Do you like to hear how others are growing their own fruit and veg, what motivates them and what tips and tales they share?
It’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of community gardening; I’m always interested and the following chat with Mona Wise is no exception as she reveals among other things how her family choose what to grow each year, their favourite vegetables and her recommendations for books.
For any of you who aren’t familiar with Mona, it seems appropriate that I should introduce you to her on this my 300th blog post. I first met Mona at a KLCK Bloggers network meeting and she’s an inspiration to bloggers and aspiring writers in many ways. She came away from the Blog Awards Ireland in 2012 with three awards (Best Blog by a Journalist, Best Food/Drink Blog, Best Photography Blog) as well as the overall Best Blog Award. She’s a columnist for the The Sunday Times, has just finished a four-year creative writing degree where she self published a memoir cookery book entitled The Chef & I. A nourishing narrative, which shares her story about meeting and marrying Ron (The Chef) and she’s mum to four children.
Mona, having read and indeed cooked several of the recipes from your book and newspaper column, it’s obvious that you’re passionate about cooking and eating good quality, locally sourced, seasonal food. When did you start growing your own and where do you grow it?
I have a confession to make Dee. It’s my husband Ron who has the green thumb in our house. I am an excellent ‘weeder’ and ‘grass cutter’ but he can make anything grow. We live on 3/4 acre less than 5 miles from Galway city and a half mile from my Mum, where I grew up as a child. We have been growing our own food (a lot of it) for 20 + years and it has always been chemical free.
As a chef, Ron has always been very careful about what he grows for the table and believes in making his own organic fertilisers like rain water-soaked with nettles, and plenty of manure from the chicken coops and neighbours horses and a twice annual dose of rotted seaweed from the beach.
Who decides what you grow? Do you sit down in the spring of every year and plan ahead?
Ron is the ‘head gardener’ but everyone is involved, even my Mum. We sit down twice a year with seeds and growing plans. The kids (ranging in age from 7 – 12) all have notions of what they want to grow and most of it is for eating. One of our girls loves flowers though so this year she has gotten into a lot more flowers and herbs which is lovely too. The Autumn planning is the busy one for us as we have to make sure we plant carefully for the cooler weather (salads/winter veg. etc) but also because we start our seeds right after Christmas (inside) for early spring crops.
It’s the youngest two in my own family who show the most interest in the vegetable garden and although our eldest shows no enthusiasm for helping out, he does recognise good food. Do your children follow in your footsteps?
They do. Ron has allowed and encouraged them to grow what they like to eat so we have a lot of radishes, carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and beetroot. We also have a lot of borage and nasturtiums and chives – the prettier ones are taking over this year so I think the love of food photography has infiltrated their gardening choices too! They all eat a green (raw) salad every single day and now, they all actually LOVE it and will look for it if we decide to skip it on Pizza night. Proud moment there I have to say.
What fruit, veg, herbs do you grow and do you grow food all year round?
A lot … this year more salad greens (mustard, pak choi, spinach, rocket) and all herbs. We do not use dried herbs that much so keep herbs in the polytunnel for three seasons and bring them inside for the winter. We grow some berries … strawberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants and hope to add raspberries to the mix this year.
Any favourite varieties of a particular vegetable/herb?
Golden beets are our favourite. We get friends in the US to send the seeds. Also, a few heirloom tomatoes from Seed Savers in Scarriff, County Clare. Any edible flowers for salads are a particular favourite of mine too. I like it all to look pretty and appetizing and have found that the kids LOVE bold bright colours on their plates.
Our chilies never seem spicy. Might be because of the little amount of sun. So, as much as I like them, we just buy ours from an Asian shop – -they are HOT!
Do you make and use your own compost? (Have a womery etc)
We do have a massive compost pile; but we don’t have a wormery even though our compost is riddled with worms, but we also have ducks so have to act fast once turning it over because they live and die for those fat worms. We have a very small waste removal bill because we recycle and compost all our natural waste – which there is a lot of because we buy very little processed foods.
I love reading tips from the older gardeners such as Geoff Hamilton. Do you have any favourite gardening books that you like to refer to?
Oh – yes. There are many so I will just give you a few old and newer favourites.
Rosemary Verey (whom I have met twice) was one of Prince Charles garden advisors and there is an excellent book called ‘Rosemary Verey: The Life and Lessons of a Legendary Gardener’ by Barbara Paul Robinson (2012). Also Martha Stewart: Month by Month by Martha Stewart (1991); The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart (2004); Bob’s basics (all of them) by Bob Flowerdew (2010) – excellently written handy little books for the novice gardener; Heirloom Fruits and Vegetables by Toby Musgrave and Clay Perry (2012) – fab for stories and photos and A Vineyard Garden; Ideas from the earth for growing, cooking and entertaining by Molly Chappellet (1991) – we stayed at Chappellet winery on our honeymoon and this was a gift from them to me. I love this book.
Yes. Our Rhubarb cordial. I am a bartender from way back and love to make my own cocktails. This recipe is just fabulous and was created because we have LOTS of Rhubarb growing and I like to ‘preserve summer’ as best I can.
Lastly, do you have any tips for budding gardeners who are thinking about growing some food for themselves?
ONLY grow what you LOVE to eat. It is the best advice. We do grow courgettes, which none of us are wild about but have now found umpteen different ways of enjoying them, so it is not to say your palate will not adjust and change to new varieties, but best to start with the stuff you buy every week like lettuce/onions etc. Preserve (via freezing or canning) all season long. There is nothing nicer than eating a delicious Blackberry muffin on a dreary morning in January – wishing for spring!
I hope you enjoyed Mona’s story as much as I did. I especially enjoyed hearing how all her family get involved in chosing and planning what to grow throughout the year.
I’ll be chatting with more “grow your own’rs” over the coming months and sharing their tips and tales. To make sure you don’t miss them, you might like to sign up to receive blog posts into your email inbox by subscribing in the box on the top of the page.