Fall has arrived in Montana and even though we’re still enjoying warm days, the evenings are getting cooler, the leaves are changing color and harvest season is upon us. We’ve already had our first hard frost but luckily, with frost cloth and blankets, most of my garden survived!
This past weekend, I processed all of our grapes into juice and jam. I’ve picked the apples from one of our trees but am still waiting on the pears and the rest of our apples to mature. The pumpkins are starting to turn orange and I’m crossing my fingers that the rest of my winter squash will mature before our next hard frost. Homemade salsa, apple and beet salad, basil pesto, zucchini muffins, garden stir-fries, roasted beets, and veggie soup have all been on the menu lately. This is a time of abundance in the garden and I’m so grateful.
Though I’m enjoying the garden bounty, the backdrop of these times has left my heart heavy. I feel like every time I’ve sat down to write a newsletter over the past few months, we’re marking an unprecedented moment in history. And this time, it’s the wildfires raging in the west.
For those of us in the Bozeman area, we had our own experience with wildfire just a couple of weeks ago. During the weekend of September 4th, the Bridger Foothills Fire burned 8,200 acres and 28 homes were lost. As I watched the fire from our backyard on Friday and Saturday, my heart sank. Though I understand that fire is an integral part of a forest ecosystem, it doesn’t make it any easier to experience the loss that comes with it. And, of course, the scale of the fires along the west coast is not normal. A warming climate and years of drought have led to an unprecedented fire season.
My heart and thoughts are with the families, the firefighters, and the forest ecosystem of plants and animals that are suffering through this crisis. To say that we are living through uncertain times is an understatement.
If there was ever a time to plant more trees, grow more food, and become more self-reliant, it is now. I am feeling this urgency more and more every day.
It’s time for action. Taking what small steps you can to build your resilience, to increase your skills, to connect with your community, and to grow our local food system is what is needed at this moment in history.
And don’t get me wrong, this call to action doesn’t come from a place of fear, it comes from one of hope, renewal, and a belief in a regenerative future.
That’s why I’m excited to share my video with you today. In it, I not only give you a tour of our 7 year-old food forest, but I offer some design advice if you want to plant one of your own.
If you have the land and the space, planting a food forest is an act of resilience. As I describe in the video, food forests have several yields: food and medicine for your family, pollinator habitat, soil-building, and the opportunity for connection and community. And as the forest matures, the yields only increase, creating a web of relationships that is strengthened year after year.
As always, if you have any questions or comments about planting a food forest, please share them in the comments below.
“I do not allow myself to be overcome by hopelessness, no matter how tough the situation. I believe that if you just do your little bit without thinking of the bigness of what you stand against, if you turn to the enlargement of your own capacities, just that itself creates new potential. I think what we owe each other is a celebration of life and to replace fear and hopelessness with fearlessness and joy.” - Vandana Shiva
I hope your gardens are growing well. It’s the height of the season and that sweet time of year. I thought I'd take this opportunity to give you a little glimpse of my kitchen garden. As you’ll see from the video below, my kitchen garden is chugging along. I’m harvesting kale, lettuce, chard, peas, kohlrabi, garlic scapes and broccoli right now and my first ripe tomatoes and beets will be coming out of the greenhouse very soon!
I absolutely love this part of the growing season. The frenzy of the planting season is over and the garden starts to grow itself. My mornings are usually spent wandering the garden, doing a little weeding, a little foraging, sometimes watering, and obviously harvesting. It has become a refuge for me during these uncertain and tumultuous times. The constant birdsong, the bees buzzing, and the butterflies and dragonflies flitting about the garden bring me back to the present moment and remind me that natural systems are always here to support us.
Before diving into the video, check out this overhead shot of the kitchen garden. What a difference two months can make!
As always, let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!
I’ve been thinking a lot about composting over the past couple of weeks. Probably because turning my compost pile is on my list of tasks but also because planting season is winding down and I’m beginning to turn my attention to other aspects of the garden. Hands-down, how to compost is one of the questions I get most often in my consultations with clients.
Getting good at composting is all about taking the time to understand the science of decomposition, mixing the right ingredients together, letting natural systems do the work and, ultimately, ushering in a pretty incredible transformation. This transformation helps build your soil, which is a key aspect of your garden, the foundation upon which healthy food and a resilient life are built.
And as with so many processes in the garden, composting becomes a teacher for other aspects of our lives.
Despite the long list of garden tasks over the past few weeks, I’ve naturally been preoccupied, saddened, and angered with what is happening in our country and in the world. I’ve been reflecting on how we can take this moment in time – with the pandemic, the civil unrest, the injustice against communities of color, the divisiveness in our national politics, and transform it into something regenerative, something that helps build a more just and equitable future for all.
And that’s why I’ve been thinking a lot about composting. In composting, we understand and appreciate that decomposition does not happen right away. Transformation is a process and a balancing act. If we don’t have enough moisture in a compost pile, it’s static; if we add too many kitchen scraps, it will putrefy; if we don’t aerate the pile, it will start to smell.
We can’t transform kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich soil overnight, just like we can’t transform our society overnight. Both processes need our participation and take time, observation, attention, and understanding.
Like everything that I’ve attached myself to, whether it’s gardening or social justice, this is a marathon, not a sprint. We are playing a long game, one that demands patience, care, and community building. From observing patterns in natural systems, we also know that disruption can lead to regeneration.
So though my video is about composting, I hope that it also gets you to think about the promise and possibility of transformation. In it, I take you through the ins and outs of building a hot compost pile. This video is taken from the Building Healthy Soil Module of my Online Edible Backyards Series.
On a practical level, my intent is to clear up any questions you may have with regards to composting. In a broader sense, my hope is that as you build your compost pile, you are reminded of that process of transformation and the part you need to play in it, both in your garden and in your community.
I’ve accepted that I may never see the change I want to see in the world, but I take solace in the fact that I’ll play a small part in its transformation to a more resilient future.
Enjoy the video and let me know if you have any additional questions in the comments below!
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!