Living East talks to Jill Landry of the Eastlake Organic Gardening Club

Wed October 30, 2013 2:02pm

 Tell us a little about the Eastlake Organic Gardening Collective, how long it’s been around, how many people, what its goals are.
The collective has been around since April 2012 when I created a Meetup for it. I wanted to find local people like me who were either growing food on a small scale or wanted to do so.  Meetup is not a dating site, it is a site where you can find events and groups related to your interests, such as a cooking club or a running group.  My garden collective goals are to pull people together to learn and share about how to garden in a small space, and to encourage others to start a new garden.  We do not have officers or dues, or meeting minutes. What we do have is a bunch of people getting together to share what works and what doesn’t, both are important for gardening here. There are over 60 members! But only around 4-8 different people usually come to meetings.
What’s the difference between organic gardening and traditional gardening (if there is such a thing)? Or, another way of looking at it is, what’s the difference between an organic roma tomato from your own garden and a roma tomato from the supermarket?
The roma tomato from the supermarket is called traditional, and under these methods traditional means that it will have had chemical fertilizer applied to its roots at some point, and will have had a chemical pesticide application to its shiny green or red body at some point to ward off bugs. So you get a beautiful tomato without a blemish.
I am going to say that the true traditions of gardening are actually organic, because when people started to garden, the formula was soil, sun, water and a seed.  There was not a supermarket shelf to grab a bottle from Monsanto. Whether gardeners were kings or peasants, early gardeners used manures for fertilization, herbs for insect issues, companion planting and two legged insect control in the form of livestock.
The other facet to gardening with chemicals (especially pesticides) is that they get rid of bad bugs and good bugs.  This creates an imbalance in the garden, as there are so many good bugs that eat destructive bugs.  But sometimes you just have to get rid of aphids, ants or roly poly menaces. Even I buy products in bottles or in shakeable containers, as they are so easy. But I avoid the organic label as that word is not regulated, nor do I buy anything that has a registered pesticide as an ingredient.  I buy OMRI approved products.  OMRI® is the Organic Materials Review Institute and products that bear the OMRI® Listed seal have gone through a battery of tests to determine if the base ingredients are derived from organic (naturally occurring in the earth and sea) ingredients. If the product meets the criteria (no easy feat), then they get the seal. So if you want to switch easily, just look for the seal OMRI on the product.  Or go natural and try your hand at internet concoctions made from household (natural) ingredients or a killer blast of water.
The exciting part of a homegrown organic good for you tomato is the taste. Oh my, oh my. The taste is magnificent; people tend to make gleeful noises when eating that tomato. A backyard tomato travels feet not miles, and no one touched it from birth but you.  That is good thing.  Plus in your backyard you can grow tomatoes in a small space and try different varieties that you will never see in a store or farmer’s market.
Why garden as opposed to any other activity?
There is not enough space in this column for my full answer. I really have no grand idea why, but I know that I got hooked on gardening (and canning) in Virginia in my early 20’s. I am probably four generations removed from anyone who gardened full on. But my gramps (grandfather) had tomatoes in the teeny space in his Philadelphia row house front yard. Probably the most exciting thing about home gardening is when your kids or husband (who do not view garden chores with glee) notice something happening and red alert to call everyone to see. Those are the grand tomato moments of my life.
Gardening is also very grounding. It takes you outdoors, you see and hear and experience things and can close your mind to troubles, or at the very least catch your breath. There are smells, sights, visitors and interconnectedness with the Charlottes of the world. Yes the spiders. We move their webs out of our way yet they return, singing their little soldier song, some louder and bigger than others. I grow things every year, with some success and a lot of failures, but still I return with my little song in my head. We are all just trying to live the good life here in Chula Vista.
What basic advice do you have for anyone who a) wants to start gardening and b) thinks they have the black thumb of death?
My basic advice is following the blueprint that works for other people at first, instead of thinking that you will be the next SoCal garden guru. Find a group such as ours, attend classes, stalk the nurseries, talk to people and attend the Master Gardener Spring Seminar in 2014 and the Cuyamaca Spring Festival. And make sure you get Pat Welsh’s book that is specifically written for this area (Pat Welsh’s Southern California Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide). Get a notebook and jot down what you hear that makes sense. Rip pages out of magazines (if they are your magazines).  If you can make sense of it then you can make the knowledge work.   The black thumb of death comes from lack of knowledge or applying east coast knowledge to a west coast climate and just not knowing what works. If you have a gardening question call the San Diego Master Gardener Hotline at 858-822-6910. The best advice is don’t delay gardening because you think you won’t be perfect at it. You can start out small then as you gain control over one planter box, then go to two, then maybe try a fruit tree. In other words don’t do what I did 4 years ago and shove everything in ground  like a maniac and then not be able to manage it when IT needs to be managed, not when you have the time. Plants follow the sun and earth, not the soccer season or work schedules.
What’s your favorite time of year in the garden?
Fall. Definitely.  After we have our blistering heat (which we forget about every year here) we have that nice period where all of sudden the days get cooler, and while you lament the end of cucumbers and summer tomatoes, you remember that there is a lot that grows here in a fall/winter climate garden that grows slower.
What’s your least favorite activity in the garden?
Pest control would be my least favorite activity in the garden because it’s annoying. I want to be able to plant plants and have them beautiful for 5 months and never see a bug on them and feel like my ecosystem is in balance, and it’s never that way. I don’t like ants, or aphids which bring ants. It seems they love to come creeping in the side gate when I’m very busy.  And while I have not had them yet I am fearful of one day having a gopher. But I will rally against that when it comes.
I will say  that even during my bug fighting I always find something remarkable that I haven’t found in my garden, so the synopsis of the day isn’t me fighting ants, it is me discovering lady bug larvae,  four differently colored grass hoppers on my onions, or a visit from a new bird on my feeder. Or my favorite…a spider that respectfully puts her web way above my head so we can share my garden and she can do her good works.
Is Chula Vista a good place to garden?
Oh yes, but we have cooler temps on the west side and better soil as Chula was once lemon fields and agriculture. My friends in West Chula do not need to always container garden like we do over here in East Chula.  We get year round sun, and there is a lot we can grow here. At the very least you can turn your front yard into a more beautiful visual scape by removing the grass and planting herbs and edible plants that need more infrequent care.