I’M WRITING THE OCCASIONAL ARTICLE FOR THE LOCAL PAPER………
Published: Oct. 1, 2013
IRVINE FAMILIES GROW MUCH OF WHAT THEY EAT
BY TEENA SPINDLER/ FOR THE REGISTER
The Garden to Table movement has been steadily gaining momentum the last few years from Washington DC where the White House kitchen garden supplies veggies for the first family to local restaurants that feature produce from their own gardens on the menu.
Exactly what is the Garden-to-Table movement and why is it growing in popularity across the country? A 2009 survey by the National Gardening Association found almost a third of American households are growing food in home and community gardens. The Garden-to-Table philosophy is about growing and preparing your own fresh, healthy and delicious food. Homegrown food is better tasting, definitely fresher, and often cheaper than grocery store fare.
Master Gardener, Composter, and Sustainable and Edible Landscape Expert, Kay Havens, harvests tomatoes growing in her landscaped backyard. She also grows other varieties of tomatoes, onions, herbs, peppers and fruit trees.
But in Irvine, the land of small or no yards and busy lives, is the Garden-to-Table lifestyle possible? Three Irvine gardeners say yes.
Here’s how they make it happen:
Wine barrel gardening
Joy and Greg Skaggs have a fairly large yard by Irvine standards. Their home is near open space surrounding Bommer Canyon which, though lovely, brings the challenge of gardening with wild critters looking for a free meal. Rabbits, squirrels, mice, coyotes, and even the occasional bobcat and deer have been uninvited dinner guests. But this did not deter Joy from creating her own edible garden.
She is a true farmer’s daughter who grew up on cattle, corn and soybean farm in Illinois. The middle child in a family of nine children, she experienced first hand the garden-to-table lifestyle in her mother’s kitchen garden. Her favorite childhood garden memory is picking a big ripe tomato, warm from the sun, and eating it right there in the garden with the juice running down her arms.
To grow her own tomatoes in Irvine and keep them safe from critters, the Skaggs fenced off a 9’ x 9’ area with a metal fence lined with chicken wire. The first attempt at planting in the clay soil around her house was not very successful. At the suggestion of a Master Gardener friend, she purchased six wine barrels and filled them with potting soil.
Husband Greg especially liked this idea — he is in the wine importing business. Each barrel contains a different crop: currently herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries and zucchini. This type of garden also adapts well to their busy lives as they both travel frequently for work. With automatic irrigation and copper tape fixed to the barrels to prevent snails, the garden requires minimal time.
Dana Duenzen is a retired Woodbridge High School teacher and now an educational consultant who lives in an Irvine townhome with only a patio for a yard. She faces the challenges of gardening with no in-ground planting areas, limited space, and shifting sunlight.
She, too, comes from a gardening family background, her mother grew roses and her dad was an early adopter of drought tolerant gardening. Theirs was the only home in their Southern California neighborhood that replaced the lawn with a cactus and succulent garden. Her dad thought water should be reserved to grow edibles, especially the fruit trees in their garden.
Dana’s favorite early garden memory is gathering the neighborhood children together when the walnut tree was ready to harvest. They would all find an old pot or pan to wear on their heads while one of them climbed the tree and shook the branches raining walnuts on those below.
Even though Dana only has a patio, that doesn’t stop her from growing fruit trees. She has several varieties of dwarf citrus trees as well as blueberry bushes in 18”-20” pots. The key, she says, is to put the pots on wheels so they can be moved to follow the sun throughout the seasons. She also grows all sorts of seasonal veggies in containers such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers in the warm season and lettuce, kale and broccoli in the cool season.
She says she never has to buy lettuce from October thru June or tomatoes from June thru October, her pots provide all she needs. She saves a bit of money growing her own produce and knows that the food is free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, but most of all she prizes the superior taste of fully ripened, fresh-picked fruits and veggies.
Kay Havens is a professional garden designer and possesses perhaps more gardening expertise than most of us. Possibly it’s genetic: her great uncle was F.F. Rockwell, a former garden editor for the New York Times and author of a number of gardening books.
Kay’s family has lived in the same Irvine house since 1988. It has the typical modest Irvine backyard, but Havens has planted edibles in every nook and cranny. The yard also contains flowering non-edible plants, which makes it very attractive visually. She started her first edible garden at 10 years old in a side yard of her childhood home with that foolproof edible plant: zucchini. She hasn’t stopped gardening since; even while a college student at UC Irvine she had a plot in the community garden.
Haven’s crop list is long and varied and includes fifteen fruit trees, blueberries and strawberries as well as grafted tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and cucumbers in summer. Her cool-season crops include lettuces, cabbages and root veggies.
She starts many of the veggies from seed in order to have varieties that are not readily available at nurseries.
For information on starting your own ‘Garden to Table’ veggie garden, as well as other gardening information, visit the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener website at www.uccemg.com.
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