Episode 64: Hunter Lydon | Sundog Permastead | Practicing Permaculture Principles| Potomac, MT
Hunter is a steward at the Sundog Permastead which is a Western Montana homestead on a 40-acre conifer forest nestled in the Potomac Valley. They strive to create and sustain an earth friendly eco-system based on Permaculture principles. Just another intelligent millennial changing the world to be a better place!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I moved to Montana, about a year ago, never ever thought I’d end up here, thought I’d be in the NW ’cause I wanted to be able to grow veggies all year round. I was in between jobs and I have a family in Missoula and we came across this peace of land, and the previous owners, intended it to be an eco-village, and it didn’t work out for them. Me and my mom came out to look at the land. Originally, at first glance I thought it wasn’t for me, and after talking to some frieends, and giving it more thought maybe thought it would be a perfect fit because there’s a lot of infrastructure, and I’m not much of a builder yet. I like to work in the soil, and to be out in the garden, and I’m lovin Montana more and more every day. I’m really glad Montana chose me to live here.
Where did you move here from? Where were you?
I was migrating around the west, WWOOFing.
Do you want to tell us about that a little?
WWOOFing stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, so it’s a worldwide network of farm hosts.You pay an annual membership and they give you a list of farms all over the US, if you wanted to you could work on a coffee farm in South America up to a fruit farm down in Florida. So it’s pretty diverse, depending on what in agriculture you want to learn about, or a specific region you want to learn about you’ll find a place to go. I was doing that for a couple of years trying to figure out where I wanted to plant roots and what kind of agriculture farming I wanted to do. I ended up finding this place. Now, I’m in early experimental stages. When youre WWOOFing you’re doing what other people want you to do and you’re doing their methods. But now I’m having the opportunity to experiment and do new things and see what works and what doesn’t work and it’s pretty fun. I really enjoy it!
Tell me about your first gardening experience? Tell us from as far back as you can remember.
Well, as far back as I can remember. I was originally born and raised from Northern Ohio just outside of Cleveland, we lived on the east side of Cleveland for a little bit in a place called Chardon and it’s like the snow belt of Ohio. There was a maple tree farm near us and we used to go there and get maple syrup. I remember looking out you know in the middle of winter looking out into the forest and it was dead silent. And they had the little tins hanging from all the trees, and they had this really old machine doing all the processing for them. I remember the smell always stuck with me. That’s the first thing, kind of first farming experience I remember. Maybe weeding for my grandmother, give me some busy work pull some green stuff up for me.
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
Earth Friendly gardening means trying to just adapt to trying to adapt to nature the best you can, not trying to put what you think, a system that you think is going to work, probably wont. I find that watching things grow and not interfering is kind of the method that I really like to go by.
It’s pretty difficult up here in this conifer forest, cause we have pine cones fall in the garden a lot, and the soil is pretty difficult. As long as you observe and listen you’ll come to some kind of balance.
Who or what inspired you to start using organic/earth friendly or permaculture techniques? How did you find out about the WWOOFing thing
I found out about the WWOOFing thing from my mom, she always knew I like to travel and I like to be outside and be in nature, and she’s the one who originally told me about it. I got on this path, when I went to this homestead in Arizona, which is about 100 miles north of Tuscon, a place called The Reevis Mountain School of Self-Reliance
Peter Bigfoot, he’s been living off the grid for about 35 years, pretty much self-sustained, maybe go to town go buy some grains or maybe some cooking oil. They’re totally off grid, he has chickens and turkeys, he welds, is an herbalist and he does chinese medicine and he makes tinctures and salves, and wildcrafts, and he opened my mind to a whole new world in a whole I never even knew existed. And then I kind of took his teachings and went my own way.
How long were you there?
I went there twice. Altogether I was there 6 months. It was definitely life changing.
How did you learn how to garden organically?
Before that I was at a biodynamic farm in Tuscon at a Waldorf School, that was where I first kind of learned about different methods of farming. They talked about nature and a whole bunch of wild stuff that I never heard of, like nature fairies, and Rudolph Steiner is who introduced biodynamics to everyone. It’s a pretty of a wild form of agriculture, which at the time I was like this is kind of wild but I’ll take a little bit of things from it, but now I’m going back to biodynamics and I’m just scratching the surface, learning more about different biodynanic methods. I’m really enjoying it, and learning a lot.
Here’s some pictures of the fairy village at the Waldorf School behind my mom’s house:
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
Last year was pretty much my first experience on my own, so I thought what’s gonna be a fail-safe thing to grow? I just grew tons of kale, every week I was going to the food bank and donating gallons and gallons of kale. This year I have some squash that’s going well, kholrabi, zucchini’s doing really well. Probably what’s doing best is orach, which is called museum spinach, the previous owners broadcast it in the manure, and I spread it in this spot I wanted to prep for the garden, so there’s volunteer roach coming up everywhere, it doesn’t wilt at all, it can be in full sun, and the leaves keep really well.
We have a wild spinach that grows here that has purple and pale green leaves.
It does come in purple. It’s somewhere in-between chard and spinach, the leaves look like lambs quarter. IT’s good in smoothies too!
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
I’m really experiementing with not watering as much, I want to design the garden so plants will get morning sun and by the time that 11-3:00 sun hist the garden, they’ll be in shade, and what i want to experiment with is putting native bushes and shrubs along the edges of the garden beds so they shade the veggies in the afternoon, like the squash, and planting stuff that doesn’t like the heat, and the squash leaves are usually struggling, so I want to put them more in the afternoon shade. Trying to design a garden that doesn’t need to be watered as much and incorporating shade more.
Cool, I like that. Now did you see that at the other WWOOFing sites that you went to or are you coming up with this out of what you are learning already in the last couple of years?
Maria Thun, she has has a biodynamic calendar that a lot of people follow, I got there book, the only time to water for the whole season is when they transplant. I think they are in a wetter climate, but that’s where I got the concept.
That could help you not have to water as much.
What she says they do for leaf veggies, you basically hoe in the morning to allow more moisture in the soil, and for root vegies you hoe in the evening, and just kind of turn up the soil a little bit, which is a method I haven’t used yet, I kind of mulch everything wtih dry pine needles.
There’s another guy in Australia, he claims to have a waterless garden. He doesn’t water it, just relies on rain and water catchments.
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well, that didn’t go the way you thought it was gonna.
Most of the stuff that I seeded, like carrots and a bunch of flowers. I did a bunch of flower forage for the bees, and me not watering so much, nothing came up, except for what I seeded, the squash. Luckily, there’s lots of native forage for the bees.
I pruned the plum trees, by myself one of my first experiences pruning, it didn’t produce as much fruit as last year, I don’t know if I over-pruned it.
Pruning’s almost like an art, or there’s a science to it, and the 2nd most listened to episode of the Organic Gardener Podcast is Episode 26 with Russ Medge who has a tree pruning business in Utah. And Dave Salman talked about the difference between pruning flowering and shade trees versus fruit trees in Episode 50.
Some stuff, I put out unfenced, just to see what happened, and everything pretty much got eaten by the deer, because we’re pretty much out in the woods here. So I’d like to plant some deer resistant things here, like lavender, and I think there is a deer resistant sunflower called Maximallian Sunflower that the deer don’t like to eat.
I think deer will eat just about anything in these dry Montana summers. The only thing the deer don’t eat at my house are my peonies.
We have weighted gate, last October, the deer figured out how to open the gates. There wasn’t much in there, there was a couple of kale plants is all. They went to one gate and I locked it and they basically went to every gate I didn’t lock. They nibbled on the plum tree.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?
Well, we don’t really weed, I just cut the leaves off or cut the grass off, and let the roots tsay in the ground, that’s not my favorite thing to do, my goal is, I like to treat all the plants equally, and not attack one thing. I’ve read that when you attack certain things, when you weed or cut it puts the plant in survival mode, it’s gonna come back quicker. So that’s not my favorite thing.
Making compost tea can be smelly sometimes.
When my husband lifts the lid off, I’m like how do you stand this. Do you want to tell everyone how to make compost tea.
There’s all different kinds of methods. If I remember to look at the biodynamic calendar, I’ll do it on a leaf day. So I’ll get a bunch of dandelion greesn, grass, lambs quarter, basically anything that’s growing in the beds to compete with the veggies. You can put it in any kind of vessel, and then you fill it with water, you can either let it sit, I recommend you turn it at least once a day, some people just let it sit overnight and then they pour it in, 3-5 days is probably enough time, we put it in a big bucket, and then we just put watering cans in there, and pour around the plants. I’ve heard of people using the fish tank, circulator thing so it’s constantly circulaitng geting oxygen, so it won’t go bad.
Biodynamics there’s all sorts of composting teas, you can make for, let’s say the’re a s plant your hvaing not doing so well. There’s certain nettle tea or a comfrey tea, there must be a dozen methods of making compost tea, but we make it easy for ourselves just cut some greens, pour some water on it, and let it sit.
Mike uses the chicken manure and just soaks it in a bucket of water.
I wouldn’t put that on the leaves, but on the base.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
I like to broadcast seeds, cover crop and green manure, stuff like that. Watching the flowers come up, listening to the bees, watching things grow, and kind of looking or seeing a plant growing to maturity, and realizing that this just started from this super tiny seed and now it’s like this enormous plant that’s growing this stuff I can eat.
I’m always fascinated my husband gets the vegetables he grows, and plants a tiny seed, and get’s a plant and then food from it too! I’d be headed right to the store for a plant, I wouldn’t even try seeds, and it’d be a miracle if it grew without him there to water it.
Tell us what is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
If things want to grow or are meant to grow they will, you know like some plants are not gonna grow as well as others, the more you baby them it’s not really gonna help the situation. There’s a woman called Jacqueline Freeman she has a bee and biodynamic farm in Washington. She had an interesting thing to say about bee colony collapse, everyone is really concerned about their hives getting this mite that is destroying hives, and that’s nature’s way of seeing what bees are stronger then others. I think that’s good advice, see what survives what’s gonna thrive and what’s wants to live is gonna live.
IDK, Cause isn’t part of that bee colony collapse is humans are kind of leading to that because of pesticides we’re putting on their food, and even wasn’t there something about cell phones even that’s kind of could be doing something to it.
I hadn’t heard about cell phones but I know it’s pesticides that they spray on the hives from apple and almond orchards. I don’t think anyone knows what’s happening other then the bees.
I might have to research that a little more.
A favorite tool that you like to use? Did you take a tool from WWOOFing site to WWOOFing site?
I really like the garden rake, because it’s pretty multi-functional, you can pick stuff up with it, it’s light.
Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last?
We dry some herbs that grow here, we ferment, we make sauerkraut, that’s probably one of my favorite things because it doesn’t require refrigeration. Preserving with any kind apple cider vinegar or salt. It’s one way of preserving, with apple cider vinegar, you can use, I’ve heard, I’ve never done it, if you have cheese you submerge in oil, you don’t have to refrige it
You use that for pickling. I would like to lead more towards non-refridgeratored living down the line.
iI tell people all the time, we lived for 6 years without running water or electricity. I would do it again but not without water on the property or my propane fridge. I did it for one summer, with a cooler, but I don’t ever want to do that again, that was hard. I would haul water into the house, as long as I had a drain, if you live without running water, get a drain it’s worth every penny and not hard. I always had drains at this house.
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
Mainly, veggies. I just roast stuff. I’m not like a big culinary person. Just like to keep it simple. Eating big salads, making massaged kale salad.
How do you roast you veggies?
Roast them in the oven.
A favorite internet resource?
If there’s something I want to know about I’ll just search for it and go to a couple of different sites and grab what I think will be most useful from each of the sites.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
Sep Holster’s intro to permaculture book.
Steiner Books on Biodynamics including a couple by Maria Thun.
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?
If there were more just community gardens in the city, where anybody could gather from. Like if there were trees along the streets, vegetable plants interspersed throughout town, where just anybody could just gather from. I want to propose down the road to Missoula to design some kind of Food Forest or garden like that, but I have to figure everything here first. That’s a dream I’ve had since I moved here.
There was another guy at that radio training in Missoula that said the same thing, he had gardened on the North side and now lived on the South side and was missing the community garden on the north side. Have you been to that food forest in Seattle?
I have and it’s incredible! When I envision a food forest, I think of like crazy fruit trees, but I guess that’s gonna take time they way the terraced it and did the companion palnting, green building with water catchments all around it, it’s pretty legit.
Do you have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
I guess the thing I would suggest is not to be scared to experiment, the best way to learn is by making mistakes, recurring thing I hear from farmers, and all sorts of people who are successful, is they’ve made many many mistakes to get where they are. I’ve made many mistakes but you have to not be afraid to fail. I’m hesitant to make mistakes at times.
I think gardeners are very optimistic and positive problem solvers. Thinking oh this didn’t work, but already figuring out how it’s gonna go next year. I’m already having that problem with these sunflowers I planted, that will probably bloom but not go to seed. I should have stuck with my motto in the ground by Earth Day…
How do we connect with you?
We’ll probably be taking some interns next year, we’re pretty slow, doing forest work, there’s lots of forest health, we’re reducing fire. What a lot of people don’t want to do a lot of when they work on a farm. Hauling wood, etc.
There’s a phone: 406.244.2247 and email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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