All About Food: There’s a gift of fresh produce in these boxes

Mike Saraylian organizes one of the Harvest to Home vegetable and herb gardens, a self-contained organic garden box.
(DON LEACH, Daily Pilot)

And now for something completely different — a gift that truly keeps on giving. It comes in a box but has no ribbons. Unlike a new puppy, it takes care of itself. It isn’t Godiva chocolates, but it’s definitely edible. So, what is this unique and delicious Christmas gift that you can give away or give to yourself?

It’s a self-sustaining vegetable garden that requires no watering, no fertilizing, no weeding, in fact, no work at all except picking the bounty. Mike Saraylian, born and raised in Laguna Beach, is the man behind Harvest To Home, a seasonal organic vegetable and herb garden service. Make your choices from a seasonal menu and the pre-planted box(s) will be delivered and installed with optional stand, trellis or self-watering system.

We visited Mike, and he showed us the endless flats of seedlings and garden boxes with young plants, being prepared for delivery. Each winter box contains six to 14 different plants — either herbs, lettuces, vegetables or a mix chosen by the customer. Sitting out on the deck surrounded by edible greenery, Mike told us that after attending UC Santa Barbara, he came home and worked in the RV industry, eventually becoming a manager. He moved on to Blick Industries in Laguna Canyon and worked in sales and marketing. His job involved traveling around the U.S. and Europe.

In Italy, he was amazed by the brilliant flavors of a simple salad made with perfect tomatoes and freshly picked lettuce, and dressed only with oil and vinegar. Mike said he had loved to cook since he was a child, and after his Italian epiphany he found himself thinking about everything he was eating and developed an interest in health and diet.

Every Friday at Blick there was a company barbecue on the rooftop. Mike always made the salads from the 70 boxes of garden produce grown right there on the roof by a retired doctor, Myron Wacholder, who was the father of one of the employees. The doctor became his gardening mentor.

Mike came up with the idea for his business, inspired by those boxes on the rooftop. Although he knew about sales and marketing, he had no clue how to start a business, but he was influenced by his boss, John Blick, who said that if you really want to, you can do anything. Mike had some money saved, got some from his family, then taught himself every facet of business from designing a website to accounting and operations.

In the beginning, he found himself building planters and shoveling dirt. He ate what he grew and lost 15 pounds in the process, but he became addicted to freshly picked vegetables and herbs and hopes you will too. He is filled with passion and energy for what he does and has grown his business like his vegetables: with care. Now, you can see his boxes at a growing number of restaurants around the OC, including: The Cottage and Coyote Grill in Laguna, 118 Degrees in Costa Mesa and Cucina Alessa in Newport, Huntington Beach and now Laguna.

The beauty of these planters is that you can be a great gardener without benefit of a green thumb. They are constructed so they are semi-hydroponic. There is a separate reservoir of water beneath the soil, which the roots eventually reach. You can refill the reservoir yourself or purchase their inexpensive watering device, which is spliced to your garden hose and automatically does the job. Before the plants reach your home, they have been sprayed three times with an organic mixture made from neem oil and hot pepper wax. They also have an organic spray for caterpillars. No additional fertilizer is needed.

Last season, even with our crummy weather, one box yielded 50 pounds of heirloom tomatoes. At the end of the four-month season, they will take away the old box and bring you a new one. Check out the website for pricing and selections or call (949) 873-5400.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet foods and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at