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Subversive Finds

By Julie Jackson
I have long been fascinated and impressed by the many talents of Gayla Trail: gardener extraordinaire, photographer, writer, columnist, speaker, veritable font of creativity. You may know Gayla as the creator of the leading online gardening community, You Grow Girl (also the title of her first book). You may know her from her photos or photo blogs like Making Happy. You may even remember her online shop full of “pithy gardening products”, Superfantastico.
If you don’t know her yet you’re really in for a treat, because now Gayla has brought together all of her talents into one gorgeous new book: Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces (Clarkson Potter, 2010). I think it’s the most inspiring thing since garden.com, the now-defunct online gardening company which was the only other thing that ever got me outdoors and into the dirt (except for that time I fell face-first off my porch when I was drunk, but that doesn’t really count).


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Julie: The first thing I noticed about your new book is that it’s gorgeous — I was very impressed by the look and feel. I was even more impressed when I read that you and your partner Davin did the design, illustration and layout (a Fluffco production). This project is obviously a labor of love!
Gayla: Thank you! And yes, tell me about it! I’m a visually oriented person – I went to school for Fine Art and work as a photographer and graphic designer. Gardening is a visual, creative pursuit with a story-telling component, so it all goes hand-in-hand for me. When I sit down to write the words, I also have an image in my mind of the photos I will take, and how it will all be packaged and presented.
It’s not an easy way to make a book as it means I am in the process much longer than I would be if I wrote the manuscript only. Yet I am a lifelong, passionate book lover. I have never lost the childhood excitement of a new book in my hands. It gives me great pleasure to see a book through from beginning to end. I just can’t for the life of me imagine my role ending with the text.
Julie: Well, your effort really shines through. Tell our CRAFT readers what your book is about in a nutshell and what surprises we might find inside.
Gayla: I am a city dweller and through my life have only lived with a “proper” backyard for short stints. But I also have a deep need to grow plants so I garden wherever I can. This book is for people like me who want to grow their own food but feel limited by a lack of space, money, experience, inspiration, or a combination of. It is filled with practical how-to information to guide readers through the process of growing productive edible food gardens on balconies and rooftops, fire escapes, windowsills, community gardens, little backyards, using whatever you’ve got.
In my experience, a food garden can be aesthetically pleasing – I made this book with the mind to inspire and get people excited about finding joy and satisfaction in making their food garden both bountiful and beautiful.
The food we grow ourselves often takes on a special quality. I’ve included recipes, preservation methods, and projects for using the food you grow and stretching the bounty beyond the growing season.
Julie: Sounds downright delicious! Didn’t you recently take a trip to Barbados to discover your family roots – gardening and otherwise?
Gayla: Yes! We traveled to three islands, although only two were connected to my past. We stayed in Barbados for four days and Dominica (a small island in the Windward isles that is NOT the Dominican Republic) for three weeks. I wanted to spend time in Dominica searching through public records in an attempt to find out about my maternal history. I come from a racially and culturally mixed background, and my surname, Trail, was passed down matrilineally from my grandmother. There was a gardening component because while I know that my love of gardening is experiential, the need to garden is so intense and comes so naturally to me that I have been curious about how imbedded the genetic link is or might be.
Dominica, it turns out, is a Garden of Eden of sorts (and yes, the Biblical reference is intentional). It is an insanely lush island, and it is hard to tell at times where wildness ends and cultivation begins. The connection to the land and to growing things runs deeply. Finding information about my family was not easy, although at times connections were made in very surreal and serendipitous ways. I did manage to answer some questions and discovered a few new ones along the way. I wrote about some of those answers here.
Julie: That is so incredible. What a journey. I enjoyed your photos as you posted them on Flickr. I can’t imagine how moving it must have been.
Gayla: On the nature and gardening side I felt like I was enrolled in an intense thirty-day immersive experience. I gained an incredible amount of new knowledge about plants and gardening in the tropics that I have been able to apply to my own gardens at home. I hope to go back soon. I need to go back soon.
Julie: How many months of the year can you have plants outside where you live? I always visualize Canada as being covered in snow. Set me straight!
Gayla: That’s a common misconception of Canada. That, and we’re all riding skidoos or dogsleds to work. For the record, I have never been anywhere by either mode of transportation, although growing up, we did have a non-functioning skidoo in our backyard for several months. My family’s version of the front lawn fridge.
Geographically, Canada is a very large landmass so there is a wide variety of climates and conditions across the country. I live in Toronto, which dips quite a bit south and is surrounded by the Great Lakes. Technically our zone is somewhere around 5b or 6b with varying microclimates. We sometimes have cold, snowy winters, but thanks to climate change, those are fewer and far between these days. Our summers can be very hot and humid.
I start growing cool-weather-loving crops in March and pretty much pack it in by late October, depending on the year. We don’t typically get snow until November, but this last year saw very little snow at all. You can stretch the season even further by employing cold frames, hoop houses and other homemade devices.
The frost-free safety zone starts somewhere around mid-May. Traditionally, gardening weekend is lauded as May 24, as that’s when it is considered safe enough to put out the warm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers. We’ve been enjoying a warm spring this year so I expect to put my tomatoes out early. There are few formulas in gardening – a lot of it is just observation, taking chances, and experience.
Unfortunately, even here, few people realize just how many edibles (peas, spinach, leafy greens, lettuce, radish, kale, broccoli, cabbage, Swiss chard, etc) can go out weeks or even months before the frost-free date. Many of these plants prefer the cooler weather and are more productive in the spring and as a second crop in the fall.
I am on a personal mission to change this misconception and get people growing earlier and later.
Julie: If anyone can do it, you can! Next we’ll set people straight about Texas and how we’re not all a bunch of gun-totin’ rednecks. That might take a little longer, though. Can you throw out a couple of easy gardening suggestions for beginners? Something that’ll encourage non-gardeners to try it out?
Gayla: When it comes to growing edibles, I suggest beginning with an herb or two that you really love to eat. Most herbs will grow happily and productively in a small space or pot. And because the end product is leaves, rather than fruit (i.e tomatoes and cucumbers), they’ll start producing a harvest quickly, and often keep going straight through to the very end of the growing season – more return for your effort.
Salad fixings and leafy greens are also good producers that can be grown fairly effortlessly in small spaces. Most greens can be harvested at any size – as soon as a few weeks (microgreens) and as late as a month or so for a mature head of lettuce. If you screw up the first batch, you’ve always got a second or third chance. And lettuce seeds are cheap so not much is lost. I suggest sprinkling a few seeds in a window box, or an old wine crate or drawer with holes drilled into the bottom for drainage. Pop in a radish seed here and there. You can eat the fresh sprouts or harvest the roots.
Did you know that pea flowers and their fresh, new shoots are edible along with the peas themselves? Start peas in early spring.
Julie: Actually, I did know this – and I loved that in your book you explained how they’re best eaten right from the garden. We used to grow snap peas and it was so fun to go out in the yard and nibble on them like a couple of rabbits. Delish!
Gayla: Also, most people want to grow basil but often have problems and then assume that 1) They can’t grow plants or 2) All herbs are difficult. Neither is true. The problem, especially in more northern or wet climates is simply that they put the basil plants outside too early in the season. Basil is easy to grow, but only when the climate is right. It’s a finicky plant that does not like cold, “wet feet,” meaning that their roots are sitting too long in wet and cold soil. Of course all of the stores put basil out as soon as they can to get people buying, giving the impression that it’s okay to start. I often wait until my tomatoes have been outside for a week or two before daring to put my basil out permanently. Last year was unseasonably cold and wet. I had trays of basil sitting in my living room for weeks. An annoying hassle but worth it for all that fresh pesto we enjoy through the winter.
Julie: Oh yeah, we’ve done that before – the pesto harvest. I also like to make tomato sandwiches with our basil in the summer, but I buy the heirloom tomatoes from Whole Foods because I’m a chicken when it comes to growing tomatoes. Maybe this is the year that will all change. Thanks, Gayla, I’m really inspired!!
Take an online look inside Grow Great Grub – you’ll be inspired, too!
Growgreatgrub Cover
Book Giveaway Time!
Three lucky CRAFT readers will each receive a copy of the book, Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail. Just tell us why you would like this book in the comments. All comments will be closed by Noon PST on Wednesday, May 5, 2010. The lucky winners will be announced later on the site. Good luck!
About the Author:
Julie Jackson is the creator of Subversive Cross Stitch and Kitty Wigs. Her new book, Glamourpuss: The Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs is now available in bookstores.


Related

Comments

  1. natura artis magistra says:

    this would be a perfect book for a beginning gardener such as myself. i’m excited to have my first garden planted, but am constantly looking for answers to the many, many questions that come up each day! i would love to add this book to my library … it sounds like it would be a BIG help! =)

  2. sara says:

    My dream is to move to a farm house and grow a huge, gorgeous garden of vegetables for me and all my friends. I have no idea how to do this. This books sounds like a good place to start!

  3. haliegirl says:

    I’m working on expanding my container gardens this summer and would love to have another resource to refer to!

  4. avquilts says:

    My son is twelve, a wonderful cook and a *blossoming* gardener. This would be a great book to support him on his journey!

  5. Lisa says:

    I loved her first book “You Grow Girl” and would love the second one :) Thank you for posting a great interview with her!

  6. MicheleWetzel says:

    I loved this interview and I love Gayla’s first book, You Grow Girl. I am a very enthusiastic starting gardener. I would love to have Grow Great Grub as I am a mother learning how to grow food for my family. We believe that the more we learn about growing our own food, the more sustainably we can live.

  7. SewLindaAnn says:

    I have a suburban garden that I love, and so do the squirrels, rabbits, possum and anything else that walks around the area. Aside from that, I’m trying to compost and learn about worms and making an attempt to go organic to get away from all the chemicals and stuff on another level. I already try to buy organically. Anyway…this book would really be so helpful in my personal journey. Thanks for considering me.

  8. trinasuperstar says:

    Wonderful book! Thanks for the great interview. With the sun coming out every fiber of my being says plant things NOW! I’d love a copy this book to get more creative ideas of how to use my little tiny space

  9. Tracibub says:

    What an awesome book! My hubby and I want to get a little (okay, a LOT) more earthy about growing our own foods, but we have limited space, VERY little knowledge, and feel overwhelmed at where to start. This book looks like it would clear that up in a heartbeat! :) It would be great to have around for my little girls. I don’t want them to grow up thinking food comes from the grocery store! Ha!

  10. Heather says:

    I really miss the homegrown food we had when I was a kid, so I want to grow more of mine.

  11. Lindsay says:

    I would love to have this book because I’ve been wanting to grow my own food, but have no idea where to start. It all feels a little overwhelming right now, but I’m hoping this book could change that!

  12. Erytanthes says:

    Although have big dreams to have an organic self-sustained little farm someday, I’m a long way from that point and probably won’t have any patches of green available to me for a while. Finding ways to grow a garden while I’m stuck in urbania will definitely help to keep me sane as I finish up my schooling and hopefully find some work that’ll let me hang out in the country for the rest of my life. I hope I win!

  13. Emma Hall says:

    yes plz! I’m starting my own garden this year for the first time and need all the help I can get!

  14. john.eddy.myopenid.com says:

    Well, I have a little space in which to plant, and this sounds like it’d be an assume book for me….

  15. WindJammer says:

    This summer we want to grow more of our own food. We want to have food that is fresher, healthier and that doesn’t need lots of fuel used to get to us — healthier for the planet too. We don’t have lots of space, so this sounds like a great resource book for our family.

  16. rubydearest says:

    Oh! I love the idea of starting a little garden on my fire escape, but have no idea where to start!
    This book seems very helpful!

  17. dippydisco says:

    I started growing my own veggies last year but moved to a smaller place and would love ides on what I can do.

  18. kuklagirl says:

    I moved in November to a place with a South facing back porch, but it is the size of a postage stamp! Gayla always has such great ideas to overcome space issues! I would love a copy!

  19. Mackenzie says:

    This book looks great, my roommate and I are determined to grow some of our own food (considering there are no decent food stores within reasonable distance of us) but have no yard! It looks like there are some fabulous ideas in here, I would love to start a porch garden!

  20. JennyE09 says:

    I adore her, her site, and her books!
    I am trying my hand at peppers and tomatoes this year. Her first book was so helpful. I was able to grow tomatoes last year, but I have learned to take it slow and not get in over my head.

  21. ~Heather says:

    I’d love to figure out more ways to maximize our little bitty garden space with fruit & veg our CSA doesn’t offer. ~H

  22. Jackie Parto says:

    I live in the city with a cement backyard and desperately want to start a garden. This will be my first time doing it on my own and I can use all the help I can get! I could definitely use the tips and advice this book offers.

  23. Muddymay says:

    I live in the city and can use all the help I can get!

  24. marci_jo says:

    The visual eye candy would be great to look at and I could always use another organic gardening book to reference.

  25. Jennifer says:

    I could really use a good reference book! I need to learn how to get the most out of the space I have.

  26. Maize says:

    When I first learned this book was out, I went to my local library to discover they didn’t have it. We have such a good library here that if they don’t have it and can’t get it they’ll BUY it! So, they bought it and I had it checked out for over a month.
    I recently completed building my garden from things I’ve found in dumpsters and the metal pile at the junkyard. I picked up 3 free wooden pallets from our local newspaper for the raised beds. My fingerling potatoes will be grown in a trashcan.
    I’ve started my beans in toilet paper rolls and they’ve already started growing!
    Our growing season is short here a mile high in Montana. I can’t wait to finally plant everything and, of course, harvest!
    I’d love to own the book! It’s a great resource!

  27. PenguinBot says:

    We’ve started a small garden on our deck but are in need of more ideas. And more veggies will definitely be needed now that I’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

  28. senzhan says:

    Entering for the draw!

  29. Disedlibrarian says:

    I’ve got a nice big windowsill, that gets shaded most of the summer by some huge trees. Lots of light, not a lot of sun. But the cats like it.

  30. Rebecca Hedreen says:

    (Second attempt at a comment)
    I have a nice big windowsill, that gets shaded by some big trees all summer. Lots of light, not much sun. But the cats like it.

  31. akmiles says:

    I love the aesthetic and the can do attitude. Basil in those blue paprika tins, long walks with mom taking clippings as we go. I love it.

  32. sprankles says:

    I’ve always lived in an apartment and have used it as an excuse to not start a garden. But I’m done with excuses; I want to Grow Great Grub too!

  33. dr15 says:

    I have the tiniest balcony (I’m a student who lives in the dorms) on which I grow stuff like sage and lettuce. I started growing stuff just a few months ago and I could use all the help I can get!

  34. samsstuff says:

    I love gardening & growing things. Sadly though, I don’t get much yield from the food plants that I grow. I would love to be able to actually eat a larger percentage of the vegetables, etc that I have planted. I am also visually oriented & this book looks beautiful!

  35. Amy Simmons says:

    I’d love to win this! I’m growing basil and attempting to grow an avocado tree. The basil is great, but the tree stopped growing after a few feet. I want to try growing more stuff too. Thanks for this great giveaway!

  36. .:My Own Melody:. says:

    I loved Gayla’s first book You Grow Girl. I’ve always been into gardening though haven’t been able to have a garden these last few years and started a balcony garden last year, which wasn’t very productive, though my basil thrived, but I started a lot of my seeds late or dealing with cats that want to eat the seedlings. It’ll continue this year along with a community garden plot, as I’m trying to become even more sustainable then what I already am this year. But it’ll be good to have some garden resource books in my book collection and this would be a good one to have between dealing with a small balcony and a garden plot. After all you need help when dealing with crazy spring weather in the west.

  37. Heather says:

    I have a 14 month old, and having a son really has changed my relationship with food. Growing organically with the limited space we have is definitely a priority, and this book would go a long way to help plan our gardens.

  38. Gigi says:

    Okay, I don’t completely kill all my plants but I definitely could use some help with my gardening skills. This book would be a great reference and it could help me save the lives of so many plants!

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