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Home-grown produce growing in popularity as retail prices rise

Badabing is better than bing. And Mr. Stripey is pretty popular, along with Juliet. These aren’t funky characters in a new kiddie cartoon, they are actually types and species of fruits and vegetables that can be grown in backyards.

It’s spring, and for a lot of people, that means planting a big garden. Along with the old favorites such as zucchini squash and cucumbers, more and more Merced County residents are finding new species of veggies along with the old heirloom varieties of both fruits and vegetables available at local garden centers.

About that Badabing being better than bing? Badabing is a new, self-pollinating bing cherry tree that doesn’t need another cherry tree around to have fruit. And Mr. Stripey and Juliet are types of heirloom tomatoes that are coming back in style with backyard growers.

Janis Grubb, owner of Queen Anne’s Garden Nursery in Atwater, said that this time of year is the perfect time to get those bedding plants into the ground. And it’s not too late to plant fruit and nut trees either, but the sooner the better.

“This time of year is perfect, the days are warmer but the heat hasn’t come yet,” Grubb said. Warmer days means warmer ground, and vegetables need to be planted after the chance of frost has passed, Grubb said. A lot of vegetables are ready to eat within 45 to 60 days after planting, she added.

As more people get out and start looking for fruits and veggies to grow at home, skyrocketing food prices are pushing more gardeners to ‘grow their own.’

Rose Hayden-Smith, a garden educator and historian with the University of California, Davis, said that an uptick is often seen in gardening activity when the economy gets bad. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has predicted that retail food prices will continue to climb because of many factors, including greater demand for food from India and China, and agricultural crops being turned into biofuels.

For Merced County residents who are growing their own, planting the right plants for the area is a necessity, according to Grubb. Most locally-based garden centers will carry the types of fruits and vegetables that do well in the area, she said.

Before planting, Grubb said that the ground should be worked first, and prepared for whatever is going to be planted.

“Tomatoes need a lot of nutrients, and cherry trees need a lot of drainage,” Grubb said.A lot of tomato growers are looking for the old-fashioned, tomatoey-tasting tomatoes, Grubb said. “They want a tomato that tastes like a tomato, and those are the heirlooms, like Juliet and Mr. Stripey,” she said.

Along with the popular squash and tomatoes, strawberries and grapes can also be planted now.

No matter what a gardener may be planning to put in the ground, Grubb said that plants should be planted now, before the heat comes. “The heat puts more stress on the plants, and you have to really watch the water,” she said.

Gardening is more than just filling for the belly, it’s also fulfilling for the soul. Grubb sees a lot of people who just like to grow things. “If you make sure to get the right plants for the area, you can’t miss,” she said.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com

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