I grew up on Long Island, just got back from New York, but IDK if I have ever been there. I talked at a guy Aiden who is a manager at Young’s Farm and Larry Tse who runs a farm for Dig Inn which is also in the Hudson Valley. It is July 11, 2018 and I have a guest who’s books have been recommended a number of times on the show.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I did not grow up in agriculture
a long time ago I was in college and grad school in Chemistry, then i dropped out of grad school in Chemistry and I moved to Vermont for a year to figure out what I was gonna do and I got really into reading about gardening. After a year of not doing much in VT I went to grad school in Ag at the U Wisconsin.
I dove into gardening intensively, I was learning a lot, because I didn’t know anything!
I was learning a lot about soil science especially, because that’s what I was in grad school in and after few years I got a degree in horticulture too. Still gardening crazily.
access to a good agriculture library so I would read everything I could find besides doing it. I worked for the Soil Conservation Services which is now called the Natural Resource Conservation.
Went back to school and got my Doctorate in Horticulture with a specialty in fruit crops. I worked for Cornell for a while, when that job ended I went off on my own lecturing and writing and consulting.
The whole time I did garden like a maniac, I still do, it hasn’t lost it’s appeal. I still love it!
One other addition when I moved to NY to work for Cornell so I planted 3/4 acre
field another 2 acres south of my property. A little over 2 acres. Instead of planting 2 of each fruit tree I planted 20 so I could study them more. I renamed it a farmden, more then a garden a little less then a farm!
Tell me about your first gardening experience was that in Grad school?
When I was very very young we had a house just north of NYC
We had a house with a small vegetable garden, it was planted by the swing set. I wasn’t that into the garden, I liked eating from the garden. I remember my father giving me this shovel and said, turn over the soil here. It was taller then me, I remember trying to put the shovel in the ground, it was like a rock, it was a stiff clay soil.
It’s tough when you have that kind of soil, Mike was just telling me the other day don’t dig there, don’t you see all those rocks.
a bold title the publisher made up, I always say it’s not Weedless, it’s Weed Less gardening, the main theme, that I practiced is
My garden soil has not been dug for many years
studying soil science
goes back to trying to shovel in the ground when I was a little kid.
You did all this school, started writing, gardening the whole time, so I guess one big questions I have is that at school you don’t always learn the organic way, and how did you learn the No-Till thing?
Not in school, as a matter of fact, it was kind of mentioned disparagingly, if at all…
definitely didn’t each organic
sort of learning basic soil science
basic soil science
isn’t organic or not organic, it’s just basic soil science and can be applied organically or not organically but I used it from the organic perspective
Now most of the land grant colleges have come around to noting the benefits of organic guarding learning the basics.
I like to learn from books and trying things out in the field.
I was trying things out reading a lot and gardening a lot
I feel lucky to have that opportunity to have access to all that literature and have a garden.
classroom access to have a classroom
could not live anywhere without a garden.
I think that’s perfect for my listeners because I think a lot of my listeners are like that , there are definitely new gardeners but may are master gardeners people who’s whole backyard is a garden, and they have been doing it a lot like you have. Do you want to tell us about something that grew well this year?
Let me say one more thing. A lot of people, I actually wrote a book that just came out this past spring.
- relates to what I said previously
- people don’t realized the awesomeness of the science that’s going on in the garden
- making plants grow
- stick a seed
- what’s happening out there
- get better results
- was quite good
- just cause I learned what was going
If you have any tips for soil health because that is a total theme on my show.
TIPS galore on soil health
start out studying soil
before I studied horticulture
hate to even throw out anything it goes to the landfill is to me disrespect for soil
The no-till thing is
care for the soil
not a religion like you are a bad person if you till your soil.
But if you manage a system where you don’t have to till the soil, it really does lead to healthier soil
increase soil organic matter
- physical characteristics
- nutritional characteristics
- really increase soil’s organic matter.
When you till a soil
- thin threads
When you till a toil it breaks them up worms obviously won’t like a soil that’s being tilled all the time
building up organic matter as much as possible with
- cover crops
I’m lucky because I’ve been over 30 years in same place
levels are super high
nice and soft
joy to work.
Well, I know listeners are probably wondering and I know we struggle here if we are building new beds, where do you come up with soil. I mean we never have enough compost. We’re constantly expanding. Now he has this thing I call the mini-farm that’s maybe a 1/4 acre, anytime he puts in new beds, we have 260′ of fence in our old garden.
I also think it’s so true it’s disrespectful to be throwing things out. Are you just talking about organic matter or turing in beat greens when you harvest the beets. This year he grew fava beans but as a cover crop but we harvested the beans. I keep reading about cover crops and you’re supposed to kill them before they flower.
yeah, that’s good.
my suggestion is don’t even turn it into the soil, because when you mix it in you are disrupting the fungi and worms and you are actually adding oxygen while turning up the organic matter.
ways to deal with cover crops so they are winter kill.
on a home garden scale
that winter kills
really likes cool weather, come dec, when January comes around the winter kills and then by spring the tops you can rake off and just plant
there’s a lot of research on big farm scales
crimpers that knock it down and sort of cut it up just into the surface.
Ok, cool, because I haven’t really heard about people using it on a big scale. Good to know.
keep everything simple
It takes more time to complicate things, people come up with all sorts of things, it will probably alienate some readers, is compost tea
some you can make
compost it rains, the compost goes into the soil.
separate and water it on my plants
not worth using
it does have some benefits sometimes and sometimes negative.
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
I look at lot of commercial horticulture, I get these bulletins from Cornell about what pests are around and what sprays to put on things. IDK if it’s
- just luck?
- taking care of soil?
- time things?
Vegetables, I generally find them easy to grow
I have very few pest problems
grow a bunch of different vegetables
something fails you have a lot of other things
very few pest problems
I think a lot of my guests have said that healthy soil is key but I know that I have got the impressions that those of us that live in northern climates the less pests we have and also the majority of my guests have agreed that healthy soil leads to less pests.
plants are healthier you get less pests.
what a healthy plant is, one way could be to define it as no pests.
And no disease?!
Yes, here in the NE
get a lot of pests and diseases
especially on fruit plants
generally things grow well
I try to grow plums here
Plums have a lot of pest problems
I lot of years, I basically don’t get any plums. Maybe where you are you might have certain limitations for climate.
you don’t have as many pests
I am so curious to see, we had a plum tree that was covered in plums like crazy and right before harvest they died and now we have a plum tree that has finally grown an abundance o plums and I’m curious to see what happens?
Maybe you do have some of the diseases we have. I have a plum tree, one has nothing
One is loaded and sometimes as they ripen, they get a fuzzy gray coating and they rot and dry up it’s called brown rot. It is common here in the east.
That one tree was young, only like 3 years old. This one, I want to say has been in there since 2012 and this is the first year it has put out any fruit at all, and it is just covered in plums.
tell you about one of my successes.
I have a small greenhouses,
Not that small …
Yes, I guess.
I get a lot of use out of it, minimally heat it so it doesn’t freeze
fresh salad stuff all winter
- fresh kale
In the spring I raise all the seedlings from my garden in the greenhouse
in the summer. This is the best part I have four fig trees planted in the ground
I planted in 2001, they have trunks about 8” across. First of all, I have to control the growth because they can get big in a greenhouse.
A few years ago I started getting one pest
very hard to control, we used to try everything.
- toothbrush with alcohol
- spraying with oil
- try a whole bunch of different things
I grow figs outside in pots that I have to bring into my basement. Every year the scale insects would get the better of me and it was like an actually race fruits are they before they ripen or not. So I read about it and I find out there are some beneficial insects.
Actually they were mealy bugs
bought 2 different types
one in April and another one during the summer
very effective but very expensive, cost about $160 total. It was a lot, i figured I had aobut 160 figs so it came out to about $1.00 a fig. So not too bad?
all set to buy the insects again
screen the hole greenhouse
will over winter there won’t be able to get out
never have them on the outdoor figs but I do have them on the indoor figs, so I thought what’s the difference and the outdoor figs I realize the rain falls on them more humidity
So almost every day since they were about to start growing I strong spray with a hose and I look really carefully
Have not seen one scale insect
crop looks unbelievable
trapped them in there
changed the microclimate
happy with the results
trained the in the espalier form
- 2 dimensional geometric from
- short trunk
- main horizontal branch that’s permanent
- fruiting branches are going up vertically and the
- figs are just lining
- vertical branches
Goes into the science behind it
pruning more clear
why plants do what they do.
You seem to have this really curious mind and learning, and solutions based.
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
a lot of common fruit plants
Are very hard to grow so one common tree fruit that are not hard to grow are pears so I am going to increase my pear collection.
- 20 different varieties
- really into grafting
- cut the root stocks
- special varieties
- fun to make a tree
- also grafting in the new book
- science behind what’s happening
- guides you better
- what you are doing better
I had two people talk about grafting, one about grafting tomatoes and one grafting fruit trees.
Something else for next year?
I went to an organic farming conference and also a workshop the previous summer on
When you buy which can help with a lot of soil born insect pests
pests that tunnel into
- fruit pests
pest of apples and of peaches
spends part of it’s life cycle in the soil
beneficial plant supplier
Problem is you have to buy them every year
There is some research at Cornell where they are extracting them from the native soils
- live year after
- apply and will multiply
- grow them myself
Too many things going on this year, so I don’t think its gonna happen but next year for sure!
What you do is you buy wax worms!
- fishing bait
- grow these nematodes
- extract them
- water them into the soil
people can grow them yourself
I bet there is at least one person out thinking I wonder if there is someone out there thinking I can make a business of selling them.
The important part is they are perennial
The ones I would be getting are starters would be extracted from soil in NY, probably good for anyone in New England. If you are in Louisiana, you should get their own beneficials because they will survive better.
I think this is fascinating and I love the way you are coming up with solutions that help us save our land and not have to put pesticides on our soils.
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
One failure was leeks last year, I grew leeks and was all set to harvest them
- wrapped together
I still haven’t figured out what exactly what they are, I would hate for that to happen again. The wonder of the iPhone take pictures I can get refer back to, ask around see if anyone can help me identify it.
hopefully find out what it is
find an easy, non-toxic way to control.
Interesting no one has talked about leeks problem.
I have grown them for years and years and never had a problem.
I don’t get too uptight, when I have a problem, I do like leeks, so I prefer not to lose them, but it keeps everything so interesting. Pests are sort of interesting and figuring out how to control them is very satisfying.
That is true, I always tell Mike IDK how you are so persistent I would be so frustrated if I had the trouble he had.
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Now Let’s Get to the Root of Things!
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?
Believe it or not harvest
i really don’t like harvesting
I like to go out to the blueberries in my mouth
But we have a lot to put away for winter
16 plants and we get about 200 quarts of blueberries
eat the other half
half go into the freezer
I really don’t like to stand there picking, but my wife doesn’t mind or I think she likes it. She does most of the harvest
I’ll bet my husband wishes I did half the harvesting! I like to eat the vegetables sure. I’m getting better about it, but that harvesting thing is, it all comes on at once and your bending in weird shapes and doing all sorts of strange things.
It’s good for you!
I writing a weekly column, locally in a blog
a new type of exercise
ra – king I go out and do scy-thing and we have another
- two acre field
- just grow up
- cut for hay with my scythe
- use for composting
- She really likes rak-ing
- We’ve talked a lot on here about doing gardening Crossfit! One time we even had a garden Crossfit of the year competition because I am always amazed at what people do!
It’s nice on a garden scale
In a garden you get to move around a bit more
hours stooped picking
a lot of broad range of activities growing good tasting stuff.
My husband is in super good shape just from working in the garden and our house is kind of on a hill so just walking there is some exercise.
I am always thankful have the garden
move around different
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?
One of my favorites is making compost
learning about soil and soil biology
I remember for an article an editor came to take pictures, he accused me in a humorous way that maybe my garden was just a place to use my compost!
I do like to make compost
10-12 compost bins
holds almost a ton of compost all by hand
I never ceased looks like to most people like garbage in and I get this beautiful compost out.
I put everything in, people say don’t put diseased stuff
insects and pests
I contend if you look closely at any part of a plant you will probably find some insect, find something that’s not good
put nothing in there
Sometimes I put less conventional things
- old leather gloves
- takes a long time to break down
- old levis
It was like a dryer cycle, it was almost four cycles before they composted, at the end they look like shear polyester, I put my old underwear and all that is left is the elastic.
There was a contest on Facebook they said if all that was left was your elastic.
It was Ag Canada kind of like the USDA of canada
see how biologically active soil
told you how deep to bury it, cotton underwear of course.
dig up after a certain amount of time
Depending on how decomposed it tells you how active your soil is.
I put everything int he compost
all of my vegetable beds
inch depth on top of beds
I don’t add any fertilizer and that’s all they get, they are very intensively planted beds too and that’s all they get.
That’s something we have in common I hate throwing things in the garden.
It was interesting because Levi’s took a long time and my daughter had some jeans and they composted in one cycle. All that was left was a zipper and a snap on top
Do you want to explain what is a cycle?
Yeah, typically what I do is through summer I’ll be making compost, I throw everything into it.
I also have this hay field I spend about 20 minutes I cut and it makes a lot of hay, and from a neighboring horse farm I will maybe get some horse manure
add a few other things
make it throughout the summer
- turn the compost following spring
- mixed up to make any clumps
- water to build it make sure it is not too dry
- get hot quickly
typically gets 140-150º
- make it through summer
- turn it once in the spring to make sure everything ok
- don’t necessarily use it all, and use it through the next season that would be one cycle.
The Levis took a few cycles
Another one of my favorite activities is to
When I prune them I know that with each stem I can make into a new plant
some I have to make into new plants
grapes when I prune them from cuttings
I really like propagate!
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
I guess one of the best things is when I first started gardening, I was going to graduate school, I was reading alot and studying a lot and gardening a lot! and I got to visit Eliot Coleman and I also got to visit Scott Nearing, they live next door to each other.
Strawberry Growing Advice
I wanted to plant strawberries and I told them I was a novice and they had written these very reputable books, not to plant strawberries in ground that had been lawn just before because it has
and grubs eat strawberries and they will kill the plants. I mentioned it to Eliot and he just said, it might happen, but just go ahead and plant because it might not happen and so I did and the strawberries came out fine.
The advice I gleaned form that if in doubt always just plant
After I started gardening
I was going crazy won’t do it 100%
“So If In Doubt Plant”
I like that because I think that ties in what you said earlier, if you plant a lot if something fails, lots of it is going to succeed.
whenever my wife bemoans this thing is going to be attacked from this insect or disease we just stop and realize how much we do get. The lost something is inconsequential
A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be?
IDK about these one favorite what if I pick 3?
key to having a good organic garden is to move a lot of bulky materials around
feed the soil
organisms they eat bulky organic materials
love using a scythe
bulky organic materials
good garden cart
3 big garden carts
can each hold about 400 lbs
I picked up these other two at a yard sale and I can’t figure out how I lived without them.
I can totally relate to that, when I first came up with this question I thought of course a shovel but no it’s a wheelbarrow. And now hauling things up from Mike’s minifarm.
You have to be careful not to grow too much. At a certain point you over extend yourself.
I always say start small. Mike’s goal has been to grow as much for us to supplement our produce bill. He’s getting really close with potatoes, last year he grew golden beets were gone in October. We’d like to expand to market but IDK how we would ever have enough water.
We manage to grow 99% of our produce with the greenhouse. A lot of fruit, not 99% but a large percentage.
A favorite recipe you like to cook/eat from the garden?
I have none. I am not a great cook of garden stuff.
I really think if you have high quality fruits and vegetables, they don’t need fancy recipe. I try to pick good tasting variety of things. That’s just sufficient I don’t need to dr them up.
That’s a perfect answer.
I never cook the fruits
No jams or anything.
Huckleberry pancakes, Blueberry coffeecake?
I don’t really eat jam ~ all that sugar
I did try to make jam
famous for jam
I did make a gooseberry jam. The ugliest and most foul tasting jam. I didn’t try that again.
Mike and I would like to get a dehydrator to dry tomatoes and fruit.
We dry a lot of tomatoes, they are really good in winter!
What a treat! To have them all year round. We can tomatoes.
We struggle to get tomatoes to get them ripe, too many green ones when you pick them, they turn red in a paper bag, everything all at once. I like the dry idea.
Is that because you have an short season?
Yes, and we can get an early frost as early as August some years. He’s made all sorts of different types of greenhouse, plastic things to extend in the fall. I like cherry tomatoes because they ripen fast. We’re only 7 miles from the Canadian border, that far north, right up against the Rocky Mountains.
You need a hoop house or a slightly heated greenhouse.
I know he really wants one, did you see that geothermal greenhouse in Nebraska growing fruit in the snow? We have this porch off our kitchen, that he will cover in plastic and then open the door and window but that takes a lot of firewood to heat tht thing.
A favorite internet resource?
I don’t generally like to surf, but I think this is a good tip!
There is a lot of misinformation
go to a site that is like a university or government site.
I think that is generally reputable information.
I like that tip, I am always big on media literacy. I don’t put those into the search, but when the responses come up I choose those first.
This way that is all you get is university and government sites.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
I would recommend my books. Also, once again by recommend Eliot Coleman.
One particular book that I really liked recently is JM Fortier
The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-scale Organic Farming
book that really focuses on no-till, not really to make your garden more weed less
No-till has lots of benefits
- plants are healthier
- soil life is healthier
I had another book that came out a few
It was basically all these fruits that have been grown and enjoyed by humans in some part of the world sometime but they are not as well known.
The nice thing about them is they are easier to grow because they have less problems.
Some are unknown for instance
- June berries
It is a commonly planted ornamental
great tasting foods they taste like
sweet cherries with a hint of almond
- hearty kiwi fruit
grow all the fruits
They are not tropical fruits
- lingen berries
- low bush blue berries
- fun fruits look pretty!
I have another book that is my best selling
everything you could possibly need to know about pruning. It has a whole chapter on Espalier the training of the plants.
Remember to write Lee a review even if you take it out of your library you can still write a review!
The no till is also easier.
When he built up the mini-farm, he had to clear forest land, he was digging up everything, removing the stumps from the trees with his backhoe etc. Then we got the broadfork that Jean Martin Fortier recommended.
I never used one, I did try once on some parts of my beds I broadforked part of them to see what would happen. And nothing happened as I predicted nothing happened. That’s because I don’t walk on soil ever in the beds, there would be no compaction. The broadfork would be good if you had compaction to dig it up but there’s really no reason to. Once you have them formed if you don’t step on them at all and keep adding organic matter, I don’t see any reason to.
Some people might disagree, I know Eliot did.
So let me see if I understand this correct? Let’s say you’re pulling out carrots, you put all the carrot greens on top, then put a layer of compost on top and then plant?
No, when I clean up the garden I take everything out to make compost. Then the only thing I put on the bed is just compost. The carrot tops just go into the compost.
That probably makes your soil so easy to plant in you could probably just dig a hole with your plant.
Picture your soil with layers of compost put on top of it for 30 years just melted in, it becomes just this fluffy soil.
I love that about deep beds, Mike has built his soil up over the years, I can totally relate to that.
If you have a business to you have any advice or maybe going to school?
I know people shy away from book learning in ag because you can get by without it, because nature wants seeds to grow and plants to grow.
if you choose the right books you can really get some benefit from that.
This advice because I don’t sell much, but I have sold a few things, mostly i don’t sell things, but my limited experience
Quality and Uniqueness
3 of the fruits I sell:
- hearty kiwi
- american persimmons
They are very unique and that sells and then they’re high quality
give people a taste of it
if they taste it they have to buy it!
pay good money for these things.
You know I did an interview with Bob Quinn on the East Side where they do dry farming. His goal is to do that same thing, I think he said he grew 27 different fruits on his property.
If there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
It’s not related to agriculture exactly but my belief is that population control, not letting population just grow without … just growing too fast or grow at all. I think that it’s hurting the planet
resources and people getting on each others nerves
one way to do that is, because I have read something about this is by supporting education of the world. In place around the world girls are not allowed to be educated, like in Afghanistan
One organization I have donated too. Organizations where girls get education it’s better for the girls for one reason but they also found if girls get more education they have less children.
Well this is definitely a piece after my own heart. I always say my biggest priorities is clean water, healthy food and education for people everywhere around the world. I always people complain why do these woman have 5-7 kids? Why do they have kids at all? I’m always like how would they know how not to have all those kids or that it’s an option?
They also say that countries that have an education population have better environmental policies and all around environmental stewardship.
Except us right now.
I know I didn’t want to go there!
Do you have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
plant just start something for beginners for even advance gardeners
2 things that guide my gardening
I have a lot of faith in science
science can answer a lot of questions
And then follow natural systems
If you emulate what happens in nature
In nature things soil doesn’t get tilled up
So have faith in natural systems and try to emulate them
For instance you don’t plant 2 acres of one crop in nature, if you emulate things that happen in nature which is the opposite to what people do in agriculture
How do we connect with you?
- link to my blog which is a weekly update of what is going on on my farm.
- workshops periodically here
- books too you can get on the website!
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