Australia

Meeting a TV Hero and Simple Sustainability in the Garden

Remember the self-sufficiency movement of the ’80s? That was my teenage dream, one that sadly never materialised, so the chance to meet a modern-day guru of sustainability got me super-excited.

You may have heard or even watched River Cottage UK, with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but did you know there was a highly successful Australian version of the show that has now spawned a sustainable food movement for city folks?

Today I was blessed to meet the host of River Cottage Australia Paul West, who spoke of the benefits of growing and cooking fresh, wholesome food and about Grow it Local. It is a grassroots movement that’s connecting communities across Australia, through urban farming, irrespective of the size of the land on which you live.

Paul’s message:- you can make a difference to the planet and to your own nutrition by growing your own food, minimising waste and connecting with other producers in your area. 

Paul West River cottage Australia

Paul was a chef who trained at a hatted restaurant, but 16-hour days with no time to cook for himself left him thinking there was more to life.  For a time he was a WWOOFer – a ‘willing worker on organic farms’ – on a Tasmanian property.

Required to work four hours in return for board and accommodation on the farm, he was inspired by the farmer’s good health and lifestyle to work over 8 hours each day. When Fearnley-Whittingstall was looking for a host of a new TV production, “River Cottage Australia”, Paul got the job.

Ten years after the first of four seasons of River Cottage Australia aired on Australian TV, Paul West is still that cheeky, charming, affable guy.

Paul’s not just promoting a gardening and recipe book, Homegrown, he thinks that a lot of problems could be ameliorated if people took time to grow their own bit of food (even a balcony garden), minimise waste, cook stuff from scratch and connect with the family and friends.

It is true that our fondest memories are often associated with family, friends and food, and sharing a meal together. 

Many people who watch River Cottage Australia live in cities, and I want to show everyone that what I did on River Cottage is totally achievable in the backyard or on the balcony,” he says.

Paul West
A small and flourishing vege garden in an urban area

My small but productive garden at the Home by the Sea sits on soil that is salty clay, remnants from a mangrove swamp in years past. That is not conducive to growing food crops.

With some help from worm castings and compost from garden scraps, we have feasted on home-grown lemons, strawberries, tomatoes, asparagus, choko and cucumber, as well as loads of herbs from chives to dill, parsley to basil and thyme.  Paul’s presentation spurns me on to grow even more in my small space, and add more rosemary plants to the front garden and those so far untapped areas on street verges.

Connecting with others growers in my local area means I can swap ideas and excess produce for our mutual benefit.

Fabulous, right?

Paul’s book Homegrown covers many of the River cottage measures he used himself. Ones that are easily transferable for anyone to become more sustainable through a year of cooking, growing and eating. With planting notes, garden projects and recipes, anyone can share a River cottage experience, no matter how small their home or community is.

Who wouldn’t want food that is fresh, tasty and more nutritious than ever before?

Paul structures simple recipes around produce from each season and includes Zucchini fennel pizza, Homemade tomato sauce, Pumpkin and beef curry, Ginger beer, and delicious salads with basic ingredients sourced from your own veggie patch. There’s info on composting, maintenance, when to prune, DIY seed-raising mix, chicken feeder and pen, and encouraging bees (and pollination) via plantings.

Confession time: I admit to sounding starstruck at meeting a self-sufficiency hero. I’ve never followed celebrities at all, nor wished to do so. Thus, I was surprised I was ever so excited to meet this guy. He was just as he appears on TV: super cool, genuinely affable and kind-hearted. The sort of person you’d love to live next door to. And his message is a positive one that cares for the planet and for our health and that resonates with me.

If you were wondering, I did buy the book and Paul signed it! [Happy dance!]

Natalie’s Weekend Coffee Share

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109 thoughts on “Meeting a TV Hero and Simple Sustainability in the Garden”

  1. Absolutely delightful, Amanda ! If you’re going to have a crush on someone, it better be someone who’s actually useful in and to the world !! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I don’t think you could call it a crush, but he sure is useful and delightful. I could have easily taken him home. Not least because he reminds me so much of my younger son. He too liked to cook and joke around, but was no gardener. I told Paul that if he ever made it to Hollywood, I could recommend a body double! Lol.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I said that because I have a crush on a most useful and contributory person. πŸ™‚
        Who is almost young enough to be my grandson !!!
        Seems like we never lose our attraction to lovely men, eh ?

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        1. It wasn’t because he was attractive. You know the Moth is not pushing up daisies yet.
          This is the first celebrity I have ever been interested in meeting and I was so surprised at how keen I was. Perhaps you have had interest in more than one in your life?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Celebrity-wise, I was mad for an Italian footballer called Roby Baggio. But I never got to meet him [sob !]. And I didn’t say “attractive men”, I said “lovely men” – which means that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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  2. Sounds like a happy ever after, Amanda. I should stir my lazy self to do some of this. I love flowers but they grow themselves and don’t need much effort to look after. I currently have the care of an absent friend’s chilli plant and that’s enough responsibility for now. I would love homegrown spuds and tomatoes, but I can never envisage keeping hens or pigs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hens and pigs won’t fit on my new digs, Jo. But it is surprising how low maintenance veges can be. The worm juice does the fertilizing and the recent rains have really helped the plants. Good soil prep means that there is really very little to do once the plants go in. Rosemary grows like a weed, with no care at all. The European climate should suit it as well.

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        1. A portable worm farm needs watering once a week or so. The liquid that drains out of a worm tray is called for want of a better term, worm juice. It is a bit like the liquid that drains from the base of a compost tumbler. It is probably more from the decomposing vegetables than from the worms themselves.

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  3. I wrote this about lawns, which we shouldn’t be keeping but people commit huge amounts of time to.

    The ladder of luxury

    We supply a lot of our own food and, every time I’m working in the vege garden I think how much time it takes and how lucky I am to have the time to do this. Maybe the world needs a big rethink – in COVID lockdowns everyone remembered how nice it was to have time and then most got back on the treadmill 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jane, Paul mentioned the gyms and treadmills and how working in the garden is doing a lot of the stretching, reaching, bending and exercises that we do at gym classes but in a healthier, more productive way. Although I do Qi Gong exercise for mental relaxation, I love getting out in the garden for other physical movements and exercise. You are right, lawns are ridiculous. They might provide a few grubs for the magpies, but consume vast amounts of water and chemical fertiliser to keep them green and pretty looking, not to mention weeding. Veges would give a family so much more in that same amount of space with probs less water. I have dug up the street verge, or nature strip, and planted herbs and yes some flowers, but will convert that to herbs as the soil condition improves. I have a small park like area across the road from my place that I maintain as council let it run to weeds. I have strawberries, lavender, several choko vines and the ubiquitous rosemary in there now, as well. Thanks for your comment and reinforcing there are more possibilities to add to the potential of each home’s green space.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s nothing more satisfying than eating what you’ve managed to grow, I think, and you’ve done really well. So far I’ve had lettuce, rocket and tomatoes from my garden, herbs seem to be easier and I love to go out and get a fresh bunch of them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You are right. There is nothing more fresh or satisfying than produce that can’t get any fresher than when you pick and eat it yourself. I did have lettuce in the garden the first year, Sofia. It was a joy to walk out a few steps and add a fresh crunchy lettuce leaf to my sandwich at lunch. However, the lettuce don’t last long and the variety that grew in our warm climate where a little bitter. I might try them again some time, as Paul West advocates a different variety.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rosemary, thyme, peppermint, oregano, basil and parsley. I’ve tried multiple times to grow coriander, my favourite, but no luck. Had some dill this year too, but it died while we were away.

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  5. Paul is a wonderful person and I am so glad you actually had a get up and close at his talk. I love it when Paul is on the ABC on Sunday mornings replacing that awful Macca when he goes on holidays.
    The first episodes of River Cottage Aust were so good in showing what it is like to get started.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I dislike Macca. Australia all over in the 1980’s was a great show but old age and senility has made it unbearable.
        I don’t know, perhaps over Summer? There are some wonderful presenters that replace him. Warwick Long, a Rural Reporter is good as well when he does a stint.
        I haven’t listened on Sunday mornings for years now. His racism and constant banging on about some subject got to me as well as playing his own songs.
        A lot of people wonder how much he pays the ABC to stay on air πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ€£

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        1. I do wonder why they are loyal to an old dinosaur like him. My nearly 90 year old parents are a fan. That says it all, doesn’t it? He must have had a long long contract. I will check in over Xmas – he might be away then… So glad you are a fan of Paul. He was such a down to earth, real kind of guy. There is no ego like so many other TV personalities.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a lovely article Amanda. I’ve gifted a few people little pots of herbs or a cherry tomato in the spring, and the delight they all shared with me afterwards (with one exception, yes, you do have to water it!) was really gratifying. You really don’t need a lot of space to make a difference in your footprint and the delights on your table.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Fantastic idea to give living edible plants as gifts, Dorothy. Herbs are inexpensive and you can marry them with a pretty pot for a balcony garden. Even a tiny garden that IS watered can give back so much produce in abundance.
      Have you been able to grow coriander? That herb seems to stump many of us.

      Liked by 1 person

            1. That is interesting, Dorothy. The micro-climate must have something to do with it. You obviously don’t live in an area with high humidity as we do?

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            2. Oh, we are very humid in the summer, but the parsley loves the chill in the air and does well here well past the first frosts and freezes, which seem to be later every year. We had our first freeze just three days ago!

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            3. It sounds like winter is on its way with the first freeze. Even though our winters can be cool, being so close to the sea means we never get frost at all. That means we also miss out on fog! I love walking in a fog! (must be the Danish genes kicking in).

              Liked by 1 person

            4. I must have jinxed myself but this morning for the first time, we had a light fog! We have had heaps of rain and now high humidity but the view of the islands was impeded by the fog. It was light, but I will take anything! Lol. 70 degrees…. and you just had a frost recently…. crazy weather. Do they call that an Indian summer?

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          1. Did you know that there is a biological reason why coriander tastes different for some people? While some of us (like me) enjoy the bright flavor in Thai curries etc., 4-14% of population find it unpalatably soapy. It’s genetic rather than preference.

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            1. I don’t have curries very often but as I have not noticed the soapy taste, I must be in the lucky percentage. How strange that it is a genetic tendency? Such a specific food reaction, but then, Paul West talked about how our tongue is full of chemical receptors so perhaps I should not be surprised.

              Liked by 1 person

  7. What a happy, upbeat post about things that really make a difference to our lives.
    I grew up helping father in the veg garden, husband likewise, and we have always grown as much of our own produce as possible. Here in the tropics, what we can grow has changed and we now need help in the garden, but we keep on going.
    Coriander is a pig to start…from the same pack some sowings roar away – and others just don’t. On the other hand, flat leaved parsley which was a pig to start when in France gives no trouble here.
    I refuse to believe that anyone can feast on choko. Called chayote here it is hideously productive and apallingly dull. Good for throwing at squirrels to stop them from robbing fruit trees, but, for me, that’s about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It must be the humidity that allows flat leaved parsely to flourish and coriander to struggle.
      You and 85% of the population of the world hate choko. Yet it is such a maligned vegetable. I was never really keen about it when it was boiled and lumped on the plate dry with three vege and steak, as a child. But once I had it roasted I was a convert.
      Try it roasted with bastings of butter. (sliced thinly of course) and use the new chokos off the vine, not some withered old thing from the supermarket shelf as they tend to go bitter and brown inside.
      But you might have more trouble with the squirrels then….lol.

      Liked by 1 person

            1. Thanks for the link to your hilariously written post. I could well imagine you lunging with the deftness of a duellist, fruit-picking implement in hand!
              Sadly, it does nothing to deter me from nurturing this green ‘devil spawn!’ Conversely, it makes me all the more determined to champion the humble choko! I didn’t live through the Depression in Australia but I have heard of that being the reason many people dislike them. But boiling them is the worst punishment and if anyone does that, they deserve a tasteless pale lump on their dinner plate. Boiling them removes any flavour and as for making choko soup and adding yoghurt…. more respectful scoffing in response!. Although I would agree the texture can be a challenge.
              Roasted or with a white sauce is definitely the way to go. ( I do peel it before roasting). I wonder if it is a bit like coriander. Some people taste it differently to others. See Sandy and Dorothy’s comment above. It has only a mild flavour but if it is substituted in some areas for apples, I guess I can see its limitations.
              I once had a plant that didn’t fruit – it was clearly a male of the species. As all the others I have planted have well and truly fruited, despite neglect on my part – they must be transgender, or hemaphroditic? Although that may only convince you there is even more reason to remove any vestige from your garden. Did you know you can eat the stems and leaves too, although that might be stretching my friendship with the beast too far? Supposed to be good for high-blood pressure, kidney stones and indigestion.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. I am starting to worry I might have started an unstoppable freight train as I have four vines planted now and looked at the original one which is making it way up to the roof! Eek.

              Liked by 1 person

            3. Wait two minutes and you will be living in Sleeping Beauty’s castle….totally covered in chayote vines….just make sure they don’t get inside! There was a song from the 1950s which comes to mind…’Close the door, they’re coming in the window’…..

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  8. Hi, you are a woman after my own heart! I have a small urban garden and I am experimenting by trying to grow as much homegrown produce as possible. At the moment I am experimenting growing produce out of season … I am investing in greenhouses, raised beds and large containers. Please stay in touch. I will follow your blog to keep abreast of your progress.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so pleased to hear that my post resonated with you and that you are interested in urban gardening too! Thanks for the follow.
      If you live in Portugal, I would imagine it doesn’t get too cold. What kind of things can you grow in winter without a greenhouse?
      Did you start to become interested in gardening recently?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It can get cold here … but we are on the cliffs near the coast so we don’t tend to get ground frost. Night temperatures can dip to around freezing as we move into the winter. At the moment as for winter it is an experiment. Normal people are planting cabbages and onions, turnips, beets and carrots. I’m not sure yet what will grow beyond those. I will need to create
        mini greenhouses and get some fleece. We will see.

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            1. I drape it over some plants such as the Madagascan Cactus Palm to protect when the temperatures drop at night. Plus I will throw over the toms or cucumbers at night. Hubby has made a mini greenhouse and I have wood to make more. … and plastic.

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            2. Understood! We don’t get frosts here being so close to the coast. Sounds like a great way to protect the plants and extend your growing season.

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  9. Congrats on your garden. I am a great admirer & amazed that you’ve grown such a diverse set of produce.

    I had to look up choko. I know it as as chayote & cho-cho. How do you cook it? Growing up in the tropics where narry an apple could be found, we used ot make a mock apple pie using cho-cho cooked with lots of cinnamon & sugar πŸ˜‰ Nowadays, I’ll put it in soups. I’m curious on how you’d use it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Indeed! My last attempt to grow tomatoes ended up with 3 (three!) separate onslaughts by vicious, horned, fluorescent-green worms that decimated not the budding tomatoes, leaves, and many of the branches 😦

      I have read that eating locally grown food is also good for the immune system!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Eating locally is good for the immune system, hey E.W.? Well it works for the Australian koalas so why not for us? Those worms sound positively dreadful – something for Halloween!

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Fascinating. And great news. My son is allergic to cats, however, when a girlfriend had two of them he built up a tolerance to those two cats. He was still allergic but he coped better with those cats than with any others, because he was living with them for a few months. The body is an amazingly adaptive.

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    2. @Sandy – The choko! I might devote a post to that strange vegetable. It grows like wildfire here and I usually roast it or steam and serve it with some white sauce but also have added it to various vege and casserole style dishes. I will tag you when I write it.
      Serving chokos as a sweet dish is very different. I kind of like the thought of that as the texture of choko when it is cooked would not be too dissimilar from cooked apple.
      I tend to eat a lot of apples so I hate summer as there is never as much choice in apples. they are mostly sourced from cold storage and don’t taste anywhere near as good.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Amanda – I’ll look out for those choko recipes. It’s apple season now in Canada, and with the cooler weather, real apple pies! I love a good apple pie with lots of cinnamon. Unfortunately, I can’t make a good apple pie so it’s store boughten ones for me πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

          1. We are alike indeed. I make apple crisp and call it pie. I read somewhere that the difference between a crumble & a crisp is that a crisp is made with rolled oats & a crumble isn’t. It’s not a distinction most people make IMO as all apple crumbles I’ve ever tasted have oats.

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            1. I add oats to my Apple crumble, but never called it crisp. That sounds like an American term. I also add cinnamon and coconut to the brown sugar flour and butter mix.
              I could also add almond meal in place of some of the floor I guess?

              Liked by 1 person

            2. I like the idea of coconut. I’ll try that next time. For my crumble-crisp I add chopped walnuts and that takes it to the next level. Yum.

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    1. Hey Linda, Must be something telepathic happening between us as I was just thinking last night that I hadn’t heard from you for ages. Unsure if that is my fault for not checking the blog reader or if you have been offline. Anyhow, you were in my thoughts, and then presto, your comment appears.
      Paul is the loveliest guy and I often re-watch the shows. It is on sbs again atm, late in the afternoon I think… He reminds me so much of my son, whom I don’t get to see too often, so in a way, it is like spending time with my son! The book is taken partly from the things he used to cook on the program with some added extras and also loads of gardening hints. It is a good read, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your such a kind neighbour,lol. I was off the bloggesphere for a while just had a lot going on. But I was also thinking of everyone in our beautiful blogging community.
        We dont get tv(our choice couldnt be bothered to deal with reception) so I will see if I can find the show on youtube. I have the British? version on dvd & the book, although that guy kinda creeps me out for some reason so rude of me. Hes probably a lovely bloke. lol. Thats so nice you find a bit of comfort from missing your son he must be a real nice fella.

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        1. It is on youtube and you can follow the youtube link I posted in the body of the post for more episodes and video diaries.
          You know, I have the same feeling about Hugh F-W as you and I don’t know why. Just something there. Yet my Danish friend loved the UK version as she saw that first and so never watched the Aussie version as she thought it a poor cousin to Hugh’s production. No doubt it was, but in that was its real, genuine appeal. It was in no way pretentious, and thus, became feasible to the average aussie.
          I miss my son, but he faces many struggles in his life. When he was a teen and early twenties, he was so like Paul. Life hasn’t been kind to him, unfortunately.

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      1. Crowd out your whole little garden its fun. Here on our little selection we have a motto if you can’t eat it & or it’s not native don’t plant it. We have native trees & shrubs all throughout our vegie garden & fruit tree areas. Plant vegies under your ornamentals.
        At the moment I am researching what to plant out the very front (where a sidewalk would be) that the neighbours might enjoy. It’s fun. Warning once you start this journey its too fun to stop. lol

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        1. You are so right! Once you start… I have not asked Council if I can plant out the verge. It was my understanding that if I did so, I had to maintain it and if they needed to rip up the garden for some reason, they didn’t have to replace it. I am fine with that, but different councils differ in regulations. As I am only planting out things that are far preferable to weeds, I assume they won’t mind. They very rarely maintain the small park and verge, so I figure it is nicer to look at with productive and flowering plants than weeds. If they come and rip it all out, no worries.
          I love that we are on the same page on this garden journey!
          Take care on your break from the blogosphere! I hope to see you back again soon, when time permits.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Amanda, Thank you for your weekend coffee share. Congrats on your garden and keep us posted on your progress. There are a few gardeners and garden admirers in my weekly Weekend Coffee Share linkup so I hope you participate when you can. Happy gardening!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I will try to update you on the garden, but as we are coming in to summer, the crops start to drop off. Only the hardiest ones such as the Choko survive the heat, the bugs and the decrease of water. No matter how much we water them with the garden hose, the sun is so strong they wilt in the heat.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Snap Amanda! I’ve also got a photo with Paul West when he visited our small rural town Tumbarumba, while on a book tour, he’s such a lovely bloke. We shared thoughts on premature babies as my granddaughter had just been born at 25 weeks at the time and i was on my way to see her in England. Great to read your post πŸ™‚ #weekendcoffeeshare

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes quite a few years ago apparently but he understood my fears and wrote a lovely message in the book I bought for my daughter and son-in-law.

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  12. How wonderful that you were able to meet an author that you learned so much from in person. I’ve done that several times and was thrilled to have autographed copies of their books. I once stayed in Phoenix for 5 days in a motel to go to several of my favorite authors book signings. The book store gave me a t-shirt because I was there every day. πŸ™‚ Nothing obsessive there. πŸ™‚ I would have loved to learn all about that subject many years ago when I had a lovely large garden in California. I knew absolutely zero about gardening. So happy you were able to connect and continue to garden sustainable as best you can in your location. Have a good week, Amanda.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much dear Marlene. I don’t think you could ever call something obsessive when it comes to books. Although one of the kids at my junior high school was a tad that way. He read those young adult science fiction stories and read continuously to the detriment of his social development. He would read at school, on the bus and even when walking home from the bus stop.
      Your author signing sounds like it was a really special experience and I can certainly relate! Although this is the first ever book signing that I have been to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Let’s hope it won’t be your last author signing. I read that way as well. Books were my friends since I never fit in with most people anyway. I would walk the mall during my lunch break with a book in one hand and a sweet roll in the other. My husband finally intervened, insisting I get real food for lunch. The book still came along. πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

        1. A book is perfect company for lunch breaks at work, Marlene. But it intrigues me how you don’t trip over when you are are looking at a book and not looking where you were going.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Radar. πŸ˜‰ I don’t know how I did it then either. Maybe people just moved aside for the crazy lady. I did it 5 or 6 days a week so maybe I was and odd fixture. I had a 3 year old and not much time for myself. Reading was a passion.

            Liked by 1 person

  13. I enjoyed this post. I’ll have to check out the video. I love the idea of all of this and actually have the space to do it, but not the time I’d like. I know I can, it just takes some intentionality. I do try to be very mindful.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I could feel your excitement in this post, Amanda, and I had to smile a few times. Homegrown, no matter how small, is so worth it, but it takes time and one has to make an effort. Years ago, we started small with an herb garden, then we added home-grown tomatoes and peppers in pots, and two years later we rented a tiller and destroyed parts of our backyard. πŸ™‚ I am glad you bought the book.

    Liked by 1 person

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