Wednesday, August 17, 2011

(guest post) kitchen gardening

First off a thank you to the Tend team – and especially Julia – for the invitation to join in over here this week.  I am currently up in the woods of western Canada – without dependable internet -  and her patience and understanding has been most appreciated!  When she asked me to write about gardening in California I immediately thought of the challenges of my kitchen garden.  I then entertained thoughts of writing on the transformation of our yard from lawn to California native garden; gardening with kids; or the soon-to-open 8000sq ft edibles garden we built at our neighborhood elementary school this summer.  I came back to the kitchen garden – where I have struggled the most – and have found some great rewards.

A kitchen garden was a constant of my childhood.  I grew up in small-city / big-town Brandon, Manitoba.   The seasons are distinct there – and could be defined by our work in the garden.  .  Our summers would be filled with days at our large community plot, falls of harvesting and canning and winters fetching root vegetables from our cold storage and feasting of canned tomatoes and homemade pickles.  We ate seasonally and locally and I didn’t know anything different.

After graduate school I moved to Los Angeles.  I surprised myself and ended up liking it here – and 14 years into it I call it home.  Gardening here is a completely different experience.  And it took me a good long while to figure it all out.  As I moved around the city I was overwhelmed with the variety at the local farmer’s markets and itched to be growing my own.  Once we bought our own home we dug right in.    Our particular community is considered desert – with triple digit days in the summer, and freezing nights in the winter.  My Manitoba garden experiences could not be transposed – as I soon learned.  I turned to experienced friends to guide me – and finally feel that we have found what works for us.  Greens dominate our winter garden; strawberries, potatoes and peas in the spring; and heirloom tomatoes and green beans for our summer crops.  Having small space has also dictated our strategy.  I am grateful for a CSA subscription that brings us a variety of organic produce throughout the year – grown in the milder coastal climes of nearby Oxnard – and a friend and neighbor with an enviable greener thumb than mine – and a yard dedicated to edibles.

We start from seed each season – in hand-made newspaper pots produced by my daughters.  When the seedlings are ready – they move out to our three raised beds – built by my husband David of 2 x 6 redwood.  This year, two beds have been dedicated to edibles and the third to a cut-flower garden for the girls to plant as they wish (Queen Anne’s Lace, cosmos, zinnias, sunflowers and a mix of herbs are favourites).

 Aside from the raised beds, we have included a few edibles within the landscape of our backyard.  
 I had never tasted a fresh artichoke (or avocado!) until I moved to Southern California.  They are now a staple in our kitchen – and avocados in our garden.  I made an attempt to integrate cooking greens as well, but my pest-management team made short order of them.

We don’t use any pesticides or fertilizers in our garden – aside from compost and a manure tea a friend brings me with the changing seasons.  Pests are to a minimum in our yard – with the help of our chickens – who at this point in time have the run of the yard.   (A rodent has moved in to the garden this year – and has been feasting on our summer crop.  The chooks haven’t been able to manage this pest – and we will have to explore options for its removal.  Any suggestions for rodent control?!)

My learning curve in our garden has been steep – and I have relied on advice from friends and books.  My favourite reads:

Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles
Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening
Rosalind Creasy's Edible Landscaping

I have to add The Garden That You Are– that is not geared to Southern California gardening, but is a beautiful book, and reminds me that growing our own food is an extension of who we are – and the successes, and failures are to be savoured.

Happy Gardening!

tracy is a canadian prairie girl living in suburban los angeles with her husband, two girls, three chickens a couple of turtles and fish named "rainbow".  she fills her days with her time in the garden (any garden), working on their mid-century modern home, and taking too many pictures of it all.  when she is not digging in the dirt, she manages an artist's estate.  she is a great believer in public eduction and the power of community. and is trying to build a stronger bond with her sewing machine. she blogs at jumilla stories and you can find her on flickr.


  1. thank you for this great post! it is so nice to learn about the challenges other gardeners have faced, and then to see their triumphs! i didn't grow up gardening, but also moved to a different climate - more southern, hotter, milder winters. i am experimenting as i go, and loving the process.

  2. Quality post!!! it is a nicely written post with so many good facts ! thank you for sharing it with us !
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