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!
Since I've now moved from planting to maintenance mode in my garden, it's now time to think about fertilizing my crops. Remember that the reason our garden grown veggies are so delicious is because they are drawing nutrients out of the soil. While compost is a good spring amendment and encouraging microbial life in your soil is key to a healthy garden, sometimes our heavy feeder crops like tomatoes, squash, and corn need that extra boost.
So how do you do this without having to buy natural fertilizers every year? In my video today, I show you the basics steps of making comfrey tea, a liquid fertilizer that you can add to your crops throughout the growing season. With about 5 minutes of work and a little bit of wait time, you can make a nutrient rich cocktail for your plants. The cool bonus? You plant comfrey once and it provides fertility for your garden for the rest of your life! Not to mention the other benefits comfrey provides, which I mention in the video.
So click below and find out how you can grow fertility and make your own fertilizer!
Like I mention in the video, making comfrey tea is easy, but stinky! While the method I describe in the video is the most effective, here are a couple other options for making a liquid fertilizer:
1) Cut the fresh comfrey leaves into smaller pieces and add one gallon of water for every quart of comfrey. Leave it to sit for three days and stir daily. Since this is a much weaker tea, use it at full strength.
2) Air dry or dehydrate your comfrey leaves. Add an ounce of powdered leaves to a quart of boiling water. Once cool, cover and steep for 4 hours. Dilute with one gallon of water.
Remember that we are always trying to create closed loop cycles in our gardens and food forests. The fewer resources that you have to import onto your property year after year, the more regenerative and self-sustaining your garden, not to mention the money you save in the process.
What other ways do you boost fertility in your garden? Please share in the comments below!
The veggie garden is planted, my food forest is chugging away and now it's time to sit back, relax (kind of!) and let my garden ecosystem do the work. Of course, one of the most important elements to our success as gardeners are pollinators. Without them, a vegetable garden and a perennial food forest are not possible. In fact, nearly 75% of the flowering plants on Earth rely on pollinators to set seed or fruit. It’s no wonder that attracting them to your garden is such an important task.
Not only that, but attracting pollinators can be a fun and creative process, bringing beauty, art and productivity to your garden. So click on the video below to learn more.
Want even more information and detailed species lists of what to plant in our climate? Click here to download my 3 Steps to Attracting Pollinators Guide!
If you're craving green and a little inspiration for the growing season ahead, then my video today is for you. In it, I give you a tour of our food forest. Even though we live in a cold climate, it doesn't mean that we can't grow a lot of edible perennials in our yards. With 9 fruit trees, multiple berry bushes and a variety of other edible perennials and herbs, our food forest has turned into a very productive space in just 5 growing seasons.
What I love about permaculture and gardening is the opportunity to turn degraded landscapes into edible paradises of food, fertility, medicine, and wildlife habitat. When we bought our 3/4 acre property back in December of 2012, the back of the lot was just grass, with a Siberian Pea Shrub hedge defining the north property line and a large pile of garbage and organic matter piled up in one area. Having been a rental for several years before our purchase, not much attention had been paid to the outdoor landscape.
Through the method of sheet mulching, we added yards and yards of straw, woodchip, leaves, compost, and manure. Along with planting bare root fruit trees and shrubs and seeding annual crops, we eliminated roughly 8000 square feet of lawn and turned the area into a lush, edible landscape that has become the home for birds, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, earthworms and other microscopic life that dwells in the soil.
So check out the video below to get a tour of the forest! Then, I would love to hear from you. Are you growing fruit trees and berry bushes in your yard? If not, would you like to? Share your successes and challenges in the comments below!
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!
Do you have chickens or a chicken tractor? Please share in the comments below how you use them in your yard and garden!