Debbie Arrington

Seeds: What drought? Harvest looks great

This looks like a bountiful summer. In backyards and orchards throughout the Sacramento area, fruit trees are covered with ripening plums and peaches. Limbs hang extra heavy with unexpectedly large crops.

Don’t these trees know there’s a drought?

Apparently, they do. This is just another way nature copes with dry conditions.

Farmers have seen this phenomenon throughout the Central Valley. According to the California Grape and Tree Fruit League, plum and peach trees push out more mature fruit instead of self-thinning. It’s as if the trees know they better get busy now. Who knows how much water they’ll have next year to produce fruit? They’re preparing for the worst.

“Most gardeners tend to overwater their fruit trees,” observed Barry Bedwell, the league’s president. “Instead of producing more fruit (with that extra water), they produce less. Now in a drought, it’s just the opposite. The trees are full of fruit.”

I see this happening in my own Sacramento garden. For months, I’ve barely watered a white peach tree in a side yard. It’s not on irrigation lines and gets only occasional deep watering. Only about 12 feet tall, this little tree is loaded with peaches; it must have 100 pounds of fruit hanging from its spindly limbs.

Which brings up another dilemma. Too much fruit can take its toll on a tree’s branches. Bedwell noted that home gardeners need to be mindful of this extra production and thin the fruit on their trees. Otherwise, those overloaded limbs may snap.

Likewise, tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumbers and squash have already kicked production into overdrive. Prompted by heat and low water, these summer crops seem to be relishing the Summer of ’14.

On July 4, a Super Marzano tomato in my community garden plot was loaded with enough ripe fruit to make a gallon of sauce – with many more tomatoes almost ready for harvest, too. That’s quite a harvest, considering that mammoth plant – almost 6 feet tall – gets less than 5 gallons of water a week.

Triple-digit temperatures rapidly pushed along my jalapeño and padrón peppers, so it will be a spicy hot time at our dinner table, too. Usually slow to find their stride, the bells are popping out all over, too. Their irrigation has been cut back to twice a week, yet they seem to be growing and developing faster than when the water hose seemed limitless.

Maybe this is an anomaly, but the lesson learned here is that many of our favorite edible plants can produce a lot of food with less water. I’ll try to remember this in summers to come – even when it’s a “normal” year.

Elsewhere in the garden, I admit, our lawn is pretty brown. It’s developed dry spots where the usually green turf looks sad if not downright dead.

But the surrounding beds are overflowing with summer bulbs. Gladiola and lilies of the Nile spike out in explosions of pink and blue. With deep roots, the roses never missed a bloom. The bushes are covered with a rainbow of colorful roses.

What’s happening in your garden? We’d love to see. Send us photos plus a little description of what you planted – and how much you irrigated. Include your name, hometown and a phone number or e-mail that we can follow up with any questions. Send your submissions by email to: h& (please include “Summer of 2014” in the subject line). Or mail to: Summer of 2014, Home & Garden, Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q St., Sacramento, CA 95816.

We’ll choose several of these submissions for a follow-up story and create a summer snapshot of how we survived the drought.