Episode 55: Jackie Beyer | Host of the Organic Gardener Podcast, Educator, and Montana Watercolor Artist | awesomemontana.com
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in NY on Long Island, about 20 miles outside of NYC. I read a book about Montana when I was in 4th grade, called Sasha, My Friend by Barbara Corcoran. In High School I got Montana Magazine and then when I was 21 I moved to Missoula to go to the University of Montana. And when I was a junior my friends were like you should go plant trees and this one friend of mine said I should go work for this crew the “Frog-skinners” up in Eureka, MT. And it turned out to be Lisa’s husband and I called them, and they hired me, and I came up to plant trees, which was one of the hardest jobs ever but definitely one of my all times favoritest jobs ever! And that’s where I met my husband Mike on a mountainside and we’ve been happily married almost 23 years. That’s basically where I learned how to garden. We’re both passionate environmentalists. He does most of the work.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
So my mom, who I interviewed on episode 10, was always a big gardener. My very first experiences were always in her front yard and back yard, she always had beautiful gardens and a big herb garden. But my first actual gardening experience where I gardened was a summer program at Clark Botanical Gardens (a 12-acre living museum and educational facility) in NY, they have gorgeous flowers and tons of information and they had like a gardening program for kids. My mom tried to get me to garden as a kid, but I wasn’t interested. She didn’t grow a lot of vegetables. To me the big difference was having to bend over on the ground all the time whereas Mike has built all these raised beds and to me that is the big difference, which makes it all the more appealing, convenient, easier.
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
Using natural compost to enhance your soil, not spraying any kind of chemical fertilizers on your plants, doing what you can do to create an ecosystem that makes your plants grow in a natural way, I just think putting pesticides on our fruit and vegetables that your gonna eat just seems counter-productive and there has to be a better way to get rid of the weeds, and I always think it has to be less expensive, maybe it’s more labor consuming, I think if you water properly and water less by putting the water right at the roots we get less weeds all the time.
After reading Rodale’s Organic Gardening Magazine which is what inspired me to learn about and promote organic gardening and learning about the farm test trial, where back in the 1940’s they started two giant test plots. They would plant the commercial conventional way using fertilizers and pesticides and different things and they would plant the organic way side by side and sets of identical crops and the organic crops would produce more. The conventional way would produce more if you had the exact ideal conditions, when you have the amount of sun, heat, rain, and we all know in nature we don’t get that.
The article was about feeding the world, and that we have the technology, we have the knowledge now, there is no reason for any people anywhere to go hungry, we just need the will.
So is that what inspired you to start using organic techniques?
That inspired me as an adult, but my mom, ultimately always grew that way, and she is a passionate educator, taught kindergarten for 25+ years, and was a sub before that, the head of her PTA, the president of her auxiliary gardening club for years, and she couldn’t walk down the street without talking to her neighbors about the benefits of organics, or anywhere, she was just a natural educator, and I think just living and being around her, we always had a compost collector on her kitchen counter. It was a cardboard milk carton. I remember bringing one to college in Brooklyn. And my roommates were like what’s that, and I was like didn’t you always have one on your counter?
What I remember most about that was always having to bend down on the ground, where Mike has built us all these amazing raised beds, so that makes it all the more appealing.
How did you learn how to garden organically?
I read the Organic Gardening magazines, and I watched my mom for years, but really Mike has taught me almost everything. I think just practice is how he learned, and doing it. He’s been gardening since he was a kid, and his mom had a garden here. His parents had a 1200 acre ranch here, that we have the last 20 of it so he’s gardened in this area for years, he moved up here when he was in jr. high, and before that in Colorado.
We had a 10 foot bed, we always had deer. We had these 2 10’x4’ beds, and he would put chicken wire triangular teepee things to keep the deer out. I would say Mike’s probably taught me the most watching him over the years.
So did you haul water for your garden?
We did. We dug a shallow well in 1999, but we just dug a real well which is 560’ deep two years ago. From 1993-1999 we hauled water, we had a giant water truck that would hold like 1500 gallons, and it was a gravity fed sprinkler that would water like a little 3 foot radius. When we hauled water for dishes, and laundry and stuff we didn’t really garden. But even with the shallow well our water was limited, we could never water the lawn with sprinklers etc.
I think when you live like that for a long time, you really learn about what you’re watering, etc. You really focus on the roots of the plants that you want to grow.
Tell us about something that grew well last year.
I’m gonna say what grew well last year for us were our fruit trees. We planted an orchard with 14 fruit trees, apples, pears, and cherries and I just can’t believe how many apples we got last year. We have one tree we planted in 2005 and I do think the extra water had a lot to do how prolific that tree was last season.
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
I’m actually gonna try to grow kale, because I have never grown kale before.
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
I’m gonna say was my sage plant, because it died. I’ve had this sage plant for years and one of my all time favorite recipes is raviolis with a sage butter sauce, I got in a restaurant in NY one time and I was like I can do this with just some butter and sage and parmesan. And if I’m really lucky Mike will make me homemade raviolis, because he makes delicious macaroons that use the egg whites and then he’ll make noodles with the yolks.
What’s something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.
I think the easiest thing to grow around here, the most successful thing, would be, oh what was I gonna say for this? Simple things, carrots, radishes, spinach which will come up through the snow, it practically reseeds itself and just comes up in the spring. I’m gonna go with spinach.
Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate
I think the most challenging thing to grow here, I’m gonna say potatoes, even though we get lots of potatoes … and IDK, Peggy Ousley was on my show, she suggested it was the soil, we’re not putting enough alkaline, we’ve always had really scabby potatoes, I always thought it was our lack of water, and not being able to water consistently, they would get dried out a lot, but she gave me the impression it could be the soil because we all think that we have very acidic soil because of all the pine needles, but we don’t we actually have very alkaline soil, so she suggested we do a soil test, so I got Mike one of those soil tester things. So we’ll find out. Now last year when we had more water and he grew 100 lbs of potatoes, he didn’t have that scabby problem as much, but I think those are hard for people to grow.
The other one I think is really hard to grow here is cabbage, without bugs and I know some people say you can use this dipel dust, and some other organic pesticides to put on them, but then when I read what the pesticide does, and how it ate out the insides of the caterpillars, I thought I’m not gonna do that.
Mike never really grows a lot of cabbage plants, but he does grow these amazing broccolis especially from seed, but last year he grew 2 of the most delicious cabbages I have ever eaten. That was another tip someone gave me, to harvest them right away so the bugs don’t have as much time to get in there. Although I think it said the cabbage caterpillar lays its eggs and they are born right inside of he cabbage, and then the caterpillars eat the cabbage from the inside out, it lays it’s eggs on the inner leaves and
some delicious Cole Slaw.
I think potatoes are a little challenging but scabs aren’t that big of a deal you just peel em off.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
My least favorite activity to do is anything that gets me super dirty inside my jeans. So like sometimes even harvesting, because I come home from work, I like to go down there in my flip flops, or I go down there and I don’t want to get all dirty, I come home after work and go down there to harvest and next thing you know I’m standing in the dirt and I got dirt in my toes and dirt in my clothes and I’m only planning on being there for like 5 minutes and I’m down there for 1/2 hour. I like clean gardening jobs like, people say they hate mowing the lawn, I love mowing the lawn, to me mowing the lawn’s like a clean gardening job.
I do like digging beds, like brand new beds, like you pull out the sod and dig a brand new bed, but then I’m wearing my hiking boots and I’m planning on a day in the dirt, and I have jeans that are specifically for gardening, but I don’t like to go down there when I’m in my street clothes and get them all dirty. Sometimes even harvesting, or pulling weeds, thatI’m not planning on spending the day in the garden and I don’t like that itchy feeling of dirt inside my clothes, like my gardening jeans are for gardening and then I take em off, you know, unless we’re going fire-wooding.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
And my favorite job to do, is not really a job, it’s definitely painting in the garden.
Going down there, hanging out, listening to the birds and the loons that go over, and the animals around, and just being in the garden. Going down there with Mike in the morning with my coffee and filling in my journal. Just hanging out in the garden.
I call it the organic oasis, because it is like a little oasis, before we had running water we used to go to the lake all the time, like all summer long, like every single day, we would go to the lake, we were just laughing about this the other day, I don’t even hardly go to the lake anymore, cause we just go to the garden and sit down there in the shade in the in the evenings, this is like my favoritest place to be.
What’s the best crop you ever grew?
I think my peace sign full of lettuce, I just love being able to go down there and pull the leaves off and there was one year I just had lettuce straight thru September, through the hot August summer, and I just love being able to constantly go down and pick the leaves off, and I always get like 2 big baskets of lettuce every couple of days.
I like the black seeded Simpson, that seems to work best for me. I just pull the outer leaves off, I don’t really pull the heads out of the ground. And I don’t really like the romaine because I always get those nasty bugs that look like roaches, the ear wigs. They just give me the creeps and I swear you can’t bring a head of romaine up here without those earwigs on them.
What was the most sage gardening advice you have ever received?
I would just say start, and start small. Like when we didn’t have a lot of water, we just started it small and over the years we’ve built up. Every year we keep building a couple of beds, and keep adding a few more projects, you know having the deer fence, a couple of times I’ve tried to do a few projects outside the deer fence but that just doesn’t work.
Try things see what works, and see what doesn’t, and journal about it has always been what’s most helpful. The best advice comes from my journal from the years before, what did we need more of last year that we didn’t have enough of.
Mike talks about that a lot, rotating your crops and not growing the same thing twice, but to me it’s always hard because I think a lot of things fit in certain beds a certain way. Mike has our gardens in different shapes, like one bed’s in the shape of a boat, and all these different beds.
I just keep a binder, I don’t have it for all the years, sometimes it gets wet, or it gets dirty, I always have last year to this year.
Have you ever entered a fair? How’d that go?
I haven’t, but Mike has. Actually, the one thing I entered, was these two carrots, they even put a picture in the Go Kootenai, and it even got a prize! I think just a ribbon. I had these two carrots twisted together, and I put huckleberry eyes in them and called it “Couple in Love”
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.
When I first created this question, my first thought was my shovel, but then I decided, I could probably carve a stick into a shovel, and I could probably figure out things to dig with but then I thought, I DO NOT want to live without a wheelbarrow. To me my wheelbarrow is essential, and maybe it’s because we got a flat in our wheelbarrow one year, and we couldn’t afford to replace it and it was like 2 summers before I could get a new wheelbarrow, that I think a wheelbarrow is so much more expensive then a shovel to replace, and it’s just essential for moving compost, for carrying pots, for hauling water you put two-three 5 gallon buckets of water in a wheelbarrow and it’s a lot easier to move then by hand, and I’ve definitely moved a lot of water that way. I find getting Mike to do things, the wheelbarrow helps.
Cleaning up messes, definitely, moving the compost around, hauling rocks, we do a ton of rock work, Mike’s always, that’s one of my favorite jobs, helping Mike with the rock work. I always think of rock work kind of like a Montessori classroom. I think the garden is like a Montessori classroom and figuring out how to get the rocks to form a wall without it falling down, Mike has tons of rock walls around here, and they look easy, but really to build a wall that’s not gonna fall down and get those pieces to stay on top of each other isn’t all that easy to do. And when you’re hauling a lot of rocks the wheelbarrow comes in handy. So my answer to that question is my wheelbarrow.
Eating or harvesting vegetables or fruit on time?
Well Mike does a lot of canning. When I first moved here I learned how to can peaches that was really cool. Just freezing things for me, I love to blanch broccoli, and put it in the freezer, I’ll throw broccoli in anything, on pizzas, in omelets,
I don’t think we could grow enough broccoli for me for a whole year. That’s my favorite food.
Do you have any special techniques for cooking unusual foods?
I’m just gonna say, taking a salad, one of my favorite foods is arugala. If you haven’t tried arugala that’s one of my favorite things to put
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
I don’t know if it really counts as a recipe, but it’s what I put on what I get out of the garden and that’s my hemp seed oil salad dressing.
Olive oil, I put a little mustard, either a little spicy brown mustard or Grey Poupon Dijon, just different mustards, either balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar, but I like to mix that hemp seed oil in, cause everyone’s always telling me the hemp seeds so important and Hemp Seed Oil you have to keep in the fridge and it’s pretty expensive so I mix it probably 2/3s olive oil and 1/3 hemp seed oil, cause it also has a strong flavor so if you mix it with olive oil it kind of cuts that flavor a little. And just lettuce, and putting some sugar snap peas at the beginning of the season, and some fresh radishes, if I have some arugala, my mom always has fresh herbs, I’ll have some time and some oregano, I like to mix herbs in with my salad dressing and blend it up in the food processor. That’s my favorite food hemp seed oil salad dressing to go on a salad.
A favorite internet resource?
There have been lots of cool resources that have been mentioned on my show, one of my favorites is Jon Moore’s Organic World News, another was the Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener’s had an incredible website with lots of YouTube Video’s I’ve been going to a lot lately, this girl the Honey’s Urban Homestead, her website is full of good videos.
I don’t know if I’d say she reminds me of me, but she talks of inspirational things I like, she’ll mix up recipes with things to do in your home, or with the regular gardening tips. It’s not just about gardening, one of her great ones I read was about using recycled cloths, cutting up old t-shirts or rags that you have laying around the house instead of buying wipes instead of paper towels, which is something I’m not real big on, Mike and I probably go through a set of papers toadsl, IDK we always have old rags or socks and things. She had a good blog post about how to make wipes by keeping them wet and in zipplock bags.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can
First and foremost is definitely Organic Gardening Magazine. We’ve subscribed to that for years, and there’s always tons of good tips in there. I think after you read that it becomes part of your personality and it just soaks into your being, and things become second nature.
I talk lot about Lynn Byxzanski’s the Flower Farmer. which got me into the whole process of growing flowers. Another one by Richard Wiswell called the Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook has great information and it comes with this cd where you can upload spreadsheets and different things on how to grow for market, if we were ever gonna grow food to see, and how to make a business plan. To grow for to go to a farmer’s market or start a CSA or something, he has incredicble info in that book.
There’s Better Homes and Gardens things on Gardening.
Are you thinking about getting started in the flower business and if you are what are your thoughts on getting started in the industry?
I am thinking about becoming a flower farmer and so I definitely recommend Lynn’s book, and I also had a guest on called Lisa Zeigler and she wrote a book called Cool Flowers and it’s about planting annuals for sale. Between the two of them they’re just packed full of knowledge on what to do.The biggest thing I’ve learned from reading those books and like talking to the health food store if I tried to take it to different places is that you need to be consistent, so that’s why this summer my goal is to grow enough sunflowers just to be consistent before I even try to take them to market. I want to see how much can I get? Can I get enough to have get a constant thing of flowers every two weeks,
One thing I have learned, after reading several blogs and going to several Facebook groups, one of my favorites is there is a flower farmer Facebook group. People talk about prices, and different times for things to bloom, especially when you’re planning for weddings. Being consistent and giving flowers, going down to the florists, at different places you think you might want to sell, leaving them samples, and doing it repeatedly. And constantly showing up each week whether they buy them or not.They talk about quality usually if you have organic flowers you’re gonna have to pick your best ones, a lot of things they talk about a lot is your transportation, and sunflowers are hard to transport, so they’re more likely to like locally grown flowers cause they’re not gonna be as damaged from transporting.
I’m drawn to sunflowers for a lot of reasons. They have big seeds. I always think carrots are the hardest thing to plant, the seeds are so tiny so I always end up with 6000 carrots. I hate to thin them because it seems like such a waste, but if you don’t everything goes to waste. IT’s a great time to go get the grandkids because they have such tiny fingers. Besides what you were saying about bird feeders, I never have hung one from a tree, and thinking about different things you can do with that.
I would say research it, talk to people, ask lots of questions and find your market, a lot of people on the show have said in answer to this question if your not growing enough for farmers market, try restaurants. Restaurants are more likely to be interested in local food. Yesterday I had a guest on talking about culinary herbs. That might be something there to just focus on culinary herbs. Another thing I’m gonna try to make some oregano pesto this year because I have tons of oregano.
And I have not made any money selling anything anywhere ever, I have tried to go to the farmers market with a bundle here, and a bundle of lettuce here, but I have never had any luck, but I think it comes down to that consistency point, people don’t know me and I also thought it was hard to go to the farmers’ market in the evening, one thing struggled with keeping my lettuce fresh.
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 earth either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
I have 2 answers to this, one is my organization I’m passionate about which is 350.org and if you haven’t heard of Bill McKibben you should learn about him.
He wrote a book called Fight Global Warming Now a Handbook for Taking Action in your Community in 2007 but it’s just as pertinent today as then. The biggest thing he talks about there is that people don’t want to talk about global warming and climate change because of the science, they feel like it’s some complex thing that’s really hard to understand.
But he talks about the most important thing, is just you don’t have to learn a lot about it, there’s very basic facts. I actually made a little book you can download on our website, it’s a little booklet of their science, and just broke it down really simply, and then I made a video of me reading the book to kind of explain it a little bit more.
They called it 350.org because 350 parts per million is the amount of carbon dioxide that can go into the atmosphere that our can earth survive the way we are right now with our trees and our water and our food growing. And we have surpassed this, when he wrote this book we were down in the 300’s and we were hoping we weren’t gonna much higher, I can’t remember when we surpassed the 350 mark and now we broke 400ppm (we surpassed 400ppm in March of 2015)
We have to push it back down. I would encourage every body to read Bill’s book, learn who Bill McKibben is. In September they had the biggest march in NYC on September 21st which is also weird cause that’s International Peace Day, but Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations asked for people to come to, to help, to get support for climate change, for coming up with a plan to combat climate change on a global scale, so Bill McKibben got all these people to come. There was very little press about it, for the amount of people showed up, there was very little press about it, but he and Al Gore are the two making the most change.
I also really think we need to reschedule marijuana as a schedule one drug and people might not usderstand the importance of that but we can’t grow hemp in the United States while marijuana is considered a schedule one drug. There are so many things you can make out of hemp.
Hemp for Victory came out in the 1940 the US was encouraging people to grow hemp for rope, and clothes, and it doesn’t require pesticides,
you can make backpacks and tents,
And the protein, People have always told me that because I don’t really eat meat I should eat hemp seeds protein.
And then that kids are dying, and children are suffering because of
There’s the whole irony of thinking of having a unregulated market instead of a regulated market. If you care about kids not having access to it you want a regulated market like cigarettes and alcohol etc.
I think that hemp will make a
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
My inspirational tip or quote to help motivate listeners is you will be surprised at how good it feels to grow something, even if it’s just a plant on your windowsill. It’s
The health food store Heaven’s Peak their motto was “It’s all about the Taste.”
Start small, I’m notorious for it, even this year, I came home from Home Depot with like $75 worth of seeds, and Mike was just like what’ this, but we’ve put a lot of them in the ground already.
Make it convenient, the deep beds, if you’ve never grown anything in a raised bed, if you can sit on the edge of your bed and weed and even for harvesting
I looked down on the mini-farm.
Make it close, my favorite anniversary present was a compost bin right outside my kitchen door so when I’m cooking dinner,
I always thought we should have a mini kitchen garden, for some reason for me salad’s like an afterthought for me, and
I would like a salad garden outside my window.
Make it convenient!
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