For months, my front yard was a dirt pile.

Neighbors probably disapproved, but I had something up my sleeve.

I'd ripped out the lawn.

In the weeks that followed, I killed stray grass shoots and dipped into Soler's Edible Front Yard.

Our southwest-facing front yard gets full sun.

My plan: Decrease water use and increase food yield.

We put in drip irrigation and a gravel center path with strawberries on either side. Hiking friends presented me with an espaliered Anna apple tree. We planted blueberries, kumquats and tangerine and pomegranate trees.

Ornamental plants include dymondia, ajuga, geranium rozanne and floribunda roses.

In the backyard, my husband planted a grape arbor and peach, orange, tangerine and Meyer lemon trees. A fig tree came with the house. My dad started a sapote from seed. A neighbor gave us a blackberry bush.

I planted tomatoes, cucumbers and chard in our raised beds.

Paul and I graze through our yard, munching strawberries and sharing a tangerine. A bag of cherry tomatoes sits on the kitchen counter.

We're casual gardeners relying on nurserymen's advice regarding fruit tree varieties and buying whichever ponypack of vegetables is displayed.

This weekend, I'm taking care of my friend's garden. He's a pro.

I'm watering his hydroponic tomatoes, mixed greens, eggplant, string beans, cucumber. Best of all, feeding Betsy, the Ameraucana and Frida, a Buff Orpington. Translation: two big black chickens.

Zeke and his wife are at a wedding, so I texted a photo of "The Girls." Pam wrote back, "Don't spoil them."

Impossible. These chickens dine on heirloom tomatoes and reside in a two-room condo with solar-powered doors opening in the morning and tucking them inside at night. No bad smell or flies. Droppings are scooped up daily into a can, covered with dirt for composting.

"Sweet BDZ," a natural odor-moisture absorber designed for horse stalls, perfumes the floor.

Zeke's 15-by-20-foot backyard plot yields plenty.

"How do you do it?" I ask.

"I'm geared to harvest every day of the year," he says. "The biggest thing is multiple plantings. For instance, I'm working on my sixth rotation of fillet beans this summer and third planting of zucchini. I start three or four tomato plants on March 1, plant three more on May 1, and three more around the end of July for a fall harvest."

Besides admiring Zeke's verdant vegetables, rotated by season and banked together by height, I've got a bad case of compost envy. Zeke tosses in handfuls of bokashi, a Japanese wheat bran that adds microorganisms and breaks down food scraps. Nothing's wasted. The cycle feeds itself. Vegetable clippings and leftovers make fertilizer.

Besides the garden, Zeke and Pam's property looks like Sunset Magazine with whimsical chairs, stylish pillows, artfully arranged succulents and native shade trees.

My haphazard garden and Zeke's sophisticated showcase both turn city lots into food producers, subtracting wasted lawn watering.

Whether you've got acreage or a pot on a sunny balcony, use our California sun for healthy eats.

Newport Beach resident CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is a retired teacher who ran the Los Angeles Marathon at age 70, winning first place in her age group. Her blog is lazyracer@blogspot.com.