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Episode 7: How to grow delicious, abundant, healthy food in a small space - with Brianne Bernsen




For the live version of the interview with Brianne, either audio or video, visit our Podcast page. Please excuse any errors from auto-transcription. For more information about Brianne's work, please visit www.PlumFabulousFoods.com. 00;00;00;00 - 00;00;55;18

Welcome to this episode of Parallel Times. Today, I'll be interviewing Brianne Bernsen. Am I pronouncing your last name correctly? Brianne, You are experienced in Arcadia. Yeah. Brianne I don't think I've known a brand before, so I'll be interviewing Brianne Bernsen, who's the founder of Plumb Fabulous Foods, which is a micro farm on a homestead in Plum, Texas. And at Plum Fabulous Foods.

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They grow 3,000 lbs. of food a year on a 10th of an acre. It's actually a little less than a 10th of an acre, isn't it? Yes. And Brianne also homeschools her six children while she's doing all of this. So welcome, Brianne, and thank you so much for being with us today. I'm really excited to chat with you. So I met Brianne when she presented at John and Rebecca Bush's excellent Build Land Conference in Bastrop, Texas, in May of 2023.

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And Brianne, I really wanted to talk to you because this is what so many people are feeling that they need to do or want to do what you and your husband have done. And so they can learn from your experience because you've been doing this for, I understand, about 15 years now. And Brianne started this process in 2009.

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Is that right? I think so, yeah. Okay, great. Probably probably 2000. Seven. 2007. Wow. Okay. Yeah. And then she's learned through trial and error and she's poured a lot of what she knows into this book, which I purchased at. Let's see, make sure that you can see it, which I purchased at that, except build land seminar, which is called The Plum Fabulous Guide to Gardening, which is just amazing.

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It's like she's she's giving you those 15 years of experience so that we don't all have to learn as much by trial and error as she did. So it's quite gracious of her, actually to hand over that much information. And in this book, she she shares generously to expedite everyone's learning curve. And we're going to be talking today about Brianne's experiences and some tips for others who want to grow bountiful, healthy food.

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And Brianne, will you say and spell your website for us, for the folks who were just listening to an audio tape? Sure. It's www.plumfabulousfoods.com. Great. And you can find all kinds of articles on there. A link to our youtube.

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Yeah. I was impressed that you have so much free information education. You have that whole series on preserving and fermenting and it's all free. So I definitely encourage people to go and look at what's on the website because it's a great it's a great resource. And you can also buy the book there, correct? You can't. So we're we're we're very small scale.

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And if you go to the Contact Me page on the website and just shoot me a message, then we we take care of handling a book. We still snail mail them and we accept payment online and so we take care of it through there. Great. Thank you. And I think you mentioned something about wanting to publish through a publisher, but I have to say I love this format because the the spiral bound makes it easy.

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Like if you wanted to have this in your garden and actually it's it's all printed on a LaserJet so that if the pages get wet, if you have it in the garden and the pages get wet, they're not going to run. And so that's a it's an extra cost to the printing. We do all the printing and binding ourselves.

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My printing through is six and 11 and 14, a great job. And so yeah, and throughout this interview as well, I'm going to be dropping in some photos from Brian's book as well as some other images that she just provided to me. So that'll be a little eye candy. So you know what we're talking about as we go.

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So I'm going to jump in so I understand you can grow year round where you live in Texas, which is uncommon in many parts of the U.S.. Yeah, but fall is typically an important harvest season. I imagine that's true for you too, even though you grow year round. So can you tell us a little bit about what you and your family grew this year and what you're most excited about in terms of your results and your yield?

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Sure. So we do harvest year round. You asked earlier like what we're harvesting right now. I can tell you I picked up over 100 lbs. of squash in the last two weeks, so there's a lot of things. We just had our first little micro freeze and so we lost a lot of our we have a we have two summer plantings and two fall plantings really.

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And so we lost a lot of our spring stuff, but just real quick, I'm going to read the list of the 33 different crops we grow a year year round here. So bush beans, beets, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, corn, cucumbers, cantaloupe, eggplant, all kinds of earth garlic, leeks, kale, kohlrabi, onions, okra, peas, lettuce, peanuts, peppers, potatoes, radishes, sweet potatoes, summer squash, strawberries, swiss chard, tomatoes, turnips, watermelon, winter squash and spinach.

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And that is in addition to any of the fruit trees that we have. And then we also raised 150 meters a year, and we have about 30 laying hens that we have year round as well. So I always try to encourage people in the idea of food resiliency. You don't have to be the person that does everything, but you have to pick a couple of key areas and then know people that do.

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And so we don't do beets and we don't do cows. But I know lots of people that do. And so it's really easy to partner with them because not it's not very many people do the vegetables and chickens are also something that not a whole lot of people do. So in Texas, everybody has counts. So it's really easy to find somebody that's raising beef and and trade with them.

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That's really interesting about what's coming down there and what's not as common down there. Yeah, but that seems like that's that's really I want to underscore these key points for people, as you mention them, because they they drop like gold, you know. Yes. Key takeaways. And so that idea that you don't have to do everything right could reduce some of the overwhelm.

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The idea that you want to find a niche that's really needed in your area so that you can barter those are both so helpful. Thank you. Yeah. And it's always easier to do something that you're passionate about. And so I'm really passionate about vegetables. We eat a mostly vegetarian diet with meat added. I say we're like meat eating vegetarians.

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And and it's because vegetables are the most that the easiest to produce year round with with a few outside inputs. If I grow my own quantity chicken feed, which maybe I could if I really try it, I've tried and I haven't been successful, but if I could do that, then maybe I would focus too much on the vegetables.

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I would just do chickens. But really vegetables is the easiest thing to learn how to do and it produces year out and you get such a variety. I mean, I couldn't just we couldn't just live on chickens if we could find somebody to barter with. And so I love the diversity of the fruits and vegetables. That's wonderful and great, great tip.

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And I like that idea of being vegetarians that eat some meat. Yeah, that seems very practical. So I love this story in your book about how and why you started growing food. So can you give us sort of a nutshell version of that story so that, yeah, I'm sure people can relate. Yeah. So one of the things I always try to convince people is that they don't have to grow up gardening because so many things you feel like you have to have this background knowledge and you really don't With gardening, we decided to be a stay at home.

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I was going to be a stay at home mom and start raising our children and homeschooling them. So we went from two incomes to one income overnight and in that process I was looking for ways to reduce our grocery bill. And at the same time, we live in a very small rural Texas town. We didn't have a whole lot of organic offerings that the grocery store and I wanted to make all of our own baby food.

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And so I, I went to the library and I got a book and fortunately, I got a great book to get me started gardening. It was organic based methods. It's called the Vegetable Gardens Bible, and we started with two little beds in our city backyard, and I started just raising vegetables in those silver beds. And I, I just had no idea how much I was going to love it.

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But there's no better feeling. I really feel like we were created to grow our own food because I don't think there's many things in life that will bring you as much joy as producing your own food. It's just it's hard to explain. So you've had the opportunity to do it. And I. I had no idea I would enjoy it so much.

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And we started having more children and we knew we were going to have to move to the country. And when we did, the first thing we did was build a bigger garden. And so I didn't have any background in it. Everything I've learned, I've learned from reading books and just applying. I am a student of gardening and so I'm always keeping notes and looking for ways to improve it.

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But it's all trial and error 100%. Okay, that's great. And that's kind of a lead in. I saw a theme in your book, if you will, which was about soil, like all the the iterations and the evolution of how you have created access, purchased, you know, transformed soil. So can you tell us I mean, and maybe this sounds like the obvious, but I think it's it bears repeating.

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I've heard people say that the the Earth biome is like like the human biome. Our gut is like the earth biome is the soil. And so can you tell us a little bit about the importance of having good soil to being successful as a gardener or farmer? And also what good soil is? Sure, I'll I'll try to keep it a simple answer, but you say it may seem obvious, but I don't think it is.

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I don't think it is enough to people that it is so obvious. Like I said, I was very lucky to get started in an organic approach. So it was a no till approach and it was all about building good school from the beginning. And after we moved to plan, I read another book, the the new square foot gardening vote by mail.

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Bartholomew And in it he had this theory that he wanted to develop a system that he could bring anywhere in the world, like Africa or India or someplace that had these terrible soil conditions and have a successful garden. And unbeknownst to me, when we moved to plan, we moved to an area that had terrible soil. It is thick black gumbo clay.

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It's so hard that when we had our five or nine put in the ditch, Digger couldn't dig through the clay. It was too hot. It's like our our. Kelce Yeah. Mexico. Yeah. And so it just, just hearing that idea of building this system that could could be used anywhere was so appealing to me. And so we started we've never too, ever since we've been here because in reading the Vegetable Gardens Bible, I understood that there was this world going on underneath the soil, even though I didn't understand much about it.

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And so we always knew to go up and to build healthy soil above the ground. And so everybody knows there's there's all sorts of of methods and theories out there and gardening. And so gardening has been around for a really long time, right? Like a long time. And you would think in all those years that we would have this best practices system identified and we really don't.

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We feel we have all these various things that people can do. And one of the trends now is to have like the hydroponics or the the grow light systems and the things that you are growing plants where you, you just have the light and you have the water and then you're adding chemicals and nutrients into it. So plants obviously need water and sunlight.

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Okay. So what is it that they're getting from the soil that's so important? And what they're getting is all these micronutrients. So nitrogen and phosphorus, potassium, all these micronutrients and minerals that the plants need to grow. And if you grow something on a on a piece of land, those plants are going to take all of those micronutrients and minerals and the soil.

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And you have to be able to put it back in the soil in order for it to produce a crop the next year, because the next plants you put on that soil are going to have to take up these nutrients. Well, how do you put that back in conventional agriculture, you use chemical fertilizers because they're cheap and easy to produce.

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And obviously any organic, well, we don't want to do that. So what do we have to do? We put compost on the soil. It's all about concepts. And what is complex compost is is plants and animals that have broken down. And when they break down, what you're left with are those micronutrients and minerals that your plants are going to need to grow again.

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Okay. All the nutrients we have in the world right now is is the same We started with thousands, thousands of years ago. It's not like the world's creating new nutrients and stuff. We have a set, a limited amount and so you're constantly recycling them. And so when you take plants out of your garden, when you take grass clippings and leaves and mulch and all those things, and you put it together in a compost bin and it breaks down and it makes compost, you take that, you put it back into your soil, and that's what grows healthy plants.

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And so it's all about the soil. Well, thank you. I know you could probably do like a whole 20 hour course just on soil with what your experiences have been. So thank you for attempting to consolidate that a little bit for us. And so that that first garden that you had back in 2007 2009, that was based on the new square foot gardener, that book you just mentioned by Mel Bartholomew, I believe, and that soil, it looks like you started with a third compost, a third vermiculite and a third topsoil.

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And it is, I believe the biomass contained compost. Pete Pete Moss for making light and compost. Okay. And you purchased those items? I did, yeah. Okay. Yeah. And so how many beds did you have for that first garden? You know, like, how much what was the square footage at first And is that do you have a rough sense of what the cost of that was for that approach?

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We do, yeah. So I've always kept a really good notes through all my gardening because like I said, I'm a student of gardening. And so when we started that, that first garden, we had four beds and it cost over $700 to build these four bins. They were each about four foot by eight foot. And then we had we had two beds that were four by eight, two, four by 64 by 12 on average, and it cost over $750 to build more beds.

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Okay. Yeah. And so a lot of that was the soil costs though. a huge part of it. And then at that time also we were building the frames on the beds. And so when we did a race bed we had the wooden frames around as well. So that was quite a bit of an added cost. Yeah. Right.

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And so what were the benefits and the challenges of that approach? Because I know a lot of people talk about doing raised beds and it's interesting to me that you started with that and then you've gone away from that. So yeah, pros and cons, curious. Sure. So some of the pros are that you can plant it right away, like that day.

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Another pro is that you can go buy all the components and for some people that's a blessing. So they want to be able to go to the store and buy all this stuff instead of waiting to create it themselves. Some of the cons it was, it was very light. And so because of the vermiculite in the peat moss, it was a very light soil.

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And I feel like we lost some of it due to wind erosion. And we get these great big cracks in our clay soil. And I swear some of it's like gone away to these cracks. And it's really funny because they always say that you can amend soils if you're there long enough and you put all this organic matter onto your soil that you can amend it.

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And that is not been true in my case, because if you dig down six inches in our garden, you hit solid clay and it hasn't changed at all in the 12 years that we've been gardening here in plants. So I really am a firm believer in going up no matter where you're at, just build up with good soil.

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So. So it sounds like some of the that's interesting that you invested all this money on it and then you felt like you lost some of your precious soil because it blew away. If you live somewhere like like in Albuquerque where I live or anywhere in this area, we have these huge winds in the spring. And so you could literally, like, watch all that money blow up.

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Yeah. So you wouldn't want to do that. Okay. So good to know. And then what was your harvest like with that soil, with that system? Terms of quantity and quality. It was beautiful. So it really did produce great plants. And so the compost is what's feeding the plants, the peat moss and the vermiculite. Their function is just to retain water.

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And so both of them had to move and so it was a soil that had a consistent moisture content. It really did grow great stuff. I don't have I mean, I could go through my books and tell you the exact amount that we were growing at that time, but it's comparable to what we're doing now. What what we have discovered now is that we get if you take overall garden square footage.

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So if you had a garden that was 30 by 50, if you take that overall square footage and multiply it so you'd have 1500 square feet and you'll get about 1500 pounds of vegetables a year following our methods and planted intention. Okay, So it's about a pound per square foot. That's correct. But in that calculation, you're taking into account not just where you're planting but your walkways as well.

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Right. And so it's not exactly a 1 to 1. It's not exactly a £1 per square foot so much. It's actually more like £2 per square foot because it's going to be walkway figure out the. Okay. So it's important to, to know the statistics because when I consult with people, a lot of times they're starting with a blank slate and they want to get started.

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And I work with people all the time also on they've already built a garden and I come in and try to help them making more manageable and they always overbuilt it. And one of the things I'm very passionate about is building a garden that fits your needs, because I having a nap is a blessing, but having too much is a burden as well because you feel this need to do something with it.

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I don't grow all this food out here so I can feed it to my chickens if I have too much. It's very intentional. Everything we do is very intentional. And so if we're consulting with a family of four, then you have to look at like what the average person eats per pound of vegetables per year, which is about 2 to £400.

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And then you do the math and that's the size of garden. You don't because it's small enough that you can manage it. So I want to anchor these points because they seem like more like golden or whatever pearls of wisdom that you want to start with, the number of people that you have, right? And you said people typically this is an adult, I would guess eats did you say 400 to £800 to two to 400 to 2 for a year per person?

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Okay. And so that would be maximum 400 square feet, including the walkways per person. That's right. So if you had a family of four and you use let's say we use the average of £300 per person, maybe you have $2 and two children or something, then you would have to build a garden that was 1200 square feet to feed them for the entire year.

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And so that's a 30 by 40 garden. Okay. So this is really important to know. And of course, people in the beginning might not be getting that yield, but once you get going along. And then also the other thing you said that I think is so important is the importance of having sufficient pathways. so I want to move on down to your next garden, because I think that one was the one where you started to build in bigger pathways.

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Is that right? This second garden that you had that was based on the documentary or the the teachings in the documentary Back to Eden by Paul Gauci Catchy. Is that how you say that? Okay. And so that garden you started using more mulch to retain the soil and the water in the in the garden. And so can you tell us about that one?

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Because that that was like your next big iteration. Yeah. And so when we moved from town to Plum, we went from two beds to four bits, and then the next year we went from four beds to eight beds and then we went from 8 to 16. And when we were getting to ready to go from that 8 to 16, if we weren't building separate gardens, we were expanding our current garden because when we got to our property, we, my husband and I are both land surveyors and so we map everything.

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We designed our garden in a way that we could start in one part of the art and expand in the future. And I do encourage people to keep that in mind as well, because I've helped people who they'll build their garden at some little back corner of their yard and they can expand it. And I always tell people to start small, get excited, decide if this is your passion or not.

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This is your thing that you want to hone in on and then expand after that. And so when we were ready to expand, we were going to double what we had, and it was too cost prohibitive to continue with the Mills mixed method. And so right about that time we discovered this fabulous documentary and we incorporated that when we expanded our garden.

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And so a couple key things that we did. One, we didn't build any more sides to our base. We decided that instead of spending all that money on the infrastructure to keep our raised beds, to keep that good soil contained, we would just raise the whole garden and so I want to point out that it only takes six inches of good soil to grow anything, and that's anything but the other pearl of wisdom here.

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And so people think they need all this soil and you really don't you really need six inches of good soil. And so it was actually cheaper to so that the area that we were expanding was was 36 feet by about 40 feet. And it was cheaper to just raise that whole area than it was to buy all the wood, to build the beds and then build the beds and then fill in the walkways in between.

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And so that's when we we decided to again, we didn't till we had this great big patch of grass that we were going to turn into gardens and my kids were helping me and because we were going to sell, we had to do something about the grass. So because we live in Texas, we do get to garden year round, which is a huge blessing.

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But the biggest burden we ever had to deal with is grass. We have this grass that these ridiculously deep 12 to 13 foot deep roots that is so difficult to get rid of. And when we had built our original garden, we had all these beautiful raised beds, but we had this grass growing between them and it was constantly getting into beds and it was so much worse.

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I spent more time dealing with my walkways than I ever did reading my beds or doing anything else in the garden, and it was because of this grass. And so when we expanded the second time, we put down newspaper and then cardboard, and then we covered it with a third. And when I say a third, we went, we went at nine inches because we knew as the soil broke down it would contact down to the six inches.

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So we did three inches of topsoil, three inches of compost and three inches of mulch. And we started growing in that. And so I bet you're going to want to know the pros and cons of that method. I would love to know. And also part of what I thought was really important when I looked at your book was a lot of people use cardboard, but the fact that you use the wet newspaper under the cardboard.

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Yeah. Seems like this is a, you know, another like golden tip. Yeah. We call them light bulb moments at our house. Yeah. Because it's they're really they're so simple And so I do want to touch on that real quick because this is something that's really typical. I mean, typical. So a lot of people think they just going to they're just going to put cardboard down because they're just thinking about smothering that grass or whatever's underneath the cardboard.

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And that's true if you're dealing with Bermuda grass like we have here in Texas, that Bermuda grass is just going to sit there and hibernate until that cardboard breaks down and then it's going to start growing again. So what's really key is, is we go out there with a weed eater and we get the grass as low as the ground as we possibly can.

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And then we put the newspaper on top of that and we get it soaking wet because when you do that, then the newspaper collapses and it adheres to the ground and you've taken out all those air pockets so the grass is going to suffocate. Then you put your cardboard on top of that. And really that's just warm. It's really protecting the newspaper from breaking down rather than smothering anything.

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And then on top of that, you put all your soil, and I'm telling you that that key thing right there is probably the biggest takeaway I've learned since we started. And we kind of learned it by accident because somebody wasn't following instructions from my little crew of helpers and they did it like I thought it was supposed to be cardboard first.

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And we did that and somebody else did it. And when when we when we looked at it and when we analyzed it, we saw that the section they were doing like was handling the grass better, we realized we were really on to something. And so, like I said, student gardening, trial and error is everything that we do here.

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That's really funny. And now I have a very mundane question. But in this age of digital information, where do you get all this Newspapers? it's actually a very beautiful thing. This gardening method is the best friend of the County Recycle Center. I mean, I can get everything I need to build my garden from the county, recycle Center, but if you don't have a county recycle center that takes newspaper, then you can call newspapers.

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And they often have unsold cast issues that they're happy to unload. So our our county, our Town newspaper takes all the bundles of their old papers to the Recycle Center so I can literally go there and just get stacks and stacks of free bundle. Newspaper people always ask me about the chemicals in the in the newspaper is from an organic approach.

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It is an accepted organic approach. And most chemicals, almost all chemicals now used in newspapers are soy based and not chemical based. So they're still plant based. So that's wonderful. I did a garden once where we were teaching classes for the community and we had this huge pallet of cardboard donated by Whole Foods at the time because they get all of their.

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So this if you don't have a county recycle center that has a lot of cardboard, you could think about a big box or reach out to any grocery store, any any appliance store. Yes. So it's I think it's beautiful that we can take these things that are looking to be recycled and we can turn them into soil. And guess what?

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Worms. I mean, everybody knows that worms are an indication of your soil health. Worms eat newspaper. And so by having the newspaper there to smother the grass, you're also inviting all the worms, feeding your worms. That's wonderful. Now, another thing that I thought was very critical was that you've gone through an evolution not just with your soil, not just with your types of beds, but also with your fencing.

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Yeah. And for anywhere that's rural, especially protecting against the predators becomes essential. So could you describe that a little bit? And maybe just for the sake of time with the method that you ended up with and why? Yeah, so we started with fast and cheap and we really paid for it in the end. Never used chicken wire to fence anything ever.

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Is all I'll say about that. In the end, we ended up building a field wire fence that had two inch by three squares. It's poly coated, so it's hopefully not going to break down as fast as we really had a bad experience with chicken wire breaking down and rusting and causing having holes in it. And and we were really lucky.

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Any time you you have to stretch field wire, you have to build braces and it become a very complicated process. I can drive a post all day long. I can not dig a four foot post hole in my soil. It would be a lot of work and I do almost all of our gardening near my children. And so I wanted I always wanted to develop methods that were female friendly because in a lot of times and places, it's the women doing this work.

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And I know a lot of people that got into homesteading and they're so frustrating because their husbands have other things that they're interested in doing and the garden is not one of them. And so I'm very happy to have found something that I could do myself. And so we we used to post and we found this system called the wedge lock system, and it's just these little clips that you can put on a tee post and you can basically build an H brace that way.

00;31;31;01 - 00;31;55;21

And it's very easy to use. Once we had the H braces up, it was very easy. We just took two, two by fours and clamped them together to make a fence structure. And I put a chain around it and hook it to my van and hold it and we could tie off the fence to the tee post. And so we were able to build a really nice six foot tall fence very easily, just my children and my.

00;31;55;24 - 00;32;19;17

Do you already have a video on your website about your fence building? We have the footage and we have the pictures. I just haven't put it all together yet. Yeah, there's there's a lot of really great content for our our website that we don't have up yet, but the fence building is one also our compost area because like I support compost is the key to compost is the key to all of your garden success.

00;32;19;20 - 00;32;44;03

And we learned a lot about compost along the way. And so we did have to go through last year and completely redesign and rebuild our compost area. And so I'd really like to get those pictures together to encapsulate all that we've learned just on compost. While not the best way to build it. Well, even the pictures in your book I had compost bin envy.

00;32;44;03 - 00;33;07;28

What I wanted you to do was, Yeah, I'm. Can't wait to see those. Yeah. One of the tips in your book that I liked about the fence posts was It's a whole lot easier to whack a fence post down deeper than it is to pull it out if you hit it in too far first. Yeah. Yeah. That's that's funny that you caught on to that.

00;33;08;00 - 00;33;27;22

Just trying to get them all the same height stuff. I've a I really like a clean garden. I like things looking clean and looking neat. And so out of all of those little things become important, you don't want to look out there and see a fence with people going all over the place. Well, I imagine also, if you're a land surveyor that you.

00;33;27;25 - 00;33;56;23

I do. I have an affinity for straight lines and geometry. You're a geometry person. So in 2019, you expanded your garden again, and this time it became 32 feet by 110 feet, I believe, which is I did the math at 3520 square feet, which is just under a 10th of an acre. Yeah. And I understand that you decided to use 100% country mulch that you had delivered from a local vendor.

00;33;56;23 - 00;34;26;13

And there's a great picture of your kids standing on top of that load, that delivery of mulch. So can you explain about mulch and this question about whether mulch then needs to become composted and how long that takes and how you do that? And you know, if you buy it and you set aside this bed somewhere with your on top of your wet newspaper and your cardboard with your mulch on, and then you just like leave it there for a year and water it or how does that work.

00;34;26;16 - 00;34;51;15

Yeah. Okay. So that's a lot to unpack. You just have you have a lot of questions there. Yeah, sorry, I've been a back up to our second expansion real quick and talk about the benefits and downsides. Okay. The mix that we used of the compost topsoil and mulch. Okay. Mulch really great at water retention. And one of the things I mentioned before about how it's all about returning those micronutrients and minerals to the soil.

00;34;51;18 - 00;35;17;13

So trees have this wonderful ability, these deep tap roots, to reach way down in the soil and pull up nutrients that we just can't access in the top layers of our soil. And those people soils are very depleted. So I'm sure you've heard like if you compared an apple now to an apple like 100 years ago, it takes one apple from a hundred years ago to equal 100 for nowadays because the mineral content is just not there anymore.

00;35;17;16 - 00;35;37;15

And that 2 to £400 average that people eat, that's considering you're eating nutritious food, you know, if you're eating a bunch of vegetables that are nutritionally dead, you're going to have to double that. And so for us, it's always been about creating very nutrient dense food. And so we want the most nutrients in our soil when they're growing our crops.

00;35;37;17 - 00;35;56;17

And so that second garden we had the compost which was feeding it, we had the mulch which was going to break down into compost because the only difference between mulch and compost is six months while mulch is going to become compost. But it's like a slow feeding. It's like a it's like a time release vitamin if you let.

00;35;56;20 - 00;36;16;01

Okay. And then the other part that we had was topsoil in that plant. And I don't know why we did that. We did that because we thought we needed to have soil. I wouldn't do it again. I would mind soil because typically when you're buying top soil, it's almost death, okay? Like it's already almost had most of its nutrients taken out.

00;36;16;04 - 00;36;38;08

Wow. That's a weather good tip. And I bet it's expensive. It is. Well, it's less expensive than compost for some reason. Typically, just depending on where you are. We're close to several mushroom farms. And so you can always get mushroom compost around here because my mushroom growers grow on the strata that they use, they can only use it once and then they have to filter out and get new.

00;36;38;11 - 00;36;57;14

So it's actually really easy to get large amounts of compost around here, but I wouldn't do that again. And so the third time we expanded our garden, I was doing a giant experiment and so we went at the time that we expanded our garden was already about 30 by 60. So we expanded again to create that 410 feet.

00;36;57;21 - 00;37;26;06

It was like 30 by 40 or 50. I just can't remember the rough numbers, but it was basically taking what we already had and totally doubling it. It was a large area, so that when we did the first garden, $750 for those four beds, $750 again to double it. Okay, that's a lot of money, 1500 dollars. When we did the second garden, we were able to do it for like $800.

00;37;26;09 - 00;37;57;02

All the soil components that we bought when we did the third garden, which was double everything that we already had, we did $350 for the mouse that we used and so our county again, our county was like, Wow, So you doubled it and you doubled the size, but you have the cost. Absolutely. Yeah. And so our county has this fabulous recycling program where the people in town, when they trim trees and stuff, the city will go around and pick it up and they'll take it to the county recycling center.

00;37;57;02 - 00;38;21;14

And then the recycling center grinds it into molds. And so it's very easy for us to get $5 yard sale. Just fill up your pickup truck, $5 yard, all the mulch you want. And what's really nice about that is that you're actually getting treats. So if you buy back mulch, you're probably getting chopped up pallets, chopped up furniture, chopped up.

00;38;21;14 - 00;38;53;28

Who knows what? That has all kinds of chemicals in it. And then they formaldehyde producing color. Yeah, formaldehyde especially. And then they die it all to be the same color. You don't want any of that in your garden. And so if you're able to source, like direct from the source, like if you see the pile of tree branches and you see the mulch next to it because you can see the chippers out there, or if you can get a tree company, a lot of places have tree trim any kinds of power line companies, if you can call them and say, Hey, come dump your loads at my house, then you could do this for free.

00;38;55;17 - 00;39;14;15

That's a great tip. Another great tip. Pearl of wisdom. Yeah. Yeah. Get tree mulch. Get it for somebody who's chipping it. That's right. And I do want to say, though, that the only downside so benefits and drawbacks to this third system that we use for straight 100% mulch, nine inches of mulch on newspaper and cardboard. That's it.

00;39;14;22 - 00;39;33;02

We had all the mulch delivered. We rented a bobcat and literally two and a half hours I did a farmer's market in the morning. We came home, spread that whole garden two and a half hours and went to a wedding that afternoon. So we just it was amazing how fast it went. The downside to it is that we couldn't plant in it for a year.

00;39;33;04 - 00;39;47;25

Okay? And trust me, I tried because I just had all this soil. I just I had to put the seeds in it. And my husband, he said, you know, it's not going to work. And he was right. And you can see the difference between mulch and compost is time. And so we had to allow that mulch to break down.

00;39;47;27 - 00;40;12;09

It took a year for it to break down, and a year after that, it literally grew exactly the same as the mills. Next, it's production wise. It was it's just beautiful, beautiful soil. And so okay, good to know and my senses and tell me if this is correct that it also depends on how much water you have in the area because water is required to break down compost or mulch or anything.

00;40;12;09 - 00;40;38;15

And so like where you live, it's a pretty moist area where I live. It's really dry. Yeah. That you have to water your mulch. So there's different things that you could do to speed up the process. You can put alfalfa pellets on top, You want to get anything. It has some source of nitrogen. If you had alfalfa hay, you could put that on top, you could put urine on top, you could put all sorts of things that have nitrogen in it that would help speed up that process if you wanted.

00;40;38;18 - 00;41;06;19

Water, of course, helps speeds up that process as well. We get about 40 inches on average a year of rain where I'm at. But one of the things I want to point out about the mulch, it's so beautiful, so much has this amazing ability to retain water. And I have this great factual data about that. So I have a neighbor behind me who had a garden half the size of me, and I was talking to her once and she was telling me that her her water bill was like ridiculously high, hundreds of dollars.

00;41;06;19 - 00;41;28;10

And I was just shocked. And I said, What are you doing to have such a high water bill? There's two of them. And she said, I'm watering my tomatoes and I know people all around me that water twice a day in the summertime to keep them alive. And at that same time, I'm watering once a week and with a family of eight, our water goes like $100 a month and that at the same time period at $600 a month.

00;41;28;12 - 00;41;56;25

And if because of the multiple gardens, it's because that mulch naturally has a great ability to do what it's going to hold on to the water, if it's too dry, it's going to hold onto the water. It's just amazing. I can't I can just tell you I've got it. It's 100% more. So with the garden that you have now that started with the mulch that stood for a year, that's the one that's been the most water efficient, it sounds like.

00;41;57;03 - 00;42;16;20

Well, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. You water that melts makes and there's the components in it that hold water that keep moss the vermiculite that really helps it And and then our middle garden is probably the worst the retaining water because it didn't have as much mulch and I've amended it over the years. I do add compost and moss to my garden every year.

00;42;17;18 - 00;42;42;07

So you top trust since you're a no till. Absolutely. Yeah. And I do real quick about the notes thing, I just want everybody to understand this because I have a lot of difficulty getting people to understand why we don't to if you look at a community, a town that's taken hundreds of years to build, right? And if you thought about a tornado coming through that town and destroying everything overnight, that's what tilling is like underneath the soil.

00;42;42;07 - 00;43;02;12

We have this whole world, all of these micro organisms, and they have air pockets and they have interconnections. And you've got fungicides, fungi, fungal rhizomes, all kinds of things that are interconnected. They talk to each other and when you come through with the tiller, you wipe all that out and the whole system has to start building all over again.

00;43;02;14 - 00;43;18;19

And so I'll I'll talk to people who are like they want to know what they can do different in their garden. I just tell them the first thing to do is to stop two. Right. It would be like if you had a forest and you went through and just ripped up all the tree roots and then the trees to survive, right?

00;43;18;20 - 00;43;50;01

Yeah. Right. Yeah. And they actually feed each other too. They pass nutrients back and forth through the roots. So it's fascinating things coming out about that stuff now. Yeah, it's really it is really incredible. So and I understand that now you have such a great yield that you actually sell at farmers markets, right? So you have now like £3,000 a and for your eight people in your family, you don't need that much.

00;43;50;04 - 00;44;10;09

It's a little bit more now that I have for teenagers, they're eating a lot more. But but we eat about 1500 pounds a year, 1000 to 1500 pounds a year ourselves. And then so we have half of what we have. We're able to sell to other people. And so it totally pays for our whole grocery bills, you know, the things that we still have to buy the school paper and the milk.

00;44;10;09 - 00;44;34;20

I have two kids that work at a raw milk dairy. And so again, like, you don't have to do all the things, You just have to know some of the other people that that do. So it sounds like your garden is paying for itself with the extra. Yeah. And then amazing. That's really amazing. Okay, so we've talked I want to just because we want to not take too much of your time and make this too long.

00;44;34;20 - 00;45;01;06

But other than these pearls of wisdom that you have already shared, which I think are incredibly valuable and could save people at least a decade of trial and error. Yeah, what I mean, if you if there were one thing or two things that you wish you had known right from the beginning. Is there anything else that we haven't stated that you wish you had known right from the beginning?

00;45;01;07 - 00;45;29;23

Sure. One right from the beginning. I wish I had. I know when you move to a new piece of property, you're going to Homestead. You've got all these things that you have to do. And I tell people, number one, start your garden. Just don't even worry about fencing. Go out there with your cardboard in your newspaper, in your mulch, and just put it down and then let it sit for a year while you go take care of all these other projects, because that's going to be the cheapest, easiest way to start a great garden with this fabulous soil.

00;45;29;25 - 00;45;50;01

And so use time to your advantage in that situation. And I wish I had known that because I would have done things differently. It's also very important your order of operations. And so if you don't put the newspaper and cardboard down first and you put your nine inches the soil on top of it is going to break down, it becomes six.

00;45;50;04 - 00;46;08;12

You you've just really made a lot of work for yourself. And I know people that have done this like they didn't follow the order of operations that we really try to stress in the book. And they just created way more work for ourself, for themselves. And the reason we put all that stuff in that book was because we did things wrong ourselves and then we had to go back and fix it.

00;46;08;12 - 00;46;26;19

And it's a lot more work to fix it rather than to do it in the right order, right? And so that it sounds like and I'm soaking this all up because we're going to be starting a new homestead in the next six months. And I'm already thinking, well, do we truck in the soil? Do we this, do we that?

00;46;26;21 - 00;46;48;24

And so I'm thinking that, okay, we can do two things in parallel. We can start a big garden with the mulch and let it sit for when we can get to a larger garden the subsequent year and start a smaller garden with the current mix. And, you know, use that as like a pilot project to work out our systems and then make it larger the next year with her most beautiful.

00;46;48;24 - 00;47;05;00

And then in the future you can use those beds for herbs. I really like keeping the herbs out of the garden because a lot of those are they stay there all year long and so it's really better to have those separate. So it connects. In that case, I would use that now for vegetables, use it later for herbs.

00;47;05;02 - 00;47;24;10

And so having a good plan is really important. But don't don't spend so much time planning that you never get out, start planting. And then the other thing I would really encourage people is to keep a journal. And so the only reason we were able to ever write the book is because I had spent 15 years keeping a journal of everything I've ever done.

00;47;24;10 - 00;47;46;06

And this is like I keep all my notes in here every literally every time I go out there, I've got maps and sketches and calendars and all sorts of things. And that's how you improving your your method from year to year, because gardening is very geographical. And so what works for me, like my calendar and my varieties that work well for me here, may not work as well for you where you're at, but you'll have to develop that knowledge yourself.

00;47;46;08 - 00;48;12;13

And the only way that you can harvest so much from such a small amount of space is to be very intentional. So I'm always looking at the calendar. I'm always just doing a little bit consistently along the way so that my garden is always fully planted and fully maximized. Maximizing yields. That's great. And it reminds me that my stepfather was a food scientist at Cornell.

00;48;12;13 - 00;48;39;15

That was his solo, his work. And so I saw him for years in the home garden that he had with my mother. He would document everything for. Yeah. His notebooks were a thing of beauty, his garden notebooks. Yeah. And it's really important information. And just so you know, like, the things that are really important are dates when you plant something and when you harvest something and how much you harvest.

00;48;39;17 - 00;48;56;26

If you realize that you're only harvesting a half pound of peas every year. And I'll tell you, these are the lowest producing plant there is if you if you're not getting a huge yield, we won't grow it again. We're a high production garden. I need a lot of vegetables to feed a lot of people, and that's what I'm concerned about.

00;48;56;26 - 00;49;28;07

I don't do crazy, goofy niche things. I do what everybody eats and if you if you pay attention to those times that you're planting and harvesting, then you'll know when that that's going to become available to put something else in. And so that's what I'm talking about, that intentional, intentional miss, you always you just have to constantly be thinking about what can I do next in the garden, I meet a lot of people who they build it and then they think they're done and they walk away.

00;49;28;07 - 00;49;47;29

And like having a garden is kind of like having to it's like it's just a continual investment of your time and energy and thought process to to reap all these beautiful benefits that we're so thankful for. Right. And if you don't track it like, I remember there was one year that I planted some kind of an Asian green.

00;49;47;29 - 00;50;08;27

That was fantastic. It was like it produced all summer. It was pest resistant, it was delicious. You know, it kept receding into the fall. And and then I hadn't kept the seed packet. no. But it was and I've never known what it was. I was like, you know, So for years I've been like, if I could just figure out what that thing was that I wanted.

00;50;08;29 - 00;50;31;04

So don't be like me. Write it down. Yeah. So in closing, what would you say to someone who wants to grow some or maybe eventually all of their own food, but they feel overwhelmed or they feel daunted by getting started? What would you say to them? I always tell people to start small because if you start too much again, it's like having children.

00;50;31;04 - 00;50;50;27

Nobody starts out with six children, right? You have one child and you decide like, I can do this, and you slowly add to it because your heart grows. And that's how it is with gardening too. Start small. Decide if you're going to love it or not. And I'm telling you, there is no better feeling than that salad you made with your own that is in your own tomato.

00;50;50;27 - 00;51;14;17

I Remember the joy we would have if we had a meal where we produce all parts of like this was at once a year. It was just a huge occasion and now it's so we I mean, everything we eat comes from our property and we don't even think about it anymore. And we, we eat, like I tell you, farmers, farmers what they lack in income from what they're doing because growing vegetables is not a huge moneymaking endeavor.

00;51;14;19 - 00;51;34;14

But you get to eat like a king you put in. I mean, the part the people that shop at the farmer's market couldn't buy all the vegetables enough to to supplement your whole diet. You're buying things to have a couple of meals, but nobody goes to the farmer's market and buys 100% of their vegetables for the week. You couldn't afford it.

00;51;34;16 - 00;51;58;13

And so the people that take the time to do this, if you'll take the time to just start small and then just gradually increase your knowledge and increase what you're working on, you'll love it and it will not feel overwhelming. It will feel exciting and achievable. And in the end, you'll have so much that you're thankful for and delicious.

00;51;58;13 - 00;52;13;22

That's what. Absolutely. And your health is going to benefit. Your physical is going to benefit. I remember when I got into gardening and I read that it was great exercise and I remember thinking like, how hard could it be your folks and seeds in the ground? And let me tell you, it is it was amazing. Is amazing exercise.

00;52;15;07 - 00;52;55;04

Well, thank you so much, friend. And this has been very inspiring and very informative. And I learned a lot that's personally useful for me. So I appreciate your generosity in sharing all of your experience. And hopefully we'll be talking more again soon forward to getting this out to our viewers and listeners. Great. Thank you. Thank you.

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