The glass is half full–even if it’s full of greywater

Mrs. Homegrown here:

In this blog and in our books, we’ve talked a lot about the importance of accepting failure as part of the process of living a more homegrown lifestyle. Disasters of different sorts are inevitable. Sometimes they’re part of the learning process. Other times they’re acts of nature that you just have to shrug off. This year we’ve had lots of failures in the agricultural line. It’s been the theme of the year.

For instance, we lost the grape which covers our back porch to Pierce’s disease. No shade for us this summer. Then we had to pull out our citrus trees because there’s a new citrus disease in California, very similar to Pierce’s disease. We blogged about the crookedness and incompetence of the teams sent by the CDFA to intimidate people in our neighborhood into allowing them to spray our yards. Rather than allow them to apply imidacloprid to our vehemently organic garden, we’ve pulled the trees. They were young in any case, barely giving fruit yet. For all the Safety Theater going on, this citrus disease is not going to be stopped by spraying, only by breeding disease resistant varieties. So we figured we may as well pull trees which are doomed to die a few years from now anyway and replace them with non-citrus trees. Nonetheless, that left us with holes in our yard.

Then we had root nematodes in one of our garden beds, and crappy results in another for reasons still unknown. Our first batch of summer seedlings did not thrive, and had to be restarted, which has put us far behind. It’s almost July and our tomatoes haven’t even fruited. We planted our front yard bed with amaranth seeds, and a stray dog dug them all up. We planted a back bed with beans, and the chickens got loose and dug those all up as well.

But the other day I was looking at the photos stored on our camera, and realized that for all this, there were successes this year, and moments of plenty, beauty and grace. It’s far too easy to focus on the failures and forget what goes right. So from now on we’re going to document our yard and other projects more diligently, so that we can look back on both the failures and the successes with a clear eye. It did me good to see these photos, which I’m going to share with you:

The front yard isn’t looking bad. Not organized, but at least not barren.

Lesson the First: make weed-like plants the backbone of your yard, meaning edible plants that grow no matter what–which kind of plants will vary by region. Grow fussy annuals too, if you want, but have these survivors as back up. And learn how to cook them. For instance, we get nopales from that huge cactus that is swamping our hill. The cucumbers may refuse to set fruit, but the cactus pads offer reliable eating for several months, and then the cactus fruit forms, and we have a second harvest. Nopal is the gift that won’t stop giving.

Another fail-proof crop in this region is artichoke. I really don’t know why every house in SoCal doesn’t have one in its yard. Every year we eat artichokes until we’re sick of them, and the only downside is that they spread like mad, as you can see below:

But is that really such a problem? Too many artichokes? Oh noes! Ours grow happily entwined with fennel (which was too small at the time to be seen in the shot above). Fennel is another weedy survivor here. We can harvest the bulbs, or eat the flowers and fronds, or do nothing and just let the pollinators have at it. Today I was sitting by the fennel patch. The flowers are full of pollen, and the air above it looked like LAX: honeybees, wasps, orchard mason bees, tiny little pollinators that I can’t name, butterflies, ladybugs…. I’d need a fancy camera to capture all that action, but here’s a shot from the spring:

And then there’s always the reassurance of a sturdy old fruit or nut tree. Most of our trees are young–planted by us. They have yet to reach their productive days, but we have an old avocado tree. It bears fruit every year, but every 3rd year it gives a bumper crop. And this was one of those years. They’re the best avocados, too–buttery to the extreme. We literally do nothing for this tree, and it gives us this:

We had plentiful greens this year during our winter growing season, mostly turnip and beet greens, bitter Italian greens and Swiss chard. The hoops you see support light row cover material to keep insects away. Our beds look like covered wagons a lot of the time!

We’ve had some nice food this year, too, some of which was documented. Good to look back on.

A salad made with our greens, our pomegranates, and Erik’s notorious pickled crosne:

Or this salad of greens, avocados, nasturtium and arugula flowers, all from the yard:

Ooh..there’s this. Our carrot crop wasn’t big, but it was good. Yellow carrots. They got chopped up and roasted and tasted like candy:

And then there’s the creature comforts. Our chickens are doing well, still laying and haven’t been pecking on each other so much. I took this picture during one of their outings, when they were patrolling the herb bed:

Our dog is very old, so every day with him counts. There’s lots of pics of him on the camera, because he’s such a sexy senior citizen:

And there’s no comfort like a good Neighbor. Particularly one who carries a huge knife and knows how to use it:

And when the going gets tough, we can remember to take pleasure in the ephemeral. Blueberry flowers are worthy of haiku:

It doesn’t rain much in LA, and even when it does, rainbows are a rarity. But we had this one:

Life’s not so bad.

Leave a comment


  1. awesome. in a world that seems to be constantly focused on the negative, i needed this post…you’re really doing something beautiful…keep on keepin’ on!…:D

  2. This is a fantastic post. I live in a region that is totally new for me, with a large canopy such that sun is a challenge; getting used to growing what thrives has been a real tough lesson. Half the yard is like a jungle (full of things I don’t want… who ever thought one could have nightmares about the insidiously prolific, gorgeous wisteria that simply drips purple in the spring?) while the other half is full of cultivated near misses. But you’re right — the little things matter. Our squash and pumpkins may not bear much fruit but we are in squash blossom heaven all summer long; our beets may not set in the clay soil, but the beet greens are amazing in our salads; and once we figured out that the chickens needed to be in a sturdier coop / run, our onion sets finally started doing their thing and we haven’t lost a chicken since. There’s a lot of satisfaction in the failure… in hindsight. In the moment, maybe not so much. 🙂

  3. In Portland, summer has come so late that the garden is way behind — the only things even up are my tomatoes and beans, and the tomatoes were started months and months ago. Sunflowers are tiny little dicots still. But our raspberries are going bonkers, and we have plenty of strawberries. As long as there’s fruit, I can’t complain…much.

  4. Beautiful post! Just discovered what I believe is late blight in our community garden yesterday (the jury’s still out, but that’s what I think it is). Wonderful to read about the resilient plants in your yard. Those avocados, nopales, and artichokes look good enough to make be briefly contemplate leaving my beloved Baltimore!

  5. so beautiful…your house & garden {and SPIKE!!} look great! so amazing and inspiring what you guys have done {so much progress you’ve made since i was your neighbor!!}…it’s a lot to be proud of!

    i ran into eric the other day at the hardware store…passed along my well wishes to you & spike…looks like all is well…hope to run into you guys in the hood again soon…

    happy summer!

  6. We live in Minnesota and can only dream of abundances of artichokes or avocados. Perhaps you should just plant things that start with “A”
    It is good sometimes to stop and reflect on how far you have come and how much you have done.

    But it often hard to remember to do when you are overrun with slugs!

  7. That is a happy-looking Opuntia in the front! I bet she produces excellent prickly pears. I am envious of the avocados, and agree on the artichokes. Not only are they good people food, the branches make for great chicken snacking and grazing and pecking. My hens peck the hell out of each other when I don’t give them something like this to work on all morning, and I’m growing more ‘chokes to fill demand.

    My cukes failed this year. Epic. My lettuces failed. Epic pests.

    But I have volunteer pumpkins all over the freaking place. I’m not sure if it makes my yard Hallowe’en headquarters or a poster child for a Thanksgiving horn of plenty. And the lesson learned there, is never feed pumpkin seeds and guts to the hens while we’re carving jack o’lanterns. They poop the seeds everywhere and scratch them in. But the yolks were sooooo pretty and orange. Ah well.

  8. Good to know about pumpkins and hens….that’s one of the things I love about the blogosphere…I learn so much here. You remind me that I need to be happy with all the food I’m getting out of the yard, and not only dwell on the fruit trees that I’m losing to God knows what.

    You also remind me that the important thing is to be thankful for every day that we get with loved ones, particularly the four-legged furry ones with shorter life spans than ours….

  9. Hi, I’m not sure how I happened upon your blog, but DEAR GOD your artichokes are gorgeous! May I ask what you do to keep them so healthy? I’m an artichoke fiend and recently put some into our front yard half as edible landscaping and half because I just plain love to eat them. I’m in the SE corner of the SFV and they’re in a cool-ish part of our yard, so I’m hoping the heat won’t bake them into oblivion.

  10. Just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying your book. I began reading it, and then my husband started stealing it. At bedtime, it is always on his nightstand. Of course, I have to steal it back and tell him that he can read it when I’m finished. It’s such an easy read, and so helpful to people like us that need step by step instructions.

  11. I’ve heard really great things about those row covers that you use. I hear they’re great for protecting your crops from wind, heat, and insects. Sounds pretty awesome to me!

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