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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 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

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

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

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

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

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

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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