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Spring 2022 - Volume 3, Issue 2


In this Issue (links are live)

Editor's Welcome

Top 10 Hot Tomato Picks

The Best Container Tomatoes for You

Save Water by Irrigating with Ancient Ollas

Mind Your Water in the Garden

Earthworms: Nature's Little Farmers (not yet entered)

Spring's Garden Tasks (not yet entered)

News and Events (not yet entered)


Great Tomato Plant Sale Graphic


Hello Gardeners,

"A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins" Laurie Colwin

Spring is here and we are proud to announce the 11th Annual Great Tomato Plant Sale, our biggest and most popular annual fundraiser! In this issue you can read all you need to know about this sale together with plenty of advice on how to grow tomatoes in the ground or in containers and the 10 Tomato Picks of 2022.

Unfortunately our winter rains were inadequate so we have to mind our water usage by following a few strategies that will reduce our water needs. You can also consider the use of Ollas, an ancient irrigation method. Healthy soils keep our plants healthy. And earthworms are a gardener's best friend, as these "little farmers" are hard at work to keep our soils fertile.

Congratulations and welcome to our new UC Master Gardener Volunteers of Contra Costa County who just graduated our training program.

Our outreach programs are in full swing for both in-person and online science-based educational programs, support and advice to create a more healthy and sustainable environment. Happy Reading!

Hedwig Van Den Broeck, Editor for News to Grow By




Top 10 Hot Tomato Picks

By Liz Rottger

The UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County will hold their 11th Annual Great Tomato Plant Sale, opening for online orders only on April 2nd at Noon.

This year we have a total of 83 tomato varieties, including a whole host of unusual heirlooms as well as a wide selection of very special hybrids with the disease-resistance some gardeners value, but also with the great, old-fashioned taste we all treasure in the heirloom tomatoes.

These aren’t your store-bought, hard red rubber balls which are tomatoes in name only! As with our heirlooms, most of the hybrid tomatoes we’ve chosen would be difficult to find locally.

Once again, we’ve asked our Master Gardeners to tell us what their favorite tomato is. Since some Master Gardeners grow 10, 15, or more tomato varieties in their gardens, you can imagine what a tough question this was for them. Here are this year's Hot Tomato Picks.

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Gardening in Small Spaces


The Best Container Tomatoes for You

By David George

With the Great Tomato Plant Sale around the corner, we should review the best tomato varieties for your container garden. This year’s varieties have been lined up, photographed, and documented online for your review.

Small spaces gardening requires some specific best practices that you will find in the UC ANR article here . We’ll refresh your memory about those first, then finish with our choices for the best container-grown tomatoes.

Planters, pots, grow bags, and other plantable containers are quite a different environment than a standard raised veggie bed. With good planning, your containers can grow an amazing group of veggies, herbs, and ornamentals. The overall climate near your exterior walls will warm the patio or space up to 10° F higher than surrounding air temperatures depending on the amount of direct sunshine

Containers also lose water more quickly, from extra-heated outside walls and from more porous soil mixtures inside the container. Make sure your drip irrigation system has two emitters on each plant to compensate for a clogged line. Container plants don’t need a lot of replacement water but need it applied more frequently.

Container plants have different soil mixture requirements than in-ground beds. Containers require more frequent watering and fertilizing. Here is a UCANR article with great advice for successfully Growing Edibles in Containers: . Tomatoes develop deeper root systems and will need planter pots at least 14” tall for best root development. Support taller-growing varieties with an in-container small trellis, or wire tomato cage.

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Mind Your Water in the Garden



Save Water by Irrigating with Ancient Ollas

By Janice Winsby

Along with everyone else in California these past few years, I am looking for ways to use less water in my garden. As a School Garden Educator in Concord, I am also starting a new spring planting bed where I work. This bed is situated far away from an irrigation source. Running a hose from two buildings away to hand water every day just wasn’t a feasible option for me.

Then a fellow Master Gardener told me about ollas. I had not heard of them, but after a little research, I realized they might be a perfect solution! An olla (pronounced “oy-ah”) is an unglazed clay pot which is buried in the garden bed and filled from the top with water. The neck of the pot is exposed to make filling easy and covered to prevent evaporation (as well as keep out dirt, mosquitos, and other bugs).

Ollas have been in use as a watering tool for thousands of years—mostly in Africa and Asia. They came to ‘The Americas’ via the Conquistadors—hence their name, which is basically Spanish for pot.

The way ollas work is simple. Water will only flow from the olla when the surrounding soil loses moisture.As long as the olla remains at least half-full of water,the surrounding soil is kept at field capacity, which is ideal for the surrounding plant roots. It is an extremely efficient system; you can expect to save between 60-70% of water compared to using a watering can (Ezekiel, 2017).

The soil surface remains dry—discouraging weed growth or water loss from evaporation. Water will permeate the soil in an area roughly twice the diameter of an olla, so plants should be placed within that area. Of course, everything varies according to soil type. Depending on the soil conditions, you will have to add water Larger olla is 15” high X 12 “ wide. An Olla will keep the soil perfectly moist in an area approximately twice its diameter. every 24 – 72 hours. More porous sandy soils, like we have in the Eastern part of Contra Costa County, will allow more percolation downward, while clay soils, like the rest of us have, will hold onto water longer, allowing for more lateral movement.

There are a couple of caveats to keep in mind when using ollas. First, they take up a bit of space. So ollas may not be the best choice if your planting area is limited. Second, they need to be kept at least half full to maintain field capacity while also avoiding a buildup of salts in the pores of the clay. Lastly, seedlings and transplants will need a few weeks of supplemental top watering while their root systems are being established.

If you have a remote garden area where drip irrigation is impractical, consider the ancient method of olla irrigation!


Ezekiel, O., Ibrahim, I., & Kwatmen N. 2017. Effect of Radial Spacing on the Growth and Yield of Maize under Olla Irrigation. Global Journal of Science Frontier Research. Vol. 17:1. Pp. 83-88 Nickel, A., Brischke, A. 2021. Irrigating with Ollas.The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

Photos courtesy of Janice Winsby and Danny Milks.

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facebook event Water in Your Garden

Mind Your Water in the Garden

By Lori Palmquist

Despite the deluges we experienced back in October and December of last year, we find ourselves slipping more deeply into a state of drought as spring begins. The Drought Monitor website informs us that 100% of California is already in moderate drought, 86% is in severe drought, and 13% is in extreme drought.

The water districts could be asking us to conserve even more this year. The whole state relies on a steady supply of snow and rain the first three months of the year. But very little of this liquid refreshment has fallen thus far. Since drought seems to have settled in, the onus is on us to bring on our best dry game.

Strategies for using less water in the garden If we want to reduce water use in the garden, we can use three overarching principles and actions to achieve this.

  1. Lower the water needs of the landscape
  2. Leverage alternative water sources
  3. Ensure the irrigation is operating efficiently

Lower the water needs of the landscape

Removing lawns and replacing them with low-water plants is the low-hanging fruit of water conservation. This is why cities, water districts, and even the State of California have been offering generous lawn-removal rebates for the past decade. In Walnut Creek, for every 1,000 square feet of lawn that’s removed and replaced with low-water plants, there is a savings of 17,000 gallons a year. That’s enough to supply drinking water for a family of three for three months (based on an average of 64 ounces a day per person).

But it’s currently not a good time of year to remove the lawn and plant new plants. We’re headed into the dry, hot seasons. And getting plants established during our hot summers takes large amounts of water. It’s best to delay the lawn removal and new planting until the fall, when the rainy season will hopefully provide the water to establish the new plants.

Here are some useful statistics to know about the amount of water your landscape may require. If you live in the east part of the county in Antioch, Brentwood, or Oakley, these numbers will be higher. If you live in the west, in Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo, or parts of El Sobrante, they will be lower.

In Walnut Creek:

  • 1,000 square feet of high-water landscape requires 22,866 gallons per year
  • 1,000 square feet of moderate-water landscape requires 14,291 gallons per year
  • 1,000 square feet of low-water landscape requires 5,716 gallons per year

Photo courtesy of

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