If you participated in any of my workshops this year, then you know that in April, Alpine Greenhouses installed one of their greenhouses on our property. I’ve been pretty excited about it as it’s going to allow me to extend the growing season into November, with minimal inputs of electricity. I’ll also be able to start growing as early as February next year.
This is the main garden bed in the greenhouse which is 5 feet by 10 feet by 14 inches high. These can be custom built to the size specification that you would like. I wanted to maximize my growing space in the greenhouse so I made the bed as big as I could. There is a stepping stone in the middle of the bed so I can access everything easily.
In permaculture, one of the twelve principles is, ‘Obtain a Yield’. In other words, we aim to design our properties in such a way that we obtain a yield of something, whether that’s fruits, veggies, medicinal plants, pollinators, fertility etc. With this new greenhouse, I’ll not only be able to obtain a yield but I’m now able to extend that yield in time and in space.
What do I mean by that? Especially in a cold climate, we are looking for ways to have more of a harvest over a longer period of time. In addition, we want to maximize the growing space that we have and take full advantage of it.
In this short video, I give you a mini tour of what I have growing in my greenhouse and how I’ve maximized the growing space. So click on the video below to check it out! If you have any questions about greenhouse growing or experiences that you have had, I'd love it if you shared it in the comments below!
When I've asked workshop participants why they want a garden, a frequent answer that I receive is they want to give their children the experience of growing food. Indeed, producing food is one of the best ways to engage children outdoors.
Whether it's growing broccoli, carrots or tomatoes, or owning a small flock of chickens, giving children tangible ways in which to engage their senses while learning about the natural world is the best classroom there is. Kids love tasting, touching and smelling what's growing in the garden so it's always great to look for opportunities to make it their garden as much as yours.
One of the most compelling elements in my garden for kids is the herb spiral. Picture a 15-foot rectangular garden bed that is twisted up into a three-dimensional spiral form so that its total diameter is no more than five or six feet across. Bordered by rocks or bricks, this bed’s design creates microclimates because solar orientation and drainage change as the bed spirals upwards. The rock edging creates a heat sink, emanating heat at night, keeping the growing bed warmer than the traditional raised garden bed.
The bed’s microclimates allow you to plant your herbs according to their preferred growing conditions. Herbs such as rosemary, sage, and thyme, which thrive in drier, sunnier conditions, will be located near the top of the spiral; others like chives or parsley will be located towards the bottom where the bed holds more moisture. Herbs which have a tendency to bolt in the hot summer sun, like cilantro, can be located on the east side of the spiral where the afternoon sun will have less of an impact on the plants.
This is a beautiful, functional and space-saving garden bed but can be even more compelling if you plant it with herbs and edible flowers that kids love to touch, smell and/or eat. Here are some possible herbs and plants to add to your spiral that will be sure to tempt kids' taste buds or tickle their noses:
* As many of you probably know, it's best to be cautious with the mint family as it has a tendency to spread. You may want to plant these in pots close by, rather than in the actual herb spiral.
Spiral beds can also be planted with lettuce, peppers, and other veggies provided they have enough growing space. There are endless combinations and designs. Needless to say, you can be taken down a Pinterest rabbit hole if you google 'herb spiral'. You can make the herb spiral even more interactive by adding a pond at the bottom of the bed. Adding plants such as arrowhead (edible), horsetail and lilies create additional habitat for birds, insects and other pond life.
Your kids can be part of building, planting and harvesting plants from the herb spiral. This is a great addition to any garden, adding vertical height and curve to your space while at the same time making something engaging and fun for your kids!
Do you have other ideas for gardening with kids? I would love it if you shared them in the comments below!
Happy Spring! With the mild weather we’ve been having, I’m sure many of you have already been out in your garden, getting things ready for planting season. By now, you likely have at least a vague idea of what you want to grow. Now, a good question to ask yourself, if you haven’t already, is how much you should plant.
Having a garden usually means an abundance of vegetables (zucchini anyone?). And while it’s true that nothing in natural systems really goes to waste i.e. the veggies that you don’t harvest go to flower, attract beneficial insects, and ultimately get recycled back into the soil, a little bit of attention paid to how much you grow, might minimize any wasted time, effort, and water.
The question of how much you should plant, however, is a difficult one to answer. Like so many things in gardening, the answer is, “It depends.” It depends on what your family likes to eat, whether you just want summer vegetables or want enough for the entire year, how much space you have, how good your soil is and how much of a yield you can expect. In other words, there is no easy answer. However, here are some recommendations of where to get started.
If you have a smaller garden, I would recommend growing more of the higher value crops. For example, tomatoes, lettuce mix, spinach, peppers, garlic, basil and other herbs. To buy these, organic, at a grocery store, can be quite expensive. In addition, many of these items spoil quickly so having these fresh from your garden is a better idea.
In contrast, vegetables like carrots, parsnips, onions, winter squash, and potatoes are fairly inexpensive to buy from local growers. Here in Montana, for example, we can actually get local organic storage crops for our farmers, well into the winter. In addition, these crops typically take up a lot of space. If you have a limited growing area, I would plant less of these and more of the higher value veggies that I mentioned.
Also, it goes without saying that you should grow more of what you like to eat. In my family, we love fresh tomatoes and also use them in salsas and sauces. I love preserving tomatoes for the fall and winter too, a tasty reminder of the garden when there are 10 inches of snow on the ground. Because of this, we plant between 40 and 60 tomato plants. We also eat a lot of broccoli and greens so these take up a lot of real estate in the garden too. Think about what you shop for on a weekly basis and multiply that by 52 weeks to see how much you might need.
If you have any recommendations to share, I would love it if you posted them in the comments below!
Spring is just around the corner which means that garden planning is underway! For those of you who are planning a new garden or expanding an existing space, my video today might be for you.
I get this question a lot from clients and workshop participants, "What do you think of raised beds versus in-ground beds? What would you recommend?"
There are advantages and disadvantages to consider for both options. Click on the video below to learn what might be the right choice for you.
Be sure to share any questions you might have in the comments below. Also, if you have other pros and cons that you've encountered, please share them!
At the end of the growing season last year, one of my volunteers remarked, "I think you have given us hundreds of dollars worth of vegetables this fall." Indeed, growing your own garden often means that you are saving money on produce that would normally cost a lot of money in the grocery store, especially if it's organic.
However, with the money you invest in compost, seeds, and plants each season, not to mention the time, sometimes the vegetables or fruit that you're harvesting from your garden seem like they are worth their weight in gold. Granted, there are so many intangible benefits to having a garden and I would never give up gardening because the 'numbers don't pencil.' But, it is also possible to grow delicious and healthy food without breaking the bank.
In my video today, I go over my Top Ten Tips for Gardening on a Budget. These are recommendations that I practice myself that not only allow you to save money but have the added benefit of building soil, conserving water, cutting down on pests, and creating a more ecological garden.
Click below to learn more!
Do you have any practices that help keep your gardening budget lean? I would love it if you shared them in the comments below.
Thanks so much for watching and if you found this video helpful, please share it with your friends!
When I was at a coffee shop this past fall, I ran into a workshop participant and asked her if she had had success this past growing season. Along with admitting that she had been too busy to have a garden, she was also willing to share the fact that she had been a little intimidated when it came to getting started. She brilliantly coined the term, ‘daunted gardener’ and I thought it was such a fitting way to characterize the feelings of a beginner venturing down the growing path.
As someone trying to encourage more people to grow their own food, that conversation reminded me that my task is to not only give people good information about how to garden but to find ways to break through that fear of being a novice.
Now if you’re the type of person that dives right into new endeavors without a moment of hesitation, then I fully support you and this blog post might not be that useful. But I have a feeling that the struggles of that workshop participant are not hers alone.
I have been there, trust me. Paralyzed by perfection, uncertain about my skills, and terrified of failing, it was a few years before I felt like I had enough knowledge to start a garden of my own. It took volunteering on organic farms, taking workshops, and reading books before I even felt able to begin. Couple that doubt with a busy life and a short growing season and I get it...as much as you would like to have a beautiful garden where you pluck succulent tomatoes off the vine, or graze for luscious peas as you move effortlessly through your weed-free garden, when it comes down to it, it’s far easier, more convenient, and way less time-consuming just to buy vegetables at the grocery store.
Yet, like any new interest, if you lock onto something that intrigues or challenges you, it isn’t long before the act of resisting it is more damaging to the ego than the act of just beginning.
That inevitable day came for me several years ago when I tentatively bought some tomato and broccoli seeds at the nursery. Borrowing the fluorescent light fixtures from the garage and buying a few sunshine bulbs for them, I rigged up a seed starting system in the living room of our small two bedroom rental. I punctured some holes in recycled salsa containers, filled them with seed starting mix and, probably for the tenth time, reviewed my notes, read the seed packets, carefully planted those seeds in soil, and sprayed them with water.
I diligently cared for them every day, absolutely certain of my imminent failure.
To my surprise, most of the seeds germinated and then, after further review of my notes, I transferred them to bigger pots. Lo and behold, they grew into seedlings like the ones that I would see in the nurseries. Did that success infuse me with confidence so that I fearlessly planted my entire garden and basked in the glory of my yields?
Of course not.
At every turning point during that first growing season, I was wrought with uncertainty and self-doubt, second-guessing my decisions, my planting scheme, and the vegetables that I had chosen to grow. I would be lying if some of those same feelings don’t come up for me still, when I’m trying new seed varieties or new techniques. The feelings are just more muted by the years of experience that have convinced me of a couple truths:
First, seeds want to sprout, plants want to grow, and life wants to prevail despite our belief that we will perpetually fail, and second,
we will fail, and that’s completely normal, if not expected.
So, for the daunted gardeners out there, here is some advice to get you started. I’m not going to share the nuts and bolts of gardening with you. For that sort of information, you can take one of my workshops, go to my previous videos, or download My 5 Gardening Tips here. Rather, this is the advice to break through the mental blocks that keep you from beginning in the first place.
Intentionally carve out space in your life for gardening. Like anything meaningful in life, gardening takes commitment and dedication. I am not going to be the person that tells you that vegetable gardening can be done in 15 minutes/week. Nor am I saying that it is going to take you two hours/day. Instead, if it’s important enough, I’m going to ask you to shift something in your life to allow yourself the time to garden. The payback, I feel, far outweighs any sort of sacrifice you think you are making. Remember that your schedule will never magically open up. If you don’t plan for it, it will likely not happen.
Garden failures happen all the time. Whether it’s limited germination of carrots, winter squash devoured by voles, or limited fruiting because of shade or lack of fertility, I have finally learned to take these failures in stride, note them for next year, and look forward to trying again.
At every step throughout the growing season, recognize your successes. We are so quick to point out what is going wrong in our gardens (and in our lives) rather than being grateful for what is working. I may not have had a good carrot crop this past season but I had a great tomato harvest. It meant that I traded some of my tomatoes for a friend of mine's carrots. Problem solved, connection made, and delicious vegetables shared.
With yourself and with your garden. Allow yourself at least three seasons (or more!) to feel like you know what you are doing. We have a challenging growing climate. If it’s not the short growing season then it’s the hail, or the late frost, or poor soil, or the cold nighttime temperatures. Giving yourself only one year to ‘figure it all out’ is not realistic. Think about it, if you’ve been gardening for 20 years, it means you’ve only grown tomatoes 20 times. If someone is perfecting a song on the guitar, they’ve likely played it hundreds of times. As gardeners, we are limited by the natural cycles and the seasons. That is the beauty and the challenge of gardening.
Whether it’s a couple pots with tomatoes or a 4’ x 8’ raised garden bed, just planting some seeds or seedlings in the ground and seeing them grow will take the mystery out of the process. As your skills grow, so can your garden.
Your garden will be your best teacher on so many levels. Undoubtedly, it will teach you how to grow food and be more self-reliant. It will instill you with more respect and appreciation for your food, for the soil, and for the hard work that goes into putting nutritious meals on the table.
It will also teach you more intangible lessons like patience, understanding natural cycles, and the benefit of observation. Then, hopefully, over time, it will cut through your fear of failure, and encourage you to try again. Your garden will let you know that the natural world is forgiving of our mistakes, the challenge is more with us being forgiving of ourselves.
The reality is that what I do every year is not complicated. And even if it isn’t ‘perfect’, it still becomes a beautiful and riotous mess of greenery, attracting beneficial insects, creating habitat, and building fertility. A garden will challenge you in good and often surprising ways and when you have success, it will be sweet, meaningful, and nourishing.
As you look towards the spring gardening season, I wanted to share with you my Top Three Gardening Book Recommendations. In the age of Google, I realize that a lot of gardening information is just a click away. However, nothing beats a good gardening book that you will use year after year.
But when you go to choose a gardening book, the options can be a bit overwhelming. There is certainly something for everyone, from inspirational and philosophical to more practical DIY guides. The books I recommend in this video are more functional in their approach. They are books that I use as reference guides every growing season, ones that I have found most useful for detailed information about plants as well as garden design ideas.
For those of you on a limited budget, you can get a lot of great gardening books at the library, including the ones that I recommend. If you're considering buying, borrowing them first from the library allows you to make an informed decision and to buy the select few that you find really useful.
So click on the video below to learn more.
If you have gardening book recommendations that you would like to share, please share them in the comments below. Also, if you liked this video, I would appreciate you sharing it with your friends!
Thanks so much for watching and I'll be in touch soon,
Do you have big plans for your garden this spring and new ideas of what you're going to implement during the growing season? Do you start strong at the beginning of the growing season and find yourself petering out by July? Perhaps you're even 'over it' by August?
My video today talks about two very important tips in garden design. Starting small and staying close are the last two tips in my 5 Tips to Get your Garden Started. You really want to take these into account before the growing season gets underway. Remember to allow yourself to grow into your garden. You can always expand your garden but starting small and having small successes is preferable to going big and being overwhelmed mid-season by all the maintenance and watering chores.
Remember that “small is beautiful.” Starting small and staying close will keep you out of the realm of 'overwhelm' and make gardening a joy rather than a chore this season.
Click on the video below to learn more!
It seems like it's already spring in Montana...although we know better! But this milder weather is certainly inspiring me to start ordering seeds and planning my garden. My spring workshop line-up is out so if you haven't taken one of my workshops, check them out here. I would love to help you get started on your first garden or give you fresh ideas and concrete advice on improving your yields and making it one of your most successful growing seasons yet!
My video this week covers two of the most important aspects of gardening - soil and seeds. Click below to learn more about my strategies for increasing soil fertility in your garden, the three seed companies I would recommend and the one place I wouldn't recommend you go to get your seeds or transplants.
Lastly, what burning questions would you like to have answered before the growing season begins? Please leave those in the comments below. I will either answer them directly or make a video to respond!
Thanks again for watching,
P.S. If you didn't receive my Five Tips to Get Your Garden Started, you can click here to download that resource. Be sure to tell your friends!
It's still winter outside but believe it or not, it's time to start planning our gardens this spring.
If you're like me, overwhelmed by a growing list of tasks for your life :-), it's difficult to know where to start with garden planning, especially if you're a beginner gardener. That's why this next series of videos will take you through concrete steps to keep in mind as you look toward spring.
These are five guiding tips that I think you absolutely must factor in as you plan your garden.
Click on the video to get started!
Want to get the downloadable pdf that I refer to in the video? Sign-up for my e-newsletter here. This resource will give you a quick overview of my 5 Tips and a good guide for you to reference over the next couple months.
What are your tips for getting a garden started this spring? Please share them in the comments below!