Episode 60: Roy Mills | European Gardener, Backstube German Bakery, and Farmer’s Market Director | Arlee, MT
No time to sit still for this veteran, he’s a baker by day, gardener by night, good luck keeping up with this gentleman. Get ready to have your mouth watering at the sounds of cheese twists, jalepeno fire tongues and huckleberry muffins he bakes at his German Bakery called the Backstube Edelweiss in Arlee, MT. He also shares tips on growing in our challenging Montana climate and some money saving ideas for extending your season with homemade hoop-houses.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a born native Montanan, lived in Europe for 30 years and then decided to come back to Montana. The time I was in Europe and Germany, I didn’t do a lot of farming, but I did know a lot of older farmers that were in their 60’s and 70’s back then and that was quite a few years ago, they showed me a lot of simple but very effective gardening tips and stuff like that, it all has to do with simplicity. The easier you make it, usually the better it is. This is the first year that I’ve had the garden here. I also have a bakery.
The bakery got started because of Europe, I really missed their breads and pasteries, so we started going to the farmers market with baked goods and next thing you know I have this full blown bakery, which supports the community very well and the community supports us very well, and it’s kind of the way it goes with gardening, you know, it’s one hand washes the other, it’s fun and I enjoy it! It’s a lot of work, yes, but I think the proceeds are better, they say, you harvest what you sow …
Gardening, everybody glorifies organic now-a-days, they say you need to be organic certified through the agricultural department and pay all of these fees through the agriculture department to get a certificate to be organic. To me, if a person has a garden, its their conscious that lets them say, either I’m organic or not. If I dump 40 gal of chemical to make it grow, there’s no way in the world I can say I’m organic. But if I take 5lbs of chicken manure, then yes, I can say it organic fertilizer, it’s not chemical, it’s organic. To me organic is going back to the basics of life, keeping things neat. Weeds are a problem, maybe you’re harvest isn’t quite as big as Joe next door that’s using Mircale Grow and all this other stuff in his garden, but I think mine probably tastes better.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
Born in Kalispell, and raised in a little town between East and West Glacier called Essex. Essex was my very first gardening experience, I was probably 8 years old, the only thing we had growing season time, a little bit of lettuce and radishes.
The growing season’s probably from the first part of June till the end of August, if you have that long of a period even? If you’re not getting your crop eaten by deer. Almost dead center between East and West Glacier, on Highway 2, which is a fun highway, it’s got a lot of neat scenery. Horseradish grows really well up there, and rhubarb. But gardening itself was basically just radishes and lettuce.
Then in the early ’70s to mid 70’s we moved down to the West Valley side of Kalispell, we went from a little garden in Essex to a garden down there that was probably about 20 x 80. That was more from necessity then pleasure, we had a pretty good size family, and times back in the ’70’s were pretty hard … Then we started to garden. My step-dad was the one that was kind of the instigator of it all, and us kids had to do it all of the work.
Then I joined the military and went to Europe, that’s where I started. I had a little garden but didn’t really have a lot of time to do anything with it. I talked to lots of the older generation, Germans, after I learned to speak the language, learning all the different type of natural Naturheilkunde I forget what they call it in English, Homeopathic, natural medicines and herbs and stuff like that different natural herbs, that you can do, make tea out of them. This older gentlerman that lived next to me, and I was cutting the grass one day, and I didn’t speak much German, and he was going crazy on me, I was cutting this rare herb that usually only grows in really bad soil, almost an alley way, or just really bad soil. And it was just growing like crazy. It’s a natural herb that they use for blood thinner. I was just mowing it over with the lawn mower, and he just went crazy!
One day I was coming home from work, and he was in my yard, and he had all these little fence things and he was putting them all around these different bushes, over these clumps of grass, and I was saying “what are you doing?” and he’s saying o”h don’t touch this! This is this and this is that!” and he actually wrote all these little cards and put the German name on there and the botanical name and what it was used for. I thought, oh my god, what do I have here? Do I have a natures druggery in my back yard!
I got some books and things and read about it. It was an experience and it showed me how to do different things and how to use other plants. He was using stinging nettle.
He would take stinging nettle, not cook it or anything, just soak it in water, and just use the water, the brine from it, as a spray on plants for mites or things and stuff like that on it. And it worked. It was quite interesting. Then he would take the solid mass from the stinging nettle, and he would pulverize it and use it as a fertilizer.
We have stinging nettle all over the place around here. He could reach right into the stinging nettle bare handed and not even be bothered. I don’t know why? He said that it never bothered him, he said if you don’t do it in the months that don’t have an R in it you’re good to go.
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
Actually, my radishes were growing so well, and then they all got woody on me. The heat they just shoot, they get seeds real quick. My spinach, I had a really hard time trying to keep it down to where it would produce good spinach leaves.
My arugala salad went crazy on me and it’s already gone to seed, and I’m just gonna let it keep going, and keep the seed and dry it, and use it next year to plant so I don’t have to buy any.
My arugala went to seed, but it’s still pretty fresh and tasty. The little leaves are still tender.
I don’t have a greenhouse, I planted my first rows of lettuce the First day of April.
I made little hoop house and put some nice foil over the top it grew,
For our first farmer’s market the fist o f may, I had lettuce like you wouldn’t believe, I had arugala, spring mix and a regular leaf lettuce, that was just amazing.
I took a real thin backing material from a piece of scrap wood from Home Depot or something, and I cut strips about an inch and a half wide, and soaked them and then bent them and made little hoops out of them, A friend of mine has these big hoop houses like green houses and he had some extra foil, laying around, plastic covering, heavier then the stuff you can buy at the box stores and it’s actually made for greenhouses, and I stapled a couple of boards along each side of it so I roll it up easy if it was getting too hot or whatever and draped it over these hoops, it was like a little mini greenhouse.
It worked great, even though we were having some really bad weather and cold nights in April and May, my stuff never froze at all.
Best stuff you can use is a 16th inch or 5mm plywood works really good, because you soak it in water. And these little hoops that I made, maybe they are only 18-20” off the ground so it keeps the warmth down there from heating up in the daytime.
I got cabbage growing this year already. I thought I got hit by the cabbage butterfly, that cabbage moth.
I found out today from a friend of mine, I pulled the center out and looked at it, and it’s still good, he said leave that root stalk in there, he had a cabbage that had a roots stalk, grew three years in a row.
First year had nice big heads, the next year he had 3 heads per plant, but they were smaller, but good and tender and, then the third year he said he got another crop off of another root stalk. I pulled that one out, I didn’t know any better. This winter I’ll probably just cover them up and see what happens.
A lot of guests talk about the biggest thing is protect it and keeping the wind from drying them out.
I don’t remember it being so dry and hot. Living up there in Essex,we didn’t have a lot of wind, Right here living in the Jocko Valley, it’s just hot, dry, wind blowing …
They just banned all the fireworks up here. We got a well and water this year, and we’re already having a hard time keeping our place wet and the fire danger down around our house and keep it green.
They have actually banned fireworks down here on the reservation, first time.
I like fireworks for New Years, I think in Montana we should have fireworks for New Years. I like them in the snow. I don’t have to worry about my neighbors, tourists coming that don’t know. I guess the Fourth of July is the Fourth of July. I guess the barge has blown up in Whitefish the last two years in a row.
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
I want to try to grow lettuce all year round. I have a friend that did it last year in the hoop house. I have a friend that lives really close to the bakery, and the hoop houses that he has. We’re gonna see if we can get lettuce, beets, and carrots and see if we can get it to grow.
But in his hoop houses he has the full climate, houses with ventilation and the whole thing growing. He usually grows tomatoes, but the market for tomatoes it’s still there, he grafts his tomatoes on a different stalk then the original tomato was, for some reason this year he had really bad problem with mites, just couldn’t get rid of them. From the 600 plants that he had, he has about 80. Because of the weather this spring, it was hot and dry and that’s perfect climate for the mites to go crazy on. That’s why we’re gonna try to get the lettuce, and the cabbage growing. Next year, the only thing I might do different is rearrange a little bit and grow peas, I didn’t do this year because of mismanagement I guess, not knowing where to plant certain things, and you don’t plant your peas, and beans because their stock on the west side of your garden, you always put them on the East side, because when they get high enough they block all your sun in the afternoon, so I kind of mismanged the planting of my garden this year, but I’ll get it next year.
Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.
The easiest thing to grow successfully is radishes. There’s a market for radishes. Another thing that is easy to grow, as long as you keep it cleaned out is lettuce.
Is there a type of lettuce that you like to grow?
I found at the farmer’s market, everybody likes the arugala which is an easy lettuce to grow and the spring mix that has the darker leaf and the lighter leaves. I have 2 rows of the black seeded leaf lettuce growing, it’s doing very well, both rows are! Probably gonna harvest half of it, probably have to harvest about 2am maybe 3 o’clock, gonna bring it down and wash it, because I’ve got to be at the bakery at 4am to start baking.
Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate?
Cabbages. That gentleman I knew in Germany, he kind of given me a tip. he said if you take cigarette tobaco, if you soak it and soak it, the nicotine will keep the bugs away. I didn’t do it, and he did it all the time, and he used his cabbage for making some really good German Sauerkraut. Some of the best sauerkraut I ever ate in my life. But I was kind of afraid to do it, so I just didn’t try it yet. I’m concerned about the moth getting the worms into it.
Any kind of brocolli, cauliflower any kind of cabbage type plant etc they’re a lot of work to keep the mites and the bugs and stuff out of them. I think I’m gonna take half of a row and see how that works out. He swore by it, he was an old natural, during the second world war, they didn’t have a lot of chemicals, or the chemicals were used for other reasons, so the farmers were trying to figure out how to do things and still feed 2/3 of the population.
I did see an article about using egg shells, to get rid of the beetles.
Maybe the egg white turns into a sulfur?
Somethings eating our peppers this year. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen them do this year. Something ate the big leaves and now there are these little leaves growing around the stem.
We had something go through our town, when they rerouted the road here in town, they put these bushes, I’m not sure what they were called, along the highway to beautify and everything, which they did, but early this spring I went out and cut them all back and cleaned them all up and shaped them a bit. And then one day in May they were gone, like something ate them, I thought maybe the deer ate them, it was only that one bush, the whole side of town, they were totally naked but now they’re back?! And I’ve never seen anything like it! And now they’re back, they look just as beautiful as they was before what ever ate them. The stalk was green, the stem was green, but there were no leaves on it. The deer would have at the whole stem all the way down, something they’re back now and they’re beautiful!
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
Weeding. I have to force myself to go out and weed. I guess that’s part of being – I know the German word – the environmental safe type thing. I guess trying to be as natural as possible trying not to use herbicides and pesticides in your garden to kill these weeds, because usually you kill more then that. Weeding is probably my biggest enemy.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
Watch it grow. Knowing that it’s growing and doing well. Yep, walking out there. I put a lot of pictures on my facebook site for my farmer’s market. People say how did you do that? I say “I have no idea?” It just grows. The plot of ground I picked, the space I put my garden is actually under an old laundry line, I don’t know if that had something to do with it, in the old days, they used a lot of phosphates in their laundry detergent so I wondered if maybe the phosphates got into it? Even before I put my garden in, it was always nice and green out there, looking good. That doesn’t mean go out and pour phosphate and laundry detergent on your garden.
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
Don’t pull your root stock of your cabbage. If your radishes shoot, pull em, just take em out becasue they aint gonna be good anyway.
The best advice was from David, when I told him about the cabbage and he said “Just leave the root stock, see what happens!” “Too late.” The next one I’m gonna leave, even after the cabbage is big enough, gonna leave the root stock. I think I’m gonna try it with the broccoli.
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.
It would probably be my spade, I have a spade that’s amazing, stainless steel, probably 6” across the bottom and probably 60” high, with that I can make my garden as big as I want and anywhere I want, it would never, I have that spade now, I brought it with me from Germany. The one item I take with me everywhere I want to go.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
Just me and David, we converse a lot. I probably should but I really don’t have the time. I’m one of those gardeners, I’m gonna invest time in it, gonna make sure it gets plenty of water, gonna get enough sun, chicken manure is probably the best, but if you make it too hot it’s gonna fry everything, so just use a little. Stay away from cow and horses, you never know where the hay comes from that they’ve eaten. I like to do a lot of things on my own.
It sounds like you reach out to other gardeners a lot which is great advice.
Tell us about your bakery a little.
My bakery?! It’s called Backstube Edelweiss. It’s a European name, the Edelweiss is an alpine flowers. A Backstube translated into English is a baker’s nook. And my bakery, it’s really small, it’s probably the smallest bakery you ever saw, its 10×20’! I bake everything you can imagine in there. From Black Forest Cakes, to a …. All different kinds of bread, we do the traditional German rye breads that are European famous! We do puff pastry, cream puffs, cinamon rolls because that’s an American staple. I experiment a lot. I do a cheese tongue. It’s the same dough as for a kaiser roll, roll them a little bit longer, not quite as long as a hot dog bun, not quite as long, I cut them open and I put bacon and cheese, and we have one with bacon cheese and jalepeno we call the fire tongue.
I had a gentleman stop in that was down in Las Vegas, he eats my pasteries and everything. He said I wanted to cry. I just had to try. The only thing I found down there that you don’t have, was what they call a cheese twist. I knew how to do them. I’d made them before, around here, it’s almost like a danish type thing with cheese, and covered with sesame seeds, or poppy seed. So I made him some and now it’s become a part of my staple. Someone said, you need to take these to UMT. Probably cost more money to get into them, probably wouldn’t be worth it, so we just stayed local, go to a couple of different farmers markets. I experimented making different types of bread. I make a Molasses bread, Picaso bread, got it’s name because I use the sweet dough from the cinaomon rolls, then knead them together, but keep them a little separated, then when they raise, I bake it, and because of the sweet dough the sugar and sweet dough carmelizes faster, then the regular one, and when you toast it it looks like you have some kind of weird painting in front of you so that’s why we call it a Picaso bread. It’s very unique, it’s got a good flavor to it, you can make really good french toast, or make sandwiches or whatever your heart desires. It sells really good along with my rye bread.
We open at 7am til 5pm, except on Fridays open til 7pm. Farmer’s Market is in the same complex as the bakery. It’s a 12-16 hour day on Friday. Farmer’s market is a little better marketing, esp for people that have little gardens, that are experimenting that want to learn. Go to farmers market and talk to vendors there, that have the tomatoes, and eggplant, and all the other beautiful veggies that are there. In the smaller communities most of your vendors will be so helpful on giving you tips on how to grow this and how to grow that.
We just started this market this year, in this location, we started it with some other people, here to help the community and the community should be part of what we’re doing. It’s hard and you have a couple of vendor’s coming from Missoula, saying I can’t make enough money, if you’re consistent . . .
Pushing upcycling – familiar with the term upcycling until a few months ago, taking something people were going to throw away, and fix it up, or paint it make it new again, turn a window into a picture frame, or a stained glass window. A lady that makes solar lamps out of upcycling. Will be on farmer’s markets.
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?
So much people can do, be more wise of what youre doing, be more respectful of what you’re doing to our forests, to our lands! And remember it’s not yours! It’s the generation behind you, your kids, your kid;s kids, your great-great-grandchildren. If you kill it now what are they gonna have? Leave something behind that your children and children’s children can inherit and continue on with. That’s all I’ve got to say on that matter.
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
If you grow it, turn your neighbors on to it, let your neighbors, if you have neighbors who have never eaten a fresh grown cucumber, or fresh grow carrot or head of cabbage, take some of your produce and take it to your neighbors. It doesn’t matter who they are, or what they are it doesn’t matter, we’re all in this thing together, we’ve got to do it together. The fulfillment, the satisfaction of being able to give a total stranger something good is amazing, I think it is anyway, but that’s me:~)
How do we connect with you?
that’s in Arlee, out in the middle of nowhere basically, we had a German couple in here yesterday and were it’s a pleasant surprise!
We give out good tourist information.
Like going into Gramma’s kitchen. Fresh cinamon rolls,
Go to Roy Mills FB page. Arlee Farmer’s Market Facebook Page
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