What Julia Child Knew About Gardening

Why should you start growing your own food, and how can you get started quickly? In this article I show you how you could be eating your own, home-grown food in less than four weeks, and I also tell how you can get free organic vegetable, herb or fruit seeds for the next month from one of the best organic suppliers in the USA.

My sister and I eating cake mix, 1967

My sister and I eating cake mix, 1967

The reason I started growing and rearing my own food is that I love cooking, and I decided that I wanted the freshest, tastiest ingredients all grown without harmful chemicals and using seeds that aren’t genetically messed around with.

My first memory of cooking was standing on a chair next to my mum, and adding ingredients as she made a cake. Here’s a photo taken in 1967 of me and my sister, Ruth, scraping a bowl of cake mix.

Many years later and I am now doing the same thing with our daughters, Sequoia (6), and Teeka (4). They stand next to me on two chairs – or I hold them – while we learn to cook together.

Teeka grinds spices for a curry

Teeka grinds spices for a curry

Our cooking education has become quite a multifaceted adventure, and in addition to growing and cooking our food together we enjoy reading recipe books and looking at the photos. of dishes and they decide what they’d like to cook. Also, Last summer Teeka discovered a fascination with seed catalogs which she frequently enjoys as bedtime reading material! “Next year I want to grow that, that and…this. Mmmm…I think this would be delicious…” she said one evening while looking at different types of broccoli.

We recently discovered that my Amazon Prime account contained every season of Julia Child’s The French Chef dating back to 1963, and this winter we’ve often sat by a nice log fire in the evening and watch an episode. At Thanksgiving last year when I asked the girls what they wanted to eat, their reply was not “Pizza and fries!” but “Boeuf Bourguignon…with elk!

And so on Thanksgiving morning we cooked a classic Boeuf Bourguignon with elk we’d hunted together the previous fall. We used vegetables from our own garden and I had a beer I brewed myself. For dessert we enjoyed apple crumble with apples from our little orchard and made custard (Crème anglaise) with our own eggs and milk from our friend’s farm. Everything was absolutely delicious and great fun to make together.

A Quiet Revolution

Julia Child

Julia Child

Julia Child revolutionized how an entire generation of people in the US cook. Writer Diane Jacob notes in her excellent book Will Write for Food that:

 “After taking cooking classes in France, Julia Child opened a cooking school in Paris with two Frenchwomen (sic). Many of the students were American, and soon Child decided to write a manual of French cooking for them. Her radical idea was that all ingredients should be available in the United States, and that readers should learn French cooking techniques.

By imparting simple skills using available ingredients Julia Child helped to take away the feeling of being overwhelmed, and made it easy for anyone to cook delicious meals using fresh ingredients. If she’d insisted that people must first locate authentic French ingredients her approach would have been far less accessible and The French Chef would have probably ended after one series. The point is that using available ingredients is the key.

My goal here is to help you get started and to share our own journey with you. We have a small (six acres) farm and my first year of growing three tomato plants, one chili plant and two zucchini plants “As an experiment” has grown into me now farming a half acre of vegetables and rearing our own organic eggs and meat.

But I don’t want that to put you off!

I hope that this is obvious but…you don’t need a farm to get started!

Start Growing Your Own Food…Now

Our Plant and Seed List for 2013

Our Plant and Seed List for 2013

Last weekend we sat down with some seed catalogs from my favorite seed and gardening suppliers and made a list of everything we’d like to grow this year. Last year we grew about 27 types of plants. This year we have a list of over 58 types of plants that we want to grow which – added to apples, pears, cherries, grapes, raspberries and blueberries (oh, and blackberries which grow wild around here) – brings us to a list of 65 different plants…fruits, herbs and vegetables.

Here’s a copy of the page in my notebook that Sequoia enjoyed transcribing as we all shouted out the names of plants we want to grow. We even found an olive tree that should grow in Oregon.

Even in the mid-winter as I write this we still have fresh Swiss chard, spinach, tatsoi, potatoes, turnips, cilantro, carrots and beets, and it’s only a few days before we start planting seedlings again for the spring and summer.

But I don’t want that to put you off! In my first year I grew just three types of plants (tomatoes, chili and zucchini) and if all you do this year is to start growing just one plant you’ll have made a start. And that is what is most important…to make a start. Getting something in motion is the part that requires the most energy.

Start Small, Start Now

There’s an old joke about a visitor in London who asks a cab driver for directions on how to get to Buckingham Palace. “Well, if I was going there I wouldn’t start here!” quips the cab driver.

Although you may enjoy eating asparagus, artichokes, carrots or cauliflower, if I was just starting out I wouldn’t necessarily begin gardening by growing these veggies; they can take time to develop (asparagus) or be a little temperamental to grow (cauliflower).

One of the simplest types of vegetables to start growing are leafy green vegetables or salad leaves. In fact, you can even grow them inside your house or apartment. Anything such as:

  • Lettuce leaves
  • Spinach
  • Mustard greens
  • Tatsoi
  • Mesclun
  • Salad mix
  • Chard

These will grow well in most environments and be ready to eat relatively quickly – you can start eating some types of lettuce in less than four weeks!

You can start a small plant pot or even old yoghurt containers almost anywhere in your home where there is natural light; on a windowsill or shelves by a natural light source can work well. They will also grow in cooler environments (not frosty…grow the indoors or under cover in that case).

Free Organic Seeds to Get You Started

Organic radish

Organic radish

I spoke to my friends at Peaceful Valley and mentioned that I was writing an article on starting to grow your own vegetables, and they’ve kindly agreed to send you two FREE packets of organic vegetable, fruit or herb seeds – whatever you like, but why not start with lettuce, green leafy vegetables…something simple and quick to get you started. (Valid until February 17, 2013.) Pretty cool!

I make nothing from this offer, and I am really happy to recommend Peaceful Valley. I’ve shopped there personally for two or three years, and their products are great, they are always friendly and enthusiastic to help, and have always been able to answer my questions. They’ve also some great videos and helpful hints on gardening at their website.

Here’s a selection of veg I grew last year with organic seeds I bought from them:

Organic tatsoi

Organic tatsoi


Organic Swiss chard, beets, carrots

Organic Swiss chard, beets, carrots

Gardening is a fun way to spend family time together and to educate your children about where their food comes from. Growing their own food is a great life skill and who knows what the world’s food supply will be like in 20 years?

Here’s a photo. of Teeka and some of the potatoes and turnips that she planted, which were also seeds we bought from Peaceful Valley:

Teeka and her Turnips, Potatoes

Teeka and her Turnips, Potatoes

How to Get Your FREE Organic Seeds

To get your free organic seeds (valid until February 17, 2013) and also win a chance to have a box of organic veg. from my garden shipped to you free, simply sign-up for my Water the Roots newsletter below. You will immediately receive the coupon for your free seeds, and you’re welcome to remove your name from my newsletter immediately if you wish. If you choose to stay subscribed you’ll be entered into the drawing for a free box of organic vegetables.

Sign-up here and tell your friends how they can get their free organic vegetable, herb or fruit seeds from Peaceful Valley:

Free Organic Seeds

In our next article together I’ll be introducing you to my personal gardening drill sergeant who has kept me on track. I think once you meet him you’ll find ways to get your own garden into better shape and will feel inspired to grow more of your own food.

Remember to get your free organic seeds and use the coupon before February 17.


  1. Elaine Lyons says

    Would love to grow some vegetables on my small condo patio.

  2. I have a ‘Bucket Garden’ growing on my patio I learned of on YouTube. They are easier to move around for cleaning and sunning, and if they are placed on the roll-around-disc used for flower pots you can move them even easier. I have curently planted in different 5 gal buckets tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and mixed spice plants. Carrots in the video did quite well in the buckets also and I will try at another time. As another experiment, in my old plastic trash can that I punctured holes all around it for air circulation, I have potatoes plants growing. ( The video also planted potatoes in the 5 gal bucket, but I had the old plastic trash can and I wanted to experiment with that method. ) I also liked the idea of using 6 ft. house gutters
    fastened to a slanted wooden frame that takes up very little floor space. Like a trellis, the ‘Rain Gutter Garden’ gives you height and allows you to plant small vegetables such as your radishes, lettuces, etc. You can also plant greenbeans, and even hanging cucumbers, mix in some flowers for color and you will have a WALL GARDEN…Enjoy !

  3. This project is very inspiring. My wife and I would love to live a bit farther out from the city and have more land to do exactly what you are doing. One day when we are in a better position and have things wrapped up here we will. But until then we enjoy our community garden at her aunts house and I am currently building out our little, 20′ x 20′ back yard. I am not tilling the grass, even though the owner said he doesn’t mind.

    I am happy to have found your blog.

  4. Hi Brandon
    You can grow a lot in 400 sq. ft. – you may wish to read John Jeavon’s excellent book http://www.amazon.com/How-Grow-More-Vegetables-Eighth/dp/160774189X/ for some great ideas about bio-intensive growing in the space you have available. I am pleased to hear that you are on this path; I started with a single zucchini plant and it all just kind of…grew from there! :-)

Share Your Thoughts