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The Lohayza garden in Santa Margarita: Dad and his girls reap what they sow

The Lohayzas like to eat sweet corn right off the stalk in their garden.
The Lohayzas like to eat sweet corn right off the stalk in their garden. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

It was the fresh produce at the local Farmers Markets that inspired Jonathan Lohayza of Santa Margarita to try growing his own vegetables. With a Basque heritage, Lohayza enjoys cooking with fresh ingredients and acknowledges that he is a “super foodie.”

Raised in Palm Desert, he had never gardened before, so he started out small with two 4-by-4-foot planter boxes, getting help from his two daughters, Claire, 12 and Eva, 9. He was inspired and coached by longtime farmer Serena Wyatt of Atascadero, whom he met at her “Grown From the Heart” seedlings stand at the Farmers Market. She encouraged him to use organic Vermicompost from SLO Worm Farm in Paso Robles for his planting mix.

Soon, the two small beds were bursting, so Lohayza created a 700-square-foot full sun gardening area on his rural property, adding a 5-foot fence to keep the deer out. To prepare the soil, he brought in two trailer loads of horse manure from Golden Valley Equine and let it sit for the winter months. He cautioned, “You would never throw fresh manure on your plants — it would kill them.” He also dug in Ocean Forest kelp-based fertilizer, which he says is “full of all kinds of good stuff from the sea and worth the price.”

On May 1 after danger of frost had passed, Lohayza, Claire and Eva began planting, using the Vermicompost around and on top of every plant. Their “Grown from the Heart” seedlings included many varieties of peppers and tomatoes; sugar snap peas, artichokes, squash, cucumbers, melons and lettuce. He purchased non-GMO seeds for the corn and green beans at Bay Laurel Nursery in Atascadero.

Once the plants were in, Claire and Eva fed them every 12 days with one cup of the Vermicompost. Lohayza installed a drip system with a dripper on each plant and a soaker hose on corn and green beans, watering morning and evening for 30 minutes every day. “The well water here is perfect for plants, with a pH of 6.5,” he says. Once a week he soaks the whole plot for five minutes.

Lohayza and his daughters were amazed at the results of their efforts. “My girls are learning about sowing and reaping, about how hard work pays off and you can enjoy the fruits of your labor,” says Lohayza. He remarked that the girls ate the sugar snap peas by the handful while they were picking them in early summer. “I’ve found that these homegrown vegetables are even tastier than those at the Farmers Markets,” says Lohayza.

Claire, a soccer and softball player, especially likes to eat cherry tomatoes and bell peppers straight off the plant, while Eva, who does swimming and soccer, likes the lemon cucumbers. All three of the Lohayzas eat the tender sweet corn right in the garden without cooking. “If we don’t pick every two days, things will just get too big. It’s amazing how fast everything grows,” comments Lohayza.

Once the harvest gets inside the kitchen, they get busy with canning the sweet banana peppers, tomatoes and pickled jalapeños. Lohayza’s favorite use of the zucchini and acorn squash is to barbecue it using olive oil and seasoning. They slice the sweet banana peppers and lemon cucumbers for sandwiches and make a “hotter than hot” salsa with Carolina Reaper peppers.

“Nothing is wasted, everything is recycled,” says Lohayza, as he throws a too-big zucchini over the fence to one of their two pigs. The pigs will become bacon and ham for their freezer, while their 13 chickens provide a steady supply of eggs. They eat about 50 percent of their crop, giving the rest to friends and to the Food Pantry at their church, Mountainbrook Community, in San Luis Obispo.

Lohayza’s favorite time in the garden is early in the morning before he heads for work in his electrical contracting business, “Low-High Electric” (that’s how you pronounce his name). He has really taken to this newfound avocation, not just for the culinary surprises the garden provides, but also for the fact that the “process” from planting to harvesting is shared with his two daughters.