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Table of Contents
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Join Nicole and Joe Gardener as they talk about key steps for a healthy, productive garden!
What You’ll Learn
- 10 key steps for a healthy garden
- Joe’s perfect soil recipe
Joe Lamp’l, affectionately known as Joe Gardener, has been gardening nearly all his life. After abandoning his suit for jeans and dirt under his nails, he has a passion for teaching gardeners at all levels. Instead of focusing on “how-to’s”, Joe prefers to teach “why-do’s” so that students will have a much better sense of cause and effect as they apply that knowledge to other areas.
Joe is the creator and host Growing a Greener World®, an Emmy award-winning national television series on PBS now entering it’s 11th year in 2020. He also a the top-rated podcast The Joe Gardener Show, and is also the founder of the Online Gardening Academy launched in January 2019. His 3rd course is coming out in late January 2020 on Master Seed Starting.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Joe Gardener Instagram
- Joe Gardener Facebook
- Joe Gardener Twitter
- Joe Gardener TV on YouTube
- Growing A Greener World on YouTube
- Joe Gardener Pinterest
- Joe Gardener Website
- Joe Gardener Podcast
- Email us! Ask@HeritageAcresMarket.com
*Denotes affiliate links
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Nicole: Hello, everybody. And thank you for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host Nicole and today we're joined by Joe Lamp’l known as “Joe Gardener”, and also from the PBS show and same name podcast "Growing a Greener World". So Joe, thank you so much for joining me today!
Joe Lamp'l: Hi, Nicole. Thank you. It's good to be here!
Nicole: Yeah, I'm really excited to have you on the show today. Obviously, gardening is your thing, is your niche. And we need more gardening information here. So thank you so much.
Joe Lamp'l: Oh, you're welcome! It's kind of my life.
Nicole: Yeah, I'd say so. With a name like Joe Gardener, you'd have to be.
Joe Lamp'l: Well yeah, that's a funny story. You know, when I was back hosting a DIY series, called "Fresh From the Garden", they had a party, the HGTV production company in town had a party and I was walking down the driveway and a host from another one of the shows saw me coming down the driveway. He said, “Hey, here comes Joe Gardener” and you know, my real name is Joe Lamp'l but, I thought well, that sounds kind of good, that has a nice ring to it and you know, this is gonna date myself, but that was the time where you could go get a dot-com pretty much for any name you wanted. So I went home that night and looked up JoeGardener.com and of course it was available. I'm like, “Okay, I'm gonna get that.” And that became, you know, the brand that has grown a lot since then. But, you know, who knew just walking down that driveway and hearing that resonate between my ears? I thought, well, that probably has a good ring. So anyway, you didn't ask that. But I just thought I would show you.
Nicole: It's kind of funny how, you know, life plays out, and I was looking on your website and speaking of how life plays out, I read about your story of how you even got into gardening to begin with.
Joe Lamp'l: Yeah. Back in the day. You talked about me when I was eight year old guy in Miami. Yeah, crazy. Who knew? Just I was trying to avoid getting in trouble when I broke that branch off my dad's plant so I just stuck it back in the ground and covered it up with soil and walked away and didn't tell anybody and you know, nothing happened because I hid my tracks. But 10 weeks later, I came back on that plant and expected to see a dead branch by the side. And, you know, there were leaves coming up. And I'm like, What happened here? And I realized that it was sprouting new growth. And I thought, How in the heck did that happen? And so literally, that was my being hooked on horticulture moment. And, and ever since then I never looked back, I could not get enough information and it hasn't slowed down one bit. In fact, it kind of speeds up every day. Sure. Hmm.
Nicole: I think that's so funny. You know, it almost seems like it's always something that happened in our childhood, that kind of, no matter what track we take in life, we always kind of end up in those childhood experiences.
Joe Lamp'l: That is so true. And we don't think we have no idea, you know, the impact that's going to have on the rest of our life. But you never know. And so those of it's so interesting how that does play out over time, especially looking back on it.
Nicole: Yeah. So I thought today, it would be really fun to talk about, you know, kind of the things that we need to do to have a healthy garden. You know, there's a lot of topics out there of getting ready and some things We should do once we have our garden, but I don't think that it's very well covered with the actual garden health. And of course, a healthy garden means healthier plants and healthier vegetables. So, what's some things that we need to consider for this?
Joe Lamp'l: Well, I'll tell you, I've been gardening a long time. We already know that going back, you know, a few decades. But, you know, this really came to life for me on that DIY network show that I hosted starting in 2002, I think for a few years. And it was a show about teaching people how to grow food. And it was going to be done in a backyard vegetable garden that didn't exist yet. And so part of my job as the expert was to help identify where that site was going to be and make sure that it was, you know, the best it could possibly be. Because as my producer, like one of the first things she ever told me after I met her was, by the way, failure is not an option on anything that you're growing. No pressure there, right. I mean, this is gardening and like, um, you know, we want to think we're in control but we know we're not because you know, there are higher powers and sources that are making us react to what really happens. But we can proactively set the garden up for success, there are actual steps we can take. And so for me to ensure that I was setting myself and therefore the show up for success was to make sure that first of all, and this would be like, kind of the first thing on my list would be to make sure that I was selecting the best site possible. And so what what does that mean? Well, the first thing is, you need a site that's going to get full sun if you're intending to grow plants that require or do best in full sun, so I would call that you know, vital, and so I'm looking for something that probably gets at least six hours or more of sun and a daytime, you know, and sometimes these things seem so obvious. And as we're looking if we've got the option for a sunny spot that may be a little further away than something that's closer to the house that may not get as much sun you definitely want to opt for the sun because that is like the energy that drives the plant to produce the fruit and everything. So you want to give it all the gas you can when you can so a full sun sight would be the first thing. The next thing I would say, is making sure that you have a site that promotes good drainage versus, you know, putting your garden in a spot that may be sunny and yet it's in a kind of a bog or a wet area where everything drains towards that garden. Now, there are ways around that, like you could build raised beds and that's one of the good reasons people build raised beds is to get around the challenges of poor drainage. But as you're assessing your site options, if you've got the freedom of picking a site that gets full sun and then you can find a site or place that is in full sun that's getting good drainage, you certainly want that because if we're talking vegetables especially they don't want to have wet roots, and so you want the water to move away because you may not have raised beds you may have in ground beds and you just mound up the soil. And all the more reason why you don't want you know the water draining towards your plants. You want to drain it away. So promoting good drainage is probably what I would say is number two on my list if you're starting from a blank slate and t then we come down to kind of the non negotiable for me, and that is to build healthy soil. And I know we hear about that all the time, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of having healthy soil, soil that drains well, even if water does move towards it, or you have, you know, a few days of consecutive rain, you've got to have an opportunity so that that soil is loose enough and has enough airspace and pore space so that water isn't just going to sit there because it can't get out. Yet, at the same time, you need that soil to be able to retain moisture too. So you need that just right, kind of that Goldilocks, you know, not too loose and not too tight. So that soil is providing the water that it needs without it just sitting there. So healthy soil includes not only you know proper drainage, but then it's got lots of microbial activity in it. So that's your bacteria and your fungi and all those players in the soil food web that work together to create and to help promote that airspace and that drainage and that's that moisture retention, but they're also the ones in there that are breaking down the organic matter and producing nutrients in a soluble form that the roots can take up. So it's kind of this perpetual buffet of health food for your plants. And so one of the things that I'm always fond of saying is feed the soil, so the soil can feed the plants, rather than just trying to pump you know the nutrients at the plant at the expense of whatever's going on with the soil. I look at this soil is like a bank account. And so if you think about your your real bank account, you want to make deposits into it as often as possible and minimize the withdrawals. Well, in a garden setting, the deposits would be the nutrients and the good things that you want to add to your soil that improve it to make it better to make it richer. And the withdrawals, of course, are the nutrients being taken out because the plants are growing and they're, you know, they need those nutrients. So they're sucking or consuming the nutrients that are in the soil. Well, if you don't come back and replace those nutrients, basically, to put it back in the terms of a bank account, if all you kept doing is making withdrawals and not thinking about coming back with deposits, eventually you deplete your account and you have a zero or negative balance. So it's a cycle of ensuring that you're providing as many deposits to the soil bank as you can so that when your plants are growing and thriving, and they have a high demand for those nutrients, then they're there. But then you don't forget about it. It's not a one and done. You have to not only build healthy soil, but you have to continue to maintain it by you know, adding new deposits. And so, what is that? For me as an organic gardener, it's mostly compost, you know, it's mulch on top. We'll talk about that in a second but anything I put into my soil, whether it's on top or in it, I want it to improve the soil, whether it's right away or over time, but compost for me is kind of the best of all worlds because it's, it's providing not only nutrients, but it's providing humic acid and the microbes, all that all that microbial activity that I just talked about a minute ago that's going to work to feed the plants by breaking down the things in a way that the plants can take it up in a soluble form. So that's a lot of talking. But you know, that's, that's a biggie. I'm a big believer in healthy soil. And we have a lot to do with how how we can make it so.
Nicole: So if we're starting with our native soil and not a raised bed, is it just compost or is there other things that we need to add to it as well.
Joe Lamp'l: I like to do kind of a cocktail of different things, so you've got your native soil and I would say that that's going to make up when you're when your bed is finished and you have it to the point that you feel like it's just right. You're starting of course with your native soil and your Improving it. So native soil, let's just say that that's 50% of what will make up the total, then I would say 30%, in addition to that would be what I would focus on as good healthy compost. Now, if you're lucky enough to be able to make that much good for you, and you might be able to, but whether you buy it or you make it, I would look for about 30% on top of the 50%. And so now we're at 80% total volume of soil like product. Now we have 20 more percent, could we just make it you know, all compost again? Well, you could, but this is where I get into that conversation about sort of mixing it up and creating a cocktail mix. And so I like to diversify beyond just compost. And so then I would look for one of several options. And so I'm a big fan of shredded leaves and for me, those leaves are great mulch, but they're also great as a soil amendments. So that would be one of the options for an ingredient that would make up that extra 20%. Worm castings, which is kind of like compost on steroids, it's more of a manure that's full of nutrients more so than even compost or healthy garden soil by a healthy factor. So I would I would maybe look at five to 10% of that if I could, I love composted horse manure or composted chicken manure, so some kind of organic animal manure that has had plenty of time to age and mellow so you don't run the risk of you know, burning plants from the high nitrogen but that's such a good source of nutrients and it adds its own texture and porosity that plays well with the other organic ingredients that you had put. This is another reason why I like to mix it up. As you introduce these other components and so these other components might be shredded bark, or finally ground bark, it could be rotted straw, It could be mushroom compost. These different components playing together all have different particulate sizes. And so as they're getting mixed together, they're also binding together because the humic acid and the things that are, you know, a little bit sticky in a good way and soil, and is they kind of clumped together, all these different sizes are, by definition, creating space between each of the particulates so you've got that airspace in that area that water can move through. And yet, you've got the nutrients and all the things that your plants are depending on to thrive. So now you've got the native soil at 50%, you've got compost at roughly 30% and then you've got 20% that's made up of these other miscellaneous organic inputs. And now you've got what I call kind of the perfect soil recipe. And there's your hundred percent. And so as you're starting a new garden and it's an in ground bed, I'm not just laying these new things on top, you know, we we could have a whole discussion on creating a no till garden where you don't disturb the existing native soil you just add to it, but in this case, for the first time garden, I'm talking about blending things together, kind of mixing them together one time and one time only. But now you've got this beautiful blend all the way through. So wherever the roots grow, they're getting the same soil consistency and texture in quality.
Nicole: Okay, and, and then so once we have our good foundation, what's the next step?
Joe Lamp'l: Okay, so now we're ready to plant we've got our soil in place, we've got it in a good location because it's getting full sun, it's not sitting in an area where all water is going to drain towards it, or maybe we've mounted it up but we know we have good soil that will drain so we're not going to worry about that. Now it's time to plant our plants. And so we want to orient them in the garden strategically. And so we talked about, you know, vegetable crops love full sun at least six hours and more is better. But even within our garden is we think about the sun passing overhead. If we put tall plants in the way, or in the path of the rays of the sun so that the plants behind them are shorter, may not be getting the same exposure to the sun. Well, they're not going to do as well because they're not having as much access to the light. So as we think about the sun moving across our gardens in the Northern Hemisphere here in the United States, the rays are coming from a southerly direction. So as they come down to the ground and hit the ground, you'd want to orient your garden so your plants the tallest plants in your garden, or on the north side of your beds. And so the middle sized plants, if assuming they're, they're kind of tight together in a bed, I mean, if you really have a spacious garden, you can spread everything out. Just a part really doesn't matter as much. But for a lot of homeowners, you know, they don't have unlimited space. So they've got to work within the parameters that they have. And so they need to be thinking strategically as they make their plantings. And so, as I said, as the sun's coming down from a southerly exposure coming across our gardens, the tallest plants we would place at the back of the garden, which would be the north end, then the mid sized plants would be in front of that. And then the shortest plants would be in front of that. So now we've created an opportunity for all our plants in the garden to get the maximum amount of exposure possible. And that way, you know, you've got potentially eight hours of sun on everything pretty much give or take.
Nicole: And touching on the sun exposure real quick, can you have too much sun? So for example, I live in southern Colorado, which is not too far from the New Mexico border, and it's very arid semi desert here and we get lots of really intense hot sun.
Joe Lamp'l: Yeah. So I suppose you could, you know, I don't live in that region. So I've never had a situation where you can get too much sun but I hear people talk about that. I hear the intensity of the sun can be a big thing. I would say mature plants probably I don't know that that's all that common but I can see it very much being the issue when you're planting seedlings at the start of the season, you know, they're they've grown either in a greenhouse or they've grown indoors and and they haven't been hardened off probably. And so you have to acclimate younger tender plants to that intensity of sunlight. And that's a real thing that is absolutely a thing. And so shade cloth is my big thing for that. And here even in the Atlanta, Georgia area, I'm doing that all the time at the change of the seasons with new seedlings. Not only am I hardening off but I'm giving them more exposure to sun every day, if they've been growing inside my house from seeds. I'm just easing them into that sunlight a little more every day over about a 10 day process. But even then, when they're ready to go into the garden after they've even been hardened off, I'll put them into my garden beds. And for about the next week, I'll have like a 70% shade cloth over those plants, so they're getting sunlight, they're just not getting full on sunlight all day. And then I'll start to you know, peel away the shade cloth and give them a little more light. And so it's very much a hands on thing. And it would be for anybody that adopts that process, but I will tell you this too, your plants will reward you for your efforts. I mean, they, they settle in really nicely, they don't experience any setbacks from burned foliage, because if you didn't take those steps, you run the risk of the foliage burning and that may not kill the plant but it will set it back from a productivity standpoint a couple weeks. And if you're racing the clock like I imagine where you live your season your growing season could be really short or shorter than mine for sure. So you want to make the most of that time once you're past your frost free date for example. So it I think it's well worth investing a little extra time with shade cloth or you know, row cover, supported over hoops. Just to break the intensity that sun for a little while just long enough for it to really realize it's out there in the sun and what's ahead and acclimating it over, you know, a week would probably be, you know, probably a fair, fair length of time. But that's one way that I can tell you absolutely, you could work with your existing environment in a way that gets them ready without just shocking them into full light.
Nicole: Sure, that's a good idea. So, then you mentioned something about mulch? Is that one of the next steps?
Joe Lamp'l: It would be I would, I would mix that in with watering. So whether you put the mulch down next or you water next, it you know that the order doesn't really matter as long as you do both in water properly and put mulch down. So watering is important in that we do it properly and so how would that apply in a vegetable garden? Well, in where you are where it may be very arid and dry, you know, it may be okay to get away with overhead watering anytime you want which is taking your your hose or your Orbit sprinkler and just letting it overhead water and it's just soaking the beds and getting everything wet. But in areas where wet foliage is, it can be a problem for promoting diseases because water can be a real vector for you know, exacerbating the risk of disease. It sure is down in the Southeast where it's already humid. We want to minimize the length of time that plant foliage stays wet. And so the way to avoid that is to not overhead water and not you know, let your sprinkler go over everything at least other than early in the morning when there's a best chance of evaporation I mean, it's not that it's wrong to do that I used to do that all the time on the "Fresh From the Garden" set, because it's the only time we really could water effectively and we would overhead water, but we would do it at six in the morning. So by seven, the foliage was completely dry because the sun was coming up and everything was drying off. But for the most part, I love to use drip irrigation or soaker hoses. And that's just that method of delivering the water right at the soil level through basically a garden hose that either is completely porous and so water's coming out the entire link, or drip irrigation where there are designated exit points along the length of the hose where the water is coming out through emitters. But it's a very controlled way to irrigate so that the water is only going down at wherever you position the hose. It's keeping the foliage dry and it's a much more efficient way to water so we're trying to conserve water and think about, you know the valuable resource that it is we certainly don't want to waste it and yet at the same time we want the plants to get the water they need. So our soaker hose or drip irrigation hose is a nice way to do that because the water will either way the water will come out very slowly but sufficiently in a way that the roots have a chance to take it up before the water goes away or goes past the roots. I mean it's a nice slow even delivery right at the soil level so it's not being wasted. And then you improve that with an automatic timer and you've got your watering on autopilot. So for somebody like me who's traveling a lot during the growing season, I don't wanna have to worry about it. I want to know that my plants are getting the water they need in the amount that they need. And so that combination between drip emitters and soaker hoses and automatic timers does that perfectly. And I just run that along the you know the beds where my plants are growing.
Nicole: And going off of the knowing how much water, how do we know? I mean obviously we know when there's not enough because they get wilty and sad and they die but how do we know if we're overwatering them?
Joe Lamp'l: Well, your plants are going to show that too, they're going to be kind of limp and kind of on the gray pale dull side, and they're just not going to have vigor, they're not going to be upright and and look bright and look healthy. They're just going to be like, they're going to kind of look depressed and overwater plant kind of looks depressed, but, it's funny, there's no better way to know whether your soil is too wet or too dry than by just sticking your finger in it. You know, we always want to look for a more sophisticated way because it sounds so simplistic to say just do the finger test but that's what I live by. And the more people I talk to that give advice on knowing the right soil level, say the same things. It's kind of funny to hear other people say because I know I say it so much, but that really is the best way but there are indications by looking at the plant and for me, a plant that just looks wilty...limp I guess is a better way to say it, would probably be overwater. But the first time I would do is go stick my finger in the soil. But the other the other part of your question is, is you're trying to set up a timer, right? How long does that go? Well, I just do the tuna can test and so I put a tuna can under the path of the soaker hose with the drip irrigation. And then I time how long it takes for that can to fill up. And so that's mostly appropriate for a soaker hose where water's coming out the entire length of the hose on a drip irrigation system, the emitter, that little round device that measures the amount of output per hour. They're actually made based on a pre determined volume of water per hour. So it may be an emitter that delivers two gallons of water per hour. That will give you a good indication because it's just right there already on the emitter. But, you know, you may still want a better visual for that and have some device to collect that amount of water around your plants to see it that really feels like the right amount. So, you know, these are guidelines that we go by when we talk about ways to know. And then you got to just go with what you think is right based on what you know, and then gauge how your plants are responding to that. And then you make adjustments because those are not precise measurements. And it's hard to really know until you give it your best guess. And then you follow up with monitoring it and make adjustments once you have a chance to assess the performance of that. of water per hour. Then you're going to I'm sorry, I said I meant . I meant gallons a minute volume of water. Not measurement. Okay, so, but that will give you a good indication because it's just right there already on the emitter. But, you know, you may still want a better visual for that and have some device to collect that amount of water around your plants to see it that really feels like the right amount. So, you know, these are guidelines that we go by when we talk about ways to know. And then you got to just go with what you think is right based on what you know, and then gauge how your plants are responding to that. And then you make adjustments because those are not precise measurements. And it's hard to really know until you give it your best guess. And then you follow up with monitoring it and make adjustments once you have a chance to assess the performance of that.
Nicole: Sure. And then there's probably days I assume you have them to where, you know, rainy days or days that were extra windy or overcast or something and then you'd have to just change it up even more.
Joe Lamp'l: You do have to change it up, if you've got that time and that accessibility, and more often than not, I don't change it up because, you know, I'm just not that around that much. And so this speaks back to another reason why it's critically important that the soil that you create drains really well. And why you don't just use native soil for a lot of people in the States, especially in coastal regions or inland from coastal regions, that the soil is really heavy. And so water can, you know, the soil can hold a lot of water. And you don't want to just plant into native soil, which is why I talked about the perfect soil recipe and amending it with compost and those other organic inputs is to help loosen it up so that water has a way to get away. And we haven't talked about raised beds yet, but that's a very strong argument for building raised beds, is that you have a very controlled environment for where you're putting your plants because you can pretty much Ideally engineer the soil and the ability for it to drain. It's up off the ground, it's not sitting in the native soil, all the soil in the raised bed is whatever you decided was the best recipe for you there. And in my case here, my garden here in Atlanta, I've got 16 massive raised beds 18 inches high, and they never flood they never ever, ever flood and yet they rarely dry out so that I've kind of tweaked the soil mix over the years to give it the perfect combination of the Goldilocks, you know, just right methods. So even when it rains and I have the automatic timers on, they don't have an override that shuts them off. If it rains, it still delivers the water but my plants never suffer by being over watered either.
Nicole: And so then I assume now we're to the mulching step?
Joe Lamp'l: We are we are and so on to mulch. Mulch is you know, compost is my favorite thing to go into the soil and mulch is my favorite thing to go on the soil. And so for me mulch is as magical as compost is above the ground. Mulch is any organic material that you can put over the soil surface that blocks the light. And I don't consider rubber a mulch just because it doesn't break down. For me a definition of mulch in my gardens is that it has to break down to improve the soil over time. I don't have a time limit on that it just has to do it over time. So that would be and I've already mentioned my favorite ingredient or input is shredded leaves, but it could be you know, lots of different bark options or ground up arborists wood chips from trees that are taken down or it could be rotted straw. You know, it could be compost, it could be grass clippings, it could be a number of different things. But mulch is such a good input for holding moisture and we just talked about moisture but you know in those areas like where you are where it can get really dry or hot and we're just trying to preserve all the water we can at the soil level and below, mulch is going to be that insulator, that's going to block the sunlight and reduce the evaporative effects of the water leaving the soil. And so a two inch layer of mulch will do wonders for that. And when it's really hot, the mulch is like a it's like an insulating blanket. It's kind of like a thermos really, when, when the soil could be really hot. A mulch layer will reduce the heat in the soil so it kind of cools the soil. But if it gets really cold, the mulch helps the soil stay warm when you want it to be warmer. So it's the best of both worlds so moderate soil temperatures, it suppresses diseases that live in the soil from splashing up onto your foliage during a rain event or a hard watering event. And so it's very, very important for disease suppression. It's very, very important for protecting the integrity of the soil. Other than stepping on your soil or walking on it, the rain is the number one contributor to making your soil compacted. And so if you have a buffer between you know, your actual soil and the raindrops and mulch would be that you create this cushioning effect and you reduce greatly the risk that your soil is going to be compacted. It keeps the weeds at bay, you know it prevents the light from hitting the soil surface and a lot of the weed seeds that we have need sunlight in order to germinate and so if the mulch is there, it's blocking the sunlight from hitting the soil surface and therefore the weeds are kept in more check I mean doesn't mean you're going to have a weed free garden but you are definitely going to have a garden with less weeds. And then I love the look of mulch. I just think it really it's like putting icing on a cake. I could eat a cake without icing, but I like a cake better with it. And I think it looks better. You know when you decorate your cake you're doing it because it makes it look better. Plus it tastes good. So, to me mulch is the icing on the cake. But the other thing I wanted to mention is, and I touched on it is that I want the mulch to do double duty or triple or quadruple duty and one of the things it needs to do is break down as organic matter to make my soil better as it decomposes and biodegrade. And so that's the other thing about mulch that makes it a, you know, a requirement in anything under any garden under my watch, has to have mulch and to do all those things. And because of it, I have a thriving garden. Keep in mind, it seems like every garden I've ever had since those early days around 2002 with the DIY show, my gardens had been under scrutiny, you know, on national TV, because you know, this is my third series now with "Growing a Greener World", and everywhere I go, you know they are in the show. And so I have a lot of pressure to make sure that I'm doing the right things and telling people how to do the right things and seeing is believing and so if I were telling you people how to do this and then they were seeing my garden and it didn't look that good, you know, I would lose my credibility. So I have to make sure that the things that I tell you to do are actually working. And so there's no better way to you know, let the rubber hit the road than to make sure that it's happening as I say it is right where I live and where I garden. So, yeah, sure.
Nicole: Yeah. I know. Like the the adage of the mechanics are always the ones that drive the beat up junky cars, so I guess that doesn't apply in the gardening world.
Joe Lamp'l: Well, not in the TV gardening world, you gotta, you know, you gotta have a, what people would think is a perfect garden. And I will say this, there's no such thing as a perfect garden, and I have my struggles like everybody else. I'm not immune to any of the challenges anyone else has. And I love the challenges. I think it keeps us honest. I think it keeps us humble. I think it keeps us on our toes. And I think it keeps us always learning. And to me that's one of the best parts about gardening is that it's never boring because we're not in control. And we're always trying to figure out the next problem and how to fix it. And so yeah, no, I am dealing with the same struggles and challenges every single other person is.
Nicole: And I think that's really humbling. I think people just assume that they're not good enough to garden and that's why they're having these problems but really, I mean, they never they never go away. They're just different problems as you grow.
Joe Lamp'l: You know, if I stopped having problems, I probably would lose interest in gardening. I love I mean, really, I love I love the conundrums. I love having to be a Sherlock Holmes in the garden and try to figure out what, why did that happen? Or why is that plant doing that? Or what is that new bug or insect or what is that damage and what caused it and, you know, the cause and effect thing for me is just this perpetual sense of wonder. And it keeps everything so interesting. And I think I don't know anything more than gardening that keeps you on your toes like that.
Nicole: Yeah, maybe kids.
Joe Lamp'l: Okay, you're right. Amen to that. Okay, good one.
Nicole: So are there any other steps then?
Joe Lamp'l: I have a couple more, yeah, I do. And so you know, we just talked about setting your garden up for success. But that doesn't mean you're not going to have those challenges you will., They are inevitable. It's like death and taxes. Those are two things we know are going to happen in life. But we're also going to have weeds and we're going to have diseases and other things that happen in our garden that will happen. So managing diseases proactively, I would say would be the next thing. I think it'd be around number seven out of a list of 10. And in what I mean by that is, I think one of the best things that you can do to keep your garden as healthy as possible, once you've set it up for success is to stay out in front. And so, you know, like if somebody has said one time I think a gardener shadow is a gardens best friend, or I probably just destroyed how it said but the point is, if you're out in your garden often enough, you're going to see things early enough that you can proactively address it to prevent the situation from getting worse. And so that would apply to pest problems. before they get out of hand, you might, you know, hand pick off the few that are there right now to the point that you break the cycle and before they have a chance to, you know, multiply in mass. And it certainly applies to diseases for sure. Because, you know, once those spores are in your garden, and they have a chance to blow around, it's next to impossible to cure you really can't. Once your garden is infected with various diseases, they're usually not curable, they're just the best you can hope for is to slow down their spread. And when you're out in your garden often enough and managing it proactively, you're looking for those subtle changes before they get to be significant or severe changes. And you react by removing those disease parts of your plants out of the garden, getting them out of there and removing those spores or if it's the past, you know, your You're squishing or you're putting row cover over those plants as you see the, you know, the cabbage butterfly fluttering above your Brassicas. And you're you're taking those measures ahead of time so managing disease and pests proactively especially as an organic gardener when you're not going to be resorting to chemicals is paramount to the success once you have your garden planted.
Nicole: So how do you do that when you travel? Do you have somebody that helps you with your garden?
Joe Lamp'l: Yeah, that's a really good question. I don't typically have anybody that helps me with my garden. I'm very hands on when I'm here. And so my trips I've never tried to be away more than like three days at a time, four the most. And the thing I do every time before I leave town is I'd make that my patrol through the garden checking everything that I can, knowing that I'm going out of town. I'm extra vigilant before I go, and because of mulching because I'm watering his soil level because I have healthy soil. I've already set my garden up for success, I've done everything I possibly know to do to reduce the chances that I'm going to have problems because by watering that soil level and adding mulch, I know that the foliage is not getting wet, I know that there's going to be sufficient water in the soil, I know the mulch is going to keep the diseases in the soil. And you know, all those things that we already talked about. So, I'm way ahead of the game. And so I think I can get away for three or four days. And then the first thing I do when I get back is I make that you know, that next stroll through the garden and I, I look for those things. But I have to say, I don't think I'm lucky that I haven't had big problems. I think it's it's deliberate that I haven't had problems like that for the very reasons that I'm sharing with you today.
Nicole: Yeah, I feel like a healthy garden. Just like a healthy person, you know, is easier to combat maybe some small things that come up along the way. Whereas if a person's already sick, and then they get some other things Illness than you know, it's a lot harder to get through.
Joe Lamp'l: This is true, you know, they're more resilient. And, you know, I think plants are more resilient than we give them credit for. And sometimes I think we were far too quick to, to intercede with some sort of chemical remedy. And I think if we take these proactive measures that we've already talked about so far, and allow mother nature to do a lot of the pests and disease control for us and do some things that we'll talk about next in the steps. We can work with Mother Nature in a way that almost works in perfect harmony. And if we're patient and we allow some tolerance and we have some threshold level of the fact that it's okay to have a little damage if we know that if in time, the beneficial insects will move in because we haven't, you know, taken measures to kill them through non selective pesticides and so forth. They are going to be there and they're going to move in and they're going to help us. And so there that's an important understanding that I think we need to have is that Mother Nature has really kind of figured this thing out a long time ago. And if we can get out of the way it's amazing. how resilient of a garden we can create.
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely.
Joe Lamp'l: Yeah. So that would be you know, managing pests and diseases. I talked about diseases primarily, but I mentioned pest enough in there. So that would be the kind of the, maybe step seven and eight there is managing pests and diseases proactively for the same reasons is to you know, the past we want to cut off their lifecycle as early as possible and prevent, you know, them running rampant through reproduction and in knowing what to look for, and certainly identifying if it's in fact a pest. You know, when you see damage on your plant, you need to know what's causing that you just can't start spraying everything, because you want to kill whatever it is that's killing or hurting your plants. Well, the problem with that is that there's a lot of beneficial insects that would like to come in there and help you out. But if we're, if we're, you know, just responding in a knee jerk way, and we're using a non selective bar, broad spectrum pesticide, it's gonna kill everything. And now we've taken out the good guys and the bad guys come back faster than ever, with none of the good guys alive to take them out. And so the problem only gets worse. I have a friend who's a really good entomologist, and she told me, if you really want to have a pest problem in your garden, the number one way to do that is to spray for pests, you know, because for the reasons I just said, you're killing the beneficials too, and then the bad guys come back faster and there's no good guys, and it just gets worse. So you know, going back to being proactive with your management of past including insect pest and disease pest, so that would be that. And so what I was getting to is the next step on my list would be the diversity of your garden, you know, in addition to the things that you plant because you want to eat them or harvest them or intentionally plant them for whatever reason, you also want to create a garden or an environment that's conducive and inviting to biodiversity. And so that's going to be the pollinators and the beneficial insects and the predatory insects that are going to come in, because they want to get to those plants that they like to land on and where they find food sources, nectar and pollen. And along the way, they're going to come across some of those pest insects, and they're going to take them out and find them as a major food source. And so, I think, for me, and for many gardeners, the easiest way to do that is just think about diversity. You know, there are certain plants that maybe are more do a better job of attracting beneficial insects, but I don't overthink it. I just like to plant a lot of diverse options for perennials and annuals and native plants that are know beneficial insects and pollinators are naturally drawn to and plant them close to the garden so that they're going to find insect pests at the same time. And by doing that, and I can tell you, I've been doing it a long time, I just don't have pest problems. Diseases are another thing here in the Southeast because the environmental conditions are very conducive, high humidity, and high heat is very conducive to certain diseases around here, but as far as pests, that prescription for diversity works anywhere, and I think it makes your garden look better, I think it's a healthier garden and just, you know, there's Mother Nature's forces moving in to do a lot of that work for us. So that would be next to the last thing that I can think of for creating a healthy diverse garden.
Nicole: And I know you said not to overthink it, but do you have any kind of go to plants to that you like to add to your garden for the biodiversity?
Joe Lamp'l: I do like to add a lot of herbs and I let them go to flower. And that just that draws in so many great pollinators and beneficial insects that are predatory in nature as far as double duty plants, herbs are great for not only the culinary benefits, but when they go to flower. They're amazing. I mean, I plant so many things, but I never miss an opportunity to plant herbs. Sure and let them go to flower.
Nicole: Yeah, I found that by mistake. Actually, this last year I say that I wasn't being lazy, I was I was creating an environment for them to live in. But I forgot I forgot about my herbs and they they went to flower and yeah, my dill brought in some black swallow tails that were amazing!
Joe Lamp'l: Of course, yeah, it's a beautiful thing how that happens. And I love it when you just plant something and insects show up that, you know you hear will come up. And they do. And it's kind of magical, but it's not it's science, but it's cool.
Nicole: Yeah, I like magical better. We've had a garden for years and I've never seen those swallowtails. So now I know. Yeah. Now I know how to get them next year since it wasn't magic. Right, right. So what is our final step in this process?
Joe Lamp'l: Yeah, yeah. Well, the final step is just really kind of keep an eye on your garden, you know, I almost don't want to use the word tidy because I kind of, say keep the garden tidy. But when I say tidy, I'm not talking about, you know, wiping it clean at the end of the season, because there are a lot of things in your garden that should probably stay there until maybe early spring like the seed heads, for example. I mean, we haven't really talked about food sources for birds. But you know, if we're trying to create a wildlife friendly garden, for example, and attract all kinds of wildlife in beneficials to our garden. Seed heads not only provide a food source for birds, an important food source for birds. But there are a lot of overwintering insects, beneficial insects that find shelter in the spent debris of things that we put into our garden. So although they may be unsightly, personally, I love the look of spent seed heads in the wintertime when there's not a lot to look at. And you just see the structure of the stalks and then the, you know, the sharpness of the seed heads, I think, I think that's beautiful. But I also know it's feeding the birds and I have overwintering insects. So I was going to really kind of maybe focus on making sure that your garden, the weeds are gone, the mulch is clean, maybe you've got a cover crop in place, you don't have just exposed soil because that can blow away or become compacted over the winter with snow or hail or you know, freezing rain or whatever. And so thinking in terms of having a garden that still is somewhat in its original state as it was as it was dying out, but then now you've made a clean sweep and you've checked to make sure that any diseased foliage has been removed, you don't want that to overwinter into your soil. So you're kind of patrolling your garden to get out the things that you know, shouldn't be there, such as disease plants or weeds that could go to seed, or anything else that you see might be problematic. You want to get that out, but I don't think people should feel the need to you know, to scrub their garden at the end of the season because by doing so, you know, it can really kind of have adverse consequences and we just need to give ourselves a little bit of slack and, and you know, cut ourselves a break and not feel the pressure at the end of the season just because gardening season is over that we've now have to go in and you know, make it pristine. That's just not the the advice anymore. I think there was a time maybe 10 years ago or so or that was always the pitch is to you know, make sure your garden is all you know, put to bed and take all the dead material out and clean it up. And, you know, no, no one's saying that anymore. That's a "no", that's not what you do, so and for the reasons I said.
Nicole: My husband and I actually just had this same debate, if you will. He was outside doing some yard work and I wasn't really paying attention to what he was doing out there. And I saw that he had taken down all of the asparagus that had had dried out. And I got a little upset. And I said, Well, what are you doing? And he's like, well, I'm, I'm cleaning up the garden at the end of the year. Well, what he didn't know that I maybe didn't share with him was that I always have praying mantis egg sacks and those that overwinter and yeah, pulled them up and put them in our burn pit and it made me so sad. Yeah, I think that everybody thinks that like you said the sterility going into winter and putting everything away, but I like, like you said to leave things and then clean them up in the spring, and before I start to get into the garden season,
Joe Lamp'l: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
Nicole: So with these steps for a healthy garden, I think that those are some really great tips but assuming that of course you incorporate all of these into your garden. What are some of the garden challenges that you still continue to face despite these?
Joe Lamp'l: Wow, um, this do you have moles or you live moles? Okay, for so for those who may not know what a mole is, it's it's kind of like an underground rodent like a large rat, but not quite as gross as a wet rat, but they kind of live underground just underground in a tunnel, and they're eating basically grubs and worms, and they're just really more of a cosmetic nuisance. But the reason why I bring up moles right now, because I would never mention moles. I don't even think of them as an issue. I just tolerate them. They're very common here, and they they make mountains in your lawn, and they're unsightly and people don't like it. But there's really nothing you can do about it. But the reason I mentioned that is a challenge right now is because I've never had a mole problem in my raised bed garden before until this year, and now they're all in there. They found because we had a really hot dry summer, the the ground where they normally live the lawn area outside of my garden was difficult for them to maneuver through as they burrow and you know work their way underground. It's just hard and red Georgia clay, and somehow they got close enough to my raised bed garden and they realized "oh my God!", they thought they died and gone to heaven because the soil you know, the pathways are even lush, it's just really soft, wonderful soil and then they found their way into the garden. And then they found their way under the frames of the raised beds and into the true perfect recipe soil. And now you know it's manna from heaven they haven't just gone to have now they're eating the manna. And the only reason I knew that they were in my garden beds is one day I'm standing there watering now we just talked about drip irrigation soaker hoses, but I have to what I didn't say was I love to water. So I'll stand in my garden bed with a watering wand pointed right at the soil level and I'll just stand there and let the water drip out right at the base of the plant because I like to supplemental water. And it's a very Zen moment for me, I get to relax and contemplate and I'm staring at my plants for moments at a time I'm not rushing through the garden. And that's a great time to observe. And when I really noticed changes in my garden, well, this time, I'm watering. The water line is right at the base of the soil and the water's coming out and I'm watching the soil give way and basically implode before my eyes and it's disappearing into the, into the bed. And I'm like, "what the heck!" because I've never you know, I've been gardening for decades. I've never seen this happen before. But I knew right away I made the correlation because I knew the moles were coming into my garden, and I figured they had burrowed up under the frames. And now they were eating all the earthworms, and as they were, they were burrowing through the soil and creating air pockets and air spaces and tunnels. And so as water was hitting the surface, it was pushing the soil into those void spaces. And it was literally imploding in the water. The soil was just disappearing before my eyes into those voids. And it was happening in every bed and I'm like, Oh my god, what am I gonna do and there's a really nothing you can do. I'm not gonna I'm not using poison. And so it can be problematic and that they can disturb the area around your plants that where the roots are and a long story short, it wasn't a severe issue with the loss of crops, I still have a very productive garden, but it was one of those things that's come up lately. That's a real conundrum for me because I don't have a solution for it. Traps, you know, the only traps that are effective for moles are lethal, they kind of harpoon them from above. And that's kind of gross and I'd prefer not to do that I'd rather tolerate them and so that's what I've done. And it's seemed to be okay, and I think they've kind of moved on. Anyway, I say that. But my biggest challenge is diseases and because I grow a lot of tomatoes and tomatoes are very susceptible to diseases and I live in the southeast where there are a lot of diseases. I'm kind of a glutton for punishment because I always say I'm going to cut down on my tomato growing numbers every year. You know, I grow about 45 plants this year grew 54 and that's a lot of indeterminate, full sized tomatoes, and I can't seem to help it. I, I love growing tomatoes, let me put it this way I love eating tomatoes. And I put up with growing them along the way, in spite of the fact that I'm very hands on with cutting out the diseases all the time. And that becomes an hour a day project in July when diseases have moved in. It takes about an hour to cut out the disease foliage every day and keep up with it. And it's what you have to do because if you don't, the disease spreads faster. And I said you can't cure it. You can just try to stay ahead of it or slow its spread and that's what I'm doing. But by August, I'm tired and I'm over it. I pull them out and I get ready for my fall garden.
Nicole: Sure. So do you have any other key takeaways or advice for people starting their garden and ways to improve the health?
Joe Lamp'l: Well, you know, you said something at the start of this conversation and I wanted to jump in there. And that is you know, a lot of people feel overwhelmed and they don't know what to do. And so they don't either get started or they just never really, you know, improve on their mistakes. But what I would tell people is you can't become a better gardener until you start gardening. And then embrace the mistakes. And what you have to do is know ahead of time that you're going to make mistakes. And if you're if you don't make mistakes, you're not gardening hard enough, you're not trying hard enough, you're not pushing yourself enough, or you're not challenging yourself enough. So you've got to be willing to accept things happening that you don't have the answers to yet, and be glad for that. Because all you have to do is start asking yourself those questions be that Sherlock Holmes and be that detective and start studying what you think might have happened and maybe do a little homework on the internet or, you know, do what you need to do to research that problem so that you can figure out the cause and effect, and I always like to tell people, you know, it's one thing to know how to do something, because you know that it gives you the instructions you need to do it. But I think it's more important to know why you need to do something. You know, why is it that you need to add mulch? Why is it that you need to create healthy soil? Why is it that you need to be proactive with your pest and disease control. And if you can understand why you need to do those things, you can start applying that information in a way that's just so empowering, that you can't help you become a better gardener the next time or the next day or the you know, whatever. But even before that, there's a lot of people that you and I both know that kind of want to be a gardener, but they just haven't gotten around to it yet, and one of the reasons they haven't is because they're afraid to start, they don't know where to begin. And they feel like they're going to be overwhelmed. And I feel like that is such a shame. I would rather see somebody just start in one container, one pot, one five gallon bucket, plant one thing and just watch it, take care of it, observe it and then expand, don't overdo it. And that's the other thing. I want everybody to start because I think one of the biggest mistakes is we just never get started. The second biggest mistake is we get over ambitious. Just to quickly, because plants want to grow. And if you just set them up properly, they're going to take off on you. You know, we want that big garden, we want a big harvest. You know, those seedlings are so small at the beginning of the season, and we think we need a lot more than we do. But lo and behold, in a few weeks, they've gotten huge. And now, you know, we go away for a week, we come back, and we're overwhelmed. And it's hard to manage a garden that's in full production and thriving, and it gets overwhelming and it can be intimidating and a little discouraging. So you know, find that happy balance. But don't overdo it. I would say it's much better to start small and slow, and expand as you can and you're ready and willing to enable them to overdo it. Because that will have, you know, the opposite effect. And I think it will send you running away rather than running towards it.
Nicole: Right. Better to have small successes instead of an overwhelming failure.
Joe Lamp'l: There you go. Yes, exactly.
Nicole: So for those that maybe you want to get started in they are kind of having this analysis paralysis. I know that you guys have an online Garden Academy and I assume that would be a good resource to get started.
Joe Lamp'l: You know, I, I think it's a great resource. Yeah, I'm a little biased, but we started the online Gardening Academy a year ago, in our first course was beginning gardener fundamentals. We wanted to equip new gardeners or gardeners that wanted to sharpen their game or up their game, the tools that they needed to feel equipped and empowered to get to the next level, whether that was to the first step or the 10th step. And we had so many people come through that course from brand new gardeners, which is what we were really looking for. But we had master gardeners and lifetime master gardeners and horticulturalists, and people that we never imagined would take the course. And we would ask, "Well, why are you taking the course?" And they said, "You know, I just feel like there's always more to learn", and then at the end of the course, they would tell us how much they learn and how they even learn more than they thought they would. And these are the experienced ones. So the feedback we got was so encouraging. And then five months later, we introduced Master Pest Disease and Weeds and instructed people on the best thing techniques for managing your pest and disease and weed problems. And we're about to come out as we record this, we're a month away from launching our Master Seeds Starting course. And that is going to be our biggest and best course yet. it's been in the works for about two years because I knew this is a course I really wanted to do. But it for what I wanted to do, it takes a long time to document it because we have a lot of video and a lot of trials that we did, I kind of grew things every which way you could inside with different types of grow lights, and different types of soils and different type of watering methods and different types of heat methods and different types of germination techniques and spreadsheets that came out my ears. And anyway, I'm very excited to get it launched and we're not far away now. But when we do I think it's going to be pretty incredible. I don't think there's anything even close to it out there now. So that'll be out there. And if people want to know more about the Academy or just to learn more, it's simply JoeGardener.com/Learn that takes you right to the Course page and you can look around there and discover some cool things and we we add to that a one or two new courses a year. So we're very excited about that and the feedback has been amazing.
Nicole: Yeah you can never learn too much like you said once you think you know it all it's because you haven't gone outside of your comfort zone and your boundary and and there's always something to learn and always something you can do better and, and I think those are some really great resources.
Joe Lamp'l: You know, I say that's the one of those other things I say all the time. The one thing I love about gardening is that there's always more to learn. You can never know it all. And so I know more today than I knew yesterday and tomorrow. I'll know more than I know today about gardening and I love that. We talked about how that's what keeps it never boring.
Nicole: Mmm hmm. Yeah, because if it was boring, it wouldn't be fun anymore!
Joe Lamp'l: I like to weed but that's a conversation for another day.
Nicole: 1 Oh, goodness. Well, Joe, I really appreciate you taking the time and sharing all these really great tips with us. I know I'm definitely going to focus on incorporating some into my garden this spring. So thanks so much!
Joe Lamp'l: Oh, you're really welcome! I'm excited to hear that. And thank you for having me as your guest on the podcast. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Nicole: Absolutely, It's been a joy!
Joe Lamp'l: Thank you, Nicole.
Nicole: And for those of you listening, thank you so much for joining us for another episode, and we'll see you again next week.
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