Green Garden Dreams

The Joy of San Diego Vegetable Gardening

Posts in the food category

Tis the season to plant tomatoes! This is a partial list of what I found at three retail locations.

I had fun exploring the farmer’s market, a nursery, and Home Depot. Did you know that there are said to be over 7500 varieties of tomatoes in the world?!

Most of the following are heirlooms (the links are so you can learn about the variety, or buy seeds).

What I planted this year:
Ananas Noire
Mr. Stripey

Hillcrest Farmer’s Market (Whitney & Kathy – Whole Earth Acre Nursery):

Amish Paste
Parks Whopper
Ultimate Opener
Boxcar Willie
Isis Candy
Chocolate Stripes
Green Zebra (see above)
Patio Hybrid–BULK/
Super Sweet 100
Black Cherry
Early Girl
Italian Heirloom
Marglobe Select,
Paul Robeson
German Queen Tomato
San Marzano
Yellow Pear
Home Sweet
Sun Gold Cherry
Marianna’s Peace’s_Peace
Indigo Rose‘indigo-rose’
Big Beef
Lemon Boy
Black Krim
Black Plum
Red Current
Better Boy (first tomato I ever grew)
Japanese Black Trifeled
New Girl
Jet Setter
Bush Goliath
Oaxacan Jewel
Gold Medal
Champion II–BULK/
Aunt Rungs German Green
Dr. Wyches Yellow
Mortgage Lifter

Walter Andersen’s:

Big Daddy
Solar Power
Yellow Pear
Tumbling Tom Red
Sun Gold
Sweet 100
San Marzano
Sub Arctic Maxi (,
San Francisco Fog
Cherry Red
Lemon Boy
Early Girl
Black Krim
Big Pink
Tough Boy (Momotaro)
Yellow Pear
San Diego
Early Girl,
Champion Celebrity,
Better Boy,
Zapotec Large Ribbed,
Yellow Brandwine,
Principe Borghese,
Mr Stripes,
Green Zebra,
German Johnson?
Jap Black Trifele,
Black From Tula,
Black Zebra,
Black Krim,
Brandwine Pink,
Arkansas Traveler,
Amish Paste,
Anna Russian,
Mortgage Lifter,
Sweet Seedless Hybrid

Home Depot (Marketplace St.):

Husky Cherry,
Early Girl,
Big Boy,
Big Beef,
Sun Sugar,
Hinds Super Roma,
German Queen,
Husky Cherry Red,
Bush Goliath,
Super Sweet 100,
Yellow Pear,
Golden Jubilee ,
Parks Whopper

San Diego Seed Company “germinated” in an urban farming class at San Diego City College. Students Brijette Romstedt and Carrie Driskill had been casting about for ideas for a business to start. One day in class, their professor and farmer extraordinaire Paul Maschka gave a lecture about seeds, hybrids, genetically modified (GMO) crops and the like, and discovered that San Diego did not have a successful seed company. That was the perfect seed they needed: they suddenly saw the light (and the soil and the water and … you get the idea) and knew what they wanted to do.

Focusing on heirloom, open-pollinated varieties of vegetables, herbs and companion flowers, San Diego Seed Company fits into a wider picture of current hot trends in locally grown foods, home food gardening and the dawning awareness of the need for sustainable practices that are sweeping the country and world.

Heirloom varieties come from a time before industrialized agriculture and the push to sacrifice quality for efficiency. A classic example is the tomato: hybrid varieties of tomatoes were bred with a focus on high yield, long distance packing, shipping and storage, with taste and seed-saving a distant secondary concern. As a result, we have almost flavorless and strangely textured things we call tomatoes in the stores. Anyone who has tasted a fresh, truly ripe tomato from the garden has the proverbial light bulb go off: “So this is what a tomato is supposed to be like!”

This revelation goes double for these heirloom varieties, whose rich flavor and diverse colors and shapes hale from a time when the pace of life allowed for the slow development of what people wanted to enjoy on their dinner table and grow in their home garden or small farm, rather than plants conforming to the needs of industrial growers, chemical companies and distributors for supermarket chains.

Heirloom varieties show a great abundance of desirable characteristics, such as rich flavors, colors and shapes and adaptations that have survived thousands of years. They can be grown true to the parent from the seeds in the fruits.

Talking with Carrie and Brijette, their passion and knowledge come through in everything they say. They are in the right place at the right time, and doing something they truly believe in and that makes them happy. And they have done their homework in terms of understanding seed saving. This knowledge and commitment serves their customers and the community well. Of course, they will be the first to admit there’s always a tremendous amount to learn about plants and starting and growing a business. They are going to grow along with their seeds.

Focusing on crops adapted to San Diego’s environment, SDSC fills a unique niche. While other seed companies sell varieties grown in and adapted mainly to other parts of the country, SDSC grows the seed locally, and has done research into what types are best for San Diego climate and soil conditions.

If you have ever grown vegetables, you’ve probably noticed the planting schedules on the back of the seed packets. “When all danger of frost is past” is a typical guide that gives one a hint to the typical American four-season temperate climates seeds are developed and marketed to. These planting schedules often do not apply to San Diego.

All of SDSC’s original seed lines came from local or regional organic farms.

There is a reason that San Diego county has “more small farms (less than 10 acres) than any other county” (San Diego farm Bureau – ). San Diego is not only blessed with a mild Mediterranean-like climate that allows year around vegetable gardening, but has many microclimates created by the varied terrain and the influence of the ocean in coastal communities.

Buying seeds from other areas is also less sustainable, in part because it depends on the use of petrochemicals for transportation. Using locally grown seed closes the circle of sustainability: in growing, transporting, buying, and eating local food, buying local seeds will provide the missing element. The locally grown crops will be grown from seed grown locally.

As the cycle continues of growing seed locally, harvesting and replanting from their own production, SDSC’s seed lines will become better adapted to San Diego conditions. This is also in harmony with sustainable practices.

As they grow as an enterprise and gear up for larger production, they will eventually go beyond selling to local home growers, and sell to farmers.

Both Brijette and Carrie are Midwestern country stock, having grown up in Kansas amid great fields of corn, soybeans and alfalfa. Their grandparents both had farms, and vegetable gardens were part of their early lives.

They saw where food comes from, which is part of their calling now as business owners and teachers as they instruct classes at Wild Willow Farms that focus on seed saving.

Like plants in healthy soil, some of what they learned they attribute to osmosis. Carrie worked for Karen Contreras of Urban Plantations, learning about integrated pest management, seasonal planting and many other topics a budding seed farmer needs.

But growing vegetables for seed production is different than growing for produce. You cannot both harvest the produce and use it for seed production.

Being females in a male-dominated industry is not an easy seed to sow, but these two women have what it takes to succeed, and they are in the right place in the right time. Their sale at Earth Day 2011 was a roaring success.

Portions of the proceeds go to Wild Willow Farms, and helps them to develop and manage the collaborative seed bank. A special grant from the Foundation for Sustainability and Innovation also helped fertilize the seed bank project, which helped build the greenhouses, purchase a refrigerator for seed storage, and provide classes to inform the community on how to processes the seeds to supply the bank.

San Diego Seed Company has opened their website for business as of June 2012:
Seeds are reasonably priced at $3.00 per packet (compare to $3.49 for Seeds of Change’s organic but non-local seeds)

I stayed in Escondido for a little while in March of 2012. On my way to breakfast one day, I spied a large community garden on the west side of Centre City Parkway.

Doing a little research during breakfast, I discovered there are two community gardens in Escondido.

The smaller one is the South Escondido Garden, at 1540 South Escondido Boulevard.

I went and took some photos and looked over the fence. One interesting thing was the little concrete posts used to border the plots. And why is every community garden full of Fava beans?!

Another view:

One more:

I then drove up to the larger garden, the Escondido Community Garden, near Centre City Parkway between El Norte Parkway and Mission Avenue. They have to main area: one for the general public, and the southern section for seniors. I talked to a couple of people at the senior garden. A very nice gardener named “Lilian” spent quite a bit of time chatting with me about the garden. Their plots are 20 feet by 20 feet! (The main section plots for the general public are “only” 4’x16′). They get free mulch from the city, and mushroom compost from a mushroom farm (also free I believe).

The use of concrete blocks for plot borders is a difference from other gardens I’ve seen.

A nice covered picnic table area:

A longer view, looking north to the main section:

The senior gardens area:

Another view of the senior gardens area. This underutilized plot is going to be given to a new gardener:

Before I left, Lilian gave me a large bag of lettuce straight from her garden. We had shared experiences and knowledge about pests, community, and many other aspects of gardening. That sharing is one of the great things that a community garden is about!

For more information, the City of Escondido has a page here about their program:

On August 27th, 2011, I went up to lend my hand at the building of a new community garden in Linda Vista.  Fifty five people showed up at the Bayside Community Center (2202 Comstock St. San Diego, CA 92111).  The Bayside Community Center teamed with Ford Eco-Challenge San Diego driver, Dave Cynkin, to build garden beds for the Linda Vista Community Garden. Here’s the story as it appeared on TV – NBC 7 San Diego.

I volunteered to help the cutting and laying of wire mesh since I had experience doing this for my own plot at the Golden Hill Community Garden. The photographer for the Linda Vista Gardens site caught me hard at work here.

Here’s the story in pictures (they are all my photos except for the links to the community garden’s Flickr page):

Before work started, we got the overall plan from Bob Greenamyer of Victory Gardens San Diego. By coincidence, the day I worked on this blog post (September 28), The San Diego Reader newspaper published a front-page article about replacing lawn with vegetable gardens, and Bob appears in the article on page 24:

Safety First

A big pile of mulch and shovels ready to go!


Plots marked out on the lawn. They are going to make new garden plots right on the lawn using the “lasagne method”. This is where you where you lay down cardboard, then layers of soil and compost. The grass underneath dies for lack of light, and roots grow down through as the cardboard breaks down. Worms will eat the cardboard too! This constitutes grassroots soil building (pun intended) and getting some better use out of a lawn in a dry climate at it’s best.

Replace Your Lawn with Veggies

Lots of gardening tools piled up, ready to go:


Here we are rolling out the mesh over the cardboard. The wire mesh keeps out gophers. Chicken wire has holes that are too large, so you need to use wire mesh (1/4 or 1/2 inch):

Rolling out Wire Mesh to Keep Out Gophers

Here I am again. I dont’ know why they always shot me from behind, but that’s OK.

The bulletin board inside the community center:

The retaining walls that were needed on the canyon side:

Retaining Walls

Building a retaining wall:

Building a plot wall

Here you can see the mulch being spread. First we put just plain local soil on the cardboard, took the biggest rocks out of it, then put down layers of mulch and grass clippings. Over time, as water, plant roots, worms and microbes do their work, good soil will be created. A simple border was made with local rocks:

Lasagne Method of Creating a Garden Plot Over Lawn

Digging the plots (Phelan Reissen manning a pick ax – he’s my boss/partner from Digithrive, and can be credited with telling me about the event). The soil in San Diego can be pretty hard, as it’s full of clay, sand and rocks:

Watering some of the “lasagne” plots:

Watering a "Lasagne" Plot

Laying gopher mesh in the plots near the fence:

Laying Gopher Mesh in a Plot

Next: I’m hoping to visit the garden soon and get pictures of how it’s growing!


Linda Vista Gardens Blog

Made some dinner tonight with goodness from the garden: fresh sweet corn kernels, cut off the cob, added a wonderful chewy sweet nuttiness to a bean and cheese burrito (cheese+corn_beans = complete amino acid complement too). Had some fresh garden tomato on the side. “Harvest to table” to mouth! 🙂 This was the “Triple Play” sweet corn from Seeds of Change organic heirloom seeds of New Mexico. A variety they developed themselves from several heirloom stains.

"Triple Play" Sweet Corn
"Triple Play" Sweet Corn

This meal was a nice way to reward myself after laboring, with an aching back, all by my lonesome: put up half the barrier fence needed to make the solar-powered electric fence 100% effective in warding off ground squirrels and rats.

I realized that I had to do something about “mid-air squirrels”, as Jon of McGregor’s Fence company so colorfully put it. The fence had been working pretty well, but now and then some animal would get through and nibble on some veggies. Once I saw a ground squirrel leap through the wires, and a few days ago I spotted a rat leaping through as they exited the plot on my approach.

As they explain on their website:
“… if you try to keep animals out of vegetable gardens with only an electric fence it won’t work because the animals are pretty well insulated by their fur so if they don’t touch the wire with a nose or paw, they’re likely to trundle right on through and get no zap at all. However, if you put a low barrier fence a few inches behind the electric fence it will stop the animal long enough so that it will investigate the situation with its nose or paw and will then come in contact with the electric wire. This works whether the animal tries to climb over the wires or under them. It will get zapped and it will turn tail and go away.”

To top off the day in the vegetable garden, as the sun went lower, the light complemented the reddish corn stalks, and a red Nasturtium volunteer poked it’s head out (click to see larger size):

In  my adventures visiting front yard gardens, sometimes sparks will happen. Revisiting this front yard garden near Dale and Ivy was one such occasion. His name was Will, and he embodied the spirit of enthusiaism I also hold inside for gardening and growing food, and the “green world” of this interconnected Earth we live on.

Will's Garden Near Dale and Ivy, South Park
Will's Garden Near Dale and Ivy, South Park

I’d seen this garden a few times, and talked with him tending it about year ago. The other day when I swung by to photograph it, he was out front. He didn’t have much time to talk as he watered before running off to his job at a bank, but he later sent me his story. I love his metaphor of the rambling bamboo.

Will's Garden Near Dale and Ivy, South Park
Will's Garden Near Dale and Ivy, South Park

“My story is like the rambling nature of say, the running bamboo: starting in one place, following the water and nutrients to another, and popping up in all sorts of unexpected places and ways. Oh yes, and almost impossible to eradicate!

Will's Garden Near Dale and Ivy, South Park
Will's Garden Near Dale and Ivy, South Park

“I grew up in southeastern Wisconsin in the 1960s, surrounded by corn fields and dairy farms. While my parents were professional people, I always seemed to gravitate to outside activities and vocations. I began my first garden in third grade, learned how to raise worms and feed chickens, and spent many a summer in the lake and forest country of northern Wisconsin.

After failing to gain acceptance to medical school in the 1980s, I travelled around the country and eventually settled in Washington State. There I met several mentors and friends involved in the Seattle Tilth movement: I am eternally grateful for the knowledge shared and experiences gathered during these days, culminating in working with the founder of the Permaculture Movement, Bill Mollison:

As if this was not enough, I also enjoyed an incredible encounter with Masanobu Fukuoka, promoter of no tilth agriculture and author of The One-Straw Revolution:  His humble yet powerful presence was sublime.

Moving to California, I began growing food for my family in a small back yard of our home in San Luis Obispo. I began supporting local agriculture by shopping at the local famers markets, toured the CalPoly agriculture facilities and exhibits, and furiously ordered seeds and supplies. I almost earned the right to take care of a local shrine of gardening and history known as the Dallidet Adobe: But as with the bamboo finding an obstacle, either from within or without, my path had to twist and turn a bit further.

Many occupations and fields of human endeavor later, I find myself here in San Diego working for a major financial firm. The pay lets me stay a landowner instead of a sharecropper, and until I can find a way to harvest my insatiable desire to garden, I will continue to learn small scale farming in the short spans of time I am allowed. I am happy to be providing endless entertainment to neighbors and passers by, many of whom urge me to move to the country. Somehow I feel not ready to tackle any more land at present, as the rocky clay soil of our area proves most challenging.

Well, that is a brief description of my relationship to the land upon which I roam. In closing, I would say that the Earth is my first and best teacher, and that when I listen closely, I always have a better time. Thanks!”

Will's Garden Near Dale and Ivy, South Park
Will's Garden Near Dale and Ivy, South Park

I like seeing seeing vegetable gardens anywhere, but I particularly like seeing them in front yards. For one thing, lawns use huge amounts of water, and make no sense in our climate here in San Diego, and with water a valuable and imported resource. Xeriscaping or vegetables make more sense. And why not grow something you can eat? It’s also a lot of fun, and relaxing, and spiritual (to me).

In any case, I’ve started photographing them when I see front yard veggie gardens on my bike rides.

These folks have some nice raised beds (made from metal – never seen that before). Very neat and clean. I see some tomatoes, squash and onions:

29th and Ivy, South Park
29th and Ivy, South Park

Squash plants in front of the wall, spilling towards the sidewalk. I like how big and vigorous squash plants are.

29th and Ivy, South Park
29th and Ivy, South Park

Another view of their raised beds:

29th and Ivy, South Park
29th and Ivy, South Park

I was almost home when I spotted this garden on my street. I’ve seen it walking by before. This time I decided to stop and talk to the man watering it. His name was Doug.

A and 27th, Golden Hill
A and 27th, Golden Hill

He was happy to talk about it. He told me about the tomatoes his sons gave away. I liked how the cucumbers were growing up the railing.

A and 27th, Golden Hill
A and 27th, Golden Hill

He re-seeds his lettuce.

A salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, he had raised beds, “slapped together from cheap lumber” he said apologetically. He said they will break down eventually since they aren’t pressure treated, but will last a few years. He had some tomato plants in a corner that were holdovers from last year. I told him about how they are actually perennials. He also had some pepper plants that were in a second year, and he’d pruned back.

A and 27th, Golden Hill
A and 27th, Golden Hill

I told him about how it had taken me over 2 years to get a plot at the Golden Hill Community Garden and there’s a long waiting list. Doug had a good idea: turn some of that area in that open field above Florida Canyon over near the city’s nursery, into a community garden. The city could actually make some money – charge fifty dollars a plot.

This garden is on Dale Street in South Park. I like the nice healthy purple bean vines, and the corn:

Near Dale and Ivy
Near Dale and Ivy
Near Dale and Ivy
Near Dale and Ivy
Near Dale and Ivy
Near Dale and Ivy

Beautiful Zucchini Squash leaves:

Near Dale and Ivy
Near Dale and Ivy

Beans and tomatos thriving:

Near Dale and Ivy
Near Dale and Ivy

Here’s how it looked before the garden (Google Street View):

Near Dale and Ivy - Yard Before Veggie Garden
Near Dale and Ivy - Yard Before Veggie Garden

Saw some corn and tomatoes growing in the front of a house near Thorn and Granada:

Thorn and Granada, South Park
Thorn and Granada, South Park