If you have been following me for awhile, you know that my family and I love garden tomatoes. In fact, sometimes I think it's the only reason why I have an annual garden. Every year, I start tomatoes from seed, babying the seedlings throughout the spring, and then planting at least 30 plants in the ground over Memorial Day.
Looking back, It's strange to think that as a kid, I didn't like fresh tomatoes at all. However, I now attribute that to the fact that grocery-bought tomatoes are often mealy and fairly tasteless. I'll admit it, since having a garden, I've become a tomato snob and resist buying tomatoes from the grocery store after we've run out at home. That's why preserving tomatoes, so that we can enjoy them well into the winter, is so important to me.
Canning tomatoes, for many, is their go-to method of preserving. However, the time and energy that it takes to can, not to mention the disaster I make of my kitchen in the process, makes it my least favorite way to put up tomatoes. So check out my video below to discover the top three methods I use to enjoy garden fresh tomatoes when there is a foot of snow on the ground. These methods are simple, quick and easy.
How do you preserve tomatoes? I'd love it if you shared your techniques in the comments below!
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
- Robert Frost
I've had that Robert Frost poem memorized since 8th grade, when we read The Outsiders in English class. Even back then, I remember being struck by its literal and metaphorical meaning.
Since becoming a gardener, that poem has resonated with me even more. I find myself reciting it fairly often as the growing season wanes. From the first flush of green in the spring, to the hum of the garden in the summer, to the stunning fall colors, our gardens ebb and flow, reminding us that they are dynamic living systems that experience life and death on a predictable basis.
As I was cutting back my tomatoes a week and a half ago, I shot this video (below) in order to give you a little tour of the annual garden and to go over some of my end of season garden tips.
Shooting the video, I now recognize, was also a way of stalling. I always hold off on cutting down my tomatoes and other warm season crops until I am absolutely positive that it is time. I can feel myself delaying the process on the day that I do it. I uncover the frost cloths and blankets first, then find other things to do in the garden. Inevitably, I double check that it's actually going to get as cold as predicted. Then, I start cutting back a few plants, but only those that are looking haggard, the ones that I would cut down anyway. Without fail, I continue to find other projects to do in the garden (like shooting videos!) for another little while. Convinced that the weather must have changed, I look back at the week-long nighttime forecast to see whether it's miraculously decided to be in the high 40s for the next 10 days. Then finally, after several hours have passed, I do cut down all the warm season crops.
Having done this now for years, I realize that it is a pattern, it's my process of saying goodbye to the growing season, of accepting the changing season and surrendering to the coming winter.
So check out my video below to see the tour. Do you have an end of season pattern or process? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!
In the video, I mention my Fall Garden Checklist which you can download here.
Though we’re still more than a month away from the official start of winter, it seems to have arrived in Montana and with it, the end of the gardening season. I do still have greens chugging away slowly in the greenhouse but the rest of my garden has been put to bed and it’s time to retreat indoors. Activity gives way to dormancy, both in the garden and in my life. While it’s true that electricity, televisions, computers and cell phones have allowed us to live somewhat of an artificial existence, we can not deny the changing of the seasons. Winter invites us to quiet the mind and still the soul.
For me, winter has always marked a time to cozy up, to read, reflect, and to write, rather than the more "productive" action mode of the spring and summer. It’s actually quite liberating to look outside during the winter and not think of twenty things that I should be doing in the garden!
So in the spirit of some inward reflection, I am excited to share my latest video with you today. This is a little different from my past videos because it’s a webinar and conversation between me and my friend, Jennifer Williams. In the webinar, we discuss how ecological principles can be applied to our human relationships and invite you to reflect on how these principles play themselves out in your life.
Jennifer is the founder of Heartmanity, a center whose mission is to empower and heal relationships while arming people and businesses with the skills they need to thrive. Though she deals with the dynamics between people and I deal in the realm of plants, we kept on coming up with parallels between the ways in which we garden and the strategies we can use in our personal relationships.
In fact, there are so many similarities between creating healthy ecosystems in our gardens and creating healthy relationships in our lives. Using five ecological principles that create healthy ecosystems, we delve deep into how these principles can be brought into the social realm, helping us cultivate thriving relationships with ourselves, our spouses, children and in our community.
Though it’s a webinar, you can also just listen to the audio. In it, we refer to a downloadable pdf that is available here. Listen to this webinar and transform your inner and outer landscape!
Then, I would love it if you shared what you thought in the comments below. Does this way of looking at relationships resonate with you?
Remember to download the worksheet here if you want to follow along with us!
Chickens are one of the easier and more useful animals to have in your backyard gardens. In permaculture, they are often the example of 'each element performing multiple functions.' In other words, having chickens as part of your backyard ecosystem accomplishes several functions at once. Not only can they provide you with eggs and meat but their manure acts as fertilizer for your garden, their feathers and egg shells can be added to your compost piles, and they can help clean up your garden beds.
In our yard we have both a permanent coop and a chicken tractor that I move around the yard. In cold climates, just having a chicken tractor wouldn't be sufficient enough protection and insulation for the birds during the winter. Our permanent coop, on the other hand, is insulated and in an area of our yard that is quite protected. I find I am only adding supplemental heat to the coop for the few days every winter when it dips below -20 degrees. Conscious of zoning in permaculture (i.e. putting things that need your daily attention closer to the house), I also placed the permanent coop roughly 50 feet from the backdoor for ease of feeding them every day. When you're making a trip out to the coop twice a day in the snow, you want to make that journey as short as possible!
Though I would love to have the chickens roam free around the yard, if they did so, they would destroy the growing garden fairly quickly and decisively. Instead, I've opted for letting them move around in the yard and garden in a chicken tractor. A chicken tractor is a moveable coop on wheels. The tractor that we built houses two to three chickens at a time. Since we have five chickens, I switch out the ones that go in the tractor. Oftentimes, it's the naughty chickens...or the ones that I can manage to catch! There is a roosting bar and two nesting boxes in the tractor so the chickens are able to stay in there for days at a time.
Having this tractor allows me to pick and choose the areas of my annual garden beds where my chickens can scratch up and fertilize. I use the tractor in the spring and fall in my annual garden beds and place it in other areas of the yard during the summer. Check out my video below where you can see the tractor (and chickens) in action!
There are a variety of plants you can grow around the chicken coop that benefit chicken's overall health. Some of them include mint, rosemary, lavender, and sage. To learn more about chicken-friendly plants you can grow around your coop, check out this article and the graphic below from Insteading.com!
Do you have chickens or a chicken tractor? Please share in the comments below how you use them in your yard and garden!
The beginning of a new year is always a time for making plans and resolutions, whether it's planning your garden for next season or bigger life projects related to work, family or community.
But before you forge ahead into 2017, I want you to take a moment, if you haven't done so already, to acknowledge all that you accomplished in 2016. Don't just do this in your head, put it down on paper. Take a full blank sheet of paper and write down everything that you did. Whether it has to do with your work, your garden, your kids, your house projects, or volunteer work, write it down, and fill up the page.
If you're like me, this isn't an easy exercise. It's especially tempting to follow up that list with everything that you didn't do, isn't it? The regrets, the failures? But now is not the time to dwell on what you may or may not have done, now is the time to acknowledge and congratulate yourself on what you did.
Now why would I have you do this?
In ecological terms, we can't hope for a plant to grow and thrive if we don't feed it with nutrients and replenish the soil year after year. The same goes for human beings; we can't continue being healthy and doing good work if we don't acknowledge and feed ourselves with gratitude and an awareness of everything that we have done each year. The list that you make serves as your own 'nutrient' bank, as fertilizer to feed yourself and to motivate you to move forward in the year ahead.
As gardeners, we are constantly looking for ways to grow fertility on our land and to hold it in the soil. As human beings, we need to look for the ways in which we can replenish ourselves in the same way. So in addition to writing your list, remember to participate in what feeds you, gives you energy and motivates you this year.
So make a list and let me know how it goes in the comments below. When you sit down and give this exercise the time it deserves, you may be surprised at everything you accomplished!
Here's to a happy and healthy 2017 where we continue to regenerate land, plant gardens, create resilient local economies, foster hope, and build community.
My very best to you,
We all know that gardening in a cold climate isn't for the faint of heart. With the threat of a frost as early as the beginning of September, we have to look for techniques to extend our growing season as much as possible, especially if we have unripe tomatoes or peppers in the ground.
To that end, I have two videos for you today: my first video shows how I keep harvesting peppers off of the vines long after the first hard frost hits and my second video shows you my double layer system of covers that helps beat a hard frost.
Enjoy the videos and then let me know (in the comments below) what successes or failures you have had with season extension in the fall!
My family loves garlic, from soups to stir-fries to pasta dishes, we use it all the time in our cooking. Not only that but garlic has great health benefits like boosting the immune system and reducing blood pressure. There was a time when I would shock my friends and relatives by swallowing whole cloves when I felt a cold coming on. Sure enough, it was quite effective, though not good for my social life!
For all of these reasons, I'm always sure to plant an abundance of garlic in the fall. In my short video today, I go over how to plant garlic. Here in Montana, the best time to plant it is in the fall, giving us an extra jump start on the season come early spring. Indeed, garlic sprouts are one of the first flashes of green in the garden after such a long winter.
Enjoy the video and if you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below! And if you like this video, please share it with your friends!
In a video from this past winter, I talked about my Top Ten Tips for Gardening on a Budget. One of those tips is saving seeds. In addition to saving you money, saving seeds allows you to set up more of a closed loop system on your property, working towards less and less inputs that you need to buy or bring onto your site year after year. Just like you want to grow and build fertility on your site so you don't have to import manure and compost, you also want to figure out strategies where you are buying less seed and saving more from the plants that you grow. This not only sets you up to be more food secure but saving seed allows you to start selecting for varieties of vegetables that are uniquely adapted to your environment.
Of course, you may curse me for adding yet another task to your fall garden checklist :-) ; I completely understand that it's a busy time of year. At first glance, seed saving can seem like a daunting endeavor. So, as always, I suggest starting small. Don't try to save the seeds from every single type of vegetable you are growing. Instead, choose a couple to begin with and grow your seed saving operation from there, as your skills and interest increases.
Some seeds are easier to save than others too. So what better way to start seed saving than by making up a batch of fresh salsa (a favorite in our household). While cutting up the ingredients for your salsa, you can save the seeds of two of the easier seed saving plants: tomatoes and peppers. Making a batch of fresh salsa = saving seeds for future batches of fresh salsa. Win, win. In permaculture, this would be called 'stacking functions', in other words, getting multiple yields from one task or element. In this case, making salsa gives you delicious food while at the same time allowing you to save seed.
Ideally you are saving the seeds from some of the first tomatoes to ripen.This means that you will progressively be selecting for earlier ripening tomatoes. If that's not possible, still select those that have a good shape and taste. Also, be sure to only save seeds from open-pollinated and/or heirloom varieties as opposed to hybrid varieties.
While you're cutting your tomatoes (be sure they are all from the same variety), just take the seeds that are left on the cutting board and put them into a small glass. Add a small amount of water to that glass and let the seeds ferment for about 4 days, stirring each day. This fermentation process protects against seedborne bacterial canker. After the fermentation process, wash your seeds and dry them on a piece of paper for a couple weeks.
I recently heard from one of the foremost seed saving experts, Cheryl Moore Gough (co-author of the Complete Guide to Saving Seeds), that though recommended, she finds that this fermentation process is not even necessary. Cheryl just takes the seeds out and dries them on a paper towl and that's it.
Again, as you're cutting up the ripe peppers for that delicious salsa, set aside the seeds that you already have to scrape out of there. Spread them on a piece of paper to dry. Once dry, they are ready for storage. Pepper seeds are viable for 2 years whereas tomato seeds are viable for 4.
With all seeds, remember that cool, dry and dark is best for seed storage. I store my seeds in our basement, for example, in reused seed packets and label accordingly. This is a good short-term storage option, especially because we have such a dry climate. For longer term storage, moisture-proof sealed containers are better such as glass jars (e.g. mason jars) or freezer bags.
If you want to get more involved with seed saving, I highly recommend the book, The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds by Bob Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough. Cheryl is a local Bozemanite and a fountain of knowledge on seed saving.
A hard frost has finally hit and I'm ready to put my annual gardens to bed for the winter. For some of you, this information is probably coming a little late as you've already moved on from gardening season. However, because of the mild fall we've been having, I've wanted to keep my tomatoes and peppers in the garden for as long as possible, encouraging them to ripen on the vine as their taste and flavor is so much better.
But the projected minus 27 degree nighttime temperatures last week had me convinced that it was time to cut all my warm season crops to the ground!
Meanwhile, I have kept my kale, broccoli, and chard in the ground as they can withstand these cooler temperatures. It's not that I expect them to grow much more, it's just that I currently have no place for them indoors! The same goes for my carrots and potatoes - I have mulched these beds with leaves so that I can keep them stored in the ground for as long as possible.
So if you're still up for one last push in the garden this season and want to improve your soil and have it ready for the spring season, then check out my video here or below. In it, I go over my 5 Steps for Putting your Vegetable Gardens to Bed.
Then, I would love to hear from you about what tips and advice you might have for putting your gardens to bed. Please share them in the comments below!
My best to you this fall,
We're nearing the end of August which, in a cold climate, usually means the end of the growing season. Are you worried that those luscious green tomatoes on the vine will never see their true color before the frost hits?
Let's face it, there are only so many fried green tomatoes that you can eat. That's why you'll want to watch my video below about how to ripen your tomatoes when you have a short growing season. In it, I explain a few tips that you will want to do straight away to help your tomatoes mature. These tips are so effective that I barely end up eating any green tomatoes!
Then, if you have any questions or additional tips that you would like to share, I would love it if you shared them in the comments below.