Getting Ready to Garden & Meyer Lemon Giveaway

Weekends like this remind me how truly blessed those of us are who live in Southern California. Say what you will about traffic or smog, you really can’t beat the weather. It was almost 80 degrees on the first day of Spring, while many parts of the country were still under a blanket of snow. It almost makes a girl feel a little guilty to have so much sunshine and year-round citrus.

We’ve had some unusually wet and cold weather this year, but once it turned warm the urge to get outside and plant came on with a vengeance. Even though it’s early March, it’s time to get the summer garden going here in Los Angeles. While many people in the US can’t plant until May or June, we need to start planting now because in July and August, at least where I live, it’s so blazin’ hot the vegetables can’t take it and start to wilt on the vine.

If you’ve been with me from the beginning of the blog, you may remember last year we built raised garden beds and experimented with something called the “No Dig Gardening Method.” It was fairly successful in terms of vegetable production in a small space, but I spent much of my time battling the “Little Monsters” (aka Raccoons) who liked to climb into the beds and dig for their supper.

Things have changed in the past year since we built and filled the boxes. The layers of hay, alfalfa, compost and manure have melded and compressed. The wood on the boxes has darkened. One thing has not changed; while there may be nothing planted, the Little Monsters are still getting in there, digging with regularity. I’m going to have to come up with a better plan than last year. Go here to see how we built the raised boxes, and here for the method of filling them if you’re interested in giving it a try. 

No Dig Garden Year 2:
We’re now ready to get the garden beds prepped and begin “No Dig Gardening, Year Two”. The first chore I had to do was get rid of the knee high weeds in the pathways, which threatened to reach out and grab me like the monster plant from the Little Shop of Horrors.
My current plan is to take what’s in the large U-shaped box and move much of it to the two smaller boxes. Then we will fill the larger container much as we did last year.
I’ll be planting some of the same things as before; tomatoes (as many as possible!), eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, lemon cucumbers, etc. There will be new vegetables too, but I just don’t know what yet. I’d also like to plant in stages over the next two of months to hopefully extend my growing season. Last year almost everything was gone by the first week of August. As I said above, a lot of that has to do with the heat, but also because I did not stagger my planting enough.
As for the Little Monsters, I have a plan for them too, and no, it does not involve bodily harm as many have suggested. I’m not exactly sure what yet, but it will most likely include chicken wire,  zip ties, and a little ingenuity.

*Update* I just moved some of the soil from the big bed to the smaller ones. I was really impressed with the quality of it and the sheer amount of earthworms inside. In addition I found some big, fat white grubs about the size of my thumb. Any know what these might be? I’m sure these are what the raccons are after; they don’t tend to eat the plants, instead they’re digging for tasty treats and the plants are just in their way. These guys are big, probably about 40 lbs, and they do a lot of damage rooting around in there.

Speaking of Year 2,
  Tuesday the 23rd will be the 1 year anniversary of this blog. What started as a way to do something productive during recession generated furlough days has turned into a full fledged passion and I am so thankful for the incredible experience and all the amazing people I have met through this blog over the last year.

Are you wondering what all this talk of sunshine, monsters and gardening has to do with Meyer Lemons? As I’ve said in previous posts our little Meyer Lemon tree has been very generous this year and many readers have commented on how they don’t have Meyer Lemons where they live.
I’d like to send a little Spring sunshine in the form of a couple of pounds of Meyer Lemons to one reader as a way to say “Thank You” for sticking with me this year.
Ok, it’s also as a way to alleviate my guilt for living in in such fabulous weather while many of you are still wearing snow boots. I’d like to point out that the idea to send California citrus to the colder climes came from the always generous Diane and Todd at whiteonricecouple, who are doing their own citrus giveaway. If you’ve never seen their beautiful blog, make sure you check it out.

Giveaway Details (Now Closed):
I’ll send a couple pounds of my organically grown Meyer Lemons to one reader. That’s enough to make one or two of my lemon desserts or a small batch of lemonade if you are so inclined. This will be 10-12 lemons depending on their size which varies from small to quite large. These lemons are tree-ripened, very juicy, and have a thinner skin than the more common Eureka Lemon so they will need to be used fairly soon after they are received.

All you need to do is leave a comment below and let me know if you are starting your own garden this year, what you’re growing,  or what you’d like to make with the lemons.
If you’d like a second chance to win, become a Former Chef Facebook Fan and then come back and leave a 2nd comment telling me you’ve done so. If you’re already a fan, you can leave a 2nd comment letting me know, and get a 2nd chance too.
I’ll pick a winner at random on Friday the 26th. The giveaway is open only to those with a US shipping address.

For more info on Meyer Lemons and to see what I’ve made with them, go here to see some of my lemon recipes.


  • Johanna

    Well, I’m not wearing snow boots, but I’d love some Meyer Lemons, so I’ll play.

    My sister helped me start a garden last year, and I loved having so much fresh produce right at my door. Here’s a list of what I plan on having again this year: Tomatoes, cucumbers, black eyed peas, sugar snap peas, okra, and string beans. My herb garden has rosemary, thyme, basil (when it gets a little warmer), oregano, and chives.

    I’d like to recreate a recipe I had at Union Square Cafe: Ricotta Gnocchi with Meyer Lemon Butter Sauce. I’m also a sucker for my mom’s lemon square recipe.

  • Matthew Windsor

    There is nothing like the smell of Meyer lemons. My garden aspirations this year are small. I’ve adopted a plant-as-you-go method, hoping that my eyes won’t be larger than my shovel. A couple of Arkansas Black apple trees and my standard aromatic garden of sage, mint and thyme are all I am planning.

  • My Man's Belly

    My garden is going in the first week of April and I can’t wait. My little San Marzano seedlings are about 3″ tall and I’ve already starting planning what I’m going to do with them. I agree that this weather has been perfect for the citrus trees. My Meyer Lemons really came on strong this year followed by the tangerines and limes.

    Someone back in coldville is really going to enjoy your lemons.

    btw…the new site looks great!

  • Stephanie

    Believe it or not but it was your “No Dig Garden” blog post that caused my husband and I to start our own garden. It’s still in the beginning and have very few plants and herbs. As of now we have two tomato plants (Roma and Mr. Stripey) and converted some old pickle buckets I collected while working as a cook into potting containers for potatoes.

    As for what I’d do with the lemons… I don’t think anything can top lemon curd. YUM!

  • Ed Schenk

    I will definately have a garden this year. In addition to an array fo herbs I an looking at Tomato,cucumber,zuchinni, peppers and lettuce.
    In so far as to what I would do with the lemons, I would use them in ( along with my fresh herbs) a Vietnamese rice noodle salad.

  • Carole

    RE raccoons, I wonder if this will work–used to do it in my Mother & Dad’s garden to dissuade squirrels from digging up things or eating leaves, etc. Make a spray of water & cayenne and spray on your plants. Also toss some red pepper flakes in the soil around roots. Of course, for your produce, you’ll need to wash it off before use, but you’d be doing that anyway. The heat was a surprise to squirrels and they left plants alone.

    RE planting, I don’t have much space so I keep pots of herbs and ornamental plants along the path to the door. Although we’ve been having gorgeous weather the past few days (I’m in PA), the reality of chilly rain and weather returns tomorrow. I have to wait to plant, otherwise I might lose my plants to frost.

  • Erica Lea

    We are starting our own garden this…we grow ever so many things: corn, squash, peas, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc. I’m not sure what Mom has planned this year.

  • foodgardener

    The fat white grubs may well be the progeny of Japanese Beetles, wich can damage your vegetable plants by nibbling their roots. If you find more than two in a square foot of garden space, chances are you have an infestation. The Racoons have alerted you to a problem.

    You can try diging up the garden and removing the little grubs by hand, which isn’t always practical, but with a garden of the size you have, certainly doable, or you can treat your entire garden with beneficial nematodes, which will eventually knock them out–but it takes a little time.

    Good luck with your garden…food tastes better when it’s homegrown. (My website isn’t up yet, but it will be soon).

    • formerchef

      Yikes! I wish I’d pulled out the grubs when I saw them, but I let them be. Thanks for letting me know. Now I have to go look for beneficial nematodes!

  • Tiffany

    Year 2 of the No-Dig looks awesome! It looks antiquey. As for keeping away the critters and Diane and Todd – why not try a puppy face?
    By puppy face I mean the whole puppy. And by puppy you should know that the beast could be the size of a plow horse and would still be a puppy face to me.

    I will forget in 2 days so here it is now – HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY!!!! I have loved following your recipes and adventures, and meeting your mom via Twitter. This is such an awesome blog, I tell people all the time.

  • Drena Paulson

    I have an herb garden that is original to my house 1937. I live in NY so seasonal herbs are grown. Several varietals of basil and thyme, both marjoram and Greek oregano (Mexican doesn’t do well for me). Sage. My tarragon and both garlic and regular chives are perrenials. My leeks also come back but grow well only biannually. My favorite is Rosemary which I grow a lot of plants but only the variety with tall stems so I can use the late year ones as skewers. Also lots of parsley and some cilantro which reseeds itself over the season. I’ve tried dill and cilantro plants but both bolt to seed almost immediately. If I can find it I’m going to add fennel too this year. My garden is 12 x18′. I get a lot from it. I’ve grown chilies and citrus would be a dream but doesn’t work here.

  • Vivian

    It’s so great that you are doing this! Meyer Lemons are something I miss terribly. In the middle of planning right now. I will attempt tomatos again, peppers, zucchini and a ton of herbs. I can’t wait to be done with this freeze so I can get started 🙂

    • Patti

      Danielle, I live in Oceanside. I picked up a dwarf Meyer Lemon tree last year at Home Depot. I plunked it in a really big pot and crossed my fingers. The leaves are fairly sparse and a bit yellow. I actually went to a nursery to see if I was doing something wrong. They said “nope”. Oh my gosh. I probably have three dozen lemons my first year! (the thornless lime is loaded with blooms now) Give it a try! Yesterday I made lemon curd and turned in into a Meyer Lemon mascarpone cream pie with gingersnap crust. Such a cool thing! By the way, Trader Joe’s has Meyer lemons right now and they’re less expensive than Eurekas.


  • Joy

    I’ve been wanting to garden and I think this year I’m really going to make this happen seeing that there is a backyard now. I want to plant tomatoes to start, and hopefully calamansi (the Philippine’s answer to lemons).

  • bellini valli

    This time of year we can sometimes find Meyer lemons at selected grocers. I recentlt made a Meyer Lemon Poppys Seed Olive Oil cake that in my opinion was to die for. I would make another batch of of preserved lemons or perhaps some strawberry shortcake with Meyer Lemon Curd.

  • Tracey Kuzemczak

    This year I’m going to try somthing different and start my garden from seed. I have some herloom tomatoes and all different kinds of bean and pea seeds. We will also have tons of herbs and cucumbers.
    I would love to have some of those lemons, being on the East coast, we can’t grow them. I would love to make some lemon curd with them so I can have it all year long!

  • Kathy from Texas

    What remedies did you try last year for your furry raccoon friends? I have heard mothballs hanging in net in and around the garden helps. Also, did you try cayenne sprinkled in the dirt?

    How I envy that Southern California warmth! While we are not struggling with snow like some places are, I was keeping every finger crossed this weekend that the temperature would stay above freezing in Brenham, Texas. I have already planted LOTS of vegetables at our little farm — about 12 different varieties of tomatoes, 5 kinds of eggplant, zucchini, crookneck squash, fennel galore, beets, cilantro, parsley, basil, Swiss chard, cucumbers, watermelon and 4 kinds of cantaloupe, and lots of lettuce varieties. I am sure I am forgetting something, but that all fills four very large raised beds my husband and son built. Add to that the 2 new peach, 2 apricot and 3 pecan trees we put in this year. I hope someday that it all looks like an incredible orchard!

    Meyer lemons would be so great! We lost our Meyer lemon tree in Galveston in Hurricane Ike, and the one we replaced it with is not looking too happy, so it has no fruit on it!

    Your blog is wonderful, and it really shows how much love and dedication you put into it. Thank you!

    • formerchef

      Kathy- I tried everything I could. Cayenne pepper did not work. I think they just used it to spice up their dinners. I built cages and they knocked them down. I put out critter repellant and it worked, somewhat, but not enough. Yesterday, I built a stronger cage so we’ll see!

  • Myra Beebee

    My monsters (aka children) are also about 40lbs and viciously attacked my garden last year. Despite this, I’m trying again. I’ll plant broccoli, tomatoes and basil for sure. I’d also like to try a winter squash, such as acorn or butternut. For the rest of the plants, I’ll go to the nursery and pick up whatever intrigues me.

    Congrats on your blog! I’ve used your recipes many times and I’ve always been pleased with the delicious results.

  • Livia

    I’ve never even touched a meyer lemon before, nor had any product made from one.

    I came looking at your raised beds because I’ve recently acquired a whole city lot to farm, and I want a way to discourage the neighbors from walking their dogs in the lot while also getting tasty produce out of the deal, and high raised beds look like the way to go. But shipping in all that dirt was also problematic, so I’m going to have fun reading through your archives. Hi.

  • Pamela

    Honestly, I have no intentions of starting my own garden this year. In my defense, only for lack of space, not will. However I would love to try your cake recipe, maybe a meyer lemon tart, or lemon cheesecake. Oooo, or maybe some fresh Meyer Lemon margaritas!!

  • Charles G Thompson

    Congrats on your one year anniversary (today!) I am new to the blog but so far have enjoyed it a lot. I just bought a batch of Meyer lemons at the Atwater Village Farmers Market this past weekend and made lemon squares with them. Enjoyed reading about your gardening efforts – that is really great that you have the space to plant. I wish I did! Again, nice to meet you in Amy’s class and I look forward to reading more from and on your blog.

  • Jane S

    Boston has had a pretty mild 2010 so far (we sent our epic snowstorms packing to DC and Pennsylvania, I think!) but I’d like very much for life to give me some lemons, so we can make lemonade.

    I want to start a garden this year–I’ll be moving into a new apartment, with a backyard!–but I’m not sure how much work needs to be done before it would be manageable. We might need to stick to potted ones this year.

    Those lemons look lovely… I’ve been obsessed with a lemon zest, spinach, almond and mozzarella pasta recipe I found not too long ago, so if I win, I’m sure both the inside and the outside of those lemons would be used and appreciated.

    friendliestghost at gmail dot com

  • Danny Hensley

    Obviously I took serious inspiration from you in building these. I believe we even had a conversation about it last year. Alright so I decided to use a portion of the area along my fence to trellis melons and beans. As for the boxes I am planting black prince tomatoes, California Bell Peppers, several types of carrots and lettuce, broccoli, and probably a few more. I am still figuring out some of it, but the goal is efficient use of space while maintaining superior quality.

    Lemons do sound fantastic by the way 🙂

    • formerchef

      Those garden boxes look great! Yes, I think I remember talking about it last year. You can really stuff the plants in there. I didn’t do that last year, but I know I could have put more in my boxes.

  • Renee Fontes

    Hi there! I am a former chef too! I still do some catering/home cooking gigs, but really glad after 25+ years to finally have time to garden!
    Whatever you do, don’t check my blog, you will fall over laughing at my first attempt, but I moved the begonias, scratched a little patch in my flower bed, (only so much room is So. Cal. yards!). Planted squash, melons, lettuce, onion, broccoli, bell pepper, cucumbers, and pumpkins from seeds. All ready I have tiny leaves poking through the dirt!

  • Erin from Long Island

    Your garden is so lovely! I wish I could grow citrus here, but our winters are cold and long and there is no where in the house to keep them over winter. I haven’t decided everything yet, but I already started beans and cilantro and marjoram. I plan on growing lots of mint, tomatoes, cucumbers, zuchini, basil, parsley, arugula, beets, and spinach. I already have loveage, parsley, chervil, broccoli, and radishes that somehow survived the winter and are growing well right now!

  • Sara @ OurPrivateKitchen

    I love your raised beds! We had 3 very similar back in TX but when we moved to CA this last year we only took one. Last weekened we finally assembled it and planted our first vegetables in CA. I have a feeling we may have your same problem; I don’t think we staggered our planting nearly enough. We did plant tomatoes, serrano peppers, artichokes, red chili peppers, arugula, kale., etc. Very excited to see how they do this year! Thank you for such a fun giveaway too; my husband LOVES lemonade so your beatufiul meyer lemons would surely make his day.

  • Margaret

    We grow a garden every year and getting ready to plant eggplant, squash, zucchini, cantalope, watermelons, peppers, cukes, and anything else that catches our imagination.

    As for Meyer Lemons. I would like to try a pie with them. Not very creative but very good. Or maybe a pound cake.

  • Chez Us

    Happy 1 year anniversary! Your meyer lemons are absolutely beautiful. We have a tree but it still only produces doll size lemons – have not given up! We are going to have a container garden this year … tomatoes, herbs, carrots and this beautiful (soon to be exotic) plum tree that our friend grafted a bunch of different types of plums onto. We are excited to see what happens!

  • Heather

    What an adorable garden! I don’t have space for a garden currently, but I require that my next apartment have at LEAST a porch for a potted garden, if not an actual plot of land. Last summer I grew tomatoes and herbs on my porch and it was fantastic! With the lemons I might make a lemon meringue pie, or lemon squares.. or I might take a second stab at a lemon cake! So jealous you’ve got these growing at your finger tips.

  • Kate

    In CT, my apartment container garden is restricted to tomatoes and herbs, but I might try something like cucumbers or eggplant this year! I would adore some Meyer Lemons! Some Meyer lemonade with mint is calling my name…

  • Cassie,

    Ummm, I live in SoCal and have, too, been enjoying this amazing weather. Can I still play?? =)

    Your post really got me excited because I just planted my very first garden last week!! Originally I wanted to plant in raised beds similar to yours, but since I may be moving decided to go with pots I can transport easily. I planted tomatoes, zucchini, red bell pepper, strawberries, lettuce and a handful of herbs. I also have seeds for onions, green beens and cucumber that I haven’t planted yet – seeds intimidate me! A couple years ago we planted a lemon tree, lime tree, orange tree and apple tree. I am hoping maybe, just maybe, they will give up some of their goodness this year.

    Cheers to your 1 year anniversary! You have a beautiful blog!

  • Christina

    I don’t have my own home so I can’t really have a garden. Does a chia-pet count? 😀 I would love to make some meyer lemon as fillings for french macarons or in a tart. Those would be delish!

  • Diane

    I wish I wanted to be a gardener and grow my own. But we have so many awesome growers and CSA’s up here in Bellingham, WA. that I’ll just stick to cooking what they grow. I love when other people have gardens -does that count? I totally support and sell my organic seasonings at Farmer’s Markets – does that count?
    I am a former private chef from Tucson, and just remembering having those trees full of meyers lemons out side the back door is making my mouth water. I miss them more than anything about Tucson. I HAVE to win these lemons!


    I think the white grubs might be Japanese beetles. The raccoons love them! A tasty little treat for the little ring tailed guys.

    I think if I were lucky enough to win the Meyer Lemons from your trees, I try to start a seedling. When I was a child, some 30 years ago, my mother started a grapefruit tree from seeds she collected during our first family trip to Florida. That tree sits in my living room today, a wonderful reminder of my mother and her wonderful imagination. I’d also make a boat load of little lemon tarts!

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  • Traca | Seattle Tall Poppy

    Happy blog anniversary! I’m not a gardener but my father was an advocate of the “square-foot garden.” I grew up on sun-kissed tomatoes. The scent immediately transports me back to my childhood.

    Years later, I rented a small cottage. I mentioned to my dad…”Every time I mow the lawn, it smells like baked potatoes.” He took a quick look and noticed a long abandoned chive planting taking over the lawn. Mystery solved. I’ve never enjoyed mowing the lawn more!

    So much fun gardening vicariously through you. 🙂

  • Quyen

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a space that would accomodate a garden =(
    I would love to though!

    I would love to experiement with meyer lemons – I would love to bake with these – lemon cake/cupcakes/bars — yum!

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