The promise of spring is in the air! I have tiny arugula, spinach, and lettuce seedlings coming up in the greenhouse and the snow is slowly melting off my annual garden beds. We've been pruning our trees in the food forest and I'll be tackling the berry bushes by the end of the week. I love this renewed sense of hope and possibility as we emerge from a long and cold winter.
If you watched my Planting Calendar video a few weeks ago then you'll know that now is the time to start planting seeds indoors. In cold climates, we need to get a jumpstart on the season. We do this by starting some of our crops indoors so that they get to be big enough before moving them to our gardens outside.
Starting seeds indoors can save you a lot of money in the long run as one packet of seeds can yield dozens of seedlings. Plus, you get to grow the varieties that you would like, rather than choosing from what the nursery has to offer. It's also rather nourishing to nurture and care for these beautiful green seedlings while it's still brown and snowy outside.
If you're excited about the prospect of a little indoor gardening then you'll want to check out my video today. In it, I go through the materials you'll need to start seeds indoors as well as the process that I use. So click on the video below to learn more!
As I write this, there's about 4 feet of snow piled against the south side of the greenhouse, the pond is almost completely obscured and the chickens are getting a little stir-crazy having been cooped up in their house. The thermometer reads 10 degrees F, which seems balmy compared to the subzero temperatures that we've been experiencing over the past couple of weeks.
But, believe it or not, it really is time to start planning for the growing season ahead.
In my video today, I wanted to share one of the most useful resources I have in my vegetable gardening toolkit - the Planting Calendar. In gardening, especially in cold climates, timing is everything. This Planting Calendar will give you a good guideline for what to plant when as we move into spring. It will also give you an idea of when to start your seeds indoors. Click on the video to learn more and then download my calendar below!
Click here to download my Planting Calendar. Remember, use this as a guide but be sure to check with your gardening neighbors and friends about dates that may be more specific to your site.
Have questions? Please ask 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,
Happy New Year!
I hope you had a wonderful holiday season filled with meaningful connection, delicious food, and some down time.
Though I always like to enter a new year with hope, energy, and positivity, I have to say that listening to the news every day often counters those feelings. The top news headlines today include the US government shutdown, the opioid crisis, glaciers retreating in Central Asia, and the attack on US troops in Syria. Not exactly uplifting stories.
I have often wondered what this world would look like and how different we would all feel, if the morning news included reports of land restoration, of building community, of job creation in a green economy, of local farmers growing organic food. I know these stories are happening, they just aren’t reported nearly as often.
That’s why I wanted to share the three inspiring books that I'm reading this winter. When the good news doesn’t come to us, we have to seek it out.
1. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
This is an incredible book and will make you want to wander in the woods or dig in your garden. As a botanist but also a Potawatomi woman, Kimmerer weaves science together with indigenous teachings to show us how the natural world brings us so many gifts and lessons.
From the gift of strawberries, to harvesting maple syrup, to the three sisters garden and picking sweetgrass, the storytelling is exquisite. It’s a true reminder of our connection to the natural world, the reciprocal relationship that we need to rediscover, and an inspiration to continue the work of restoration, for the land and for ourselves.
2. Fertile Edges: Regenerating land, culture and hope by Maddy Harland
Maddy Harland is the editor of the Permaculture Magazine International, an incredible resource for anyone wanting to learn more about permaculture. Fertile Edges is a compilation of her editorial articles over the past 25 years of the magazine’s publication, chronicling the rise of permaculture and the positive developments of this global movement, amidst the backdrop of the environmental crises facing us.
This book embodies the whole impulse of permaculture, to be aware of the challenges ahead but to stay firmly grounded in and to act on the myriad solutions that are available to us. As Harland describes in the book, this is the essence of permaculture: applied positive vision.
3. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken
This book should be required reading in every high school across the planet. I think we would cultivate a different future for ourselves if every young person were aware of the solutions presented in this book. Compiled by a 120-person Advisory Board of prominent geologists, engineers, agronomists, biologists, economists, climatologists, and botanists, Drawdown outlines 100 solutions to reverse global warming. These are solutions that are currently in practice worldwide. The book ranks each solution’s impact based on CO2 reduction, its net cost, and its lifetime savings. There is also a really great website connected to the book.
Wouldn’t you know, 8 out of the top 20 solutions are related to food. From reducing food waste, to eating a plant-rich diet, to regenerative agriculture and managed grazing, there is so much that we can do in our local communities to have a significant impact. It’s the good news we need and a kick in the pants to expand what we are doing.
Not to worry, I also read novels, but these are the books that have me inspired in the new year to continue helping people grow gardens and design self-reliant homesteads.
The prognosis can often seem pretty bleak, but these three books are great reminders that there are so many victories happening in the world that go unnoticed.
We know that if we live from fear, we can be controlled by it. Yet if we have the sense that the majority of humanity is working towards a better future (which it is), then we have agency, we have motivation, and we have hope.
I hope you’ll continue to join me on this journey.
Community. Connection. Meaningful Work.
We all want these things, but every day is filled with challenges and compromises, not to mention bad news. Sometimes, it can be hard to envision a hopeful and sustainable future for ourselves and the planet.
But there is a growing movement that focuses on positive concrete solutions, one that helps us become more self-reliant, grow food we can trust, improve our quality of life, and build better relationships. That movement is called permaculture and if you haven't jumped on board, now is the time.
In my video today, I explain five reasons why you should consider taking the Women's Online Permaculture Design Course.
If you've been following me for awhile, you know that I am one of 40 permaculture teachers who comprise the first-ever online permaculture design course taught by all women. For more information about the course, go here.
This is a self-paced online course that is available right now. You could be learning about how best to design your property, grow food, capture water, and build soil within minutes of enrolling!
PLUS, there is currently a Winter Solstice Sale on the course at the lowest price ever! If you sign-up now, you'll get a 20% discount. However, you need to act soon as the discount spots are running out! So click on the video below to learn more about why you should take this ground-breaking course.
Again, if you want more information about the course, click here.
Or, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (406.600.7881). I am happy to answer any questions or concerns you might have.
Make the decision to transform you land and your life. Join me for the course!
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!
There is nothing quite like homegrown fruit. For me, the practice of wandering through my garden plucking tomatoes off the vine is an exercise in gratitude. Being able to add plums or raspberries to my daily harvest adds another dimension to my experience as a gardener. While it's true that our cold climate doesn't allow for mangoes, papayas, or even peaches, we still have several different tasty fruit options from which to choose.
Like any gardening skill, the art and science of growing fruit requires some knowledge, a bit of back strength, and a lot of patience. Growing fruit trees, especially if you plant them as bare root, is a waiting game of between 4 to 7 years. It's an investment of time, energy, and maybe a little faith, before you see the literal fruits of your labor, before you see the literal fruits of your labor.
Which is why I love growing berries. While my apple, pear, plum and cherry trees continue to mature in my food forest, my berry bushes are yielding more fruit than I know what to do with! As I explain in my video, berries are such a great option because they are low maintenance and very productive, even within the first two to three years. So click on the video below to learn about my top 5 berries to grow in cold climates. Since planting these berries bushes 4 to 5 years ago, I have dedicated minimal time to their maintenance. In fact, what takes the most time is the harvest...and that's always a good problem to have!