Conventional wisdom dictates that you don’t plant a summer garden in the Sacramento region until at the earliest the third week of April.
This is for a host of reasons. A late frost might crash the garden party and kill off your plants. The ground might not be warm enough at night for seedlings that are just barely hardened off. Their growth could be stunted. Calamity could ensue! Locusts!
I made up the part about locusts. Probably not calamity either.
With satisfaction, I held off planting while many of my gardening friends put theirs in early this year. We’re talking mid-March. MID-MARCH PEOPLE!!! Oh no--I would say. That is waaaay too early to even think about planting tomatoes, let alone peppers. It was madness, and I wanted no part of it.
So anyway, the friends smart enough to not heed my dire warnings and planted in mid-March are now awash in tomatoes. They have so many that they are canning them and bringing them to work to share with others.
I’m eating their charity tomatoes.
Tears are streaming down my face (not really) as I devour one after the other because they aren’t MY tomatoes. I’m recoiling from myself, internally yelling that I DON’T NEED YOUR CHARITY TOMATOES. I CAN GROW MY OWN, AND I’M ONLY EATING THESE BECAUSE THEY ARE DELICIOUS AND THE BEST TASTING FOOD ON THE PLANET. I DON”T NEED THEM.
Don’t get me wrong, even if I had surplus tomatoes, I’d still eat the ones they brought in. I’m not one to look a gift tomato in the stem. In fact, while others rejoice when coworkers bring donuts, I on the other hand, also rejoice that they brought donuts. But I get REALLY excited if they bring homegrown tomatoes instead. Now, if they were to bring homegrown tomatoes and donuts….Well, that’s another blog post.
But I digress. My own tomatoes are a bit of a sad lot at present. I’m doing what I can, and I suspect I will still salvage the growing season and have plenty to eat and share. You can’t have 21 tomato plants and have no tomatoes at all. I suspect my soil is deficient in calcium and and iron, so I’ve assembled the superheroes in the picture below to correct the situation.
Correcting these soil deficiencies made me think about how much I really KNOW about gardening. As such, a line from James Beard winning blogger and cookbook author Hank Shaw’s masterful and recent post, A Garden(er)’s Middle Age, caught my eye as seems to be describing my skills at growing stuff when he writes (about himself) that,
“I am a good gardener, not a great one…”
Or maybe even that is wishful thinking. I really am more of a “screw up and learn” type of gardener, or a lucky gardener more often than not. But despite my mistakes, and with the help of products from my local nursery, I can usually put some of my family’s food on the table.
As I reflect on my colleagues’ garden success, and my own garden’s comparative slow (a hopeful view) start, I am reminded that the garden teaches a great many lessons. As a Dad, I find myself using it to teach my kiddos where their food comes from. To teach them that food is precious and never to be wasted. That they are not separate from the food system, but an integral part of it and by the choices they make, they can make their world a better place. The value of patience. That spending time with them, in the garden or otherwise, is precious to me.
But the garden also has much to teach me about growing food and about life. Like waiting until late April to plant tomatoes in Sacramento isn’t “always” the best plan for a summer garden. Or maybe more correctly, don’t be so convinced about what I “know” about gardening or other things in life. Humility in all things, because I really don’t know all that much.
So, if next year looks similar to this year, in terms of weather patterns and the like–will I plant my tomatoes earlier? Probably not. Old habits die hard, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would take place–from me–is too much to expect my family to bear if a late freeze did destroy my plants.
But maybe I won’t be so smug about it.