sprouting celery

At this moment, we’re in a cottage on a tiny lake in the woods, at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. This cottage was in our family one way or another for twenty years, through fascinating circumstances, and I have vivid memories of it. It is exquisitely beautiful here, the sort of place one never wants to leave. But it isn’t the lake I wanted to tell you about, just yet. I have a project for you. Our neighbours are wonderful, and took us through their beautiful vegetable garden. One of their projects is so utterly astonishing and inspiring, I can hardly choose whether to sit down and show you or rush off to do it myself, right this minute.

celery rooting

It isn’t pretty like a lake, I know, but bear with me. My friend found this idea by way of another friend, by way of Pinterest, by way of a lovely site. I pass it enthusiastically along to you, like a fine recipe. Sprouting celery! Simply cut off the base of the celery, and sit it in water for a couple of days.

celery plants

Then plant it. The new celery will spring up from the old plant, rooting down like a cutting, sprouting up like cut-and-come-again lettuce. Goodness, how pleasing is that? I declare I shall set my children to sprouting a row of them, immediately. There are many other plants you can try this with. I think so. Edible science projects, my favourite.

I’m feeling like Monet about his lilies, when it comes to making images of the lake, if you’d like to see – and more about its stories here soon.

container garden

Though every day is bursting, and rarely lets up, though this marks the last of April, there is still time to start a vegetable garden. Just a few minutes one day, to choose some seeds, a few more the next, to prepare containers or, lucky you, a bed. Get some good compost in, pick a bright spot. You need only decide how many seeds to plant, how widely, how deeply, the packet will tell you all of this. Get them firmed in and watered. Keeping them damp, perhaps with a thumb-sprinkler, til they sprout is probably the hardest bit. Plant up another round of some things in a couple of weeks, and keep them rolling all summer! Finding these few minutes for vegetable gardening is something I never regret.


If you needed something to make you feel industrious and grounded, even a row of potted herbs will accomplish it. At our house the children take care of watering the seedlings. Food becomes education. Later I’ll help them tie up a frame for the peas to grow up, and give the kale collars to keep cabbage moths from laying eggs. Not much to it yet, hardly even a weed. Our vegetable garden is small, no rambling garden with a greenhouse, just a few containers squeezed into my mother’s beautiful garden, but I am as pleased by it as if it were a many times the size. Just to grow some of our food is a great pleasure.

This year I’m just growing lettuces, kale, peas, beans, strawberries and a few herbs in the container garden. I think you remember my doorstep garden, do you? For more small, do-able, inspiring traditional projects, don’t forget to sign up to appleturnover’s quarterly.

planting garlic

When I choose what food to grow, particularly in a small space, with limited time, I like to choose something that is expensive to buy, keeps a short time, or comes from a long way away. Astonishingly, garlic is one of those foods that seems regularly to be imported to this country! Considering how effortless it is to grow here, and that it does perfectly well along the latitude that I seem to frequent, both in Canada and in England, it is a perfect crop for me. Have you grown your own garlic? It’s easy – let me show you.


My mother let me devote one of her raised beds to a bit of garlic. Any pot or sunny-ish spot between plants will do.


I topped the bed up with some good compost. No need to dig it in, the worms will have the amusement of that job.


Like other bulbs that you might be planting at this time of year (if the ground around you isn’t yet frozen, nor yet under snow) you’ll want to notice where the roots are, and where the neck is. We’ll separate the cloves and plant the garlic root-side down. It is a bit flat on that end, and pointier at the top, in case you’ve bought garlic specifically for planting and cannot see any roots on the bulb. Buying ‘seed garlic’ may be a good idea, but I’ve never had a problem just using whatever organic garlic I had left in the kitchen.


Also like other bulbs, you’re going to be planting garlic at a depth about 2 times its length. Press the earth around it so it is well tucked in. You can mulch over the top if your plants will need that kind of protection. It tends to be far too wet here for that, and mild, at sea level on the coast.


To amend a verse from The Giant Radish: Grow garlic, grow big; Grow garlic grow strong!; Grow garlic, grow huge! I might put some more in another pot or two, as I aspire to grow enough to braid my own garlic. Such satisfaction, a ten minute task done, and in it I’ve won a tiny victory for eating local. I’ve been wondering a little about the true costs of transporting our food a very long way. They aren’t just ecological, and economical, are they? I wonder if these problems are very much about our own connection to our food, attachment to the seasons and the harvest, and a sense of one’s knowledge and self-reliance, too. There’s still time to plant your own garlic.

doorstep garden

Though I’ve been living through great uncertainty about where our home is in the world, I knew the moment I began to feel more settled. One afternoon I found myself planting a tiny kitchen garden. If you are a bit rootless, like I have been of late, even a small pot of something growing can make you feel more present. I began with a doorstep garden.


Though I adored my rambling Sussex garden, a kitchen garden really is best located close to the kitchen. There was something of a cliff to walk down to get to our greenhouse. Send a young girl with a trug! Bring me lettuce! So here, I pulled together some of our lovely grey wooden boxes and filled them with the wonderful, rich compostthat my parents make. The children planted spinach in a row, one knuckle deep, and pressed the surface of the other two boxes with various lettuce seeds. Sprinkle light soil over it, and spray with water so as not to disturb. Now our thumb-sprinklers have arrived we can use those throughout the delicate seedling days.


The great thing about late summer or early autumn just-got-round-to-it gardening, is that the warmth tends to set things germinating immediately. I’ll be trying four-season gardening again this year, though without the benefits of a greenhouse.


In a matter of days we had a lush little patch, and began to eat the thinnings (just pluck some that are too close together to thrive) and then settle into pulling a few outer leaves when needed. I still forget that the patch is there, mind you.


I find that greens are the vegetables that I’m most likely to waste. Much better to pick it fresh, luminous and green, and otherwise let it grow happily til needed. Even this tiny patch of greens is a tremendous pleasure, the sense of accomplishment, of an attachment to one’s food. It isn’t a lot of work, just watering now and then, but the work put in seems to redouble the pleasure got out – each leaf is more valuable to me than a whole supermarket lettuce ever could be. Do you have a garden on your back step? Keep a pot of herbs or lettuces? Or a grand vegetable patch? An orchard, a farm? I aspire.

sprouting broccoli

Purple sprouting broccoli might take a lot of patience, only I forgot it was there, and had a gorgeous surprise in early May. It’s awfully late to bud, having missed both March and April entirely. The children are mad for it, breaking the stalks off and nibbling it raw as they play in the garden. This is a good thing, as it is a cut-and-come-again sort of plant. A whole year ago we’d planted out the seedlings from the greenhouse into the vegetable patch, hoping that a bit of netting might keep the deer off. They’ve ignored it, all the more for us.

purple sprouting broccoli

After the dull winter, those purple stalks are seriously thrilling! It’s sculptural leafiness is very pretty too, I’d plant it amongst flowers in a cottage garden.

purple sprouting broccoli © elisa rathje 2012

I love to cook sprouting broccoli simply, as I do kale, just tossing in a bit of butter, with a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of sea salt when it comes out of the pan. Fresh from the garden it is tender and rich. Absolutely worth the wait. If you remember that you’re waiting. When I’m settled in Canada I’d love to plant some of this, it is my sort of vegetable.