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 (email@example.com) 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!
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!