, he discovered the very popular Diamond Muscat variety had a great deal of natural resistance to mildew without spraying.
"There's an indication that probably the most sought-after, best-tasting grape may also be resistant to the most serious grape disease," said Ingels, who will be available to discuss his findings. "We'll have samples for tasting at Harvest Day."
Sharing these discoveries with other gardeners helps the master gardeners reap benefits far beyond Harvest Day. That's part of the attraction.
"I am always impressed with what I learn from the backyard gardeners who just want to chat about their yard," Hoffman said. "Harvest Day is a learning experience for everyone who attends."
Where: Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, Fair Oaks Park, 11549 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks
When: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. next Saturday
Details: http://ucanr.edu/sites/sacmg/Harvest_Day, (916) 875-6913
Highlights: Hosted by Sacramento County's UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners, this information-packed day ranks as Sacramento's largest free garden event. Lots of speakers and demonstrations. Tours of community vegetable garden and trial orchards. Fruit tastings, free seeds and many vendors.
8:30-9:15 a.m.: "Terrific Tomato Tips and Gardening for the Health of It" with Fred Hoffman, lifetime master gardener and radio host for "KFBK Garden Show" and KSTE's "Get Growing With Farmer Fred."
9:45-10:30 a.m.: "Farm to Fork From the Garden to the Kitchen" with Adam Pechal, owner and chef, Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en.
11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: "River-Friendly Landscaping " with Cheryl Buckwalter, executive director of EcoLandscape California, RFL Green Gardener instructor and program manager.
12:45-1:30 p.m.: "Compost Confidential Making Garden Chocolate!" with Louise Lelevich and Roberta Hopkins, Sacramento County master gardeners.
9:15 a.m.: Tour native plants
9:30 a.m.: Composting Hot pile? Cold pile?
10:30 a.m.: Tour native plants
10:30 a.m.: Tour ornamental grasses
10:40 a.m.: Worm composting
11 a.m.: Basic composting
12:15 p.m.: Tour ornamental grasses
12:30 p.m.: Worm composting
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.