2010 – The Year In Dirt

Summer is over – the days are shrinking and we're huddling under the duvet when watching telly coz we're too stingy to turn on the heating. A good time to look back at my second year of novice gardening!

Potatoes – the Grow Your Own Carbs experiment worked a treat. I wholeheartedly endorse the tatties-in-a-bag method for lazy gardeners short on space:

  1. Fill an old compost bag or some sort of container with potting mix
  2. Bury the seed potatoes
  3. Wait four or five months (watering when necessary – here in Scotland you rely on the sky for that)
  4. Empty bag
  5. Eat your glorious tattie bounty!

I tell you what, if you can't afford skydiving there are cheap thrills to be had in growing potatoes in a bag because that suspenseful MOMENT of ripping open the bag and wondering if there'll be anything inside… that's gold, baby!

Silverbeet, a.k.a. Swiss chard – this tiny crop was my favourite of the whole summer. Every man and his dog seemed to grow it when I was a kid in Australia, but you rarely see it in the shops around here. It has a really iron-y kind of taste that makes the best pie with feta. I only chucked a few seeds in a pot so ended up with about half a cup of cooked silverbeet but it was so good. I could quite happily dig up the whole back yard and grow nothing but silverbeet.

Baby carrots – Another "chuck seeds in a pot, cover with dirt and wait" effort but somehow yoinking that first carrot out of the grown was so freaking triumphant you think we'd tended them daily, played Mozart and massaged their leaves. You can see them here for with one of the two strawberries we managed to grow.

Brussels sprouts – FAIL! Poor Dr G had been nurturing these babies from seed since New Year and once planted out they soon shot up well over four feet high… only to be gnawed to bits by the evil spawn of cabbage white butterflies. The butterflies has managed to infiltrate the mesh fortress he'd built around the plants, the bastards.

Spring onions – grew about a dozen of these from seed… seemed like an awful lot of faff for 12 bloody spring onions but of course we convinced ourselves they were the most mindblowing onions in the world EVAH. Shown here with a bar of chocolate for scale, wtf.

Blackcurrants – turns out that Ugly Brown Stick Thing I was threatening to rip out last December was a blackcurrant bush! By the time I remembered to pick them they'd started shrivelling up, whoops.

Butterhead lettuce – grew two in a pot and two in the ground. Slugs liked the ones in the ground but were too lazy to munch the potted ones. The lettuces had big fat tasty leaves perfect for rolling things up in. Generally food type of things.

Chillies – I grew two pots on a sunny windowsill indoors. The tiny wee Habaneros got chomped by some weird bug but these Hungarian Hot Wax fellas are doing well.

Buttercups – we didn't grow these deliberately; they just appeared in the lawn. But I have to tell you what Gareth said to me one day in June: "Do you know if you hold a buttercup under your chin and there's a yellow reflection on your chin it means you like butter?"

"What kind of bullshit is that?" was my elegant reply.

"It's true," said Dr G, "Well. We used to say it when we were kids."

"You did not say that. I know you're making it up and I'm not falling for it!"

"I am not making it up!"

"But it is completely ridiculous! It means you like butter?!"

"You're just mocking because you probably didn't even have buttercups in your barren Australian homeland. You probably said instead, If you hold this dry stick under your chin and there's a brown reflection it means you like… dirt!"

Turns out he wasn't making it up, it is an old wives' tale. It's still ridiculous though!

UPDATE: From your comments it's evident that everyone but me has heard of this bloody buttercup thing. Dr G is probably right with his theory of my ignorance – we didn't have any buttercups where I grew up… but lots of brown dead stuff πŸ˜›

Leeks – this is where I just can't get over the wacky magic of growing stuff. I mean look at that tiny, tiny seedling… it was barely 2 centimetres high. Somehow those spindly little seedlings turned into big fat leeks. They were incredibly tasty… I dunno if it's coz they were good leeks or because I braised them in white wine, thyme and butter. Hehe.

Here's a leek fresh out of the ground, with a pint glass for scale. And on the right a pint of Dr G's homebrew, which would no doubt be the highlight of his summer!

Now all that's left are few parnsips in the ground, but apparently you have to wait til after the first few frosts before they're ready. Soon it will be all bare branches and grey skies. But it was a great summer at Crooked House with some yummy food without too much fuss! Next year I think I'll have a go at growing some flowers.

Any gardeners out there? How was your summer?

57 thoughts on “2010 – The Year In Dirt

  1. Hello, the buttercup thing is SCIENCE! You can’t ignore science! I mean, yes, I am still looking for a butter that doesn’t make me pull a face and moan loudly about people ruining sandwiches, but there must be one, because science states I like butter!

  2. Wow! I have big plans for my garden next year, and this is inspiring. At the moment, I’m almost overwhelmed by the possibilities — they are nearly infinite! Yesterday, Michael and I plotted out an area to be dedicated to the garden. Challenge are the white tailed deer that so plague our new neighborhood. We will need to build an 8-foot-high fence!

  3. YAY, it is harvest time.

    Oh, potatoes in a bag sounds brilliant. Do you know how back breaking it is to dig up planted potatoes? My in-laws had a farm in VT and planted a whole field full and we spent weeks digging them up, turning them in the rows to dry, picking them up and storing them, ugghhh…it was an endless process. I hate to admit they were the best potatoes I’ve ever had but I vowed I would buy my in-laws potatoes for the rest of their lives as long as I didn’t have to dig ’em.

    I wish I had a green thumb but I can’t seem to keep plants alive. I tried growing flowers (irises) but not one of them came up.

    I think that buttercup thing works because who doesn’t like butter?

    Glad you had a bountiful harvest.

  4. Nothing goes with spring onions like a bar of chocolate πŸ™‚ I am jealous of your gardening patch. I might try gardening in pots on my porch next year.

  5. I can’t argue with science, Sarah. my whole face was GLOWING yellow! there must be a butter out there for you… it shall be my new mission in life! πŸ˜‰

    @MB – wow that does sound like hard work! would be enough to make you go atkins!

    @Pamela – deer! my goodness. i thought slugs were a bitch. the choices are overwhelming but i read somewhere a good place to start is –
    1) what do i like to eat?
    2) what is exotic/unusual/hard to get and/or pricey in the shops that i could try growing myself?

  6. @Jennette – woohoo! the stuff in the pots was the easiest and most successful… they seem to have less problems and they're so easy to move around if the weather changes or whatnot πŸ™‚

  7. We’ve grown alpine strawberries for a few years now they are little but tasty and have a long fruiting season.

  8. Hey Shauna.
    I decided to try growing tomatoes upside down this year and they came out much better than usual. The garden shops sell these topsy turvey bags and I shoved a mini plum tomato plant in and it grew really well. As for the buttercup thing Dr G is correct we used to say the same thing here in Liverpool when I was a kid. The fact I was almost 16 stone indicates I love butter too. Love your blog Shauna.

  9. I love Green and Blacks Milk Chocolate too! Mmmm

    I also love everything you write, so please keep writing! Tell us what fall is like in Scotland!

  10. Yes, the buttercup thing is universal. We had an off year for growing stuff, we never really got any sun this year (portland, oregon, usa). The tomatoes never ripened. That’s all I do now because I have a tiny balcony. Brussels sprouts are impossible. I tried them for years in a community garden. My favorite things to grow are baseball zucchini. They are just so cute and reliably grow regardless of weather and tending.

  11. Reporting for Canada here. We also held buttercups under our chins and determined that we liked butter. We all had yellow under our chins and we all liked butter. Proven science, worldwide!

  12. We had the same story here in Seattle for buttercups. Only when my sisters were “testing” my they decided they also needed to smear the pollen across my face. Gotta love older sisters, right? (I mean, really, do I have to?)

    I got to the end of this post and realized that I had a too large, dumb grin on my face. There’s something about gardens that I just love hearing about. Every. Last. Detail.

  13. We used to do the buttercup thing, too – only we did it with dandelions since we never had any buttercups around!

  14. I used to love my vege patch!!! I can’t wait to have my own home again so I can’t start all over again.

    Do you grow herbs at all??

  15. Hi, Shauna. I popped in today to check out your blog. LOVE IT! Your post today made me smile from ear to ear.

    Love the idea of the potatoes in a bag. Might have to try that here next year. And Swiss Chard is my favorite vegetable in the garden. I have an entire row of it every year. Didn’t do so well this year, but then again, not much did with the awful heat we’ve had. We did get some good Jersey tomatoes and a good amount of zucchini, but not much else did very well at all. Dreaming of next year now.

    Anyway, just wanted to pop in and say hello. πŸ™‚

  16. Hi, I’m from Melbourne and we are PhDs in butter science! Now I’m weirded out that you didn’t have this in NSW!

    My workmate got hiccups the other day, which led to a discussion of folk remedies. My boss told us about his mum’s remedy which involved sipping from a glass of water EXACTLY THIRTEEN TIMES (I guess if you miscount you have to start again). Then I shared the one about throwing cold keys down your back to stop your nose from bleeding, and no-one had ever heard of it!

  17. We had an excellent crop of red panama passionfruits in our backyard. The vine didn’t stop producing fruit for six months, so by the end of it all we were thoroughly over eating passionfruit. My other gardening success story were my jonquils. Asides from those two, I’ve not had much success. We seem pretty good at growing weeds though.

  18. I’m a devotee of the ‘oh crap that looks dead I’d better water it’ school of gardening so am hugely impressed at your diligence. How was my summer? It’s COMING, babe!! Yay! (feel free to pop over for a visit)

  19. Hey Shauna,I live in South Carolina and we also did the buttercups under the chin as kids. So it’s not just a Scottish thing. In my case….hold a jar of Nutella under my chin and you would certainly see a brown reflection!!!

  20. We had the buttercups thing here in NZ! So I’d say it’s not just the Scots.

    This is a beautiful bounty you’ve got here, Shauna.

  21. Gardening!! Your summer is ending but here in Brisbane we’re just getting started. I have a proper garden for the first time, with netting over it to keep out the voracious seedling-eating possums. I have endive (that I’m already harvesting), sorrel, radiccio, mustard greens, dill, rocket, beetroot, sweet corn, carrot, chilli bushes, tomato and basil under the netting. Not sure how much will make it to eating (all little seedlings so far) but looks OK at the moment. We get a vege produce box and it had a pumpkin I really liked so I planted seeds in a little-used area of the garden and they have nearly all come up. The possums haven’t eaten them yet. I am SO excited!

    The potatoes in a bag thing sounds fabulous, I might try that as well.

    Maybe I’ll send you pictures at harvest to remind you the sun is shining somewhere!

    The buttercup thing confuses the hell out of me. Who doesn’t like butter? Also, the flowers reflect off some people but not others? ???

  22. Hey Shauna – the buttercup thing is totally genuine! And perfectly logical… if you don’t like butter, chances are you don’t eat many fats and have dry skin which is less reflective. Okay, so I got this from the Scottish playground too, but it’s still true! I bet there is plenty more Scottish playground wisdom awaiting you πŸ™‚

  23. I can never grow Brussels sprouts, and have tried for the past three years. It’s been the only gardening failure I’ve had so far. I know it’s mean, but it’s almost nice to hear it’s not just me.

    Everything looks so yummy! I’m ready for summer again already!

  24. I’ve never seen a buttercup, but I’m sure my face would be glowing if I did see one.

    I grew a tomato bush for the very first time this year (well, the first successful time.) Those tomatoes were the very best tomatoes I have ever had. Does pride taste good?

  25. I have heard the buttercup theory and believe it to be true – mind you, who doesn’t love butter?!

    I am Aussie but my heritage is Scottish so perhaps this logic has been passed down the generations?

  26. Canadian and I grew up with the buttercup saying as well. I love butter! πŸ™‚

    Your garden work looks v. tasty.

  27. We did the buttercup thing as kids so it’s not just a Scottish thing.

    I used to have a garden but not lately. Well I did plant basil but Gemma-dog thought it made a nice cushion and squished it all!

  28. I live in Texas and I have never heard the Buttercup tale. The flowers I grew up calling buttercups are actually pink evening primrose flowers and they’re everywhere here.

    I love the pics! It looks like you’ve got quite a green thumb.

    I tried growing tomatoes, squash and melon this year. I had to move everything to a shaded area because my tomatoes, which only got morning sun, were starting to wither because it’s too stinkin’ hot!! I’m going to start a few more in October and see how that works out. It rarely gets below the 40’s here in the winter so maybe I’ll have more success.

  29. I woke up to discover that the vast majority of the world knows about this buttercup thing… mwahahhaha! Dr G is probably right with his theory of my ignorance – we didn’t have any buttercups where I grew up… but lots of brown dead stuff πŸ˜›

    THANKS for all your comments! I think I will have to try Chuck’s upsidedown tomato technique…

  30. If you grow marigolds next to your brussels sprouts the marigolds deter whitefly – also works in greenhouses with tomatoes.

    Its been a great growing summer – loads of everything. Next time try the chard with the red or yellow stems – easily pretty enough to grow in a flower border.

  31. @Sarah – Yum… I have some rainbow chard seeds! Can't wait to give them a red hot go. Thanks bazillions for the marigold tip πŸ™‚

  32. Love the gardening – something so cheerful and life-affirming about planting, waiting and enjoying.
    I think I would like to grow some broad beans….I have some seeds I was given by a patient.

  33. What a great post … I might steal the format next fall. Your leeks are amazing! My garlic was equally impressive, as were some big yellow onions that looked like they came right from the store. I’m still picking tomatoes, it’s about time to haul them all in and put them in brown bags for final ripening. Or, better, fry them green. Yum. Still a couple butternuts out there, but I think today is the day to start taking the fence down and tidying up.

  34. Oh, I’m another poor soul who had to make do with dandelions instead of buttercups. Probably holding a dandelion up to your face means you like margarine.

  35. Hi there,

    My first post, but been reading the blog for a few months now, after loving the book!

    I’ve been studying horticulture and garden design at evening school for a few year now and you can’t beat getting your hands dirty and growing a few veg for feelgood factor – do you know mytinyplot blog? Think you’d like it. Plenty of tips and gorgeous photos and not too technical.

    I’ve loved growing sweetcorn this year – amazing how the tiny blade of grass actually turns into huge stunningly sweet cobs of corn (amazing straight off the plant, briefly simmered, then with a teensy bit of chilli and lime butter…) and also heaps of diff leaves for exciting salads – best being landcress (like watercress, but doesn’t need the water!). Also you must try beans (broad beans and french), really easy, delicious and impressive looking in the garden.

    LOVE my garden!

  36. Our backyard is tiny but we managed to grow a few tomato plants and some herbs. Also, the raspberry bush got big and gave us lots of berries. We planted a blackberry bush too and I’m hopeful for next year.

    My parents have a huge garden and they let us plant whatever we want in it. We grew so much rainbow chard that we got sick of it and let a lot of it just rot on the plant. It’s too bad I didn’t know about your feta trick — want to try that. I also got some very good broccoli, loads of sweet and hot peppers, and a few tiny eggplants. We planted carrots and they were tasty but sort of puny. It’s all pretty miraculous when you think about it. We planted plants instead of seeds so probably invested about $40, but it was fun to watch everything grow and still pretty cost-effective when you consider that the tomatoes alone run $2 a pound.

  37. My container garden was middling this year. I grew jalapenos, tomatoes, zucchini and cucumber. We moved in the middle of the summer and the plants fared poorly once we moved because of changes to the sun and watering. My landlady’s sprinklers go off at 3 AM, so every morning I had to check which pots were full and move them in the hopes the next spot wouldn’t be quite so wet. The zucchini got drowned one too many times and never fully recovered, despite putting out an awful lot of blossoms. We got 6 cucumber and a couple of tomatoes, but the peper bush is still going strong and giving us fruit. What does one do with a couple hundred jalapenos?

  38. Everything looks delicious! I tried to grow tomatoes and pumpkins this year, something destroyed the tomatoes and the pumpkins never came up. A bad year for my garden.

  39. I grew lettuce and courgettes. The herbs don’t count – they seem to look after themselves. I am definitely going to try tatties next year though. When do you plant them?

  40. @Desert Agave – you crack me up πŸ™‚

    @Jen – RASPBERRIES! hubba hubba…

    @Loth – we planted one batch early February then another late April.. you can do them at various times depending on what variety they are πŸ™‚

  41. @Debbi – wow sounds like a good haul. I've always wanted to try fried green tomatoes… YUM.

    @Franckie – thank you for reading! i looove My Tiny Plot, was the first site i found that made gardening sound doable πŸ™‚ your corn sounds SO good… will have to make some space for that next year!

  42. Delightful garden review, and your leeks are SO impressive! I might need to try again some time.

    I’ve NEVER heard the buttercup thing–I’ve lived in California 99% of my life. I think the secret is that everyone loves butter and that crazy yellow will glow on everyone.

    Good year for summer squash here, tomatoes, think I just figured out I was misreading my corn so I think it’s all ready…NOW. Gulp. And it’s blue! Still growing winter squash as part of the corn/beans/squash plot (“3 sisters” a Native American technique). Planted broccoli, beets, pak choi, kale, and more broccoli in last few weeks. We’ll see if I can have my 1st ever actual winter/spring garden. Then I’ll feel super legit!

  43. Your harvest is impressive!

    This year, I managed to plant some stuff before losing interest in it all again. That’s a step up from last year, where I only managed to clear some ground before I gave up again. Who knows what I can achieve next year?

  44. Hi! Your veggies are looking super good, all green and stuff mmmm! Plus the pea shoots have really motivated me to want to grow edible goodness. I hope your parsnips come out tasty and you can use some for Christmas dinner! Just wanted to say what an inspiration it is reading your book and reading through your archives. As a fellow (albeit puffier) ginger you have inspired me to start all this caper off again and start blogging too….i really hope it works this time. Good luck with everything and keep on keeping on. xxx

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