While I can’t recall exactly where it was that I first encountered Willi Galloway, I can tell you that I was instantly smitten. Positively radiating goodness, Willi’s blog Diggin Food captivated me from the get-go. It’s a digital cornucopia of organic growing and cooking tips and suggestions.
And Willi should know. The former West Coast Editor of Organic Gardening magazine, she now pens the weekly column “The Gardener” on the green living section of Apartment Therapy, offers gardening advice every Tuesday morning on Seattle’s NPR call-in show Greendays, teaches a joint gardening and cooking class with James Beard award-nominated chef Matthew Dillion at The Corson Building in Seattle, and (because, clearly, not near enough!) also hosts an , online garden-to-table cooking show, Grow. Cook. Eat., with her husband Jon from their Portland, Oregon home.
Fortunately for all of us, Willi has distilled that massive collection of knowledge into a wonderful new book, Grow. Cook. Eat.. Her publicist recently sent me a review copy and I can’t recommend it enough. Not only is it lovely to behold, it’s imminently practical to use and apply. This is the gardening book you absolutely want to have on hand this coming growing season.
I had an opportunity to ask Willi a few of my own growing questions recently and wanted to share them with you here today:
1) What got you into growing and gardening? Were your parents gardeners, or is this a passion you cultivated yourself?
I grew up in Wyoming, which is not the most hospitable place for a vegetable garden, but my mom had a huge garden when I was little (about 1/3 of our backyard). Some of my very earliest memories are being in the garden with my mom, picking strawberries, looking up at corn that was taller than I, and generally snacking on whatever I came across. English peas were and are still one of my very favorite things to eat right out in the garden. In high school I worked at a nursery, where my job every spring was to transplant thousands of tomato seedlings, and I worked on a ranch in college maintaining the perennial borders around the ranch house.
2) Do you have a favorite thing you grow? I’m especially fond of the ease of growing culinary herbs.
My favorite things to grow are things that are really hard, if not impossible, to find at a regular grocery store. Especially pea shoots and squash blossoms and unusual varieties like ‘Golden India’ snow pea, which has these amazingly beautiful two toned purple flower and pale yellow pea pods and ‘Purple Peacock’ broccoli, which is a cross between kale and broccoli and produces yummy kale-like leaves and tons of tender broccoli side shoots. I also love to grow herbs, because adding fresh herbs is the easiest way to make a ho hum, regular dinner taste way better. I grow gobs of basil, because in my mind, you really cannot have too much of it.
3) For someone just getting interested in gardening, do you have any “beginner” crops to suggest to them, that typically grow easy in most climates?
Cherry tomatoes are great because they grow fast, ripen up early, produce tons of fruit and grow well in containers or the ground. I also think planting lettuce seedlings is nice because you can harvest a homegrown head of lettuce in just about a month. And radishes are wonderful, because they sprout in just a few days and are ready to harvest in only 4 to 6 weeks. Plus, freshly pulled radishes are so crisp and flavorful, nothing like the hot, pity little balls that are so often found at grocery stores.
4) On the other hand, are there any crops you find to be particularly difficult to grow, that are worth the effort, but that gardeners should be prepared to handle challenges with?
Big brassicas, especially cauliflower and broccoli, can be very finicky, especially in spring. But it is very satisfying to harvest them and a lot of people don’t realize that their leaves are edible and very tasty. I think of them as a kind of a consolation prize if my cauliflower doesn’t work out. You can use the broccoli and cauliflower greens just like collards. Melons are difficult in my cool Pacific Northwest climate. They require a lot of babying in order to produce fruit, but harvesting a homegrown melons is really one of the best simple pleasures.
5) I’m often perplexed when it comes to harvesting, finding myself wondering how best to remove pickings without harming the crop. Any suggestions for learning the best techniques for gentle harvesting?
I find that a lot of people, even experienced gardeners, wait to harvest until the plant looks like it does in the grocery store. This is not a bad strategy at all, but you’ll often miss out on other stages of harvest (i.e. beets can be harvested from marble size on up and their greens are very tasty at any stage) and other edible parts of the plant (like squash blossom or radish pods or kale flower buds). In my book I focused on trying to be very specific about what parts of the plant are edible, when the best times to harvest are, and the best way to harvest each of the edible parts. In general, if you tug on a fruit and it doesn’t come off, use scissors to snip it off. I also keep old steak knives all around my garden. I slide the blade just under the soil line to harvest heads of lettuce, broccoli rabe, bok choy and I use the knives to sever individual kale, swiss chard and collard leaves from plants, as well as peppers and eggplants and big tomatoes. I buy the knives at estate sales and stab them into the soil at the edge of my beds.
Because you, too, should have access to such a fantastic piece of literature, Willi’s publisher, Sasquatch Books, has graciously offered one small measure reader a copy of Grow. Cook. Eat.. To be entered into the giveaway, simply leave a comment listing your favorite thing to grow, or something you’d like to grow in the future. For me, it’s two things: mushrooms (outdoors) and citrus fruit (indoors). What about you? What dirt from what crop is itching to get under your green, growing thumb?
The giveaway will run through next Wednesday, January 25th, midnight EST. Canadians, feel free to enter. Do be sure to leave a means of contacting you, should you be the winner, via either a link back to your own blog or website or with your email address in your comment.
Winner or not, do give Willi’s book and blog a look. She’s got the golden touch when it comes to all things garden-related.
*Don’t forget, there’s still time to enter last week’s giveaway for a copy of Jenna Woginrich’s book Barnheart!
UPDATE: The winner of Grow. Cook. Eat., as deemed by the Random Widget, is lucky #27. Liz C. I’ll be getting in touch soon for your mailing information. Thank you so very much to everyone that entered. It looks like we’re a happily growing bunch!