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Grow vegetables with the best of them -- online

Master gardener Gail Pothour talks about growing cucumbers in straw bales during the May 2019 Open Garden at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center. Although the 2020 spring gardening events have been canceled, gardeners can turn to UCCE and other reliable sources of information online. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Create a self-taught course from some of these West Coast-centric sources

The in-person workshops, open gardens and demonstrations will have to wait until next spring in the Sacramento area, but anyone who is serious about vegetable gardening this spring can find a wealth of information, videos and even classes online.

First, a warning: Do not dive headlong into YouTube. It's the easy answer, but without a very specific search, it's' a deep rabbit hole that will waste your time. Building a raised bed or constructing a straw bale garden is a universal topic, but when it comes to planting and growing, look hard for climate-specific information. How many of those gardening videos are by California gardeners, or even West Coast ones? If you can't tell where they're coming from, bail out.

OK, that's out of the way. With a hat tip to Sacramento County master gardener Gail Pothour, the vegetable guru at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, for many of these links, here are some great sources of information:

Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply in Grass Valley, which is open now only for online sales,  has a terrific library of online videos for growing fruits and vegetables. Each is just a few minutes long. Put "vegetables" into the search bar and you get 163 results! I like their video on Vegetable Garden Myths . They have resources to print out, too -- their Fertilizer Solutions Chart is excellent.

"Farmer Fred" Hoffman not only has useful radio gardening shows on KFBK and KSTE every Sunday (also available later in the week via KFBK Garden Show and Get Growing With Farmer Farmer podcasts) but he has a slew of gardening resources on his website, . The single most useful one I find is the "weekly average soil temperature" guide, which Fred breaks out for the valleys (53-56 degrees F this week), lower foothills (57) and upper foothills (48).

By the way, horticulture expert Debbie Flower will discuss "Vegetable Gardening Basics" with Fred this Sunday; tune in at 8 a.m. to 1530-AM/93.1-FM for the first show and at 10 a.m. to Talk 650 KSTE for the second show. You can also listen live via the stations' websites (links on Fred's website).

If you have the time to watch a lecture (slides plus narration, really), Oregon State University is offering its master gardener Vegetable Gardening Short Course at no charge during April. (Usually it's $45.) Registration is required, however. My Sacramento master gardener training class already has taken this; the photos are particularly useful. You just have to remember that they're talking about Oregon's climate and not ours.

And of course, the Sacramento County master gardeners (home page at ) and the UC Cooperative Extension (part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources) have a huge list of guides to just about anything you want to grow. I especially like this tomato one .

Some of the guides are written for Sacramento County specifically, others -- such as from the UC Integrated Pest Management site -- are for California as a whole. (The way they define it, pests aren't just bugs but also diseases and disorders.)  Check these out:

-- If you don't look up anything else, read Vegetable Gardening 101 (EHN 96) for the single best general guide to growing veggies in the Sacramento area.

-- This Sacramento Vegetable Planting Schedule (EHN 11) is hugely useful, as is this chart on Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination (GN 154).

-- Requirements for blueberries and cane berries can be very confusing; click on the links to find succinct info on these crops in our area.

-- The California Garden Web has loads of information, available in a FAQ format. Topics include using compost, choosing fertilizer, and "how do I grow?" info on everything from artichokes to watermelons . (Note on the artichokes: This publication doesn't recommend planting them in the interior valleys, which includes us, but I've grown them. The plants need some afternoon shade and plenty of water. So know your microclimate!)

-- Managing pests in the vegetable garden. This link takes you to other links on solving problems for more than 20 commonly grown vegetables.

-- A weed identification gallery is also available.

-- UC IPM recently added a Plant Problem Diagnostic Tool which can be very useful.

This is just a glimpse of the good, solid information that's out there for Sacramento-area vegetable gardeners. Explore, and have fun!


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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