Book Review – Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own

Book Cover

After seeing it reviewed by MrBrownThumb, I knew I had to get a copy of Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own by Bob Flowerdew. For the past couple years, I’ve done a decent job of growing fruits and vegetables in my garden, but I’ve always been pretty bad at keeping the surpluses. My hope is that with the instruction and guidance provided by this book, I’ll be able to do a better job of preservation.

Basic Advice

The book starts off with some very practical advice about raising your own fruits and vegetables. Recommended tools, basic practices, and amenities are all covered. The tools include things like old french fry baskets (for washing produce) and discarded refrigerators (for cramming in a shed and using to store picked fruit). These suggestions are an example of the refreshing charm of the book. I’d characterize it as more economical hobbyist than hardcore environmentalist or political activist. The book seems geared toward people that view their garden as a delicious diversion and not a political statement. I consider myself an environmentalist, but not everything I do has to be measured in carbon.

Skill, Luck, and Ingenuity

When discussing the gardening and storing of foods, Bob often mentions that certain techniques take skill, luck, ingenuity, or some combination. The simple descriptions that he gives make everything seem possible, and this is a bit of a danger for casual folks like me. I think it’s important to recognize your own limitations up front and don’t fall into the trap of believing you have the time or skill to try everything in the book. Instead, commit to trying one or two things each season and find out what works for you.

Beware Overconfidence

With all the great advice in the book, it’s easy to get overconfident. There are so many ways to jam, jelly, pickle, freeze, or smash up pretty much any fruit. It’s important to balance this against what I’ve discovered in the past: Don’t grow what you don’t eat. If you don’t eat squash from the grocery store, what makes you think you’ll eat it from your garden? It’s important to try new things, but before you plant a whole row of something and dream up all kinds of big plans for canning it, ask yourself: Will I ever actually eat any of this?

So Little on Peppers?

One nitpick I have with the book is the tiny amount devoted to peppers. While there are roughly four pages devoted to growing and preserving apples, there is barely 1/4 of a page for peppers, half for sweet, half for spicy. Considering that jalapenos are a big part of my crop each year, and I love spicy food, this is a bit of a disappointment. I’d love to see more advice about canning or pickling peppers, but I suppose I’ll have to look elsewhere.

Buy or Not Buy?

I’m definitely very glad I picked up this book (or glad that Sarah got it for me). The simple advice makes me believe that I will be able to accomplish at least some of the preservation techniques described inside. Considering the great sense of satisfaction I got from making my own crushed red pepper, I’m eager to try something more advanced, like pickled peppers, canned tomatoes, or raspberry jam. Uh oh…I think I’m getting overconfident again…

Winter Bouquet

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For us, having people over means a quick shopping trip to look like we have our act together. I got a cheap tablecloth, some placemants, but needed a centerpiece. A trip to the backyard yielded Icelandic ivy, cast-iron plants, euonymus, autum ferns, loropetalum and daffodills.  It seemed a hodgepodge at first, but made a great bouquet. We transferred the cuttings to a smaller glass after the party. (A guest brought a great Earth-friendly flower bouquet, that’s our new centerpiece.)

Death Zone Revisited

This area of our yard is under the neighbor’s maple tree. The tree’s shallow roots make it hard to grow anything here. Three gardenias and a mock orange have met their end in this spot.

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We found some Persian Ivy at the nursery today that was half-off. The price, the foliage and the hardiness made us think it might be a good fit for the Death Zone. We’ve planted the ivy away from the tree. Hopefully, we can train it to overtake the fence.

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Angelina and Dragon’s Blood Sedum

I stopped at the local garden center to pick up some pine straw and wound up with a couple impulse buys: these two beautiful (discounted) sedum. Using a discarded ten- inch pot, I broke up the Angelina (the yellow, spruce-like sedum)  and curved it around the Dragon’s Blood. Then, I  planted both in a  mix of top soil and sphagnum moss. The result is a really colorful winter planting that brightens up the back patio. (And, it only took ten minutes to create!)

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New Office Plant and Painted Pot

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Last week, Micah brought home a new plant for his office and a cheap terra cotta pot. I’m a fan of the dull reddish hue of the iron oxide in terra cotta, but I’m also a fan of putting my mark on stuff that goes in Micah’s fancy, high-rise office. (I think I have office envy because I work underground in a 5-foot cube next to a fire hose.) So, with two coats of blue Krylon spray paint and some red and orange acrylics, I managed to whip up this damask-meets-ikat stylin’ pot.

The ‘Jade Jewel’ Dracaena Micah got is fond of humidity and well-drained soil and should make a great office plant in Atlanta. Plus, it’ll have a great view of the CNN Center and Georgia Dome from Micah’s desk. Now, I’m starting to envy the plant.

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New Growth on Rose Cuttings

Two rose canes take root six weeks after cutting.

Just before Thanksgiving, Micah and I went to our old apartment building in Decatur, GA and took a few 9-inch cuttings from a giant, old rose bush. I’d always admired the rose because it had been left neglected for years but managed to thrive, putting out deep-red blooms from April through November. Normally, I totally oppose guerilla gardening like this, and I would have asked for the consent of the bush’s owner. But, knowing the landlord (and knowing how overlooked this bush was by most everyone), I decided to do some ninja-style pruning.

With canes in hand, I developed an idea for an elaborate terrarium, but my plans gave way to laziness, and Micah put plastic shopping bag over the cuttings and shoved them into a corner in our guest bedroom. They’ve been sitting there forgotten for weeks until we spotted new shoots coming out of the canes yesterday. I can’t say I did much to help them along, but I’m happy to have new plants for the spring and a reminder of our old apartment.

The Winter Garden

Yes, we’re lucky to live in Zone 7 Atlanta: Sixty degree winter days, green grass all year around, a seemingly endless drought, etc. Most of the plants disappear come December, but here’s what’s left in our garden.

Holiday Garden Pots


This year, we decided to make more handmade gifts for Christmas. Since indoor/outdoor containers are great for any climate, I bought terra cotta pots and painted them using spray paint and acrylics. The orange Ikat design was easy to do:

1) Paint your pot white (or whatever color you want your design to be).

2) Trace 8 Ikat shapes onto sticky contact paper. (four for bottom, four for the top)

3) Affix contact paper to pot. (Most pots are curved so you may have to trim your design slightly to make it fully stick.)

4) Paint your pot orange.

5) Let dry and carefully remove contact paper.

6) Show off pot to everyone you know. (optional)