Tomato Cages and Lilacs

Q. It has occurred to me that tomato cages should be cleaned somehow before placing them around a new plant. I’ve never done it before. Can tomato diseases over-winter on them?

A. I don’t believe you should be overly concerned about any diseases that might carryover from year to year. The surface of metal or painted tomato cages is quite sterile, so it’s very unlikely the right environment exist for any problems. With wooden supports or if there is organic debris still on the cages, there might be issues. Early and Late Blight is the primary diseases you’re looking to prevent. Cool to mild temperatures and wet conditions create the right condition for these diseases. The last time this could have been a problem was in 2010. That being said, it certainly would not hurt to disinfect your cages along with any plastic, and or wooden containers. You’ll need to remove any of the left over debris from last year, as the Blights requires visible plant residue to over-winter. Next wipe the supports down with a mixture of water and household bleach. The ratio for this simple disinfectant is nine parts water to one part bleach. You also could apply the solution with a pump spray bottle and then wash it off. The disinfectant should be dripping off the cages. Since your using bleach, it’s recommended that you wear old clothes and gloves. The cages should then be left to air dry in the afternoon sun, overnight. Clorox Disinfecting Wipes can be used for those cages already in place. And finally, a thick layer of mulch can prevent the fungal spores from splashing on the plants. With tomatoes, we don’t have to worry about planting them too deep, as they will produce roots off the buried portion of the plant.

Q. I haven’t had any luck finding out how to prune an old fashioned lavender lilac. It’s a baby from one that would be about sixty years old now. I‘ve always taken the old or dea178466134d wood off but I need to find out how to get longer stems with the larger blooms?

A. Lilacs are not that difficult to prune they done require any special technique, as they’re pruned to shape. I would stand back and eyeball the plant to see what needs to be done. It is very subjective and they’re pruned in the spring after flowering. Lilacs bloom on the current year’s growth. Pruning and the time of the year it’s done shouldn’t have any effect on the stem length or the size of the blooms. These are genetic characteristics. Those plants propagated from another plant part will be identical to the parent. Those started from seeds will not. So, long stems and larger flower clusters may not be in this plant future if the original plant didn’t have them to start with. To encourage the growth, feed after pruning with 16-16-16 and then see what develops next spring, as there isn’t much else you can do.

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. His web address is and you can send questions by email at or to 360 Civic Drive Ste. ‘D’, Pleasant Hill, Calif. 94523 and on Facebook at





Another Kind of Sweet Pea

The proliferation of television cooking shows has turned us into a nation of voyeurs. Our insatiable appetite for perfection transports us to the land where pasta is always made from scratch and calories never count. With no more than a click of the remote, we effortlessly transition from an ocean-view kitchen in Malibu to the plains of Oklahoma to a chic locale in the Hamptons. We swoon over impossibly complicated desserts; long for a personal florist to design our garden tablescapes; and cheer for our favorite “chef-testants.” I know this because I’m right there with you. Until real life enters the picture.

April is a good reminder that sometimes the simplest things are the most satisfying. I don’t feel compelled to top my “protein” with a cloud of foam. I don’t need a pantry filled with magic powders or a tank of liquid nitrogen or a sous vide machine or a blast-chiller or an anti-griddle. Everything I need is in my own home kitchen. And the “fanciest” food I need is found at the farmers’ market.

This month, cherry lovers will rejoice at the sight of those chubby little sweeties, and kiwi fanatics can get their fill before that fruit’s season comes to a close. But most importantly, cruciferous and root vegetables are being moved aside to make room for early spring crops like asparagus, artichokes, fava beans, crunchy celery, and peas. Yes, I said peas—with enthusiasm.

Peas are something we tend to take for granted year ‘round, for who among us doesn’t have a bag or two stashed away in the freezer for emergencies? One taste of farm-fresh peas, however, and you’ll understand what a sorry substitute their frozen counterparts really are. Sure, there is a bit of labor involved when you buy peas-in-the pod, but shelling them is a great job for kids, and a not-so-unpleasant task for adults. Just be sure to buy more than you think you’ll need—during the shelling process, raw peas tend to become a popular snack food. (Pea Arithmetic: one pound of English peas-in-the-pod yields 1 cup of shelled peas. Before snacking.)185853634

There are basically two kinds of peas: English peas (aka common garden peas-in-the-pod) that must be shelled to eat the “seeds” inside; and snow peas and sugar snap peas, which have edible pods. Snow peas—a favorite in Chinese cuisine—are flat, while sugar snaps peas are plump. Sugar snap peas also live up to their descriptive name—in a big way!

One of my go-to recipes for sugar snap peas comes from The Food Network—a worthwhile payoff for all those hours spent in front of the television. Ina Garten tells the story that this came about as the result of a fortuitous accident. Her staff had placed an order for snow peas and their produce suppliermistakenly sent sugar snap peas—which at the time were a fairly new on the market. As she was on the phone telling the supplier to pick them up, she tasted one—and the rest is history. She created this salad on the spot, and it sold out within hours. She then called the supplier and ordered 100 pounds for the next day.

The Barefoot Contessa’s salad contains three ingredients, requires absolutely no cooking, and is utterly brilliant in its simplicity. To make it: Leave the sugar snap peas whole, but trim away the leafy end and remove the strings if needed. Toss the uncooked sugar snaps with barely enough Asian-styletoasted sesame oil to coat lightly. (Be miserly here. Don’t think of the oil as “salad dressing.” Add only enough oil to make the peas glisten.) Sprinkle with toasted black or white sesame seeds and serve at cool room temperature. In the words of The Food Goddess herself: How easy is that?

Emboldened with this revelation, I decided to play around with a saladrecipe from the Union Square Café in New York City. Although the restaurant’s version calls for blanching the sugar snap peas, here in California—where locally-grown sugar snaps abound at the farmers’ market—the step is totally unnecessary. So here is another winning recipe to celebrate the flavors of spring. Tune in next month for more perfectly simple ideas.

Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Pancetta

 1 pound sugar snap peas, ends trimmed

4 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt or more, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup California extra virgin olive oil

1 green onion (scallion), thinly sliced

3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint leaves

1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese


1. Cut the snap peas into thin strips by slicing them on a sharp diagonal.

2. In a 10-inch skillet, combine the pancetta and 1 tablespoon of water. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the water evaporates and the pancetta begins to render its fat, 4 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until crisp. Drain on paper towels.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Gradually whisk in the oil.

4. Stir in the prepared sugar snaps, pancetta, green onion, mint, and all but 1 tablespoon of the cheese. Taste, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Serves 4 to 6.

 Minding Your Peas and Q’s

–Although “string-less” sugar snappeas are increasingly popular, more classic varieties have a tough string running along the length of the pod. If they are not labeled “string-less” at the farmers’ market, just ask the grower. Removing the string is incredibly easy: Just snap off the leaf end and pull down on the string. (This is a mindless chore best done while watching The Food Network.)

–Like corn, the sugars contained within peas convert to starch shortly after harvesting, so it’s best to buy them fresh from the farmers’ market and eat them as soon as possible. Store them in an open plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.

– Regardless of which variety of peas you buy, always inspect the “packaging”: look for plump, glossy green pea pods, crisp and free of blemishes.

–Easy does it! An over-cooked pea is a sorry thing. Strictly speaking, no peas require cooking—though giving common “English” peas and snow peas a quick sauté or blanch in boiling water will intensify their color and mellow their flavor ever so slightly.

 The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.



Spring into Style

Designing with the season is a great way to update your space. Interchangeable pillow covers for the family and living rooms, different table cloths and runners for the dining table, and throw blankets for the bed and sofas are all great places to start. Bringing in new designs also means it is time to clean and declutter. Nothing makes a room feel better than a freshly cleaned, bright and airy space. Updating is an excuse to purge and replace items that have seen better room

Did you know that reupholstering a sofa can cost about the same as buying new? The cost largely depends on the type of fabric chosen and if the cushion fill needs to be changed out. It is always a good idea to look into the cost of buying new before you settle on updating the old. A new style of sofa in the living room can brighten the space and lighten it up. Older sofas that weigh down a room can have a huge, negative impact on the space. Working around one element or item in a room that you are not in love with is difficult. Make sure the base elements of your room are to your liking; paint colors, flooring, and lighting elements.

Spring is the perfect time to start designing. The winter market is over and manufacturers are just starting to release their new styles, so you are sure to get the latest fashions for your home. Fun new fabrics and furniture styles come into my office every day; I am able to present them to my clients before anyone else has a chance to see them. Working with a designer on your springtime update will save you valuable research time and money. Brighten up your space just before the rush of summer!