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Join Nicole and Meg from Seed To Fork as they discuss how to plan your garden and avoid overwhelm.
What You’ll Learn
- How to plan your garden
- Gardening in short seasons
- Growing a monarch butterfly garden
- Storing your garden harvest
- Meg’s favorite things to grow
Our guest today is Meg- a passionate, curious, food and flower home gardener raising her family on a little under 3 acres about 25 minutes west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. She also runs SeedToFork.com– a website is full of resources for gardeners to plan their winter sowing schedules for any zone.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Seed To Fork Instagram
- Seed To Fork Facebook
- Seed To Fork YouTube
- Harvest Right Freeze Dryer
- Carrots Love Tomatoes book
- Email us! [email protected]
*Denotes affiliate links
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GARDEN PLANNER BUNDLE
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GARDEN PLANNER BUNDLE INCLUDES:
- 2 bed planner graphs
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- Things To Do List
- Wish List
- Garden Goals
- Shopping List
- Plant Profile (my favorite sheet in the bundle!)
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Announcer: Welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast from heritageacresmarket.com where we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living and more. Now here's your host, Nicole.
Nicole: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. Today I'm joined by Meg with Seed To Fork. Today she's here to help us plan our garden and let us know some of the things that we need to do to get started and how to avoid getting too overwhelmed when beginning. Meg, thank you so much for joining me today.
Meg: Hi, Nicole. Thank you so much for having me.
Nicole: I found you from your amazing Instagram that's filled with all kinds of incredible pictures from your garden and then of course you have your blog, but can you just tell some more about yourself and your business?
Meg: Yeah. Well, I am a home gardener. I've been gardening with my husband since the very beginning of our relationship over 20 years ago, and gardening has always been a part of who we are as a couple. I always say that our garden is really a reflection of our relationship because we work in concert together and that is our canvas. That is what we're creating together on a landscape level. We started very small with just half a dozen tomatoes and some five-gallon buckets. We did that because we knew we were moving, and then it has just slowly grown. The garden is the wonderful metaphor. It just has grown. Our passion for it has grown. Our knowledge has grown, and we finally arrived at what I would consider to be as close to our dream garden as possible in this current house. We've lived here for three years.
Nicole: Oh wow. That's quick.
Meg: Well, we hit the ground running. When I looked at this house, it wasn't quite the right house, but it had a red barn and it had a wood shop for my husband in the basement. I knew just a couple of trees needed to be cut and I had a vision I couldn't get out of my head that I had to actualize.
Nicole: What part of the US do you live in?
Meg: We're in Minnesota. We're just outside the Twin Cities, Minneapolis, St. Paul. We moved here from Oregon out of grad school and thought it was going to be a three to five-year endeavor. That was in 2003. This happens to a lot of people.
Meg: Warning to anyone who's listening. If you move to Minnesota, you may never leave. It took me probably a decade to embrace it here, and I finally am at a place where it does actually. This is the first house I've lived in that I actually do feel at home.
Meg: Yeah. It's emotional. I can tell you I've been running like, "Oh, I want to get back to Oregon." I miss the oceans, but this was the first place where I'm like, "Oh, I think I could stay in Minnesota."
Nicole: That's great.
Nicole: Is it challenging to garden there? I imagine with the winters and everything, and I assume it's a pretty short growing season there.
Meg: It is. I think I want to say we have about 155 growing days. I wonder how similar our actual growing days are. Between you and me, even though you're in Colorado and maybe you're a warmer zone a little bit, you guys can get stuck with late frosts and things like that. Typically, our frosts are done by the end of April, beginning of May, and we're frost-free May through at least sometime in September. Sometimes our first frost isn't until almost the end of October. It's a very short growing season, but I work on skirting that by having a really strong indoor set up for seed starting, and I also use high tunnels. I push the season by warming my soil as early as possible once the sun is starting to get a little higher in the sky like in early March. There are ways around it. I take it as a challenge. Mother nature has challenged me to make the best of my situation.
Nicole: If it was easy, it wouldn't be as fun-
Meg: ... or interesting. Yeah.
Nicole: ... or interesting. Yeah.
Meg: I don't know. The challenges are what make people interesting. Right?
Nicole: Of course.
Meg: I think the same with the garden.
Nicole: What all do you grow in your garden?
Meg: Oh dear. Well, I did recently count for another friend who asked me if I can total the number of edibles I'm growing. From seed, annual edibles like herbs, flowers and vegetables, it was 143 different varieties this year.
Meg: It's probably 30 different types of vegetables.
Meg: We've got 15 or 16 fruit trees. We've got apples, peaches, apricots, nectacots, plums and pears and a cherry. I love Rainier cherries, but alas, I don't know really [crosstalk 00:04:49] so we're stuck with sour cherries. We've got elderberries. We've got blueberries and strawberries and raspberries. Really, we've been waiting to be able to garden on this grander scale. We intensively garden about an eighth of an acre. We knew what we needed. My husband is the perennial guy. This is how I said we work as a team. He's the perennial guy, so he studied and did the math like how many blueberry plants do you need to produce enough blueberries for a year, and 10 asparagus plants per person apparently, which is way too many, by the way. I would say five. My kids don't even like it. We have 40 asparagus plants in our asparagus bed.
Nicole: Oh my, goodness.
Meg: Goodness is right.
Nicole: I think we have five.
Meg: Yes. I would have been okay with 20, but now that they're in the ground, and we started those from seed too, and then it's about 2,000 square feet maybe of actual raised beds for vegetables, annual vegetables. I continue. Every year is different. I really tried to change it. My focus a little bit this year, we didn't use to grow a lot of tomatoes, but we're always cooking with tomatoes in winter, so I'm like, "All right. I'm going to go for the tomatoes this year." That was a big change. I had this aha moment, thanks to Instagram last year, like, "Huh. I could grow my own paprikas, and I can grow my own spices." That was another shift that I made in our pepper garden. That was a big change, and that's been really fun. To taste fresh paprika, who gets to do that? That was cool. Little things like that.
Meg: We are eating out of the garden by early May. We have a root cellar, and we put our potatoes and carrots, beets and whatever else, Brussels sprouts, leeks and onions and garlic and all of our squash. We pull all those up. I'd say we feed ourselves more than half the year out of our garden. It would be lovely to be year round, but unless I have a greenhouse someday, I don't think that I'm going to quite get there.
Nicole: That's amazing. You mentioned when we were talking before that there's four of you in your house.
Meg: Yeah. We have two sons, school age, and they were way more excited about the garden before they knew what video games were.
Nicole: Oh, that's great.
Meg: They're older. They're going into fifth and eighth grade, and they do enjoy the garden. If I send them outside, the garden is where they end up and they hang out there and they hang out with us. They're our foods. One of my sons would like me to grow just tomatoes, peanuts and potatoes. That's all he wants me to grow, which is not feasible. The other one, cucumbers are his thing and peas, but he doesn't like my garden peas. He likes them frozen.
Meg: Kids are who they are.
Meg: I do think that we're having a positive impact on their life by them seeing where their food comes from. I'm sure osmosis is working and they're learning something by just hanging out with us. I got to hope.
Nicole: That's pretty impressive. Most kids nowadays just want to play on the iPad and don't want to go outside and they want to eat their chips or whatever. The fact that you can grow enough food to feed your family, plus get your kids interested, I think that's really neat.
Meg: Yeah, I try. Thanks.
Nicole: We talked about how it's so easy, especially if you have hundreds of plants like you do, even if you don't even have that many, it's easy to get overwhelmed when you're planning your garden and wanting to get started. What have you found has worked for you to help keep your anxieties to a minimum?
Meg: I think having a good plan, and that requires even stepping back before you garden, really asking yourself. I don't know. I like to look at my plate every winter like, "What are we eating? What do we like to eat? Well, could we grow that?" That's how paprika would be a good example. We use that all the time on rubs. Like, "Huh. Well, instead of buying in a co-op in bulk all the time, maybe we can grow it ourselves." A good garden takes time. I say this a lot on my Instagram feed because I think in this day and age of Instagram and pretty photos, it's really easy to scroll and think that that's normal to have a garden that looks like that. I work really hard to have my garden look the way it does.
Meg: That garden was a good 20 years in the making. It's not an overnight endeavor, and I don't think it should be because I think the reason our garden is so beautiful and rich is that we have just every year building soil. We've added layers to our knowledge and our dreams, and we've adjusted what's important to us, and we've refined what we want to grow and how we grow it. We've gotten better about starting seeds. There's all of these components. It's a complex system really, especially gardening in this climate where we are, which is a zone four. We're probably 4-A. This past winter, I think we were probably a three because it got so cold, which is fine, except that some trees died back really, really hard.
Meg: I would say start small is probably ... Really if you want to go all the way back to my roots, it would be houseplants in college is probably where I got my start growing, taking cuttings from friends and throwing them in a glass of water and being like, "Huh." I also, to be fair, I studied forestry. I studied natural resource management. My husband also studied it for a while in college. He even went so far as to soil judge as an extracurricular. We have a lot of academic background that we bring to the garden. I think that really rounds us out in a way that makes it feel less overwhelming. Once you actually start growing stuff, and assuming it does fairly well, then there's a different kind of overwhelm that sets in. My drawer full ... I am not kidding. One of my bins in my refrigerator only has cucumbers in it.
Nicole: I believe you.
Meg: Four kinds of cucumbers, and it's full. There's a local food shelf that apparently doesn't need any more cucumbers. I'm working on ... That to me feels overwhelming, is growing this food and then not having a mouth to feed, and the compost pile is fine. This is where I wish we had animals because I would just slice it in half and throw it to the chickens. I don't have that luxury right now. That overwhelm is a whole another ... I said to myself, "This year was going to be the year that I was organized with that, and because of various circumstances, this is sort of my Achilles heel right now." I feel obligated. If there's people that are hungry near me and I've got food in my yard, I should be making that bridge. I should be able to build that bridge, but that bridge for me takes time. I'm busy. I'm trying to put food up. I'm trying to take care of kids.
Meg: Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is overwhelmed. I think it's an unavoidable aspect of the garden and life. Nature just has a way of growing abundantly, and you just have to go for the ride with her. It's going to happen at some point in the growing season.
Nicole: Yeah. We have a bumper crop of cucumbers as well, and I'm pretty sure both of our coworkers are just tired of it. We give the messed up ones to our chickens and stuff. Sometimes food banks won't take home gardening produce, which is such a shame.I wish that there was an easier solution to that. You mentioned that you had a root cellar. Do you use any other preservation or food storage systems?
Meg: Yeah. The way we put food up, I love the root cellar because it is zero processing. I'm so lazy. If I can take a crop out of the ground and put it in a container and it can sit there for two months while I wait until I'm ready like, hello, I'm all over that. I love sauerkraut and I love kimchi, and so we do a fair bit of lacto-fermenting. We were a zero sugar family for many years, and we've let refined sugar back in our lives, which has opened up just straight up canning because with lacto-fermenting, there's no table sugar involved, and that's what I love about it, but we have started canning. I have canned salsa this year. My goal was to be able to can enough salsa and tomatoes.
Meg: The canning the tomatoes is ... I'm staring at them over here. I have six pints that I've canned. It's tomatoes. It's roasted tomatoes that I drained. I used citric acid. Yes, I do put up ... We've made pickles. We have canned pickles. We have lacto-fermented pickles. We made sweet relish. We've made some jam. I'm trying to get better about that. The freezer is always an option for my tomatoes, maybe this is flawed logic, but for me, I like the idea of my food being shelf stable, so actually taking the time to preserve it so that it can sit not in a refrigerator or freezer and not take up the freezer space. Our freezers, we've got over 60 pounds of strawberries frozen in one of our big freezers downstairs, and then we froze, I don't know, maybe 10 pounds of raspberries, the summer raspberries. We'll hopefully freeze more raspberries this fall to be determined how good the crop is, but the fall crop tends to be a little stronger.
Meg: Our blueberry, we have 11 blueberry plants. They're not producing enough yet. Blueberries take a few years. I saw your peaches, by the way, but blueberries take a few years to produce. Once they do, I think we should be in good shape.
Meg: We're trying. We give a lot of food away. My husband's coworkers, our neighbors, and then I'm trying to connect with some local churches and things like that.
Nicole: Oh, that's a great idea.
Meg: Compost is the other place. I don't feel too guilty about throwing away wilted summer squash, or not throwing it away. I mean throwing it into my compost bin. It was nutrients that came out of my soil so by composting it, it's going to go back in a few years. I don't know.
Nicole: I agree.
Meg: The stories we tell ourselves.
Nicole: Yeah. It makes us feel better. It's all that matters.
Meg: Well, maybe. In this case, yes.
Nicole: We just had this conversation last night. I believe 13. We originally had 16 or so because we had a mix of peaches and apples and whatnot. The weather out here is challenging with the heat and the wind and the drought. It's just a challenge. Every time an apple tree would die, we would replace it with a peach tree because the peach trees seem to do really well out here. We have one apple tree left, and it gives us some lovely green apples.
Meg: This is funny.
Nicole: We also have peach borers out here. It's always something. Of our peach trees, only one of them we've been able to harvest. They were the only ones that had turned yet. The deer and the birds are all getting their fair share. We will see how much we can harvest on the next batch. We've had them for about four years. Last year, we got two peaches, and we didn't even get to eat them because they didn't grow to any size. This is the first year that we've actually had fruit. I don't know what I'm going to do with it all. We got rid of that one basketful.
Meg: You're going to have a peach CSA in the month of August in a couple of years. I have 13 peach trees. We have one peach tree and it's probably going to be too much for two of us.
Nicole: We didn't expect to get that much fruit. Now we know. I love canning, and I'd really like to get a freeze dryer, one of those Harvest Right freeze dryers and stuff.
Meg: I know. I would love one of those freeze dryers too.
Nicole: Too bad we don't live closer and we could share one.
Meg: That would be amazing.
Nicole: Yes. I love canning, but it's a challenge with work and everything, and so we'll see. We'll make sure they go to good use.
Meg: Whew. I'm going to come visit in a few years in August and steal all your peaches.
Nicole: Please do. We will have plenty to share. I wish I could just mail you some. They're really sweet. They're good and flavorful peaches.
Meg: I bet they're delicious.
Nicole: They are. One of the challenges that I have when I do can is not only getting overwhelmed and stressed out, but what's your suggestions on pacing yourself and being nice to yourself when you are trying to get that much done in such little time?
Meg: Well, I take canning over a multi-day process. I have not been dealing with any fruit yet, but tomatoes, for instance, if I am going to do anything with my tomatoes, I start by slow roasting them in the oven. I'll do that, slice them in half after dinner, turn my oven on, and they'll roast for a couple of hours until I smell them and remember. I'll drain them and I'll throw them in a glass container in the fridge. They might sit in the fridge for two to five days before I get back to them again. Meanwhile, there's another batch of tomatoes.
Meg: I'm trying to refine a canned salsa recipe. I'm trying to get things down to a smaller level. Volumetrically, the recipes that I see for canning are ridiculous. They are like get 50 pounds of tomatoes and give your blood to ... I want a smaller batch process because I think most of us don't have a large enough garden to do batch sizes that large. I have been doing batch sizes of 10 cups of tomatoes and they've been drained and roasted and peeled. When I actually get to actually sharing that recipe, I'm going to have it be half that size, which is I think doable. With canning, I think the caveat, and you would probably agree, is you need to follow the USDA standards. I always make sure my boil times are long enough. I have pH strips, and I check the acidity on my salsa before I can actually jar it up and boil it.
Meg: This is my first year actually trying to can. I used to just use my freezer and that's okay too. You know what I mean? Just something drew me to be like, "I'm taking this as a challenge this year. Can I can tomatoes?" I'll tell you, it took me a month of pretending. I couldn't do it to actually finally do it. If it doesn't resonate with you, let it go. There's going to be tomatoes in the grocery store. I don't know. I'm not one of those like you have to be 100% self-sufficient. I live in the modern world. I love my Cuisinart for chopping things when I don't feel like chopping.
Meg: I think when you find something that draws you, if it keeps your attention, that's when you know you're on to something. For me, we eat a lot of salsa. I am committed to refining a salsa recipe and have it being safe, shareable and that I will distribute sometime here before next summer. I keep telling people-
Nicole: Just don't put so much pressure on yourself. I know I've always done the huge batch things that takes all day. By the time you're done, you literally just physically hurt, and the kitchen is a mess and it's disaster.
Meg: Yeah, see, so all of my recipes because I've been breaking up how I'm doing them, they've not been more than a couple of hours. I get the tomatoes ready, and then I throw them in the fridge, and then when I'm ready for the rest of it, then I chop the rest of the veggies, throw the tomatoes in while the water is boiling. It's less than two hours to make salsa when you actually do the canning part. I don't believe in tomato sauce. I don't believe in making tomato sauce because there are recipes. We don't just eat tomato sauce. We eat tomatoes in so many different ways that I don't want just sauce. I also love, love, love to dehydrate tomatoes and then grind them into tomato powder-
Nicole: That's a good idea.
Meg: ... which is basically tomato paste without the water. It takes up less space. It tastes better. It's my favorite thing. The dehydrator is another great option for your tomatoes.
Nicole: Yeah. For some reason I hadn't thought about that. I use dehydrator for all kinds of stuff, but I never thought tomatoes. That's a great idea.
Meg: Sweet Millions or Sungolds, if you have any of those, you go slice those in half. They're like candy. Seriously, they're so good. If you dried them just the right amount, they taste like sun dried tomatoes. They're so good.
Nicole: No, that's a great idea.
Meg: I highly recommend.
Nicole: Yeah, definitely. I need to figure something out because that's one of my personal frustrations that we've talked about. We're really good at giving our vegetables away. I'm not so great at saving them for ourselves.
Meg: Oh, really?
Nicole: Yeah. We're out of our own supply pretty quick. I like to share, but I also want some for myself.
Meg: I've been greedy with my tomatoes this summer. I'm very generous with everything else, but I really am trying to feed our family until next summer if I could, which I don't think I can, but I'm still trying.
Meg: I give a few away, but I really have not given very many big ones away. I haven't given any of my pastries away. I don't think that's selfish though. I think you have some work to do there maybe to accept that take care of yourself first because if you don't take care of yourself, there won't be any of you to share.
Nicole: Yeah. The other challenge is time, just finding the time to, like I mentioned before, finding the four to six hours to do some canning or something. This is just me making excuses, but we recently ... A couple of years ago switched to a glass top stove, which does not boil water very well, so it makes canning a challenge.
Meg: You're also at elevation, right?
Nicole: Uh-huh (affirmative). We're, oh gosh-
Nicole: No, not quite that. I'm thinking around six. I don't remember exactly what we are here.
Meg: You're on the western side of the Rockies, right?
Nicole: Yeah. We're pretty close to New Mexico, Southern Colorado.
Meg: I've never been in that part of the country. You could boil it outside on a propane tank. Get on that. I'm just kidding.
Nicole: Right now. That's again a great idea that we have one of those turkey things so I actually could do that.
Meg: My goal someday is to add a kitchen down near our barn like an outdoor, like a stainless steel and do a high fast boiler down there and just do my canning outside in the garden.
Nicole: Yeah, that's great.
Meg: It sounds so romantic.
Nicole: That you find yourself there covered in dirt and-
Meg: You're like, "It's hot. It's humid. There's mosquitoes. Forget this. What was I thinking?"
Nicole: Right. I'm going inside.
Meg: It's going to be a disaster. A hydrator, I think you should consider this. It's really easy because I put some in 36 hours ago. I'm ignoring them for another day. The cherry tomatoes, they take a few days. Slice them in half and forget about them.
Nicole: I just got done dehydrating the mushrooms that we got out of the forest. In fact, my dehydrator is in the sink soaking right now.
Nicole: I like it. Good idea.
Meg: Yeah. Awesome.
Nicole: What would you say are your favorite things to grow?
Meg: I love growing everything.
Meg: That's an awful answer and it's not what you wanted. Okay. What are my favorite things to grow? I'm just going to tell you this season, my favorite things to grow. Well, carrots are always my favorite things to grow because we worked very hard on amending our soil when we moved here. We created a loam where there was a very heavy clay, and we can grow 12-inch carrots no problem and they're beautiful. I just harvested some today. They're just-
Nicole: I saw.
Meg: Oh, I love my carrots. I love growing carrots. I'm growing a subtropical fruit for the first time here this year that I started from seed in January because I knew it was going to be a slow grower. It's considered an invasive species in places like Hawaii and South Africa. It's called the Cape gooseberry. It's known in Hawaii as the Poha or the Goldenberry. You can sometimes see it in the grocery store. It looks like a ground cherry. It is related to the ground cherry, but it is a Peruvian ground cherry. It is not the American ground cherry or Aunt Molly's or any of those. We have native ground cherries in North America, which I think is crazy.
Nicole: Yeah, I started some this year.
Meg: Yeah. This has this gorgeous citrus vanilla flavor. It's just got this textural thing going on. It's just way deeper of a flavor than a ground cherry. That's probably my favorite new thing I'm growing, and I am going to try to overwinter it inside. I'm going to bring a cutting in, and I'm going to try to dig up part of a stem, and I'm going to try to overwinter it. Let's see. Other three things, favorite things to grow. That's a really hard question. I love growing everything.
Nicole: It's like trying to pick a favorite child.
Meg: All our strawberries are great. I love growing anything with the monarchs. I'll say that as my third thing. That is not just one thing. I have converted about a half an acre to native prairie. It's only in its second year growing, but we are getting some early succession species that I'm letting flower right now, and being a monarch habitat is as important to me as growing food for my family. Really truly because we do get the super generation. We're able to raise them. They're in my garden right now, and they are going to head down to Mexico next month. I love being a part of that. It really makes my winter feel like it was worth something because not all parts of the country get this monarch migration. I think it's really special.
Meg: I grow lots of milkweed for them, and I grow a special native plant called meadow blazing star, which is their absolute favorite. They love my zinnias still, but they flock to this in large numbers. I saw upwards of a dozen on the plant just a little while ago outside. Yeah, it's beautiful.
Nicole: That's exciting. We get too many monarchs around here that I've seen. I've been wanting to grow milkweed and I forgot to put it out so that it could overwinter the seeds. Hopefully I can remember this year.
Meg: Do it around Christmas or the winter solstice because then that'll be enough time.
Meg: It will be your Christmas present to yourself if you celebrate or New Year's. I think showy milkweed might be one of the species that you could grow. Well, I don't know the species that ... There are so many. That's the thing, is you have to be careful. I'm a real believer in growing what's native to your region as the best thing for the monarchs or for any of the native species. They know. They have a relationship with things that have been growing here for a long time.
Nicole: You said you had a half acre for your pollinator garden and then about an eighth of an acre for your veggies. Is that pretty much everything that you have growing or do you have any other little plots of exciting-
Meg: That's mostly it for outside. We've got some citrus on our deck. We've got a lime tree and a kumquat. We've got an avocado that we started from seed five years ago. I don't think it's ever going to produce fruit for us, but it is still alive. Let the record show. We have a Plumeria that we brought back from that same trip to Hawaii. We're slowly starting from seed, a little bit of a permaculture food forest. I've got elderberries here and there. I think they produced this year for the first time, and they're actually ripening. I don't know. People dehydrate the elderberries and I'm like, "Can't you just throw them in a pot? They have the water. You're going to have the water back if you dehydrate them first." I don't know. I got to figure this one out. It's going to be me versus the birds.
Meg: We'll be adding things like hazel nuts is another thing we want to add. My husband wants to add more edible things, just random berries. I can't really tell you what they are, but my mind is blank. We wanted to do a version of a cranberry. What are they called? Lingonberries maybe. By and large, that's the majority. We have most of the rest of our property, all of it has black walnuts on it, which if you know about them, they exude a toxin and make it very difficult for a lot of vegetables to grow or anything to grow for that matter. That's why we have a lot of walnuts here because they've done a really nice job of creating a monoculture. They're beautiful. The squirrels eat them. They're actually delicious if you take the time to open them up, which we haven't done yet. Yeah, that's about it.
Nicole: Definitely sounds like enough work for several people. It keeps you busy, I'm sure.
Meg: It is. Yeah, it's a work in progress. Getting the vegetable garden ready was our number one priority the first six months. We moved in the middle of summer, and we knew we wanted to garden the following spring, so designing it, getting our head around how we wanted to fence it off, where the fence was going to be, getting someone to do ... Anyway, that took a couple of months, and then getting the soil ready was the other big thing we did that first fall.
Nicole: Do you have any suggestions for people when it comes to designing a garden?
Meg: Oh, I did just write a blog post about this on my website. Yeah, lots of suggestions. I would say that would take a long time to discuss, but sunny areas are really important. If it could be flat, that's great. We do not have a flat piece of land, but I actually think in hindsight, it adds a lot of character to our garden that maybe you wouldn't get if you were on flat land. You got to think about things like what are your soils like? Get them tested. How are you going to irrigate? Do you need irrigation? Where is your water source? Do you need a fence? What kind of fence do you want to use? These are all the things I think about, and then I really think about how are you going to use the space? How is the space going to talk to your house? Is the space going to talk to your house? Are there other buildings? What kind of equipment do you want to get in there?
Meg: I'm assuming you need to deer fence it because we would not garden out here without a deer fence, especially not food. There's no way. There's bucks in broad daylight out here. It's like they own the place. Yeah, there's a lot to consider. We had already established, this is maybe our fourth garden that we've built, so we knew what we were doing and knew what worked in the past, so we were able to design it quickly, if that makes sense. You know what I mean? I had enough experience to know, okay, clay soil, we know how we wanted to amend it. We knew we weren't going to do raised beds. Do you want to do raised beds? Do you want to do it in ground beds?
Meg: Another thing is what about your paths? We chose to keep our grass in place. We have green paths, and I think it adds just a beautiful extra element of life. It literally brings in more bees because we have clover growing in our path, but it also just feels more alive. It looks more alive. We are blessed with summer flooding so it's still green. There are just so many things to think about. I would love to write a book someday-
Nicole: You should get on it.
Meg: ... where I could brain dump all of this. Yeah, I'm trying. I think really being clear about if there are things you want like all of your fruit trees. We knew that we wanted all of our perennial fruit protected from the deer and the bunnies, and so we made sure that we defined that space first before we defined our space for annual food, just annual vegetables. We worked from the perimeter in, if that makes sense, and we chose the best spots for sunlight.
Meg: Don't try to grow anything in the shade is probably my best advice. I see people trying to grow in partly sunny. Even five, six hours, no way. The height of summer for us, our garden probably has 12 hours of sunlight. That is why I can grow food that looks like it does because we have sun, a lot of it. That's huge. To me, I think that's probably the number one mistake people make, is they attempt to garden in part shade because it's what they have. Maybe don't grow food. I don't know. Because you're going to end up bumping, you're going to end up hitting that same wall of your plants aren't going to thrive and you're going to think it's you, but it's not you. It might be that they don't have enough sun.
Meg: I see it happen a lot.
Meg: Yeah. People trying to carve a garden in the middle of the woods, and I'm like, "Good luck with that."
Nicole: Yeah, that would be a challenge, unless you're growing mushrooms, which maybe-
Meg: They're delicious, but you need a little bit of light.
Nicole: Yeah. Do you do companion planting?
Meg: I do, although I don't really call it that. I don't give a lot of credence to companion planting. I will say the plants that I do believe help bring in beneficials, I do interplant with sweet alyssum. I love dill. I think it's fabulous. Plants that have those umbellifers is I think the botanical term, but those wide, flat flower clusters, those are really good for beneficial insects because it's the right flower structure for their mouth parts. I love having marigolds in my garden. They're partly decorative, but I think they do also bring in the beneficials. The monarchs like them, so therefore I like them. I'm following their lead on that one.
Meg: Between our clover and zinnia is another thing that I love and are planting in our garden. I've got some snapdragons in there. As far as companion planting vegetables, I don't believe basil does better when it's next to tomatoes. No. There is no science. I don't know if you're companion plants or not, but I tend to be more of a scientist. There's not a lot of science that backs that up right now, just like there isn't science behind compost tea. There's no science to back that up.
Meg: If it feels good, do it. I plant flowers because they feel good, and I try to choose flowers that generally have a benefit in my garden. I do believe that having flowers in your vegetable garden is going to help with pest management. That, I'm not going to refute, but something is going to grow better because there's a flower next to it or because you're ... No. We did have the Carrots Love Tomatoes book once, and I don't know where it went because I don't think we really read it. Do you know about that book?
Nicole: I haven't heard of that one.
Meg: Secrets of Companion Planting. It's a companion planting book. I do. I interplant cabbages with radishes. My radishes always do fine. I plant them by themselves. They still do fine. You know what? Just do what you want to do I guess is my point. I really think everyone's garden is their own playbook and they get to write the rules.
Nicole: Sure. There's not necessarily a right or wrong way as long as you make it your own, I think.
Meg: Yeah, I agree. You'll know what works for you by how well your plants do and that's how you learn. I do think every site is so specific. I try not to get too bogged down in that kind of stuff. I just enjoy planting. I do have certain things I like to plant together now just based on tradition and things like that. I wouldn't call it a companion planting thing though.
Nicole: Do you have any other tips or suggestions or resources for people that are wanting to start gardening?
Meg: Well, I think a good gardening book is always a great place to start. We read some fabulous gardening books when we very first gardened back in the day and they were specific to the parts of the country we were in at the time. It was like a gardening book for Western Oregon, which is really funny. Steve Solomon is the man who wrote those books. I don't know if you know Territorial Seed Company at all, but he started that seed company. They're out of Cottage Grove, Oregon. We used to buy seeds from them. He no longer lives in the states, but through him and Eliot Coleman is another fabulous northern gardener that I have a lot of respect for. The guy is in his '80s now. He's like a legend to us, my husband and I at least.
Meg: Between reading their things and all of my experience, I also about a year and a half ago launched a gardening blog. I've written other types of blogs, but I do have a bunch of resources on there, articles about succession planting and flower gardening and I've got some sewing charts. I do try to use my Instagram feed as a seasonal garden chatting, somewhat advisee, somewhat, I don't know, meandering topics and thoughts.
Meg: I think local is great though too for people. I try to make my resources as adaptable as possible to other zones by putting just so many weeks from last frost instead of just actual the dates that I go by. Your best resource is your own hands in your own garden and time. I really believe that.
Nicole: I think those were some really good suggestions. I always recommend that people contact their local extension office too for questions specific to their area because even within your state, it can vary so much county to county. That's also a good source for your soil testing kits too.
Meg: Absolutely. Yeah, for sure. If I ever run into an issue, like I had to diagnose anthracnose this year on my tomato plants, which it was like a new disease. I have never dealt with this in all of my years of gardening. It's a new disease. It's like great. The first place I did go to diagnose that was I went to my university extension's website. I'm a master gardener in the state of Minnesota, and so I am obliged to ... I'm a volunteer master gardener, but I have a responsibility to make sure that any information that I use is reputable. If you're going to use extension agencies, definitely go local. I don't go to the University of Florida to look up information, unless it's about my lime tree or ...
Meg: Yes, I agree with you that extension, universities, I think soil testing is huge, I think that's a great first. We did that the first fall we moved here. We had our soil tested and dug up a bunch of different spots where we wanted to garden.
Nicole: Meg, for those that want to find your amazing Instagram and read your great blog articles, how can they find you?
Meg: Sure. I am at Seed To Fork, @seedtofork on Instagram, and my website is seedtofork.com or megcowden.com. That's where you can find all my resources, links to email me. There are links to my YouTube channel. I have an Amazon shop. It's not very big, but some gardening books and things that we use around the house, mostly garden related of course.
Meg: Instagram is a great place. I've got all of my links are draft right through my Instagram profile. I'd say that's probably the best place to find me.
Nicole: I am a huge fan of your Instagram page, so I highly recommend anybody that loves gardening, definitely check out the Seed To Fork Instagram page. Your pictures are gorgeous, and I love all of the facts and information that you have on there.
Meg: I really enjoy doing it. It's a creative outlet for me.
Nicole: It definitely shows. Well, Meg, thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to join me and to talk gardening.
Meg: Yeah. Well, thank you, Nicole. It was such a pleasure. It was really nice to meet you, and I appreciate the opportunity.
Nicole: Of course. We'll conclude the links to all of your information in the description so that anybody that wants to find you, they can go there. As always, thank you for listening to Backyard Bounty, and we'll see you again next week.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to Backyard Bounty, a podcast by heritageacresmarket.com. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the show, please email us at [email protected]. Also find us on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube at Heritage Acres Market. All the links mentioned in this podcast will be included in the description. See you again next week.
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