We know that food, especially grown in our backyard gardens, is medicine. Eating fresh vegetables and fruit every day is fundamental to a healthy body and mind.
Yet there are, of course, additional plants that have medicinal values beyond just being super nutritious. They help boost our immunity, soothe our throats, calm a fever, heal our skin, aid with insomnia and much more. Just as growing our own food allows us to become more self-reliant, growing our own medicine gives us that same sense of agency.
If you’ve ever wanted to grow and make your own medicine, then my video today is for you. I’m very excited because this is the first video that I’ve made where I bring on a special guest! This past June, I had the pleasure of teaching a permaculture workshop at the Green Path Herb School in Missoula, Montana. While I was there, the co-director of the school, Elaine Sheff, kindly agreed to be interviewed.
As I explain in the video, Elaine is an herbalist extraordinaire, with thirty years of experience in the field. Needless to say, I knew she was the one to ask about the top five medicinal plants to grow in cold climates. Not only does Elaine share and explain the uses of these plants, if you stick around for the entire video, you’ll also learn about 4 additional ‘weeds’ that have so many beneficial properties. These are weeds that are most likely already growing in your yard.
I do have to apologize in advance for the audio in this video. Unfortunately, it’s not the greatest quality as we were having some issues. It was also related to the fact that Elaine’s beehives were buzzing like crazy! But I promise that if you stick with it, you'll learn a ton!
Then, I’d love to hear from you. What medicinal plants are you growing in your garden and which ones will you plant next growing season? Please share those in the comments below!
Needless to say, these cold temperatures haven't exactly been the most inspiring in terms of getting out in the garden this spring!
It's at times like these, when I'm still slipping on long underwear in the morning and donning my down jacket for the 8th month in a row that I so very much appreciate having a greenhouse. Even if just a little bit of light penetrates through the clouds, the temperatures in the greenhouse are going to be at least 10 to 20 degrees warmer than outside.
Especially in our cold climate, the ability to extend our season and enjoy early and late season greens while giving our warm season crops a little more protection is really needed. Right now, I have an abundance of lettuce, arugula, spinach, kale, pea shoots, cilantro and dill in the greenhouse. Meanwhile, my cool season crops outside are fighting against the wind and the rain and planting tomatoes in my outdoor garden still seems like a pipe dream.
So check out my video below to learn some of the tips and tricks that I use in my greenhouse to maximize the space, minimize energy use, and mitigate pests and disease.
Then, I would love to hear from you. What season extension techniques and/or greenhouse tips and tricks do you use? Please share them in the comments below!
There’s a philosophical and a practical side to gardening, “the why” we do it and then “the how.”
In most of my videos, I cover “the how” of gardening, giving you advice and recommendations on everything from ripening tomatoes, to composting, to establishing a food forest. And in the case of my video today, the Top 5 Seed Companies that I would recommend.
However, before you dive into watching, I wanted to spend a little bit of time talking about seeds, delving more into the philosophical, before you get to the practical.
In the chaos of early spring, I often take seeds for granted. I’m so focused on the “doing” aspect of gardening i.e. prep the soil, plant the seed, water, repeat, that I don’t spend too much time in contemplation mode.
When I allow myself to get quiet, to really consider the meaning and potential of seeds, it sort of blows me away. Every season, each tiny seed that I have in my hand holds the potential for generations of food. GENERATIONS.
Because if I continued to save the seed from those plants year after year, to cultivate varieties that do well in our cold climate, to share those seeds with my friends and neighbors and to have them do the same with different plants, then we start to move towards a truly local and resilient food system.
Of course, that’s how it used to be. In an age where we can walk into a grocery store and get whatever we crave on demand, we often forget how our ancestors were inextricably tied to their food and to their land. Only since the advent of industrial agriculture has this connection been severed, taken from the realm of the commons and put under the control of the corporations.
Fundamentally, this is why I have a garden. Yes, the fresh tomatoes are delicious but for me, it’s about reclaiming our food from the monocultures, the pesticides, and the chemical fertilizers that impoverish our soil, our health, and our communities.
Our food system has a long way to go in terms of seed banks in local communities across the country, each adapted to that particular region. In the meantime, My Top 5 Seed Company Recommendations are good go-to places to get your seed. The first two companies are regional sources for seeds and the next two are companies who are at the forefront of seed diversity, seed saving, and reintroducing heirloom varieties.
As we retrain ourselves as agricultural workers, as we rediscover truths that used to be so much a part of the fabric of what it was to be a human being, we start to appreciate the ‘little things’, like seeds, that are actually quite significant. They are what connect us to the earth, to our food, to our bodies, and to our spirit.
So though I may talk about the practical in this video, I encourage you to come back to the philosophical, to the heart of gardening, and to the potential of the seed this gardening season.
Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed... Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders. – Henry David Thoreau
I'm not sure about you but for me, composting in the winter time is a bit of a challenge. Though it's possible to insulate an outdoor pile and add high nitrogen materials to keep the pile cooking, in my opinion, it's not really worth the time and energy.
After I've thrown the kitchen scraps that I can to my chickens, I do two things with the remaining material:
This video is actually from the Building Healthy Soil Module of my Online Edible Backyards Series (which is available at a 25% discount here).
In having a few options for composting, I am following the permaculture principle of 'each function is supported by multiple elements'. In other words, I want to compost and cut down on my waste. How do I do that? I have three different ways: feeding scraps to my chickens, an outdoor compost pile, and an indoor worm bin. Make sense? So when one option, like the outdoor pile, is unavailable, then I have a few other options to fulfill this function of zero waste. Building redundancy in your system increases your resilience.
If worms kind of make you squirm and/or you don't want to don your parka and trudge through the snow to your compost pile, then I also want to let you know about the business, Happy Trash Can. Happy Trash Can offers a residential curbside composting service. Even if you don't need this service yourself, I'd love it if you passed along this information to your neighbors and friends. Learn more about them here.
Whether you have an outdoor compost pile, an indoor worm bin, or have someone picking up your kitchen scraps, let's all work together to divert as much food waste from our landfill as possible!
Enjoy the video,
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.
I distinctly remember planting my bare root grape vines in late April, 4 years ago, with a couple volunteers, Tim and Carli. It was their first day helping out and I felt kind of bad about the task I had chosen. Rather than giving them an uplifting experience of planting seeds in a backyard garden, we were working next to my driveway, along a busy noisy road.
I had my reasons for the placement of the grapes (which I cover in the video) and of course, Tim and Carli were excellent sports. We busted up the sod along the fence, planted the vines, and mulched them well with wood chip. That same season, I planted some hyssop and oregano in that area too. And in the first year, the vines produced a couple select bunches. Every since then, they have been consistent and abundant.
Like I mention in the video, I'm no expert grape grower and I'm certainly still figuring out the art of pruning. However, we've had quite a bit of success and gotten great yields. I share some of my tips with you in the video below.
After watching the video, I'd love to hear from you. Have you had any grape growing successes and challenges? Please share in the comments below!
The growing season is in full swing and the garden is now in production mode. These are the days you really appreciate as a gardener, where you can wander and graze in your garden, in the early morning, and come back to your kitchen with a bowl full of garden goodness.
This is the time of summer crops like green beans, basil, zucchini, yellow squash, the occasional ripe tomato and one of my personal favorites, fava beans. I'm partial to fava beans, not only because they are delicious but because I think the plant itself, with its black and white flowers, is beautiful. Plus, this particular vegetable offers so many other benefits that I cover in my video.
So check out my video below to understand why growing this multifunctional crop is good for you and your garden!
Next to dealing with late frosts in June, there's nothing more frustrating as a gardener than having your plants munched on by critters. After the effort of babying those seedlings throughout the spring and meticulously planting them in nicely amended soil, it's disheartening to wake up one day to flea beetles boring small holes in your potato leaves, green juicy cabbage loopers taking chunks out of your broccoli leaves, or aphids attacking your pepper plants.
But as an organic gardener, you know that the last thing I'd recommend is grabbing a bottle of pesticide. Pesticides not only kill beneficial insects and soil microorganisms, they only treat the symptom and not the cause of the pest. So what options do we have instead?
In my video today, I talk about some general pest and weed management strategies that you can adopt in your garden. Rather than going to war with the pests, this approach encourages you to add life to your garden. Click on the video below to learn more!
What pest and weed management strategies do you use? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!
As more and more people move to urban areas, it's become increasingly important to learn how to garden in small spaces. Though we're fortunate in Montana to still have a lot of land and open spaces, our cities are expanding, especially Bozeman! The more savvy we can get with urban garden designs, the more possibilities we provide ourselves for growing a resilient city which is more food secure.
Though I have ample space to grow on our 3/4 acre lot, many of my client's have much smaller urban yards. It's interesting to contrast the approach that I take to each space. What I like about small spaces, is the ability to be more innovative in your approach. Space limitations often allow for more creative solutions.
In my short video today, I give you a tour of a client's property where, in under 200 square feet, we've managed to pack in quite an array of both annual and perennial food. From elderberries to gooseberries to raspberries to Brussels sprouts, corn, leeks and cauliflower, it just goes to show that you don't need a huge space to grow a lot of food.
In fact, even if we used just one of her raised beds, with season extension techniques and trellises, the bed could be producing a lot of food from early April to at least mid-October.
So if you have a small space, don't let it stop you from growing. Check out the video below to get some inspiration and ideas!