Debbie Arrington

Seeds: Harvest Day celebrates home-grown food

Weather willing, a huge crowd is expected to turn out for today’s Harvest Day. Rain is (almost) never the issue; it’s the heat.

“We had 3,000 people turn out last year, our largest crowd ever,” said Judy McClure, Sacramento County’s master gardener coordinator. “We expect about the same, if the weather isn’t too hot.”

Hosted by the UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners of Sacramento County, Harvest Day has become the area’s largest single-day garden event. Experts on all sorts of gardening will pack the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center in Fair Oaks Park.

The morning crowds can be overwhelming, but experts stay until 2 p.m., McClure added, “so if you can only come in the afternoon, we’ll still have a full plate of activities to enjoy.”

Harvest Day focuses on food and edible gardening. The Horticulture Center is home to the master gardeners’ demonstration gardens and test orchard. Would-be backyard farmers can see how to get the most out of their space and get answers to all sorts of dilemmas such as how to trellis grapes or grow fruit within easy reach.

Headlining a long list of Harvest Day speakers will be Rick Mahan, owner and chef of The Waterboy and One Speed Pizza restaurants, who will present his take on “Cooking in Season” with a fresh-from-the-garden demonstration.

“He’s already toured our vegetable garden,” said longtime master gardener Tracy Lesperance, who is helping coordinate Harvest Day. “He’s going to pick fresh produce and make a dish.”

Sure to draw a crowd, Dave Wilson Nursery will provide dozens of new pluot, plum, peach and nectarine varieties for sampling. Patrons also will try cherry tomatoes, heirloom melons and table grapes grown by master gardeners at the Fair Oaks center.

“Everything is on track, so we’ll have enough for the tastings,” Lesperance said. “People can also see our straw-bale garden. We grew three container-size melons on trellises for a trio of colors.”

Also among the headliners will be Janet Sluis, coordinator of Sunset’s Western Garden Collection, who will present “Lush and Colorful: Year-Round Beauty With Water-Wise Plants.” UC Cooperative Extension farm adviser Chuck Ingels and master gardener Quentin Young of Fair Oaks Boulevard Nursery will team up for “Research Meets Reality: Fruit Tree Pest and Drought Challenges.” Patricia Boudier, co-owner of Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, will share her advice on “Going Organic.”

And, yes, saving water is a major theme at this year’s event, just as is growing food.

“There’s a lot of concern about water,” McClure said. “Because of that, we really increased our information and focus on water during Harvest Day. Attendees can actually talk to their water providers about rebates and (other programs) at the event. They also can see what we’re doing in the garden to save water.”

Added Lesperance, “Drought is on everybody’s mind. We’ll help people with tips to save water and save money. People can tour our water-efficient landscape garden; everything looks great. In the vegetable garden, we tried to take water use into consideration when planting. So, this year, we tried cowpeas and tepary beans. We also grew grains for the first time. They look fantastic; they’re so tall, you can’t see past the (garden) bed.”

Drought and water-saving messages have hit home with many gardeners.

“Water is the key issue this summer,” McClure said. “The questions (they receive) on converting lawns (to water-wise alternatives) have increased significantly. Most really dedicated gardeners have already put water-saving practices in place. Still, average gardeners are becoming more aware of their water use. In the past, watering was a habit; now, it’s becoming a conscious decision.”

To help make the most of every drop, Don Smith, Folsom’s Water Management coordinator and Harvest Day’s “Ask the Sprinkler Man,” will offer advice on home irrigation.

“He’s a wealth of practical irrigation information,” McClure said. “You can bring him a sprinkler head and he can tell you if it’s good or bad. He’ll help you set up your controller; just bring the manual or brand information.”

Because at the end of Harvest Day, it’s about helping gardeners get the most out of their great outdoors – wet or dry.