La Crescenta gardener lets the good times grow

La Crescenta resident Jim Luna has done a lot during the past 40 years to maintain his sprawling garden of vegetable plants and fruit trees, but he’s seldom had to buy seeds.

Instead of going to the store, he lets some of his crops do it themselves, allowing them to grow to the point that their seeds are strong enough to be used for more planting. That is, literally going to seed.

PHOTOS: Jim Luna's garden of vegetable plants and fruit trees 

The 64-year-old retiree’s latest batch of garlic cloves descended from a seed that grew eight years ago.

“People seem to think you have to go down to the store and pay $3.75 for seeds. I can’t really see the cost effectiveness,” said the former professional ballet dancer and Glendale city employee. “You’re going to have to have every seed sprout to break even.”

Out of each batch of lettuce or chard, for example, Luna leaves one or two of the healthier ones in the ground for about a month after its optimal picking date.

“Then a stalk will grow from the top with flowers and some pods [that has seeds],” he said.

The leaves become tough, leaving the plant inedible, but the seeds are ready to spawn a new generation.

To make sure he gets the most out of his seeds, he says he puts some seeds in the freezer for a few weeks. Once reintroduced to the heat, the seeds’ internal clocks believeit’s spring and time to grow, Luna said.

Matthew Geldin, operations director at Farmscape, a firm specializing in installing urban farms and maintaining them throughout LA County, said letting vegetables go to seed is beneficial to a private gardener because it generates regionally adapted seeds for plants like tomatoes and chili peppers.

But watch out for pumpkins and melons.

“[Their seeds are] much more prone to being cross-pollinated and leading to stuff that doesn’t come true to seed either, like bitter or rough,” Geldin said.

Inspired by the orange groves of La Puente while growing up, Luna moved to La Crescenta in the mid-1970s and has since been growing everything from butternut squashes to bell peppers, chili peppers and ears of corn.

“Tomatoes, lettuce, onions, they’re easy to grow,” Luna said. “Tomatoes are easy to manage because they droop to let you know that you have to water them. Otherwise they’re pretty hearty.”

Currently and in years past, he treats his garden as a produce aisle for salad recipes and one of his favorite dishes, mashed potatoes infused with butternut squash.

“Every day I’m eating out of the garden,” Luna said.

In addition to saving money on seeds, watering his gardenhasn’t hit his wallet hard either.

Luna says he pays about $125 every other month for his water bill, making him a lowest-level user, according to the Crescenta Valley Water District.

“Gardening, when done properly, does not have to use a lot of water,” said Christy Scott, a program special with the water district. “Caring for your soil by adding organic matter or compost once or twice a year will greatly increase the soil’s water-holding capacity.”

And that’s another step in Luna’s routine over the years.

When he produces too much produce, he hands crops out to his neighbors or throws some of it on top of his compost pile.

Laying out compost and utilizing a sifting sieve to filter out rocks and sand out of the soil would help aspiring La Crescenta gardeners achieve a fertile landscape, he said.

If a homeowner already has a healthy lawn, getting a garden going is much easier.

“[Lawns] have already been fertilizing and most of the rock and sand stuff has been dug up,” Luna said. “So the lawn area is probably the best to turn into a garden than taking bare land and trying to get a garden out of it.”


Follow Arin Mikailian on Twitter: @ArinMikailian.


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