Photo By: courtesy of tanya kucak
Ron Labetich grows a winter cover crop, fava beans, in his sunny backyard garden in Los Altos. Heprepares the garden beds by hand.
Sharing the bounty is an integral part of being a gardener.
Ron Labetich embodies this ideal. He gives away 75-80 percent of his homegrown vegetables to friends and people in downtown Los Altos. At the height of the season, he’s taken a couple of boxfuls of produce to the police station or city hall, he said. Even the Los Altos Town Crier has received his bounty.
Giving away produce from his backyard garden is “a big deal” and “a sign of friendship,” he said. “It’s an interesting way for people to get to know you.”
As a child, Labetich enjoyed visiting his grandfather’s organic garden in Oakland.
Gardening is “part of my soul,” he said. “There’s a joy in being able to grow something. It’s gratifying to teach kids to grow their own food,” he added, referring to working with his five grandchildren.
Charlie O’Brien, one of his young grandsons, said his favorite part of gardening was “planting things.”
One of the features that sold Labetich on the Loyola Corners house he purchased was the organic garden in the backyard.
“Same house, same wife” for 42 years, he joked.
He grows “the basics” in his backyard organic garden: tomatoes, beans, zucchini and peppers.
Asked what he’s learned in four decades of gardening, the genial and relaxed Labetich said, “There’s nothing better than a good tomato.”
In the past several years, he’s added greens such as heirloom lettuces and kales to his repertoire.
His wife, Marilyn, said she “cooks everything.” Most years she freezes the tomato puree they use throughout the year. She missed having homegrown puree the one year she couldn’t process the tomatoes.
He spends as much time in the sunny garden as he can from March to September. Labetich likes preparing garden beds by hand, including double-digging every few years. He hand-waters everything. He’d rather be out in the garden watering than tinkering with irrigation parts and the inevitable repairs, he said. By mid-March, he’d already planted some lettuce starts and a few early tomato plants. He gets tomato plants from a friend who likes to grow tomatoes from seed.
Of of the 14 varieties he planted, Oregon Spring was his favorite tomato last year for taste and production. Labetich estimated that he picked 150 tomatoes from one plant. For flavor, the best was Cherokee Purple. Several years ago on a garden tour, I was impressed by the abundance of huge ripe Brandywine tomatoes in his garden.
He favors tasty Italian zucchini varieties from Franchi Sementi seed, including Genovese and Albarello of Sarzana (“Little Tree of Sarzano”).
Pest control is relatively minimal. Labetich checks his plants at night when snails are active to limit their damage. Though many suburban gardeners complain about squirrels, a neighbor’s cat patrols his yard and keeps the squirrels away.
Labetich advised beginning gardeners to talk with someone or take a class on gardening. The basic requirements are good soil, enough sun and an understanding of watering. He recommends the classes at Common Ground, 559 College Ave. in Palo Alto (www.commongroundinpaloalto.org), which also sponsors an Edible Landscaping Tour of organic gardens each July. Labetich’s garden will be included on this year’s tour, scheduled 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 20.