Sneak Peek Garden Visit: an inspiring front yard harvest in northern California

Kerry's Spring HarvestWhile my dear friend Kerry was away on vacation, I looked after her beautiful garden and in return, I enjoyed a springtime harvest of fresh broccoli, fava beans, lacinato kale, peas and cauliflower. Honestly, I think I have the better end of this deal: delicious homegrown organic vegetables in exchange for a wee bit of work (watching for aphids). Sign. Me. Up. This is pure bliss!

Kerry's Pea BlossomsAren’t these delicate pea blossoms lovely?

Kerry's Peas 3

Here in northern California, mild winters make it possible to grow a host of edibles all year round. In addition to growing a wide range of vegetables in her front yard, Kerry and her husband Fred also grow strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, Meyer lemons, apricots, pluots, peaches, passion fruit, figs and several varieties of apples – all in their small, but sunny Palo Alto backyard.

Kerry's Moorpark Apricot Tree

These developing Moorpark Apricots will be ready to harvest in June. 

While Kerry and I are both advocates of growing food rather than lawns, she is far more experienced and successful. Ever since we first met (via a plant ad on Craigslist!), I’ve admired her and her beautiful garden, and every time I visit, I learn something new.

Kerry's BroccoliWhen the weather turns warmer, Kerry will replace the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage with sweet corn and Australian blue pumpkins – all grown from seed.

Kerry's cauliflowerKerry grows the bulk of her vegetables in beautiful raised beds of staggered heights that she designed to complement their Mediterranean style home. The automatic drip irrigation system (that she installed herself) conserves water and prevents weed growth.

Kerry & Fred's Front Yard 1

Following the wise advice of edible landscape guru Rosalind Creasy, Kerry layers her vegetables between a host of colorful ornamentals. Much to my delight, there isn’t a single blade of grass in Kerry’s front yard. Rather than complain, Kerry’s neighbors describe her has an “inspiration.” I couldn’t agree more.

Kerry & Fred's front yard 3

 Kale, peas and fava beans grow behind colorful drifts of nasturtiums and …

Kerry's poppies

self-sowing California poppies.

Kerry's Fava Beans

Fava beans (Vicia faba), my favorite spring time vegetable, planted with fragrant freesias.

Kerry & Fred's front yard 2

When grown in front of a porch, Fava beans provide privacy as well as food. In the foreground, Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) display new spring growth; by summer they’ll measure three feet tall and wide and will be covered in purple flowers.

Kerry's Favas with ant

– Fava bean blossoms –

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and would like to see more of Kerry and Fred’s inspiring Palo Alto garden (as well as other local gardens), learn more about growing your own food and get great ideas for your own garden, I encourage you to register for and attend Common Ground’s upcoming 8th Annual Edible Landscaping Tour to be held on Saturday, July 19th, 2014 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Tickets are $35 per person and all funds raised benefit the Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center in Palo Alto, California. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

Kerry's KaleLacinato kale harvested from Kerry’s front yard was put to use in my favorite winter “rainbow” salad and added as a garnish to homemade chicken soup. De-lish!

Winter Rainbow Raw Kale Salad

Combine chopped lacinato kale, the juice of one Meyer lemon (or one orange), a splash of Meyer lemon infused olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and freshly cracked black pepper in a large bowl and toss well. Massage the kale and let marinate at room temperature one hour before serving. Add thinly sliced red cabbage, peeled segments of pink grapefruit (or oranges), sunflower seeds as well as roasted, peeled and quartered beets. Thinly sliced red onion is also a good in this salad. Rainbow swiss chard can be substituted for kale, but won’t need to be massaged. Enjoy!

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Carnage in the Garden

Hornworm 1

By the time I discovered this not-so-little hornworm, and ten others just like him, on one of our tomato plants this afternoon, they had already partially eaten at least a dozen green tomatoes and the leaves on several stems.

Hornworms on Paul RobesonNormally, the tell-tale sign of a hornworm infestation is massive foliage loss, but we noticed that the developing fruit near the top of plant had been chewed up. Unless the rabbits had learned to climb, I couldn’t blame them. Then we noticed hornworm poop on the ground.

Hornworm in action

Upon finding fresh black droppings, we began to look more closely …

Hornworm 2

Yikes! Would you look at that thing!   (this one is up-side-down)

Hornworm in action 2

Despite their enormous size, hornworms are very difficult to spot, their camouflage coloration allows them to blend right in with the plant. As much as I hate these things for chewing up my favorite tomatoes, I have to admit, their coloration is pretty incredible.

Hornworm Identification

This is one of the smaller hornworms we found. The head with white mouthparts is on the right and the red “horn” is on the left. These buggers are HUGE!

Hornworms in bucketAfter looking high and low, we found eleven hornworms on our Paul Robeson tomato plant. Of all of our tomato plants, these buggers had to go and infest my favorite. Go figure! Anyhow, after plucking them off the plant (not an easy job due to their suction cup feet), I decapitated each one with my pruning shears – an unpleasant, but quick job.

Hornworms also feed on peppers, eggplant and potatoes. To prevent a reinfestion next year, integrated pest management guidelines recommend roto-tilling the soil after harvest to destroy burrowing larvae. According to the University of Minnesota, tillage has been shown to cause up to 90% mortality. Finally, if you find a hornworm that is covered in tiny white cocoons, do NOT pluck and kill it. That hornworm is being preyed upon by beneficial or “good” insects. Simply put, the beneficial insects will eat the hornworms, thus doing the dirty work for you. For more useful IMP hornworm information, click here.

Click here for some incredible photographs and even more interesting information.

Good night and good luck!