Finally, I met “Farmer Fred” Hoffman. Farmer Fred is a lifetime master gardener—a celebrity around these parts—who shares his colossal horticulture knowledge as host of the “KFBK Garden Show” on NewsTalk 1530 KFBK in Sacramento, California, Sunday mornings from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., followed by “Get Growing” on Talk 650 KSTE in Sacramento, 10 a.m. to Noon.
On the occasion when I met Farmer Fred, he was the guest speaker for a small group of Clements Garden Club members. It was a casual affair in the backyard of one of the members, only two miles from my house. Garbed in sunglasses and a Kellogg’s cap, Farmer Fred shared tips, and answered questions with zeal and a bit of humor. Here are some of his helpful gardening hints:
- Plants need water, air, fertilizer, and drainage.
- All plants growing in pots need drainage holes.
- Elevate pots so air can circulate. [Place trimmed scrap wood under pots.]
- Raised beds are a good solution for poor soil and other issues.
- Put gardens in an open area. Clear a 15-foot surrounding area. Voles won’t cross an open area for fear of predators.
- Fill raised bed with 50 percent garden blend/50 percent mushroom compost; both available at most gravel and rock businesses.
- Soil pH should be 6.2 to 7.3. Over 7 is very alkaline.
- Steer manure should be kept in a pile for six months before use.
- Never use lawn clippings treated with weed and feed in your vegetable beds for mulch.
- Row cover material is for winter vegetables. Most cool season vegetables don’t need protection from frost [but they do need protection from wind].
- Trees and shrubs do better when native soil is used doing planting or transplanting.
When I asked Farmer Fred about sunscald on pepper plants (Betty with question was for you.), he said he’s learned to live with it. “There’s nothing wrong with them.” Farmer Fred spaces his pepper plants 18 inches apart.
Farmer Fred also commented that voles are smart. They quickly learn how to avoid traps. “There’s really nothing you can do about them,” Fred said. “Voles are cyclical.” He wasn’t in favor of poisons because of secondary infection to pets and other animals.
Farmer Fred’s favorite cherry tomatoes include sweet million, sweet gold, and sun gold.