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  • Jeanine Henderson-Hodges

    Banana peppers grew well in the Hodges garden, situated at 2,300 feet in elevation.

  • Jeanine Henderson-Hodges

    Steve Hodges with one of the artichoke plants that he and his wife, Jeanine Henderson-Hodges, grew in appropriately named Garden Valley.

  • Jim Langford

    Jim Langford of Rio Linda planted tomatoes early. Here some of his crop awaits processing in his kitchen on June 22.

Seeds: Unusual summer led to unexpected harvests in Sacramento

Published: Saturday, Sep. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Saturday, Sep. 21, 2013 - 12:32 am

Farm to fork? Try backyard to table.

Area gardeners are way ahead of Sacramento’s first Farm-to-Fork Week, which kicks off today. These urban farmers harvested bumper crops of home-grown produce that would make other city folks drool.

“We had a wonderful asparagus season for almost six weeks, ending the first week in June,” said Jeanine Henderson-Hodges of Garden Valley. “We had a great crop of onions, probably over 50 pounds in all different kinds — Walla Walla, white, yellow and red.”

Jeanine and her husband, Steve Hodges, live in the foothills at an elevation of 2,300 feet. That allows them a little longer season for some crops that can’t take Sacramento’s usual summer heat.

“We can still cut broccoli once a week with our cooler nights,” Jeanine said. “Steve planted artichokes for the first time in almost 25 years and we had almost a dozen from one plant alone. The Italian sweet, banana and Eisley wax peppers have been abundant, but only a few jalapeños. We stopped planting sunflowers about 10 years ago and they still come up every year!”

Because of mild summer weather and drought conditions most of 2013, some usually dependent crops were hit and miss.

“We have had gallons of raspberries — and cups of golden raspberries,” Jeanine said. “But the blackberries are dry and seedy this year.

“The lemon cucumbers were abundant, but the pickling cucumbers were a bust; not enough to make any pickles so far,” she added. “The plants are dying already. We only got a few small zucchini and a few pattypans from our (squash) plants this year. The acorn and butternut squash will be plenty for the winter.”

Everyone seemed to have tomato issues. Coolish August days and nights kept them from ripening on schedule.

“Steve planted 23 tomato plants but the ripe ones are slow in coming,” Jeanine said. “I’ve only canned one batch — seven quarts — so far. The Amish Paste vary in size from 2 inches to 4 inches in diameter. The Box Car Willie are very small this year, just 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The Better Boys are small this year, too. We’ve yet to eat a Nebraska Wedding or Hillbilly. Mortgage Lifters are growing bigger, but none had ripened as of (Labor Day).”

At least they have some tomatoes.

“My vegetable garden has been terrible this year,” said J.C. Fisher of Carmichael. “Could it be due to lack of bees? I don't think I’ve seen a bee out there. My heirloom tomato has got one, count ’em, ONE tomato on it. My eggplant blossoms all fall off. My other tomatoes are lagging. Only my peppers — banana and red bell — have done fair.”

Gardeners who got their tomatoes in the ground at the beginning of spring had the best luck. Planted in late March or early April, those early birds got the benefit of early heat waves in May and June, peaking on July Fourth weekend.

“I tried a couple of new main-crop tomatoes this year, Better Boy and Goliath, along with my usual Big Beef,” reported Rio Linda’s Jim Langford, who started his plants from seed in a cold frame Feb. 21. “All three produced early and prolifically, with large, beautiful tomatoes.”

How early?

“I was cooking up tomato sauce by the 13th of June and started canning tomato sauce the 22nd of June,” Langford said. “By the first of July, I had canned over 100 quarts.”

Goliath comes from Totally Tomatoes, a popular seed source, Langford said.

“The seeds were extremely tiny!” he noted. “The plants emerged just as tiny as could be and stayed small a long time. By the time the plants were ready to go into the ground in early April, the Goliath had grown to a similar size as the Better Boy and Big Beef starts.

“Goliath are meatier and Better Boy are juicier, but all three are wonderful main-crop tomatoes,” he added. “Now, I still find enough tomatoes to make a batch of sauce, but the plants are nearly done.”

Grafted tomatoes

As for our own experimenting, we tested three grafted tomato plants with mixed results. All three came from San Diego-based Mighty ’Mato, which markets 39 varieties of hybrids and heirlooms.

A process common for fruit trees and rosebushes, grafting physically joins the top part of one plant (called a scion) to the root system of another plant. As the tissues heal, the two plants become one with the best qualities of both. The rootstock adds vigor (making it easier for the plant to take up water and nutrients) plus disease resistance. In theory, stronger roots lead to bigger and more plentiful fruit from the scion.

In tomatoes, the scions are often heirloom varieties or hybrids that have great flavor but may lack disease resistance. According to Mighty ’Mato, more than 1 billion vegetable plants are grafted annually for commercial growers. But the trend is just now reaching home gardeners.

In our test, Heatwave II flopped because the graft failed. The rootstock withered away below the bud union, the knot where the scion and rootstock are joined. Even with its severely compromised root system, the poor little plant tried hard; it produced one undersized but red tomato.

Homestead 24 did OK, but not any better than the other heirloom tomatoes that shared its garden bed. Its yield seemed just average.

Legend, a popular heirloom for canning tomatoes, proved just right. Its trunk swelled on both sides of the bud union to more than 4 inches around. The upright bush bore heavily with thick clusters of 3-inch tomatoes; not huge slicers, but with good flavor.

Did you try any grafted tomatoes this summer? What was your experience? Send an email to h& or standard mail to: SacBee Garden, Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852.

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington

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