July 2014: a month in review

Sweet CornCan you believe it’s August already? We returned to Northern California just in time to enjoy July – my favorite not-too-hot month full of sunshine, blue skies, morning fog, World Cup soccer matches and lots of homegrown sweet corn, green beans and cucumbers.

Green Beans & Corn #1On July 19th, after weeks of preparation, I helped my dear friend Kerry participate in a local edible landscape garden walk.  We were thrilled by the incredible turnout and delighted to meet so many fellow gardeners, beginners and masters alike. Everyone loved Kerry’s “Three Sisters Garden” – an ancient space saving technique that combines sweet corn, pole beans and acorn squash in a single, mutually beneficial plot.

Green Beans & Corn #2

These pole beans are a variety that turn purple when mature and bright green when cooked. I just love them, they’re delicious raw!

PeachesAt the same time, the fruit on Kerry’s mature peach tree – a towering specimen that’s been growing in her yard for at least 20 years – began ripening in earnest. She was deluged with bushels of enormous juicy peaches and for the next two weeks we ate our fill of fresh peaches, canned countless pints of delicious peach-mango chutney, low-sugar peach jam and peach halves in light syrup, made homemade peach leather, peaches poached in brandy (served over vanilla ice cream – YUM!), peach crisp (with more vanilla ice cream!) and peach popsicles! And finally, after freezing several pounds worth of peeled and pitted peach halves, she gave the rest of the peaches (another bushel!) away to friends and neighbors before we all left for Yosemite!

Tunnel View - SummerMore on that soon!

I hope you’re enjoying your summer!

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!