Natomas Dirt: Wanna Garden, Punk? Well, Do Ya?


It’s that time of year folks! The sun is shining! The birds be chirping. A light spring-time breeze filters through the warm sunlight. It’s spring. A time when a young man’s fancy turns to TOMATOES!

You were expecting something else perhaps?
The question that Venus and I hear from most North Natomas couples is: Can you garden in Natomas? The short answer is: Yes – of course. However – there are some qualifiers – some pitfalls that beginning Natomas gardeners should be aware of.

First off? Understand that our soil in North Natomas – in a word – sucks. It grows some great weeds – but little else. Venus and I know from experience. As many North Natomas homeowners are now well aware of thanks to mandatory flood insurance – our homes are located smack dab in the middle of a flood basin.
In fact – if you talk with some long-time Sacramentans – they can remember a time when most of Natomas was covered with three or four feet of water.
But – I digress. The soil we have out here is clay. The Sacramento River long ago washed away whatever topsoil we had here – and washed it straight into the Delta. There – it is used for growing pears, cherries, tomatoes and all sorts of wonderful crops.
Good luck getting it back.
That said – there are two ways to garden in North Natomas: You can get your gardening groove on by using pots or building raised beds – OR – you can amend your soil to the point where it will grow a tasty tomato or three.
Venus and I use both methods. We’re fortunate enough to live at the end of a cul-de-sac where we play host to an expansive backyard. We understand – from experience – that most North Natomas homes offer backyards barely big enough to turn around in. There’s precious little room for gardening – but it can be done – and it can be done successfully.
Venus I have built eight large 4X8 foot raised beds like these pictured here – beds that are used for growing heirloom tomatoes – bell peppers – bush beans – carrots – radishes – potatoes (yes, potatoes!) – cucumbers – onions – garlic – squash – corn and just about every other vegetable under the sun. The beds are in use during the spring, summer, winter and fall.
There’s always something growing in the Bird backyard.
I’ll be honest. The 4X8 beds do require a little bit of skill and $$$ to construct. If you’re game for a project like that – you’ll find everything that you need at your nearest Home Depot, Lowe’s, ACE or True Value Hardware.
But – if that’s a tad too much for your skill set (I was fortunate enough to have a father-in-law show me the ropes) – you can build gardening boxes out of simple boards or stones. Here’s another example of a small box – we have about eight of these scattered about the yard – built with the cheap “Lincoln” type logs that are always on sale at Home Depot for two bucks each.
These boxes are rather simple to build because the “logs” in question (cherry-tone lumber) are shaved flat on the top and bottom. This makes them easy to stack.
Each box requires six logs. Home Depot will shave off two feet of each log for you. Brackets and screws hold everything together. After adding a bag or four of gardening soil? VOILA! You are the proud owner of a cheap raised planter bed that can hold up to three to four tomato plants!
The cost? A box like this can be put together for less than $20 – which includes the wood, screws and brackets. The soil may cost a bit more – but it’s still a cheap investment when you consider the taste of a summer-ripened tomato. There’s nothing quite like it.
For more information – and step-by-step instructions – for building a box that will fit nicely in even the smallest of Natomas backyards – please visit our blog: Sacramento Vegetable Gardening (a shameless self-plug).
If the raised box idea just isn’t going to work for you – try gardening the old fashioned way by heavily amending your clay soil. Large bags of compost and steer or chicken manure compost can be found at your nearest hardware store.
All that it requires is a little hard work on your part to mix the compost in with your clay soil. A small roto-tiller like a Mantis works well on small projects like this – but if you’re sans tiller – gardening trowels and a little elbow grease and determination to dig work just as well.
Venus and I amended a small plot in the side yard last year to grow corn and other crops that we didn’t have room for in the raised beds. While we had some difficulties with Blossom End Rot on tomatoes – the squash and other crops performed well. After tilling it up and amending it again this spring? The corn is already popping to the surface!
Amending North Natomas soil is a key part of the gardening process. Unless you’re one of the very few blessed with rich soil in a new subdivision – putting starter plants straight into soil that has not been amended is a recipe for heartbreak.
OK then! Are we ready to garden? Is a raised bed or heavily amended backyard soil in your near future? So – what now?
Stay tuned for what to plant – in the next edition of NATOMAS DIRT. Same Bat Time – Same Bat Channel!
Bill & Venus Bird have lived and gardened in North Natomas since 2003 – and have killed more tomato plants than they care to admit. Bill fancies himself an expert, but the real green thumb in this partnership is Venus.


  1. Anonymous says

    How about a link to the blog –

  2. This is my first year attempting a vegetable garden and I very much appreciate your commentary. So far, my corn, zucchini, watermelon, and onions like the amended soil. The cucumber, not so much. I just planted some cilantro, carrots, and yellow onion a couple of days ago and am *hoping* that they grow. We’ll see.

  3. Anonymous says

    Thanks for the tips. I also have raised beds and some amended areas. However, one point of dispute. There would be some good topsoil here, but the builders scrape it off to level and compact the lots, then sell it. (See the giant piles when they first start working an area?) I can understand the need to move it, but I wish they’d put it back when they’re done. We’d still have to till it in, but at least we wouldn’t have to haul it all in.

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