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Episode 71: Mary Frances Harris | Backyard Gardener Extraordinaire – from the Daisy House | NorthWest • NJ
Today’s episode is a friend of mine from New York where I grew up who I reconnected with on Facebook and is here to share her wealth of knowledge about gardening along the banks of Lake Hopatcong in NorthWest New Jersey!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up like Jackie did, on Long Island, the daughter and granddaughter of avid gardeners.
Grew up with the dirt we stand on
you get aways from that as a teenager, and busy living life
when you grow up enough to understand what’s important and you go right back to what you knew was a good thing.
Now I live in NorthWest, NJ with my husband.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
My earliest memories of being at my GPs house in Queens Village in NY. My grandmother had a beautiful garden, vegetables, and flowers
Just being there with her, , that was part of life with here, and eating the produce from her garden, grapes and peaches from her garden. Having it be part of my life. Not only some of my earliest memories, but also my best memories.
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
You don’t add to the bad, do whatever you can to make it better. And not to the bad things we already do to the earth.
Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?
Well, I don’t think there were other optinos for my grandparents, it’s just what it was. They didn’ have miracle grow.
With my own parents, I don’t remember them using a lot of chemicals. It just wasn’t part of what we did, they weren’t in the garage.
Here I started it off by trying to fight nature, using the chemicals trying to keep things alive and to prevent certain things alive, it came into crystal clear relief
the beautiful and largetst lake in NJ
I woke up tot he department of public works, spraying a grate by my driveway and it said “Drains to lake” with a little picture of a fish. a light bulb went off, everything that rolls off of my property right into that lake.
I have to be so conscious of everything that we do
we have this beautiful natural resource 50 feet away. It just was never more clear.
what a great visual, I can just picture the lake and it’s so important to connect that chemicals don’t go away they do go somewhere.
These created chemicals dont’ just disolve into the earth and become pure, they leave a toxic footprint.
How did you learn how to garden organically?
I read a lot, I read some gardening books, but I don’t think they had evolved yet. So I asked a lot. We have a lot of farms here, how do you get rid of japanese beetles?
Someone gave me advice if you don’t want japanese beetles, you just pick em off, and put em in a bag and throw them away.
dont try to grow mangos here in western nj
trial and error.
Things that do well I plant a lot of!
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
Tomatoes always do well, melon always does well, herbs do well. I learned never plant mint in the ground again, I spent 7 years trying to get rid of it. It’s now firmly in a pot away from soil. Too many fruits and vegetables in the compost pile attracks bears. One thing I do have to prevent is the deer. We make a spray of dr banners mint and lemon balm and chilis make a tea out of it, and some castle soap and spray that around the garden every morning and every night.
This year surprisingly the corn for the first time, my husband and I will have more then one ear to share.
I know that feeling well, knock on wood, we have a big crop, but this year, but it’s tall and its hassling already. I often tell listeners this story, about one year, I was so sick, and Mike cooked me the corn and fed me the broth and it was like chicken noodle soup it just restored my health in like 2 hours! It was amazing.
fresh corn salsa with local
with my jalepornas
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
For the first time I grew these
more you pick the more you grow,
i picked 7 this morning, my neigoor
small asian eggplants,
other different melons
muslk melons do well here, but I’m also branching out into pickling melons.
I never heard of a pickling melon?
It looks like, oblong, each the flesh, but then you pickle the rind. It’s the most crunchy bright, almost citrusy. It’s fascinating and great on salads on things. Or out of the jar at 11 o’clock at night!
The kirby the little green and white cucumbers, that are about
sp half sour
traditional american cucumber, which tends to get very seedy and woody so you have to dig out the seeds.
not like the english has dark green skin and little spines on it that you have to rub off,
peel them, they have delicate small seeds,
you eat them and they tend not to upset your GI tract like some cucumbers do.
frima nad sweet and most and if you juice them you end up with this cumberr water that is like Nirvana on a hot day! They’re wonderful they grow about 16 inches long and about the diameter of a quarter not too wide, they grow like crazy! It’s the perfect plant for a kid! It’s amazing how fast they grow!
for my great neice and nephew
the santa pear cherry one thousand they just snack on them in the backyard, as soon as they bought their house that’s the first thing we did is get a garden in!
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
I think because of the heat, I’m having a lot of trouble with leaf mold, taking a toll with some of my tomatoes plants. What else is it getting after? The zucchini.
The zucchini are small, some were a little bitter later in the season, surprised that’s usually a bumper crop. I might need to revisit it I might need to protect it from the afternoon sun.
One thing a lot of guests have said on my show, is if it’s up off the ground.
If I have missed it,
Somebody told me to mix a 1/4 cup of bleach with 5 gal of water, and spray it, and I tried it on one plant, but then the plant burnt in the sun. I have to talk to more farmers about that.
I wondered about
In that high of dilution, or low of a solution.
If they had only taught botany in high school
Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.
always every time no matter what
nothing that tastes better that is warm from the garden
you take a bite,
sweet and bright just my favorite thing!
You had tomatoes posted already, I’m in Montana, we
I have been picking since the end of June! Which was very very early. We bought plants from a farm, nursery they grow their own plants from seed, so they’re local native soil, so you spade them up, and get them home, we had a very late spring, started a lot of
We do about 20 varieties of tomatoes.
Wow that’s a lot of tomatoes!
I don’t eat that many tomatoes. I give a lot of them to my neighbors and went to the senior center, and asked permission, to ask the people there. I established that I wasn’t a crazy person and trying to poison them. A lot of senior citizens who appreciated
I drop off as much as I have surplus.
people pick and choose if they want it. It helps people and I get to share something I love.
Also I guess you get to have a big variety of tomatoes without the guilt of
For tomatoes what I do with the cherries, patio,
saute with garlic and a little olive oil. and freeze them in one of those, vacuum packed,
i can use them in recipes in soups and stews throughout the winter. It’s a good recipe base for quick pasta dishes, rissoto,
crumble in some feta, a touch of vermouth and you have dinner in 12 minutes.
Then it’s like awesome! It’s like the easy processed food but it’s homegrown and it’s delicious!
Things like bell peppers, and chili peppers, pear them, I deseed them, roast them in the oven. Then I store with olive oil.
Do you want to just share how you roast them.
Put them on a rimmmed baking sheet, with a garlic oil I’ve made, in a heavy bottom sauce pan, put in as as much garlic as you like, I use a whole head of garlic. I use a whole clove. Heat over a whole flame,
strain it bottle it, keep in the fridge
when it comes time,
I have an abundance of vegetables, slice them in quarters, I think of it as a panel.
toss with garlic oil
Roast in a low oven 250 for about 35 minutes
draw out the moisture, don’t want to cook it to death because you’re gonna cook it again down the road. Cause cooking, the more flavor you develop and it only adds to the overall flavor.
We do red bell, orange, purple, yellow bell, all kinds of chili peppers, the long frying pepper, like an italian frying pepper. Peppers, I always do in pots, not in the ground! I find for some reason they do dramatically better in pots, the pot is 3 feet high.
I find the thing with pots is they dry out so fast.
I water twice a day. Generally we have enough rain, but I water in the morning.
Every morning, first thing I do, take my coffee outside, if we haven’t had enough,
very hot, very humid, which I think is could be contributing to some of my leaf mold issues, everything is early. August started in July.
Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate.
Very fortunate here, we have good soil. Where I live in NorthWest NJ, is kind of closer to Pennsylvania then Jersey. It’s not rural, but I live in a borough. There’s lots of
residents because of the lakes,
native of the area
don’t try to grow things that don’t belong here,
stick to the
grow more then
if you live in a little
or a condo
you can do a tomato pot in the window sill in the sun
you don’t need to have a gigantic lawn and you can mix it in with lots of vegetables
it’s better for your soil to have less grass more food.
I was thinking about Bill Maher, the other night laughing about his brown lawn, and I’m gonna have to send him a link to his show.
I refuse to water grass, but I will absolutely water vegetables. If the sky doesn’t provide rain, I will water vegetables.
we have over 100 different plants, he gets 100s of birds, and species of insects and wildlife species coming to his yard, and a lot of people talk about
it’s a joy when you go out to your garden
I like being out there in the morning, it makes me look at each inv
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
I like being out there watereing, I like looking at each plant makes me observant.
what’s using a lot of water
My intense hatred for weed pulling the only, it’s the only way the things I want to grow well if they’re not competing for weeds,
if you not going to poison have to pull them out
it has to be down
when you look out it’s a real sense of accomplishment.
We’re forced to put the water right at the roots. finally we dug a new well, habits, plus we’ve been running out of water its so dry,
I do two things
In the fall every year when we clean up the garden
we put down a layer of not thick but 3-4 sheets of newspaper, we don’t bag our leaves, we mulch them obviously, then I cover them with a layer of much
cut threw the newspaper
eventually it disolves into the soil it gets tilled in every other year, so that does help control the weeds. And shade helps to shade the plant roots.
So you open the newspaper, and lay out the big sheets, and your shredding it,
Take the NY times and a garden bed that’s a combo perennial flowers and a large part of vegetables. It’s probalby 30’ by 8’ wide, it borders whole side of yard and then we have supplemental gardens. We clean that up
till in any rements of past mulch or paper
it’s not thick, 2 sheets maybe 3 where it overlaps, of the NYTimes we use because it’s big. Wetill in whatever’s left, put on two sheets of paper and mulch on top of it.
Leaves from our mulch pile, I tend not put food scraps, because it attracts so much vermin. I do put eggshells and coffee grounds
any other yard waste we come up with.
Do you put grass clippings in?
I don’t because it’s too much nitrogen.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
Makes me sound old. I just like to sit with my husband in the evening
you listen to the lazy bumble bee, and watch the land o the bush, it’s so pretty,
just to sit there and enjoy it. Honestly. It’s our favorite thing to do.
i will give you some advice to new gardeners. Take pictures, throughout the growing cycle, so that you remember, that the zucchini needs 10 feet of room not a foot!
I don’t understand how people live without a journal. And go back and say?
My favorite thing to do is just enjoy
pop a cherry into my mouth which I can do because it’s not full of chemicals.
I have to share one thing… the thing that made me most happy about my garden, we concentarte the garden in the front some shrub roses where the deer can’t get to them. My husband loves lots of daisies echinacea and litanies
live on the village square
We were at some function there, talking to the woman who I see all around town all the time. And she said oh you live around here. I live n that house over there, excitedly called this mother and daughter
“Do you see this lady? This lady lives in the daisy house.” That made me tear.
Mine were hydrangea, green pea hydrangea that my aunt grew in her garden for my bouquet.
Tell us about the best crop you ever grew.
About 6 summers ago now, my next door neighbor lovely woman named Anna, was tremendously pregnant due at the end of August and it was a ghastly hot summer.
I had so many cucumbers, kirby cucumbers. I used to make her cucumber and dill salad, and tomato and salad, and I think that’s what she lived on that summer. And now that little girl comes over with her little princess bowl and picks tomatoes from my garden. That was the best crop for more then one reason!
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
Keep it simple, organic matter in the soil, nothing is good till it’s ripe,
Fruit should come off and ready, should feel heavy and come off with just a gentle twist! Nothing is good until it’s ripe. I think that’s the best advice I ever got.
Have you ever entered a fair? How’d that go?
No, we go to them, county fairs are very popular around here. I appreciate everyone else efforts. I’ve never grown a 300 lb zucchini. My one lb.
My husband wins most of his awards for most uniform size.
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.
A hand spade with a pointed end, and a with a four inch serated band
I walk around it with on my hip like I’m a cop from the
In my mud room are my gardening gloves
Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last?
Pickling is great, it’s super easy to do, and it’s almost fool proof. There’s hundreds of recipes online for both quick refrigerator pickles and jelly jar sealed pickles that you can put up for winter, not refrigerated. And also roasting the vegetables, and freezing them in an airtight manner.
Do you have any special techniques for cooking weird or unusual foods or weird or unusual techniques for cooking ordinary foods.?
I tend with really good fruits and vegetables, I like to let
an eggplant should taste like an eggplant. A little garlic, a little salt, a little pepper, whatever herbs you like. Keep it simple.
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
There’s something I have in my refrigerator at every moment of every day. It’s a salad of
olive oil vinaigrette which is:
- olive oil
- champagne vinegar
- herbs and spices.
It’s delicious! good for you and incredible
A favorite internet resource?
I like, we’re lucky to have Rutger’s University here in NJ. They have an agricultural coop extension. They’re phenolmenol and have answers to every questions. They offer classes. They have an extensive online presence!
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
I like very local blog, our local farms all have blogs now. It really tells me what works in my environment,
local farms, local nurseries, I tend not to go to the big garden centers. I like the people who grow the plant, not just sell the plant. I like and how it works wel, people who do this for living are generally those who know how to do it well.
David Salman from episode 50. He would have a test plot in front of his nursery. The pope who worked at his nursery were big at helping customer.
when people are more successful to want to
Went to college and got a degree in horticulture.
Having the plants growing right there in front of the nursery.
He’s right, and when people are more successful, they’re more apt to want to do it more every year!
Final question- 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?
I think we have to stop using, it has to happen on an individual level. You have to stop buying things that are toxic and you have to be ever so thoughtful about what your footprint is on our earth! Think about what in your car. Yes, it’s a wonderful wonderful thing!
Mike and I were having a debate yesterday, cause he’s so big on his carbon footprint, and I was gibing him a bunch of flack cause he came home and his cell phone wasn’t charged and I was like why don’t you plug it into the car phone charger. Like to me to plug my cell phone into the charger in the house, that’s like fresh juice. Cause if it’s going while I’m driving, I’m not using any use. He did inform me its indeed using some gas, to run the alternator to charge the battery but…
what your doing what your buying
I’d rather see somebody
buy one good quality that’s going to last longer.
I dont’ like throwing things away, the whole chain to make that thing completely useless.
all that energy all that refute i’m just flowing it away mindlessly, it completely negates everything it took to create it.
The tsoyr of stuff goest through the process of where it goes from start to landfall.
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
My favorite is “don’t add to the bad”, don’t make anything worse. Don’t plant beautiful fresh vegetables and douse them with chemical pesticides. It’s healthier for you too.
Your kids running through, grass full of pesticides.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned since I started this podcast is how dangerous to toddlers and dogs. The key ingredients.
Now I think when I’m walking
Why use Roundup when full strength white vinegar works just fine.
will get rid of weeds like nothing else, not in the garden, but anywhere else.
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