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How a city backyard became an urban farm

Joe Robustelli's garden, near 13th and W, produces a bounty of fruit and vegetables. (Photos courtesy

One Grid gardener did it; see how on Midtown Garden Tour

How much food can be produced in a city backyard? A few pounds? Make that a few tons.

Joe Robustelli knows, and he’ll show how he does it. His garden is among the featured stops on Saturday’s Midtown Garden Tour.

“I have a large lot with very, very old fruit trees,” Robustelli said. “I got 800 pounds (of fruit) from my apricot tree this year alone. My peach tree went crazy, too.”

What did he do with all that fruit? “Urban Roots (brewery) is just down the alley from my house,” he said. “They’re making beer from my peaches.”

In all, Robustelli has 15 fruit trees and five raised beds for vegetables at his Sacramento home, near 13th and W streets. He also has his own chickens, which provide eggs as well as a constant source of high-grade fertilizer. He shares his bounty with neighbors and at the Victorian Alley farmers market.

“I let people come and get produce,” he said. “I have plenty.”

During the tour, Robustelli will explain how he manages to pack so much produce into a relatively small space.

“My favorite thing to grow? Anything that’s self-seeded,” he said. “I like all the volunteers that keep coming back on their own year after year: Cherry tomatoes, tomatillos, cucamelons.”

Cucamelons? Those are Mexican sour gherkins, tiny little cucumbers than look like miniature watermelons.

Edible gardening is a big focus of the Midtown Garden Tour, which features 15 gardens on Sacramento’s Grid. Tickets are $10 and available at . The gardens will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 27; come early to beat the heat.

On tour day, tickets also will be available at New Era Community Garden, 204 26th St., Sacramento.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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