Episode 48: Nancy Oliver | Little Homestead in Boise blog | Boise, ID
Tell us a little about yourself.
My husband and I live in Boise ID, in a main urban part of town, on a standard lot. There’s just the two of us, we have three kids who are grown and live in the area, 1 cat and 3 chickens. For the last ten years we have developed an urban homestead with fruit trees, perennial vegetable gardens, summer gardens because the climate in Boise, ID is very cold in the winter and hot and dry in the summer. We try to become more self-sufficient, do organic gardening and work with the weather. At sort of ground level, about 100-200 feet. High desert climate surrounded by hills that go up to about 4-5000 feet and then you get out into the high mountains of southern Idaho. Sort of a high desert, mountainous climate.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
I thought about that a lot, the one person who really hooked me on gardening was my grandfather. I grew up in a little city called Pomona in California, he was what I called a master gardener without the certificates. He lived in a standard lot, he had an avacado tree, a peach tree and cumquats, and grapes and strawberries and had just an immaculate back yard and front yard and he just loved to garden, had been in WWI or WWII, and it was very theraputeic, my grandmotehr was a baker and canner, preserved foods, and knitted and crocheted, I just loved spending weekends with my grandparents.
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
Look at it as trying to work as closely with nature as possible given different variables. I think it depends on how or where you’re living and what particular challenges you face where you are.
Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?
I’m in my late 50’s so I was a kid in the late 60-70’s and there was kind of a back-to-earth movement with the hippy culture. I think in the ’70s I started really looking at why are we using a lot of herbicides and pesticides and what’s going into our ground water, and as I became older and a home owner I was looking at what can I do to sort of work with nature more, to use less water and mulch, use less herbicides and pesticides and use other alternatives, use different kinds of products or natural ingredients that would reduce pests and weeds, and any kind of noxious things that were growing.
How did you learn how to garden organically?
I subscribe to Mother Earth News way way back when they first started publishing, read a lot of Rodale press over the years, that promoted organic gardening, and from going to nurseries and greenhouses and talking to other people and now with the internet, then it’s a matter of filtering of through all that information. I did become a master gardener through the University of ID, Boise ID. They did start offering permaculture classes.
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
Cool weather crops are doing great, have a couple of kinds of kale and some collard greens. Tomatoes and peppers planted, perennial vines – blackberries, raspberries, and marionberries. Last year we had a great harvest of tomatoes and peppers, peppers were down a little bit, everyone in the valley said that last year. Had a great fruit harvest, nectarines, no apples last year, but our new baby pear tree even gave us some pears.
Peppers I usually get small starts, I planted them in June and they were well watered and taken care of and the plants got really big, but there were no peppers, just kind of odd. There’s lots of small starts up this year. Bought a small greenhouse this year. I have some nice big 4′ green beans, and some basil and cilantro and a few other herbs coming up.
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
Well we’re planting our first peach tree this year.
Planted some new heritage tomaotes an Anna Russina and an Arkansas Traveler, a Japanese Black Trifle or a Russian Black Truffle that I’m excited about.
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
Peppers, usually I love having lots of peppers. I usually grow a big variety, bell peppers and jalepeno, and longer type gypsy yellow peppers to put on pizzas and things, but had no peppers of any kind of last summer. And then we have a little pippin apple tree that just had no apples but it’s loaded this year.
Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time. Usually tomatoes and squash, seem to just go gangbusters, they seem to love the heat.
Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate.
I’ve always had trouble with carrots and radishes, partly because in the valley here seems to be either have heavy clay compacted soil, or people who live by river tend to have sandy soil and I can amend the soil and add tons of compost, but for some reason I’m not good with root vegetables.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
I just actually find it really relaxing to water the vegetables and flowers and to I like to walk through, and water, and sort of inspecting, do I have bugs I need to deal with, or look there’s a cucumber that’s ripe under there and just kind of check in on what’s going on.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
I think when it’s like 100 degrees and I have to go out and weed it’s never any fun.
Tell us about the best crop you ever grew.
About 2-3 years ago, I had the biggest bumper crop of tomatoes I ever had. I don’t grow really huge tomato varieties because they tend to get ripe around Oct. and you have a large stretch with nothing. I don’t know what happened if it was the weather, but I just had a bumper crop and we were making fresh salads with tomatoes and fresh basil mozzerella cheese, and we were making homemade pizzas, or just slicing them on salads, and they’re so good for you too!
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
Make a plan and start small. You can become so overwhelmed by trying to make a huge monumental change all at once. You can become distracted and over-loaded and overly-tired and broke! Make a plan, start small. When we bought our current house it had basically one tree, the turf & all the flower beds were empty. Couldn’t afford to go out and buy everything at once so we focused on planting a tree and getting some perennial shrubs put in to start with, and figuring out what your priorities are.
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.
Japanese digging tool. Basically a two sided tool, a spade trowel on one side, and then on the other side there’s 3 big prongs. You can loosen the soil with the prongs, you can also dig with the other side, it’s just a really great hand tool, you can pull things you can dig things, you can create rows, you can create furrows, it’s just a great multi-purpose tool.
Eating or harvesting vegetables or fruit on time?
I work for a school district and so I’m off for the summers, and it seems like every single year all the apples and all the nectarines all come on the week after school starts. and so all of a sudden I have 200 lbs of nectarines to process. One year I harvested apples about 2 weeks early, since most are going to be processed into apple sauce anyway, they didn’t need to be perfectly ripe.
I think you just have to keep an eye on things and there have been times I’ve had to change the way I preserve things for instance we bought a chest freezer. The first year I canned all the nectarines because it was kind of a small harvest but the second year I just couldn’t. I canned as much as I could with the time I had. The rest I processed by freezing them in gallon bags. One thing I love about nectarines is there is no fuzz, so I basically sliced them and then dipped them in a little bit of fruit fresh so they wouldn’t turn brown and then froze them nice and flat and it was a lot faster way,
One year one of our inlaws lost their harvest in a freeze, so we gave them some 5 gallon buckets in the winter to share because they didn’t have any.
Our fruit trees are what really produce the fruit, and they all get ripe at once, our vegetable garden doesn’t produce as much extra to preserve. I try to have a backup plan.
They’re nice to have to make breads and cobblers easy in the winter.
I can’t do a lot of dairy, I had been using yogurt or milk, and then almond milk which is kinda bland so I started putting a little bit of organic toasted coconut and the hemp protein, with just a little bit of fruit juice and some fresh fruits and it give you the benefits of coconut and hemp protein is a nice way to give you the protein that’s not dairy.
Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last?
Fermenting. I bought some store bought organic kale, fermenting with carrot slices, and fermenting those with some dark green leafy vegetables. There’s a few different ways, I do a lot that’s just water and salt and you can also put herbs or spices for flavoring. Some people use fermenting crocks, several cultured foods websites that sell supplies. I have a glass jar with a little airlock that you fill with water, and put your vegetables and your brine in, and put the cap on and what it does is it allows gases to go out without having any bacteria or contaminations go in and your food ferments over the course of a week or two. Then you take the product out, stick it in a jar for storage fro your fridge.
I did make my first fermented pickles that was really different especially if your used to can pickles and that strong vinegar flavor. I was able to ferment some regular old pickling cucumbers in a fermented brine, it was different flavor, they were slightly sour, so instead of that acidy vinegar flavor but you get more of that sour flavor you can season them like regular pickles with garlic and spices whatever you like. But I’m gonna do it again this summer because I really like pickles.
Do you have any special techniques for cooking weird or unusual foods?
I’ve always loved a lot of ethnic foods, I think the weirdest foods I have ever grown were tomatillos, but a lot of people grow those make them into salsa. They look kind of different because they have a kind of husk on the outside, but you can basically blend them into green salsas and
We just ate them, you can blend them or chop Southern CA food, they’re really a teeny tiny citrus fruit that was kind of bitter, peels were really sweet so we would eat them and toss the fruit to the birds,
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
My all time favorite is pizzas. There’s a local pizzeria up the street from me that sells their dough for $2. I can use fresh tomatoes and basil and herbs from the garden and a little cheese on top.
A favorite internet resource?
For gardening, I think there are so many resources Mother Earth News I get into their data base. The nurseries, if you can find a knowledgeable sales person who can point you in the right direction that can help.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
Urban Homesteading Blogs that I follow. It just kind of depends on what I’m looking for. Im an eclectic information person, I gather information from quite a few places, I have subscribed to Grit magazine, also xeriscaping dry – gardening the City of Alberque, andSante FE, Tuscon AZ have had great tips for water saving for growing in hot dry climates like we have here in Boise.
If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?
I have the blog, I don’t really sell anything. Thinking about putting together a small ebook. The only thing I really sell are my extra eggs.
Do you have any tips for people trying to part with some extra eggs?
Start with people you know. There are food banks that will take them also. Food banks, or there are so many things you can make like Angel food cakes, especially with fresh egg whites, they don’t taste like anything you get at the store or omlettes. I do sell some to a coworker.
Also, there’s a list of resources on my blog on the bottom right sidebar.
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?
The one thing that keeps coming up to me is water usage, with the drought in the west that’s happening, and it’s also affecting the mountain areas in the state of Idaho I think. There has to be a real culture shift in how people view water usage. When you have people in drought states that are really stricken and farmers are not growing food any more because people are watering lawns who are wasting so much water. And people are not encourage to have water and collecting rain barrels. There are some states that have laws against that? I think there’s a real problem. If it gets to the point where people where people can’t buy food, and food’s too expensive because not as many farmers are planting crops maybe that’s what it’s gonna take.
Water is just one of those things you have to have, and as things get more arid we need to have some cultural shifts and look at consumption and allocation for food and for fresh produce in the stores.
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
I like that phrase, bloom where your planted, you can always start small I have a daughter who’s growing a small little herbs and a tomato in her windowsill. You can start small by growing things in pots, you can grow things indoors even, if you have a nice sunny spot, growing things in containers. You can grow things in any kind of a city yard. Even people who have to deal with HOA’s even those nationally there’s a trend towards people growing food in their yards. It’s ok to fight city hall if you need to be able to feed yourself. Just go grow something.
Did you see that video about the man who got fined for growing carrots in front of his house in California?
No but it doesn’t surprise me.
There was a woman who put some really nice raised beds in her front yard, and the homeowners assoc tried to suit her but she eventually won. Things are changing where people want to know what they’re eating for a sense of food security. I know exactly what my chickens eat because I feed them. People need to stand up for their rights, I can’t have roosters. You just kind of do what you can where you can. I just encourage people to, it’s really therapeutic just to dig in the dirt. Even if you fail.
How do we connect with you?
Connect with me at my blog and if anyone has any questions to email me or if anyone wants to post any comments or questions I’ll be sure to answer them.
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