Edible Madness



Much will be said in the coming weeks and months about Michele Owen's amazing new book Grow the Good Life, most of it by me. (With that link I send you to IndieBound, the website of independent booksellers, in hopes that you will pre-order a copy through your local bookstore and let them know that you feel this is a book they will need to order in significant quantity come February, when it is released.)

Anyway, the book, which I read as a galley (and you can, too, if you're in the media and casting about for books to review), is about the most beautifully-written, entertaining, and literary argument in favor of vegetable gardening that you will ever read. No charts or tables here; no lists of instructions; no silly diagrams or seasonal checklists.  (I hope to never see another seasonal checklist again.  Is that too much to ask?  I fear it is.)

Michele's book got me all fired up about re-establishing a vegetable garden in my backyard, in spite of the chickens, and in spite of the year-round chilly Pacific air that keeps me from growing tomatoes and other things I really want.  Potatoes!  Kale! Peas! What's wrong with that?  Grow what works, and lots of it. That's what I took away from Michele's book.  Since moving to Eureka, my vegetable garden shrunk from dozens of ambitious beds to a few edibles tucked here and there.  But it was time to change all that.

Then I got home and found out that I'm hardly going to be around at all next year.  So this would be a vegetable garden that my husband would have to take care of while I travel.  Hardly seems fair.

So my edible madness has gone in a new direction:  fruit!  Perennial, easy-to-neglect fruit. You might think fruit trees require a lot of care and monitoring; you would be wrong about that.  My apple trees don't even get watered anymore–even the local apple farmers have taken to watering their orchards only two or three times during our rainless summers, and they have to make a living from their apples.  Mine get no water, no pest or disease control, and a little food or mulch if I happen to think of it.  Growingcitrus

So.  With the help of Timber Press' Growing Citrus: The Essential Gardener's Guide,  I selected four citrus trees that I'm hoping will be happy as houseplants.  (Martin Page, author of this book, cautions against this on the grounds that they need more light, but they've got my best south-facing windows, so we'll see about that.)  From the incomparable Four Winds Growers I have ordered:

A Meyer Improved lemon

A Bearss lime

A calamondin (acidy orange fruit that can sub for a lime and produces year-round indoors)

A chinotto, the sour orange fruit that shows up in Campari and other such liqueurs.

Outdoors, I've got these coming from Forest Farm Nursery and Raintree:

Sloe berry (aka blackthorn, Prunus spinosa)


Black currants

A tart English Morello cherry

A Damson plum

(and by the way, to make room, I am evicting some big, burly phlomis and buddleia. Well, I am hiring someone big and burly to evict them. Out with the ornamentals, in with the edibles.)

This is in addition to my already-established:


Tayberries, loganberries, blackberries

Blueberries (which I have yet to eat because the chickens get them first)

Two apple trees (a Honeycrisp and Liberty, planted in the same hole, which is something you can do when you have little space but need two for pollination)


Assorted herbs–rosemary, sage, oregano, chives, parsley, and the like

The odd seasonal thing stuck in my straw bale garden if I'm around–lettuce, squash, etc.

Not bad for somebody who's not around enough to take care of a vegetable garden! Thanks for the inspiration, M.  Read her book, and you, too, will go edible crazy. I promise.


  1. Amy’s right, of course, about Michele’s book. A great read that’s also inspiring as hell. I’m hoping she’ll visit me sometime next year and help me figure out what to grow, and where. M, I need ya!

  2. Thanks, Amy and Susan. I like ornamentals, but I LOVE a good dinner. And I have another thought for you, Amy. Asparagus.

  3. Amy, the biggest problem we have with indoor citrus is scale. Keep a close watch on your plants and scrape them off as soon as they show up. The only real cure seems to be systemic insecticide which you obviously do not want to give a tree you are eating from!

    Looking forward to Michele’s book and your sloe gin fizz cocktail hour.

  4. The challenge here is the trees have grown so high around my place that my veggie garden gets about 30% less sun than it used to, so I have to rethink what I grow. Looking forward to reading your book Michele!

  5. I will have to buy this book unless you have a giveaway I win in February. Michele’s writing is always a pleasure. She will have put in to words the obscene amounts of satisfaction I derive from my orderly, productive and beautiful roadside vegetable garden when everything else in my life is in flux.

  6. oh carpetbag, Amy knows about scale (a memorable and oh so relatable passage in From the Ground Up)!

    I lost an old apple tree in “snowmageddon”–it was on its last leg anyway, but every time I ponder getting another fruit tree, I am dissuaded by the emphasis on spraying. Maybe it is the midAtlantic climate? I just hate to make that investment and then not get fruit due to disease. Of course that has not stopped me from planting blueberries, blackberry (thornless is awesome), strawberries, black raspberry, rhubarb, asparagus — along with my three veg beds.

    Of course I get enjoyment from my ornamentals, but nothing compares to the joy of eating what you grow.

  7. Scale *is* annoying, but I kept it at bay using an old, soft toothbrush. Gross, but effective and gentle.

    Can you say a little more about planting two apples in one hole, or give a link? I have a small space and a fruit fetish.

  8. Val, I’ll have to track down Amy’s book when I actually live in civilization again.

    Scale is the bane of my mother’s existence. She uses the toothbrush method, too. But once a tree is as large as Amy’s, it takes hours to go over every branch, twig and leaf.

  9. I saw the multiple-trees-in-one-hole method at Fair Oaks Horticultural Center’s Harvest Day. Wish I’d known about it back when I planted my own backyard orchard – I’d have at least twice the trees !

    Michele – I’m definitely going to buy your book, maybe multiple copies as we have our office gift exchange coming up.

  10. Michele – congratz on the book! Can’t wait to read it and quote from it when all the local gardenerds show up at my plant swaps and beg for advice.

    Amy – I grow most of what is on your list. I enjoy my citrus a lot and will add that almost all their health problems occur during the winter when they are inside the house (and I keep my house pretty cool). Shoving them outside on the porch during warm spells helps control some of the bug problems. Mama Nature knows what to do and citrus are very tough plants, just don’t baby them. You will hear plenty of people say that Calamondins are inedible but I love them. If you leave them on the bush for as long as you can stand and then eat them peel and all (like a kumquat) they’ll taste better. They are seedy but spitting seeds can be entertaining too. I tossed out my Meyer’s Lemon and replaced it with Blood Orange – the Meyer’s tasted too much like a tangerine to me, I want my lemons lemony. Blood Oranges do best with cool winters and fit the ‘wicked’ category.

  11. How exactly does this amazing plant two in one hole trick work? I’ve been dying to plant pears, but don’t have a ton of space…Thanks!

  12. Morgan: Plant two trees in one hole. That’s how it works. Honestly, those are the complete instructions. Just dig a hole and put two fruit trees in it instead of one.

  13. I’m a long-time growing of vegetables, but I could do better, grow more. I could grow fruit. I look forward to reading Michelle’s book!

  14. Seems like blueberries would do well for you, Amy. Or do they need more cold or more water than you can provide? The Sunshine Blue is evergreen and I don’t think needs much cold and the fruits are REALLY delicious and ripen over a long time. It can be grown in a large container.
    My mother lives in a cold spot (lots of 22F nights) in Oakmont between Santa Rosa and Sonoma and has a Meyer lemon next to a wall. She covers it with agro-fabric when it gets cold. The information from Four Winds is really good. Do plant in unglazed clay pots to help prevent overwatering.

  15. I’m on the east coast and have ordered a few cold-hardy citrus from McKenzie Farms. Great selection for my North Carolina garden and really helpful with advice.

    I’ve also had luck with bush cherries — Nanking whites and reds. The fruit is tasty although smaller than cherries from big trees.

  16. Sorry, should have added that I grow all my edibles, including citrus, outside. I have the citrus against a south-facing retaining wall, and if the temps dip below 15 degrees, I cover them with a sheet and turn on holiday lights underneath.

    The citrus and cherries join the blueberries, blackberries, pears,apples, almonds, persimmons, figs, garlic, veggies, herbs, etc. planted all over our yard.

Comments are closed.