If you’ve ever wondered why anyone would go to the trouble of hoeing and digging in the brutal Sacramento heat,
one bite of a delicious Sun Gold or Brandywine tomato and you’ll have your answer – nothing tastes as sweet as the bounty from your own garden. But before that beautiful burst of flavor, there’s plenty of work to be done.
Janet Simkins, nursery manager for Sierra Nursery in Roseville, recommends preparing your soil as early as possible. “You need to set the stage, so to speak,” Simkins says. When you look at your garden, you’re just seeing the top, but it’s really below the surface that’s important.” Adding compost will improve soil whether it’s hard and clay filled, or too sandy. Adding a six-inch layer on top of the soil, then mixing it in to a depth of one foot or more, will help loosen up clay, and help retain water in sandy soil. “Add compost, fish meal, or other nutrients like fir-bark-based Bumper Crop, which includes kelp meal and a lot of other organic additives,” Simkins adds.
Melodee Dailey of Green Valley Nursery in El Dorado Hills echoes Simkins and says, “When you first start, it’s all about the prep process – checking water; weeding; and ammending the soil by adding nutrients and fertilizer so that these ‘vitamins’ are available to the plant when it needs them.” Simkins adds, “Organic material breaks down and adds to the soil, but it takes time – only amend the soil once during the planting season.”
Raised-bed or container gardening is also an option. While a container plant won’t grow as large or bear as many fruit or vegetables, both containers and raised beds are easy ways to avoid dealing with the hard, clay soil that plagues many gardeners. Plenty of green-thumbed experts disagree on the perfect date to plant, but Simkins recommends April. “What we look at is temperature. Tomatoes are susceptible to the cold, so we wait until nighttime temperature is consistently 50 degrees or warmer,” she says. If gardeners use seed, rather than buying young nursery plants, the seeds can be started earlier in the season and grown in a sunny spot indoors until they’re ready to be transplanted outside.
But there’s still hope for procrastinators. Simkins says that a garden started in May will produce. She adds, “You can still buy many plants, and you can also buy more mature, one-gallon plants that will produce plenty of vegetables for you.”
The basic tools needed to start are a shovel, hoe, pick, gloves and sunscreen! Simkins urges new gardeners to not go it alone. “You can ask for advice at any time. Visit a nursery with well-trained staff to help you get started.”
THREE EASY GROWERS
Basil. It’s easy to grow and makes great pesto. Also, the plant attracts bees, which is great for pollinating.
Tomatoes. This is called “Sacatomato” for a reason. They’re very easy to grow, and there are so many varieties.
Peppers. They’re colorful, easy and really delicious.