What’s in your dinner?



At this time of year I feel particularly lucky to have access to growing space. We don’t have a very big garden and we have chosen to prioritise food production, so that means we don’t have flower beds or a lawn, just space for fruit, vegetables, chickens and compost, with some paved sitting space that we share with lots of pots of plants. We used to have more space for outdoor sitting, but the limery took that over.

My reasons are partly because I love growing food – being connected to the seasons, eating food fresh from the garden and clocking up food metres not food miles. However, I also like knowing exactly what sort of chemicals go into my food. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publish a ‘dirty dozen’ each year – a list of foods with the highest levels of pesticide residues. Although these data are collected in the US, the list is of interest wherever we live in the world. In 2015, the list was as follows:

  1. Apples
  2. Peaches
  3. Nectarines
  4. Strawberries
  5. Grapes
  6. Celery
  7. Spinach
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry Tomatoes
  11. Snap Peas (Imported)
  12. Potatoes

Closely followed by Hot Peppers and Kale/Collard Greens.

From this list, we grow Peppers (hot and sweet), snap peas (we call them sugar peas or mange tout, I think), potatoes, kale and some apples. The bulk of our apples come from friends who do not use pesticides on their trees, and the other items on the list we eat rarely or not at all. Of course you can buy organic produce and avoid issues with pesticides (and we often do), but growing your own delivers so many extra benefits.


red salad bowl lettuce growing in a container

One of my particular favourite crops is salad leaves. I don’t think that there’s any substitute for freshly picked leaves. By growing your own, you can avoid packaging, the threat of salmonella, exploitation of workers and the use of chlorinated water for washing them – all issues that have been identified as being linked to bagged leaves sold in supermarkets (details here). And you don’t even need a garden – you can plant cut-and-come-again varieties of lettuce, along with oriental greens in pots, in window boxes, or in trays on your windowsill. Let the leaves grow up and then harvest them by trimming with scissors and allow them to grow back. If you plant a few trays in succession, you can supply yourself with a regular harvest for several months. And honestly, the taste just doesn’t compare with leaves that have been encased in plastic for a couple of weeks in a modified atmosphere so they don’t go off.

Herbs are another great windowsill crop and it’s lovely to pick your own fresh seasonings, even if you don’t have space to grow anything else.

So, however small your space, I encourage you to plant something to eat – you won’t regret it!

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  1. This is the first year since 1972 that I have not sown or grown vegetables in the garden – life got busy, energy was scarce, something had to go – thank goodness I have raspberries and loganberries aplenty, with pear and fig tree full of promise for later too.

  2. Hear, hear! Just about to have peas and french beans from the garden with my supper and raspberries to follow (there are strawberries too but I wanted a change!)

  3. Murtagh's Meadow

     /  June 25, 2017

    I agree by growing your own you can avoid all those horrible chemicals! Do you plant any flowers among your veg? I like growing nasturtiums, borage, poppies and pot marigold. Actually all seed themselves so I just leave where I can, though admitedly the pot marigold don’t seem to have come back this year, first time in about nine years!

  4. Even in the depth of winter I have some herbs and alfalfa sprouts on the go in my kitchen – nothing in the tiny courtyard though at this time. This is a lovely encouraging post Jan!

  5. Writing this whilst eating new potatoes, carrots and a pastry bake with spinach all grown in the potager and all organic.. Have carrot cake to follow -)))

    • There is something very special about eating food you have grown yourself. Even having gardened for years, I still get a buzz from harvesting food and eating it straight away.

  6. I wish I could magic you some more space! I know I’ve seen pumpkins and squash grown up a trellis over a friend’s chook house, and runner beans grown up a trellis against the house in my own garden from a grow-bag.

    • I have a bit of extra space that has been neglected recently because it’s on the north-west end of the house. It was in use for a few years, but I’ve not managed to put anything there for the past two years… I will have to rectify that next growing season.

      • It sounds like the sort of area where I used to dump all sorts of vegetation into a big heap for a few months. I’d then dig a small hole in the top, fill it with a bit of soil, a bit of compost and plant pumpkin seeds, watered in with diluted worm tea. Result: no effort pumpkins. The heap used to provide some warmth, it was raised off the ground so it didn’t get waterlogged, and I’d just pinch out the growing tips when they got too long.

        • It’s tarmacked and in the past I’ve done lots of container gardening there… this year all the spare compost went into the new raised bed, and I didn’t want to buy in too much, so I left this area… next year will be different!

  7. Thanks for the list! After my cancer and lymphedema diagnosis my doctors told me go organic to avoid pesticides and gmos. Interesting hey?

  8. Brava! One of the best things about growing your own food is knowing what’s in it. I try to grow peas every year and usually get one batch before the heat kills them. Keep up the growing! The limery is a huge advantage.

    • I’m sure that lots of people don’t realise how many pesticides might be on their food… it’s quite scary when you start looking into it.

      • Also cosmetics. I keep telling people there are so many carcinogens in cosmetics and toiletries. EWG rates those as well!

        • Oh yes… I’m always shocked what people will slap on their skin without a thought. Plus so many cosmetics and toiletries are over-packaged… such huge amounts of completely unnecessary plastic and card, I could cry.

  9. Laurie Graves

     /  June 26, 2017

    Yes, so great to know what’s in your food. Plus, the taste cannot be matched. Our yard is part shade/part sun, but I have a thriving herb garden that saves me so much money and makes our meals taste oh so good. Garden on!

  10. If you like the look of flowers amongst your veggies, but don’t have much space, you might like growing edible flowers like climbing nasturtiums. The flowers and leaves are edible and have a slightly spicy flavour much like watercress. NIce in sandwiches, too, I think . . .I have planted some around the edges of my wee kale bed, with sweet peas (non-edible, but SO pretty), too (I think), as they can be trained up the wire fencing my cousin M so kindly built to keep out the neighbourhood cats. I love my gardens jumbled with everything growing cheek by jowl as in a meadow. Not too conventional, I know, but I’ve given up on ever being that (not that I seriously aspired to it, ever). I planted some of the nasturtiums in a hanging basket, too, with other non-edibles. If those make it, they will hang over the edges (I hope) and I can control the length by nibbling somewhat judiciously on the ends. Anyway, I know there are lots of other edibles that you might enjoy growing and eating, both.

    As to rosemary, have you tried growing it in a rather poor, somewhat sandy soil? Many of the herbs prefer that and have more potent flavours as a result. Mine is in a large tub along with iris, basil, a marigold and a lovely heliotrope; no idea what the soil is like (it’s my cousins’ tub, which I freed up by yanking out the grasses and revealing the iris tubers), but so far, so good.
    Thanks for the great post and hugs to you. ~ Linne

    • We grow and eat nasturtiums… actually they grow themselves now – self-seeding every year.
      As for the rosemary, I’ve tried it in the ground and in pots, but it still keeps dying. I had decided that it was our wet winters that were doing for it, so brought my pot of it into the limery last year… where it thrived for a couple of months and then expired! I have a new plant that’s looking healthy at the moment… we’ll see how it does.

    • Oooh, thanks for the tip about sandy soil for herbs, Linne! Some of mine are looking a bit sad, so I’ll try this when I repot them!

  11. We have very few sunny spots, but I love grapes so much and trying to find (or afford!) organic grapes is impossible. So, a couple years ago, in went our mini-grape trellis. Now I can eat myself sick of grapes without worry about my health or my budget…and I still have enough left for wine, to freeze, and to give away to neighbors).

  12. It’s so true! I only have a little growing space, but I love being able to add my own home-grown herbs to my cooking. And even lettuce tastes good when it comes fresh off the plant! Later in the year, I’ll be “borrowing” strawberries and raspberries from my parents’ garden, and apples from the trees at Boyfriend’s farm! 😋

  13. we get some type of lettuce every week with our local veg basket, so I don’t want to plant any. But our balcony features cherry tomatoes and herbs (basil, parsley, chives and mint) which are great to liven up any dish.

    • Veg boxes are wonderful things – I love their seasonality. It sounds like your balcony supplies you with lovely additions to your cooking – fresh herbs are a brilliant way to make the most of limited space.


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