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Star Apple Edible Gardening teaches modern urban homesteading

on March 30, 2011

Chickens, cilantro and compost – oh, my!

These were just some of the options for guests at the San Francisco Flower and Garden show as they walked through the 5,000 square feet of edible gardens arranged by Oakland-based Star Apple Edible Gardening.

The company displayed what a modern urban homestead can look like. Throughout the four days of the show, Leslie Bennett, one of the three co-owners spoke to garden growers.

“For reasons hard to comprehend, not everyone is growing food,” Bennett said.

She said two of the main obstacles she hears about from prospective gardeners are a fear of killing plants and the hefty time commitment.

“We try to show people that if you build in some structure and work with perennial planting and the right hardscaping,” Bennett said, “you can have a garden that looks great all year round.”

Reinventing the modern urban homestead means reshaping the way people think about growing their own food.

“We’re trying to get away from the idea of the vegetable patch,” Bennett said. “Most people think of the vegetable patch as this nasty little corner in the back of the yard that’s kind of embarrassing. But that’s not the way that vegetable gardening has to be.”

A large part of Star Apple’s work is garden coaching. They start out doing 90 percent of a new client’s gardening work, then over the course of about two seasons, they’ll transfer it over to the new gardener while staying in the sideline to provide troubleshooting tips.

“We’re doing confidence building more than anything else,” Bennett said. “It’s setting people up for success. Just because you want tomatoes, doesn’t mean you should be growing tomatoes. It’s a bad experience with one plant that makes people not want to grow other things.”

Bennett recommends that before a gardener goes to the local nursery and spends lots of money, they honestly consider the time they can commit to upkeep on a garden. Bennett recommends busy people stick to perennial plants, fruit trees, herbs or salad greens.

“Herbs change the way you cook and live,” Bennett said, mentioning the small herb garden on her kitchen windowsill that she regularly pulls from.

Also, she said, lettuces are easy, hardy plants that can grow in small spaces and only need one to two inches of soil.

“Growing your own food helps you to open your eyes,” Bennett said, “and see who else is out there and the ways in which they are contributing, then acknowledging that we really depend on each other in city.”

Here are some recipes fresh from the garden and straight out of Star Apple’s recipe book:

Preserved lemons

Easy to make, they brighten up almost any dish from salads to pizzas. Add strips to bowls of olives and chop the zesty rinds and add them to platters of green beans.

Kosher salt
Bay leaves (dried)
Black peppercorns
Coriander seed (dried)
Dried chilis
Canning jars, preferably wide mouthed


Start by pouring a small amount of the salt into the canning jar and in the bowl. Next take a paring knife and partially quarter a lemon lengthwise. Stuff the lemon with at least 1 tsp. salt and place in the jar. Now it is time to customize your preserved lemons.  Star Apple prefers the classic combination of bay leaf and peppercorns, but for a spicier version add dried chilis, peppercorns and coriander. Continue adding the quartered lemons until you reach the jar’s lip.  Press down on the lemons to release their juice – and add lemon juice if necessary. The lemons must be completely covered by lemon juice.  Put on the lid.

Star Apple says “Most recipes will tell you to store the preserved lemons in the refrigerator but I know folks who keep them in their pantry.  Your preserved lemons will be ready to use in a matter of weeks and keep for a year. “

Basil cocktails

Basil syrup
1/2c water
1/2 c fine or baker’s sugar
1 1/2c basil leaves
1/8 baking soda

Blanch the basil leaves by plunging into a small pot of boiling water for 10 seconds or so, drain and plunge again into a small bowl of ice water.
Drain and squeeze excess water from leaves.

Put water, blanched basil, sugar and baking soda into blender and puree for approximately 30 seconds – you should have a dark green syrup. Next, pour the syrup through a fine sieve or strainer – you may need to use the back of a spoon to push through the liquid. And that’s it. The syrup will store for 2-3 days in the fridge.


Basil Lemon Summer Cocktail
5-6 oz basil syrup
7-8 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
6 oz vodka
sprigs of basil and thin slices of lemon for garnish
Serves 2+

Combine syrup, juice, and vodka in a shaker with ice. Shake until frosted. Pour over ice in 2 glasses. Garnish with basil and lemon. On a hot summer day, it can be nice to add a little sparking water or club soda to lighten things up.


Basil Lime Fizz
2 Tablespoons basil syrup
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
Chilled sparkling water
Serves 1

Pour syrup and lime juice in a tall glass. Add lots of ice and sparkling water, stir and enjoy.

Learn how to start your own quick, easy (and wonderfully cheap) herb garden with clones.

Want to find out more about the urban food movement in Oakland? Check out our Oakland North special feature.

Star Apple Edible Gardening teaches modern urban homesteading.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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