Meet the gardeners: Cordelia Martinez & Steve Gross

As you walk into the garden from the gate at Anteater Drive you are likely to see a lady’s bicycle propped against the fence. Many of you will recognize the cyclist as Cordelia Martinez, proprietor of garden plots 51 & 52 Peony Lane. She and her husband Steve Gross joined AVCG in its former Arroyo Vista location over a decade ago, when their son Samuel was only three years old. As a veteran garden member, Cordelia kindly shared her family’s story with Meet the Gardeners editor Marie Connors. Look for Cordelia’s Gazpacho Recipe on our Favorite Recipes web page.

For me gardening is a necessity of life, and I’ve been fortunate to live in many places where I could garden: A small farm-sized one in New Jersey, front lawn raised beds and terra cotta pots in Texas, and a big backyard garden in Santa Ana when we first relocated to California. Steve is on the faculty at UCI, and when we moved to University Hills our house didn’t realoly have hte space or sunlight for a vegetable agarden; my toddler was already addicted to tomatoes off the vine, and we were new in town and wanted to meet the neighbors. Back then it was easy to get a plot, and we werre able to get started quickly.

My early AVCG gardens were very child-friendly. My friends and I took our kids over there in the afternoon and worked while they played. It’s wonderful to see that story play out over and over again as new families with little ones join the garden. Back then, we grew novel things, tried to grow pumpkins, tried to make cute little landscapes and did lots of trial-by-error learning. We grew potatoes all the time then, probably because they are easy and the kids enjoy digging them up so much.

Every year now we grow Swiss chard—red, pink, green, and yellow—because we all like it and it’s so reliable. The last couple of years we’ve grown Spanish Padron peppers; they’re like Japanese shishitos but more reliably mild in my experience. We always try to grow cucumbers; sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. In the winter we grow lettuce until it gets too hot for it. We experimented with berries and grapes, but anything that cuts down on tomato real estate goes.

Fortunately, we have a dehydrator, which comes in handy during especially abundant tomato seasons. When there are just too many tomatoes, like there were at the end of last year, we just pop them in freezer bags. We can tomatoes and pizza sauce in the summer, and use the more past type tomatoes in pa amb tomaquet (Catalan tomato and bread) constantly, but mostly, we drink gallons of gazpacho.

Pests like gophers and birds are discouraging, as is the occasional blight or bug infestation. Some years we do everything right, and pfft. Others, we forget this or that, and still things work out. Over the long haul, it’s a plus. Always. We plan to keep experimenting with new plants and new varieties. This year we moved some of the raised beds around to make room for fruit trees in pots. We have a Satsuma mandarin, and Australian finger lime, and an apple free. Wish us luck!

Cordelia Martinez and family


Larry’s Blog: Best of the Best Kale


Kale resembles collards, except that its leaves are curly at the edges and  has a stronger flavor and a coarser texture. When cooked, kale doesn’t shrink as much as other greens. While the most common variety is deep green, other interesting kales can be yellow-green, white, red, or purple, with either flat or ruffled leaves. The colored varieties—sometimes called salad Savoy—are most often grown for ornamental purposes, but are pleasantly edible. A few varieties worth knowing about that are available either in markets or as seedlings in nurseries are:

  • Curly kale:This is the type most often found in supermarkets. It has large, frilly-edged leaves and long stems. Kale grows in a loose head, but is often sold as loose leaves bound together. The color can range from pale to deep green with a slightly bluish hue. Curly kale is difficult to chop, but easy to tear, if fresh, with a noticeable pungent flavor with peppery and bitter qualities. Growers should look for the younger-looking leaves for less bitterness.
  • Lacinato kale (Dinosaur Kale, Tuscan kale, cavolo nero): This Italian variety of kale is dark purplish green, with crinkly leaves and a sweet, slightly spicy flavor. It retains a firm texture even after cooked, and is slightly sweeter with a more delicate taste than curly kale.
  • Ornamental (salad Savoy): Frilly and fluffy, ranging in color from pink to purple to magenta, this colorful variety is used on buffet tables for displays. It forms a rosette, which looks like an opened-up flower. While its leaves are somewhat coarse, it is edible, and its leaves hold up very well in a salad using tender raw leaves from the center. Larger, tougher leaves can be used wilted with a hot dressing.
  • Red Russian (Ragged Jack): This type of kale is sold in markets as individual leaves like common kale. The leaves are bluish-green with a red rib. They don’t have the deeply frilly edges of common kale and often resemble overgrown oak leaves. Red Russian is popular because of its great flavor and is one of the sweetest kale varieties. A word of caution should be noted here because of its woody and fibrous stems, which are tough and should be removed since they can cause stomach upset.
  • Whitekale: This variety of kale forms a rosette head like purple kale, but its frilly leaves are white. This variety has a strong flavor and a chewy texture, and a taste reminiscent of cabbage with an earthy finish. Once cooked, the texture softens and the flavor becomes sweet and nutty.

Regardless of variety, all kale plants have roughly the same outstanding nutritional content which characterizes them as a ‘superfood’.  One cup of kale leaves has only 36 calories and contains 94 mg of calcium; minerals such as manganese and copper; strong helpings of vitamins A,C, and K, and a good dose of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are beneficial to eye health.

While most kale growers nationally feel that it is best grown in the winter – and is even tastier after a frost —   kale is a year-around plant that thrives in the Southern California climate.

In general, kale seedlings can go from planting to harvesting in 55 to 65 days. Seeds can take approximately 20 days longer to produce edible leaves.

Where to Buy

Many kale seedling varieties are available from Rogers Gardens (Newport Beach) and  Armstrong Nursery and Home Depot outlets throughout Southern California. Kale inventories tend to fluctuate during the year, with the largest variety availability during the general spring planting season. Kale seeds are also available from these same outlets, with Amazon offering perhaps the widest selection of kale varieties.

Other excellent kale seed sources are:

Grower Feedback

Based on comments from kale growers around the country, the three names that come up the most for being the tastiest varieties are:

  1. Tronchuda Beira Hybrid (Burpee Seeds and others) it is also the most heat tolerant of all the varieties and thus should be a first choice for the Irvine garden in the summer. It produces large (24”) paddle-shaped sweet blue-green leaves. The downside is the long time to harvest:  80 days.
  2. Licanto – which seems to be everybody’s favorite.
  3. White Russian ( and others) – tender very sweet green and white leaves.  Early to harvest.

CAQMD Electric Lawn Mower Rebate Program

Hi everyone,

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has a new year-round Electric Lawn Mower Rebate Program. You will be able to purchase a new cordless electric lawn mower at any retail center or online. Rebates range from $150 to $250 depending on the purchase price of the lawn mower. Eligibility is open to residents of South Coast AQMD’s jurisdiction.

Go to this website or download the flyer below for more details.

Rebate Flyer