On Eating from a Garden--A Manifesto

When you grow food, you have made food exist in the world. The earth did not previously include that food. From here several things can happen to the food you created. It can show up in some delightful meal you serve yourself and maybe others; it can be donated to someone else who will want to eat it more than you do, or it can sit in your garden until it is no longer delicious but instead is tough and seedy or even rotten. When I have grown some food, I see it as my responsibility to aim for one of the first two destinations for it, and avoid the third as much as possible.

            It feels bad to me to waste food I have created, but neither do I want to feel bad because I am trying so hard not to waste it that it ruins my fun in growing it. Here are the ways I try, without causing myself distress, and without making eating from my garden feel like a responsibility, to avoid wasting what I can grow.

Perhaps most important, I try to grow what I will actually want to eat. If I grew something, but didn’t eat it, I figure I either didn’t want to eat that crop or didn’t plan how much I would eat very well. I sort of like parsnips. One came up uninvited in my garden a few years ago. I roasted it with some other root crops and ate it. It was good, but truly, I could do without it. I'd rather buy a parsnip for the one or two times a year I might decide to roast mixed vegetables.

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Root Vegetables to Roast--Including Homegrown Carrots and a Volunteer Parsnip

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Roasted Root Vegetables: Golden Gate Gardening, page 378

Same for beets. My husband actively dislikes them. A couple of times a year, I like to grate one to make a lovely shredded beet salad, in which the sweetness of the beets melds with the sourness of the vinegar, and the flavors of onion, dill, and olive oil add to the deliciousness.

But in truth, I don’t need to grow either one to enjoy them once in a while. On the other hand, I will harvest all fall and winter from a big bed of carrots. They will become “carrot coins” in soups and stir fries. They will get cut into sticks to eat raw with hummus. They will get matchsticked with celery, cabbage, and green onion to go into a delectable Vietnamese vegetable dish, flavored with a bit of fish sauce, topped with some dry roasted, unsalted, crushed peanuts.

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Vietnamese Vegetables Cooking (carrot, celery, Napa Cabbage, Wild Onion)

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Vietnamese Vegetables--ready to serve, with crushed peanut toping  (Recipe in an earlier post on this blog)

And parsley! How I delight in having plenty of parsley plants all year long. I will add a tablespoon or two to French or Italian dishes, a quarter cup or more to North African and Middle Eastern dishes. I will mince it with a mezzaluna (curved blade) in a wooden bowl and freeze a little extra to have on hand. When the plants bloom I will cherish the syrphid flies that feed at their flowers and use the umbrellas of tiny pale yellow blossoms to back up larger flowers in a bouquet.

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Parsley in my garden.

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Chopping Parsley with a Mezzaluna

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Parsley in Bloom

In the places where I could be growing some crops, but don’t, I enjoy watching hummingbirds sip at abutilons, fuchsias and other flowers, I grow Alstroemerias for bright, long-lasting bouquets, enjoy the exuberant flowers of Tigridia from my window in July, and wonder at the variety of forms succulents can take.

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There are plenty of flowers to enjoy in the areas I don't use for food. The hummingbirds love our abutilon.

            I gave myself a few years to decide what crops I would eat, and therefore where I should put my food gardening energies. While I was exploring that, I watched what grew well that I want to eat, and what grew well that I have not eaten in the past. In both cases, I begin to collect recipes. I have found that having shortlists of favorite recipes at the ready to use crops I grow greatly increases the chance I will eat them. (This is why I put some recipes in Golden Gate Gardening.) Collecting recipes is a personal matter. You may not like the ones I collect; I may not like the ones you collect.

            It used to be that hunting for a recipe that used a particular vegetable or herb was difficult. Even if you had the cookbooks, in our meat-centered food culture, the index often did not tell you if a dish includes, say carrots, or parsley. But now there are two improvements. First, as our diet has become more plant-centered, recipes including specific crops are much more often identified in an index. (And there are more books on cooking from a garden—I will list some in a future post.) Second, of course, is the internet. In fact the internet is so easy to search that many cooks probably depend mainly on a search for a recipe that will use what they have on hand. But even with these ever-so-handy improvements, I encourage you to do a search, try some recipes, print or copy a short list, try them out, and choose favorites to keep for use with specific crops.

            Look for recipes that either use a crop you like and can grow or one with which you are less familiar but can grow well. For example, I found that with good care and timing, I can grow beautiful, large, fennel bulbs. I had not eaten fennel often, and, in fact, am not fond of its anisey flavor when it is raw. But I tried a recipe for it cooked, and found that the anisey flavor disappeared, leaving a quite pleasant and distinctive taste. (See recipe: Sweet lemon-braised fennel, below). So I have been collecting recipes for cooked fennel. A second one I have enjoyed is in the soup Sicilian Beans and Greens. This soup uses other crops I can easily produce, and is a wondrous addition to my repertoire. (I will put it up soon.) Now I am about to try a recipe for a sheet pan dinner with pork chops, fennel, potatoes, onion, tomatoes. If it works out I will have three recipes, probably plenty since I only have room to grow about a half-dozen fennel bulbs a year. But what a lovely contribution they make! I like them so much that I have to buy a fennel bulb now and then to fill in when I have none ready in my garden!

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Fennel Bulb Growing in the Garden

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Cutting up a Fennel Bulb. I will cook the slices on the plate in the rear of the photo.

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Sweet Braised Fennel--recipe at the end of this post

When you are looking for recipes, look for ones that include the vegetable in question, and also represent cooking methods you like—such as roasting, stir-fry, braising, or sheet pan dinners. Also give points for seasonings that sound good to you--curry, middle eastern, tomato-based sauce, whatever. Give extra points for recipes that include more than one crop you can grow and harvest in the same season.

            A small garden will always have an unsteady harvest. At the beginning and end of the harvest period for any particular crop, there will always be wee bits to harvest. And in a small garden, you may never have more than a wee bit of some crops. To deal with the wee bits, what you need is recipes that combine just a little of this and that. The world’s cuisines, many of which started in a garden, offer numerous possibilities. There are omelets and frittatas, salads, stir-fries, soups, and many undefinable options. Keep your eyes open and you will find them.

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A colorful winter salad, made when I had only a tiny bit of this and that. I used chard stems and a bit of purple cabbage as bright vegetable confetti. I parboiled the broccoli before I chopped it for the salad.

In the middle of its season, there may be a glut of a crop. You can always tell what gardeners of the past, in particular cultures, had a glut of in midseason. You will need recipes that can use large amounts of those that came in all at once or in midseason profusion. To find them, look to cuisines of places where the crop is most easily or commonly grown. You will find recipes for gratins of summer vegetables, lettuce wilted with sweet and sour sauce (GGG, page 233 Wilted Lettuce) zucchini fritters (GGG, page 377). You may also want recipes for preserving the glut, such as by freezing canning, making relishes and jellies, or pickling. (That’s when the watermelon rind pickle and the sun-dried tomato were born.)

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Gratin of Summer Vegetables

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Zucchini and Cottage Cheese Fritters

Or you may say hell no, if there is too much of something, I don't want to preserve the extra. I just want to grow less of it next year. But for the immediate situation, do find your extra harvest a kitchen in which it will be eaten. Start with family and friends, who might be delighted for a bag of something you grew, or even a small regular sample, or, you may ask yourself: “Is there somewhere I can donate all this food?” Yes indeed, there probably is. You only need a bit of local research to turn up answers. In San Francisco, there is the Free Farm Stand, in the Los Niños Unidos park on 23rd Street between Treat Avenue and Folsom, on Sundays. They are currently bagging food at 10 AM, due to Covid, but will probably return one day to distributing produce from boxes at mid-day, letting people choose what they want to take. Another option is the local food bank. Just be aware a little asking around will certainly turn up places delighted to receive some home grown produce, including herbs.

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We give away hundreds of pounds of apples every fall.

Fruit trees are a special case, in that one tree typically bears more fruit than a family can eat up in a timely manner. You can hunt for recipes, make preserves, give fruit away (look for gleaning organizations that specialize in harvesting fruit to give away). A separate kind of solution is to prune to keep your tree or trees small, so they won’t produce more than you can possibly eat. This is best done from the beginning, when you first bring home a sapling fruit tree, but it can also be done when a tree has grown larger. Use the book Grow a Little Fruit Tree, by Ann Ralph, Storey Publishing, to guide you. It tells you what you need to know simply and clearly.

Sweet Lemon-Braised Fennel

Adapted from Fresh From the Garden, by Perla Meyers, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1996.

One large or 2 small fennel bulbs                   Juice of ½ lemon (or more, to taste)

3 Tablespoons butter or margarine               salt and pepper, if desired

1 Tablespoon olive oil                                     ½ cup chicken broth, vegetable broth, or bullion

½ teaspoon sugar                              

  1. Trim the root and leaves from the bulb(s), leaving only the pale green and white “bulb.” Cut each bulb in half or quarters if it is large, then cut into narrow slices, with some central stem holing each slice together. Try to make the slices under ½ inch at the wider, outside, edge. If some pieces get separated from the core, save them to use as well.
  1. In a large, heavy skillet, melt the butter or margarine (such as Smart Balance) with the oil, over medium heat. Add a single layer of fennel and brown it nicely. When one side is brown, use a fork to turn the pieces over. When they are done, place them on a plate and add more slices to the skillet until all are browned. Reduce the heat to medium low, return any pieces you have set aside to the skillet, and sprinkle with the sugar and the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, turn gently with a spatula once or twice to mix the ingredients. Continue to sauté until the fennel is glazed and brown.
  1. Add the half cup of broth and braise, tightly covered, for 10 minutes, adding more broth if needed. When the fennel is tender, but not falling apart, transfer it to a serving dish.
  1. (Optional) if you want to, you can add another half cup of broth, more lemon juice, and some extra butter, heat through and serve with this extra liquid poured over it. I don’t do this, so can’t report the result.


Fruit Growing Resources

Here are my recommendations for sources of information on growing fruit and nuts in San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Also search this blog for info on citrus HLB disease and on wooly apple aphid, both problems for which you should keep a lookout: 

Golden Gate Gardener: Third Edition, Pam Pairce, Sasquatch Books, 2010. The chapter on fruit is a good primer on selection of fruit-bearing plants for Bay Area gardens, with a discussion of microclimate adaptation and summaries of the care and possible problems involved in growing specific fruits. Suggested varieties included.

ANR University of California Publication 8261 Selecting Fruit, Nut, and Berry Crops for Home Gardens in San Mateo and San Francisco Counties, by K. S. Jones and Laurence R. Costello. https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=8261#FullDescription

Grow a Little Fruit Tree, Ann Ralph, Storey Publishing, 2104  This is my favorite book for current and prospective fruit tree owners. She covers choosing, planting, harvesting, pests, but most importantly, pruning. The most important information in the book is how to make the first cut and prune the tree in the early years to create trees that you can harvest without having to use a ladder. The illustrations are attractive and useful. 

California Rare Fruit Growers: This California-wide organization has local chapters that often give workshops or hold scion exchanges. They are on the web at crfg.org. Especially useful is the fruit facts Wiki, https://crfg.org/wiki/fruit/, which includes fact sheets for many kinds of fruits, especially subtropical ones. They also now have  YouTube programs, at https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=crfg.


Overwintering Vegetable Crops: Seed Sources

California gardeners who live in mild winter climates (all but the Sierra foothills and mountains), can grow overwintering types of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. We may also be looking for varieties of some other crops that grow well in our winter months. For example, some lettuce varieties handle cold better than others. In addition, if you live in a coastal part of California, you will want to locate vegetable varieties that will thrive in cool summers. For the widest choice of varieties, you can start them from seed.  In my book Golden Gate Gardening, I have described many of the best overwintering and cool-tolerant varieties, given sources for seed, and included a chapter explaining when and how to start seedlings. Following is a short list of some of our best mail order seed companies for regionally adapted varieties, and two local stores that sell seed from some of these otherwise mail order companies.

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Bountiful Gardens  Bountiful Gardens Web Site

Kitazawa Seed Company  Kitazawa Web Site

Niichols Garden Nursery   Nichols Web Site

Territorial Seed Company  Territorial Web Site

Two East Bay stores offer seeds from some of these seed companies:

Pollinate Farm and Garden, 2727 Fruitvale Avenue, Oakland, 510-686-3493

Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, 1310 McGee Avenue, Berkeley, 510-526-4704



"How-To Night" Next Wednesday

You may have noticed that I am doing a "How-To Night" on Wednesday, April 14th (see calendar in previous post). Perhaps you wondered what that could mean.

Here's the scoop. There's a popular San Francisco monthly event called "Ask a Scientist" at a South of Market restaurant. People go to eat and then listen to a scientist explain something. Well, the same person who began that series, Juliana Gallin, has now begun a second series, called "How To Night" at the Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California Street (at 21st Ave.) in San Francisco. (She says that this is the cafe that originally hosted the "Ask a Scientist" series.)

The event is free, though making an evening of it by ordering something to eat or drink is encouraged. You can learn more about the cafe at their web-site: www.bazaarcafe.com. or by calling them at 415-831-5620. You can read the short history of the How-To series at www.julianagallin.com/howto. (She is looking for more people who might like to teach some skill in a classor who have a request for a class to teach something.)

So come on over next Wednesday night and let me help you get started growing vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers in San Francisco's cool (cold?) and foggy summers--and through the rest of the year too! I will bring the new Golden Gate Gardening to sell and will be happy to autograph copies.

Meanwhile, in the garden, it goes on being spring. I have been shooting my tree peony, which didn't bloom last year, and has only one flower this year--but what a flower! When I was a child we had a long row of regular peonies between our front yard and that of the neighbors. They bloomed in late May. One of the most beautiful of flowers, I think.

San Francisco doesn't get enough winter chill for regular peonies, but it does for tree peonies!So here are the teasers (the opening bud).


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More next week when it's fully open. Also, my potatoes are up, and I will shoot them before and after I fill in the trenches around them.  

Afterward: Book Party at Flora Grubb

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Thought you'd enjoy seeing a few photos from the book party held at Flora Grubb on Sunday, February 28th. It was a big happy crowd, mingling among the palm trees and munching on sushi. I now feel the book is well and properly launched, though there are many talks, book signings, and radio appearances to come. Plants 015 copy 72 Flora Grubb staff served punch, ice tea and wine, and generally helped with the party. Thanks to all for coming and for helping out!
I gave a short presentation, thanking some people who helped research the current edition. Below is a photo of me with the ones who were present. They all got books, though some had received theirs already.

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The people in this photo, left to right, are Malcolm Hillan, Lisa Gerhard, Sue Zaslaw, Bracey Tiede, Pam Peirce, David Goldberg, and Christina Johnson. 


My little talk follows:  

Thank you very much for coming to my party. Writing a book is such hard work, and often such lonely work. A book party is a wonderful antidote.

Thank you also for reading Golden Gate Gardening.

It makes me very happy when I hear that someone has used the book to grow food, to have fun gardening, to eat better because of what they grew or what they learned.

It took many people to make this book a reality, from inspirers to informants, to the many people who have asked me questions over the years, to the publisher, Sasquatch Books, which provided an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and designer. These are listed in the acknowledgements, which are updated for this edition.

I’d especially like to thank today 11 people who helped immensely in the preparation of this new edition and present them with copies of the book.

    If you would step forward when I say your name, I would much appreciate it. I will start with Bracy Tiede (who was present), who pulled together a team of Master Gardeners from Santa Clara County to help produce a planting calendar appropriate for that region. Other team members were Karen Schaffer, Susan Zaslaw (present), Carole Frost, the current Cooperative Extension Advisor for Urban Agriculture in Santa Clara County, and Nancy Garrison, who retired from that post. I want to especially thank Nancy for all of her work over the years testing varieties and planting times.

Next I would like to thank Sue Phelan, a gardening teacher from Walnut Creek, in Contra Costa county, for her help with the planting calendar for that region.

     Two of my coworkers at City College of SF provided valuable help. Pat Morgan, the department’s Nursery Specialist, researched new information on pesticide active ingredients and reviewed what I wrote about pesticides. Malcolm Hillan (present), colleague on the teaching faculty reviewed the water and soils chapters and helped as I tried to make then as useful as possible and cover current issues and practices.

Lisa Gerhard (present), garden designer and arborist, has been my student, my employer, the pruner of my apple tree and designer of my garden. She also helped extensively with the fruit chapter of this edition of GGG. She sat with me as we came up with a new outline for the chapter itself, and also used the internet and phone interviews to decide which varieties to add and which to drop in this edition.

Christina Johnson (present) helped by determining which seed suppliers currently carry the older as well as the newly included crop varieties. This was painstaking work, which I’m sure required her professional proofreader’s sharp eyes.

Finally, I want to thank my husband, David Goldberg (present) for updating the seed catalog listings and the Resources for Gardeners Appendix—also a time consuming and exacting process. I offered David a book, but he says he has read it, more than once, and at several stages, and, in addition, has several boxes of it stored under his work table in his study, should he wish to look again.

These thank you’s tell you something about what is new in this edition. The book has been reworked throughout to make it more useful. I’ve taken good advice from readers to improve its usefulness, in clarity, points included, order in which material is presented. I have expanded information on using the garden all year with a minimum of time spent in the cold, rain, and early dark of winter. I have added information, in the two additional calendars, and throughout, to make the book more useful to those who live in the next inland tier of the Bay Area. I have added varieties I’ve tested over the past 10 years, less-toxic pesticides that have recently been released, added recipes, added new information on management of vertebrate pests, and have almost completely rewritten the last chapter of the book, the one called Cooking from the Garden.

   I’ve observed that getting the food from the garden to the table is often a challenge, and have made sure to include harvesting and use tips with all of the crops. The last chapter includes tips for making sure the food you grow gets eaten, but I’ve also set forth a call for developing a regional garden cuisine, one that draws on the foods we grow best, in the seasons we can produce them, and calls on the cuisine traditions of the people of many cultures who inhabit our region. There is California Cuisine, I know, but this will be a cuisine like no other, a unique cuisine developed from urban agriculture in a place that has not had agriculture for that long, that reflects our place in the way that traditional cuisines developed in their places throughout the world.

I wanted briefly to add that in addition to its direct goals of helping people understand the climate of our region, grow food in it, and use that food to eat better, I have had two larger philosophical goals in writing this book.   

In our current culture, we often hear ourselves referred to as “consumers” not just when the subject is “people as buyers of the products being discussed” but as if the term were descriptive of our essences as human beings. I don’t think this is a positive or useful way to think about ourselves. I hope that gardening is a way to become the opposite of consumers “producers,” and that this will become a crack in the dominant paradigm, an inspiration to look at oneself in a new way.  I think that many people buy stuff in the hope that it will be transformational, only to find they are the same person with more stuff. Gardening is an activity that can be done for very little cash, and that often does transform the gardener. The garden creates the gardener as much as the other way around.

   Second, and perhaps the larger issue that leads to the previous unfortunate situation, is that I believe our culture gives disproportionate power to large corporations. They are considered individuals, like you or me, and yet wield vast legal, political, and economic power they can use to influence what we think. Much has been written recently about the power of big agriculture, of big food corporations, and how the result has been a food supply that does not support good health. As my daughter says, and I think many people would agree “I don’t want to have to think about what I eat,” but thought is required to eat a healthy diet given the food choices that jump out at us from corporate ads. Gardening is, again, a crack in that paradigm. We may not grow all that we eat, or even a significant amount of it, but growing even a little of it lets us see what we can do to feed ourselves and see more clearly the reality of whole foods. This makes the corporate food blitz that much less powerful, and hopefully, helps to crack it open, leading to such wonderful directions as the Michelle Obama’s push to improve what we feed our children.

But we don’t need to ponder the bigger issues to have fun gardening, do we? All I have to say, in closing, is: Garden On!