The Saddleback Garden and Composting Project by Mike Romblom

We truly believe that one of the reasons we have enjoyed success is because of our awesome staff. To help illustrate this point, we will be highlighting staff members in some of our blog posts. We will look behind the scenes at what makes Rachel so good as the first person you see through our doors and the great service that she provides everyday. We will also show some of the special projects that are being headed up by some of our team members. For example, our garden project.

First up is Mike Romblom, our resident garden genius, who heads up our garden program. Mike is a highly talented individual who not only is our garden expert, but he plays drums for Odds Fish. Odd Fish is a local band that is competing in the Homegrown Throwdown January 27th. So make sure to check them out and show your support.

Without further ado here is Mike:

Here at Saddleback, serving the freshest, highest quality food isn’t just a slogan; it’s how we operate. From our never frozen ribs to our fresh-cut fries, we strive for freshness in all facets. So it would make sense that we would have a garden program to ensure the produce you eat here at Saddleback has been carefully attended to from seedlings to table, to our quality standards.

Last year, we used the REO Town community garden to grow tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, squash, and of course Ghost peppers, for use in our dishes. This year, we have acquired a nearby plot that will be used exclusively for Saddleback. This will allow us to expand our garden operations to a larger scale. Saddleback Farms, as I like to call it.

This new plot comes with an interesting yet advantageous problem to fix: it’s a city plot, with a condemned house soon to be torn down. Which means…..fill dirt. Not the highest quality stuff for trying to grow good jalapeño’s. With bad dirt for growing, you have few options: fertilize until your wallet is empty, or composting to add nutrients and to amend the soil. Luckily, we’re a restaurant with plenty of food scraps and waste, which leads us to…….


This year we will using Vermicomposting to generate our compost. Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to eat and break down food waste into usable compost. This suits us well because this is a comparatively quick process to regular composting. Our food waste can be turned into fertilizer in a few months, which means come spring we will have a good amount to start out with. And with a constant supply, we we’ll be able to use the compost throughout the growing season, helping to ensure a quality harvest.

How does this happen? Quite simply, worms eat the organic materials we put in the compost bins, and they excrete a nutrient rich ball of dirt like stuff. That stuff is what we are looking for. By not throwing our food scraps away, we reduce the amount of our trash going to a landfill, and give the worms food to make compost with.

What happens then? We’ll mix that nutrient rich excrement with our existing soil, and place it around the base of our plants along with some mulch. This way the plants will get the nutrients they need, and we don’t have to rely on commercial fertilizer.

What can be composted?
Just about anything that isn’t meat or dairy. Veggie scraps, onion skins, egg shells, lemon slices; the list goes on. Even paper towels and napkins can be composted; in fact they provide an important source of carbon. You want your ratio to be 2 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Nitrogen would be your food scraps.

So now you know, that when you come into Saddleback, you’ll be getting the freshest possible ingredients, and all of our food waste goes into making these ingredients through our composting and gardening programs. Just one of the many ways we are striving to become leaner and greener, while still serving some of the most delicious proteins in the Midwest.

Since we will have more than doubled the size of our garden we will now be able to keep up production on a few key items, like tomatoes and cucumbers, that we are not able to last year. Also, we plan on expanding on the numbers of items that we grow and include:

  • Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Beefsteak Tomatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Collard Greens
  • Carrots
  • Aromatics: Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Fennel, Cilantro

I will update you on this project as we get further along this year, so follow us on Facebook and other social media platforms. We are excited for the opportunity to use the County Land Bank Garden Program and provide our customers with the food that we always promise to deliver. Food that takes time, patience, and quality that you work so hard for and deserve.