Cool summer impacting Bay Area gardens

August 23, 2010 5:49:58 PM PDT
The Bay Area is finally seeing the summer blast of heat people have been waiting for. We've had a very cool summer until now, and that's had an impact on local backyard gardens and Bay Area vineyards.

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Tomatoes are supposed to be a symbol of the bounties of summer time. It is a popular crop for Bay Area gardeners, but despite today's hot weather, the cool summer has really had an impact on the harvest. Many tomatoes just do not want to ripen.

"My dad makes good meat sauce with them," says 9-year-old Cameron.

He is talking about the tomatoes his grandmother grows at Johnson Park, a community garden in Palo Alto. The cool summer has delayed the harvest.

"It is true. The tomatoes are much later," she says. "I didn't start harvesting until about three weeks ago."

It is also happening at the test gardens at Sunset Magazine. Tomatoes that should be ripe by now have been held back by the least favorable conditions Garden Editor Kathy Brenzel can recall over 30 years.

"Foggy days, nights that have been below 57 degrees, you need at least 57 degrees at night for tomatoes to ripen," she says. "A lot of things are happening and the tomatoes are just sitting there. It's all the weather's fault."

Sunset's experts say this week's hot weather will do little to help since tomatoes do not tolerate extreme heat. The cool summer has also reduced the harvest for vineyards in Sonoma County. Growers at the Robert Hunter Winery started picking grapes Monday, about two weeks later than usual. Even though the crop is smaller, the quality of the wine is expected to be good.

One man says, "It makes you kind of tear your hair out a little bit, but there's nothing you can do about the weather, so you got to learn to roll with the punches."

Back in Palo Alto, Elizabeth Duncan says she is starting to see a bumper crop even though it is late.

"The good soil, you've got to have really good soil. Any gardener will tell you that you put 90 percent of your money into the soil and the rest into the plants," Brenzel explains.

And for the rest of us with hard green tomatoes that refuse to ripen?

Sunset Associate Garden Editor Julie Chai says, "They can be as flavorful if they eventually mature, and you can bring them inside and put your tomatoes on a window sill and let them ripen even further."

The Bay Area is known for its micro-climates, so some gardens are doing better than others. Sunset Magazine says the best-producing tomato plants this summer are the cherry types, such as yellow pears and sweet 100s.





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