Shannon, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, is looking for some gardening tips to take her small, raised-bed garden to the next level. She wants to learn how to feed her family well, growing a year's worth of food, but not get overwhelmed when it comes time to preserve it all.
In today’s podcast, Pioneering Today Episode #289, I'm giving Shannon, a nurse practitioner who lives in the Pacific Northwest, my tips for starting seeds indoors, cool and warm weather planting schedules, garden expansion, watering systems, and an overall game plan for a great garden harvest without the overwhelm or stress.
In This Episode
We cover a lot of ground in this episode when it comes to Shannon's garden, including:
- how to figure out what to plant in your garden.
- deciding how much of each crop to plant for your family.
- what crops to plant first in the Spring.
- which crops are great for seed starting indoors.
- how to organize and preplan to know when to start plants indoors to know you're transplanting them at the right time for the best health and growth of the plants.
- how to avoid ruining your crops with over or under watering with a watering system and a watering schedule.
- how to maximize a small space for growing as much as possible during the growing season.
- how to take advantage of the multiple growing seasons (spring, summer, and fall).
- Find out more about becoming a member of the Pioneering Today Academy
Other Helpful Gardening Resources:
- The Family Garden Plan
- The Family Garden Planner
- Garden Planning in Winter
- Planning a Fall Garden (28 Crops to Plant in July)
- 10 Things Most Organic Gardeners Forget About
- 5 Garden Elements You Need to Add
- 6 Natural Fertilizers to Improve Garden Soil
- 8 Common Mistakes Made by New Gardeners
- How to Keep Weeds Out of the Garden Naturally
Melissa: Welcome to episode 289 of the Pioneering Today's Podcast. Today's episode is a fun one, and one I'm really excited to share with you with a new series that we're going to be doing here on the podcast. Today's episode, we are focusing on the topics of time management and organization, getting a system in place specifically for your garden, and if you are working outside the home, or even inside, I know many of us are actually working from home now, but if you don't have the time to just devote as many hours as you would like, and time is on a factor to your garden, you are really going to love this episode.
Melissa: So, I'm sharing tips and tricks and pearls from when I was working at the pharmacy and still running a full-time homestead, but we're really focusing on the gardening aspect of this. If you are looking to grow more food this year than you ever did before, but you don't want to be overwhelmed, then this is the episode for you. This episode is very special because it is more of a consult than an interview, though it's kind of an interview, but it's more, she's asking me questions and we're kind of going back and forth, and this is with Shannon, who is a member of the Pioneering Today Academy.
Melissa: This is the Pioneering Today Podcast, but I also have the Pioneering Today Academy, which is my membership, so where I've got all of my e-courses. You get access to those, full courses when you are a member, as well as monthly gardening lives. That's where I walk you through every single month, depending upon your gardening zone, so we cover all the different growing areas, what you need to be doing each month so that you stay on track for the whole year to be growing your own food.
Melissa: We also do member challenges with things in the kitchen when it comes to preserving your food. We're getting ready and gearing up for the end of February and in March to do our fermented dairy course, so moving into doing cultured dairy items. One of the new things that we are doing is members have an opportunity to submit in, and they get to come on the podcast, and I do basically a one-on-one consult with them, so they get some one-on-one things that they are needing help with. Then we also thought it just made a lot of sense to air this as a podcast episode, because I know that these are questions that many other people have as well, and it's going to be super helpful to you as well as the members.
Melissa: If you're listening to this and you're a member of the academy, keep an eye out for your email, because once a quarter, we will be sending an email out to members-only, and you can submit a form to get one of the spots. If you're like, oh my goodness, I'm not a member of the Academy, but I need to find out more about it, you can go to melissaknorris.com/pta, so Pioneering Today Academy, but just the first letter of each of those words, and we only open for enrollment a few times of year, but if you land on that page and it's not available to join right now, there's always a wait list. So, make sure that you hit the join now wait list and put in your name and email.
Melissa: Then when we do open for enrollment again, you will get an email and be first in line. I'm really excited to share this episode with you and my consult with Shannon. I think you're going to find a lot of valuable tips in there, as well as identify with Shannon's story of how she has turned to homesteading and a garden. To grab the show notes, because I'll always will have links to things that we talk about within the episode that you can go further if you need more information on, you can find those at melissaknorris.com/298, because this is episode number 298. Okay. Let's get to it.
Melissa: I am super excited to get to visit with you today, Shannon, and have you on the podcast, so welcome to the Pioneering Today Podcast.
Shannon: Thank you so much. It's so good to be here. I really appreciate this opportunity to meet you virtually.
Melissa: It's so funny, in a virtual world, where a lot of times we get to text with people or we're chatting back and forth, being typing mode, but there's something very special, even though we're still technically virtual about getting to speak and to hear someone else's voice. So, I always really look forward to these too, because when I'm doing obviously podcasts episodes where it's just me, I'm kind of talking to myself, so it's really fun to be able to meet others and to get to talk and then share the conversation with other people. For those listening in, get us just like a little bit of your background and what you would love some help with today.
Shannon: Sure. Yes. I guess, for me, I mainly lean towards the gardening side of homesteading. I eat a mostly plant-based diet and so my garden is my life blood. I started gardening in college. Well really, actually, my first introduction to a garden was when I was very small, maybe three or four years old, and my great grandma always had this luscious, beautiful garden in her backyard. I remember going back there and I would pick peas and beans and I would eat them like they were candy, and her tomatoes, and it always stuck with me.
Shannon: Then I attended college and I majored in biology. When I took the plant physiology class ... Well, I took like introduction to biology, etc. It lit up for me, just anything around plants, and so I took the plant physiology and that's when it all ... And then I was like, I've arrived. I planted a garden in college, and we did a community garden, and it was kind of a big thing at the university, and it just sparked a lifetime love. Then I've kind of fallen away from it and back into it. It's ebbs and flows with my career, which is very demanding and time consuming.
Shannon: Where I land now with it is, I'm fully committed and I need a plan and I need a process and a system, and so I'm leaning towards your pearls and your advice, because I know you have had a career and a busy life, and you've invented this for yourself, and you've been so successful. So, I just want a little guidance on having it all. Want it all.
Melissa: We want it all. Yes, we do want it all. It's so funny.
Shannon: Within reason.
Melissa: Within reason. Yes. There's definitely some reason. I love that you're already talking about ebb and flow because there's definitely an ebb and flow with the garden, but also within the seasons of our life, which you've experienced, you encapsulated so well there in telling us your journey. First off, what is your career?
Shannon: I am a nurse practitioner. Yeah.
Melissa: Oh, awesome.
Shannon: Though we have similar alignments professionally as well.
Melissa: Yes, definitely. I didn't realize you're a nurse practitioner, that is awesome. Shannon lives in the Pacific Northwest. We live in the same state, but not in the exact same area, so I am familiar with your growing climate quite a bit. However, I think you're a little bit warmer than I am. When is your first and last frost dates?
Shannon: Typically, the first, it will arrive by the second week of November if it's a good year. Then the last is, honestly, it can creep into about, I think they technically land on November 8th and about March, April 8th, but I find that if I can sneak stuff out in March, usually, if I'm responsible about what I put out there, it's usually fine.
Melissa: Okay, good. Oh man, you get to go a lot earlier than I do.
Shannon: I do. I do, and I'm push the boundaries.
Melissa: I am a boundary pusher. I'm always testing and pushing boundaries in the garden. We're a lot aligned like that. You live and learn each year, but I think it's important to push those boundaries just a little bit, just to see. With your gardening, what do you have in place now? So then we can look at where we can help you create a better plan, or is your goal to increase amount of food that you're growing or just to have a better system to manage it?
Shannon: Great question, so both. I do want to increase what I'm growing. We revamped our landscape this past year, and so I have ... It's like ground zero here. I did manage to get a small garden going this summer, but that's when the majority of the work was being done, so my entire yard was torn up. It's the first garden I've had in this house because we had moved here and downsized and whatnot, and so it's like relearning. I went from acreage to just a normal lot, which feels claustrophobic to me because I'm used to just being able to go into the back forty and find beautiful compost from the trees.
Shannon: It's just a different world. That's a little bit of a learning curve to not have the freedom to just put something wherever I want and finding a place on my property that will work for anything. I feel like a city gardener, even though I technically live nowhere near the city. Then the other factor is I want to increase what I'm harvesting, and I tend to be the gardener that gives away, so I grow all this stuff, and then I can't ... I don't preserve it so I'm giving it all away, which is lovely, but I would like to move in towards more of preserving in various ways.
Shannon: That's my two goals, is creating a system that maximizes my space and maximizes my harvest and then moving forward little by little in preserving things in various ways, and all the ways. I want to ferment, I want to can, I want to freeze, and I want to dehydrate because it's all fun.
Melissa: It is all fun. I'm like you. I like to use all of the ways. Canning is close and dear to my heart, but canning isn't for all foods and we don't like to eat all foods necessarily like we prefer some of them in a ferment versus in a canning. This is all really great. So, your existing space, so it's new home. Are you doing-
Shannon: Raised beds.
Melissa: Raised beds.
Shannon: Yes. I have two right now that one is 10 by 10 and one is like 10 by ... We expanded it and I don't know the exact measurements, but I would say it's close to 10 by 20. I planted, I got over a hundred pounds of tomatoes and then I ruined them all by over-watering [inaudible 00:11:38] mushy and planted. I forced myself to eat them anyways. I was so sad. I tried everything, but that's a side story. We'll stay off that one.
Shannon: It's depressing. But the challenge, and for me, what my takeaway was is I had literally just established that bed. It faces south. I am so fortunate that my house faces south slightly on a grade, so the front of my house get southern sun as well, even though that's the North side of my house. Then my south side, which is the backside of my house is where I had put my raised garden beds. It is blazing hot. It is a micro climate that unlike no other. It gets very, very hot, direct all day sun. See, it's stone block raised beds so it just soaks up the heat, and my peppers were glorious.
Melissa: Oh, I bet they were, I will not be jealous right now.
Shannon: You're not that far away. You can just come put something in the dirt.
Melissa: I love this. Okay, and so you already have established, with your micro-climates, which is really, really good, actually. Are you looking to put in any more raised beds, or just ...
Melissa: Okay. You are going to plan on some [crosstalk 00:12:55].
Shannon: I'm going to plant some hemp in the front side because it also gets tremendous amount of sun. I'm going to evolve up into there. That to me is my, where I mentioned that I feel like it's an urban challenge because I'm going to be a front yard backyard, side yard, all yard pots gardener.
Melissa: Okay. Well, I like that you're taking advantage of the space, and it sounds like you have quite a bit of growing space and you're going to be able to expand out and put some new beds in. For both the preserving aspect of growing, and then having your plan, I personally, and to get the most out of it, and without having so much overwhelm, I like to really do my early spring crops, which you already are doing if you say you're already putting plants out in March and pushing that boundary, and to getting those in and then swapping out and having my main summer garden, which is for you, your tomatoes and your peppers, just really heat loving plants, which sounds like you have an awesome spot for those to grow and really flourish here in our Pacific Northwest climate, which is, we can have a hard time finding spots that are ideal actually for some of those summer crops, so you've got that.
Melissa: Then I like to also plant and do a fall garden. That sometimes sounds overwhelming because you're like, I'm going to have to put in three different crops. But I found it by doing that, it's actually easier for me than trying to cram everything in to just that summer growing season. Are you already doing a spring garden, and then kind of like your main summer garden and then some fall crops, or is it just predominantly the one growing part?
Shannon: Well, that's where I need your guidance. I have predominantly, in the past, just dumped everything in, in the spring and just ate it til it was gone, and said goodbye, and went to the grocery store. We're moving out of that, and so where I need a lot of guidance is that strategic plan where, okay, how do I spread this out over time successfully and in a way that I can harvest them? I feel like now that I'm paying attention to my garden, it's become more challenging. When I didn't care and I just threw seeds everywhere, I felt like I had this bountiful garden and I didn't have expectations.
Shannon: So, when I walked out the door, it was, everything made me happy. Well, now, I'm getting a little, and some more meaningful because I'm looking at well, okay, if I want these tomatoes to work, I need to have 15 plants or whatever. Now that it's become more meaningful to me, that's where I'm like, it's an exciting challenge to create a plan for that.
Melissa: Yes, it is.
Shannon: That I'm clueless about.
Melissa: You're doing really good. Honestly, you are. I would look for the spring crops first. Obviously, that ... Well, I shouldn't say obviously, because some people might not know that and that sounded actually rude of me. Forgive me for that. But your cool weather crops are what we can do in that early spring garden, and that's going to be most things in our brassica family, so kale, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes sometimes, those types of things. What I like to do for that early spring garden is I really like to look at cabbage, of course. The crops that we will really be eating, and for that spring time for most of our brassicas, I want to make sure that I have enough cabbage to ferment and that will take us through ...
Melissa: And we like to do curtido, which I know you're familiar with. If anybody's been listening to the podcast or following my YouTube videos for a while, they'll be familiar with. It's a Spanish version basically of sauerkraut that uses onion and garlic and carrot and a little bit of oregano. I don't even do regular sauerkraut anymore. It's the only thing I do. We have to have it on the fridge at all times. I will plan out first based upon that, because I know what I put up in the fall, we're going to be dangerous and close to running out of by the time spring hits.
Melissa: I really plant my garden and my crops based upon what we really like to eat, and I try to kind of follow that. Then the other stuff, I will put in around the edges, so to speak. I start first with the crops that are main crops, that we really enjoy and we cook with and we eat with a lot, and then based upon what's going to be able to be growing in that growing season. For spring, I always like to make sure that I have cabbage, enough cabbage planted that we could eat a few heads fresh, but mainly so I can replenish my curtido supply.
Melissa: Then I'll plan that out for what we'll go through in about six months. I will look back at how much we're eating per week so that I can calculate out the volume that I will need. That's my first thing, is looking at that. Now, I also look at, for me and the spring time, I tend to get a better crop on broccoli and cauliflower than I do with a fall planting. I try to do a larger planting in the early spring of the cauliflower and the broccoli, and the cauliflower, we pretty much just eat fresh. I won't do quite as much of the cauliflower, just enough to what I think will allow us to eat fresh during that timeframe.
Melissa: But broccoli, we will use ... you can't can broccoli. I've not done any fermenting with broccoli. I'm not honestly sure how I would like that, but I do freeze and dehydrate broccoli. We'll use frozen broccoli in place of fresh throughout other times of the year in different things. Then I'll use dehydrated broccoli in soup some, and you can throw it in casserole. I usually do it in soup, so it's going to be simmering so it can rehydrate and cook for a period of time. I'll increase and do more broccoli than I will cauliflower, and I'll do a small amount of lettuce, but I can grow lettuce pretty much throughout all the seasons and it doesn't really have a place as far as preserving-wise for me.
Melissa: I just do a small amount of lettuce. I like to look at what we eat and what will grow in that timeframe, and then also, like I said, with that eye on, can I preserve this? If it's something that I can preserve or in a manner that we will eat it once it's been preserved that way, then I will increase those and get those a little bit more top priority in space than the other ones. I'd recommend going through the crops and looking at what you guys are eating and how you think that you will be preserving it, and just focusing on those for that earlier spring garden.
Shannon: Great. Okay. That's really helpful.
Melissa: Then, because there is usually a little bit of an overlap, some of those things you can usually ... I will seed start, which will push you back even further into mid-late winter, depending upon on how much of a jump you need. I like to seed start the broccoli and the cauliflower. I don't usually seed start my cabbage, but I will seed start the broccoli and the cauliflower so that they're going to be larger, and then when I can plant them out, which is still going to be so many weeks before the first frost, I don't have that one memorized. I can't remember how many weeks before the first frost so I can actually put those transplants out, but we have charts.
Melissa: We've got charts for all of that. I like to get those started earlier because I feel like it can take them a little bit longer to actually form their heads and let their heads get to be a large enough size to make it worth growing the crop. You'll want to be looking at, are any of these things that I do want to see seed start? That way, also, if I've seed started them and then can get them out under either ... I'm doing a little bit of, if I need to, if it's still a little bit early, but I can get them in the ground and just protect them from super hard frost, we may still be having, when there's more tender transplants, then they're easy when they're little like that to just put upside down milk jug on top of.
Melissa: They're much easier to insulate when they're larger plants, and so I can push that boundary earlier in the spring, I found because the plants are smaller and I can use just little things from around the house or even upside down like wide mouth mason jar, which I can't really do that in the fall if they're not of harvestable size, just because the plants are so much bigger, it requires a lot more like actual doing hoop houses or cold frames, that type of thing. I like to really push the boundary with my cool weather plants in the early spring planting garden. I just find that it's easier for me to do it that way and to get those bigger crops.
Melissa: But that way, if I have started from seed and can transplant, and then actual starts of the cauliflower and the broccoli, or you could look at local garden centers, usually we'll have those two if you don't want to seed start them, but it could be just a little bit of a way to jumpstart that. The reason for the broccoli and cauliflower is one, like I said, so that they will be of appropriate head size for me, but then also that they will be at that head size and then I can pull them out and have enough time to then put in my warm weather crops in that same place doing appropriate crop rotation.
Melissa: That's kind of one of the reasons I like to do that with those ones as well. It sounds like you already know which beds do really well for your warm weather, heat-loving plants, which is really good, but it sounded like you had a problem with the tomatoes.
Shannon: [crosstalk 00:22:39] faster. I seed started, which I've never done before.
Melissa: Yay, good job.
Shannon: I'm so proud of myself. Still feels like a winner because I planted like 21 or something, and I gave several away. I kept 17, and I thought, if five grow and produce, I'm a winner. Every single one of them produced. I traumatized them because we tore up our yard in the middle of the growing season. They got a little root bound in my red solo cups. They just had a traumatic experience. I honestly believe that I stunted their growth. They survived. They came back. I babied them, talk to them, videoed them. I did all the things to nurture them.
Shannon: Warm casted them. I did all. But then we put in our irrigation system and we realized that our timer was off and things were off and they were drowning in water. Then when they all came to fruit, they were just tasteless. I'm assuming it was the water logging that did it, but I honestly can't be for sure. I know that we'll do that, but I don't know enough to know what other things will do it.
Melissa: Okay. If you know that they were getting a lot of water, too much water, I would be like you and assume that's probably what it was because it doesn't sound like you had, once they were in the soil, like they were struggling nutrient-wise. You didn't have a lot of yellowing leaves or different signs that-
Shannon: Correct. Yeah, they were healthy and green and growing, like effortlessly growing. I was really proud of the little guys. They did good.
Melissa: I love this, especially because ... I know when you seed start them, [crosstalk 00:24:30].
Shannon: Ooh, your babies.
Melissa: Yes. You do have a different affinity for plants when you seed start them, at least I do, versus ... Yes. It sounds so silly, but there's a different emotional attachment. I'm with you. I would assume it was just the watering, which now you know, that's something you've learned, and you're like, okay, then we know that the automatic timers weren't working correctly, or they were too much in. That's something you can easily correct for this year.
Shannon: Does it ruin them for life when you do? I just assumed they were ruined for life. You can't recover from a soggy over-watered tasteless tomato, correct? Unless you dehydrate it or something.
Melissa: Well, once the tomato is formed, you mean actually ...
Melissa: Yeah. No, you really can't. You're not going to really change the composition of it after it's farmed and you've harvested it, no. You could cook it down to really evaporate the water out to try to concentrate the tomato flavor and like a thicker tomato paste you can't really improve upon the natural flavor once it's already there.
Shannon: Good. I don't feel bad about canning away a hundred pounds of tomatoes into a giant compost pile now.
Melissa: Well, it's going re-feed. There we go. It's going to re-feed this year so not all is lost.
Shannon: You mean that.
Melissa: Yes, not all is lost, but definitely not ideal. Definitely, really, yeah. Now you know to really check those water levels and the timers, and just make sure everything is going as should there, and that should really help correct that problem. From what you've said, it doesn't sound like there's really a soil nutrient issue that I would be really concerned about your macro and micronutrients. Of course, you always could do a soil test. They're very inexpensive to do. They're really easy to do. Then you know absolutely for sure if any levels are off and you can then of course correct those going into, and you have plenty of time because we're, at the time of this recording, we're a good six months out before you would be putting your tomatoes in the ground anyhow.
Melissa: You would have plenty of time to get a soil test done, and then also do any amendments if you wanted to, but I don't think that that's like a make or break it from what you explained that you went through, but especially if you're moving into, this is a new yard, a new area, but if any of the things that you planted doesn't sound like they were really struggling or seemed really sickly, then you're probably good.
Shannon: Yeah. They behaved, they were good. I think that the soil might be immature because it was all what we had to put in and whatnot, but I think we did a fairly good job, so I will change. I'm going to go to a drip irrigation. That was my biggest problem was my irrigation, I think. I'm going to convert it out to drip irrigation and control the watering and not worry about under watering ever again because I learned.
Melissa: Yeah. I love, for tomatoes, actually, well for everything, but especially tomatoes and peppers, I just really love the soaker hoses. They're relatively inexpensive. I've had the same soaker hoses. I will use them multiple years. I'm trying to think whether I replaced. I think I've maybe replaced the main soaker hose that was in the tomatoes once in, oh my goodness, five years. They will last several years for me. What I like about them is I can just lay him down, like serpentine them around the base of the plants and then I just hook up this hose, the regular hose to them and turn it on. I only run hours. Usually, even in the heat of max of summer, I usually only use the drip hoses on the tomatoes and peppers like twice a week.
Melissa: That's being in a high tunnel where the temperatures during the day, if it's sunny out, even with the windows open, can get up in the low 100s to 90s, not often here because of Pacific Northwest weather, but it can. That's really easy, especially for time management, because I just will turn them on before I turn them on at night. Twice a week I'll go out and I'll turn them on like at 10 o'clock right before I go to bed. Then when I get up in the morning, I just go and turn them off.
Melissa: Of course, it's remembering to turn them on and off, but even if I forget, like say it's halfway through the day, because it is just that drip, it's really not that big a deal if it went for a few extra hours or something like that, but I've just found that, that way, I never really over-water, and they get that really good deep watering to send those roots really far down without worrying about the over-watering issue, which can bring up a whole other problems, what you experienced, and even more sometimes.
Shannon: Okay. That's good. That's good advice. Thank you. I appreciate that. I really like what you were saying about the putting in the broccoli and cauliflower, or starting them, seed starting them and giving them a little jumpstart, because mine looked a little immature. They never really got there. I know now, after speaking with you, that I did everything too late with them and they just didn't have a chance. I'm really excited try that.
Melissa: Yeah, oh good.
Shannon: Because I really love vegetables.
Melissa: Yeah. Cauliflower and broccoli some of our favorites here. Too, because it's at that fine line, which is why I really do like to do them in spring, because unfortunately, especially with the broccoli, much more so than the cauliflower, if you do it too late, like you said, either it'll be too warm and they'll just immediately bolt and you won't get those nice big heads. That's another key to putting them out earlier and I like doing the seed starting aspect rather than direct sowing. I'll be excited to see how that works for you this year.
Melissa: Then I also do like to do a fall garden. Now, I have found here though, so that's why I do the majority of my broccoli and the cauliflower too, in that early spring garden, especially for any that I want to preserve up, because I will do a fall garden, and for the fall garden here, you'll be able to put your full garden in a little bit later, which is actually going to be ideal because your first frost date falls later than mine.
Melissa: You have a longer growing season because you'll be able to pull out a lot of your main summer plants will be done by that time, so you'll actually, with being able to rotate those crops through your beds without putting in more beds, you'll be able to put more in, whereas I typically have to put in my fall garden plants really about mid-July in order to have them at that harvestable size the end of September, 1st part of October, when we will start to get our first frost because we're quite a bit earlier.
Melissa: That's actually going to work out really well for you with your climate. But I have found, unfortunately like with my broccoli and cauliflower, I put mine in mid-July this year, and it's mid-December at the time that we're actually recording this, and none of my cauliflower created heads. I have a note to myself, one, we had a seasonably cool. This is where, it's still that trial and error. I mean, I've been gardening for 20 plus years and I still have timing issues, so don't feel bad about that, because we can't control the weather and you're always learning.
Melissa: This year I'm making a note, I'm actually starting my fall garden where I'll be seed starting those plants the very 1st of July.
Shannon: That was my question for you next. You just led right into it. With regards to the organizing and kind of pre-planning it, what does that look like? I feel like I might've started my seeds a little too early last year indoors. I started my tomatoes in January, the end of January, so essentially, almost like the first, probably the last weekend of February-ish. I started them a little early. They got root-bound as we talked about. I mean, not terrible. I transplanted them into the solo cups, and that gave them some growing room. I think just my timing was really off on everything. What does it look like with the three rotations that you were speaking about earlier? Is it like four-ish weeks? I guess it's a little plant specific, I'm sure.
Melissa: Yeah, it is definitely plant specific as to how many weeks before you can plant them out that you need to be starting them. Onions, or actually, if you want to do onions from seed, those are about 16 weeks before you can plant them out. They have the longest weeks to start before you actually are going to be planting them out in the ground. Then tomatoes and peppers are a close second. They require a lot. But if you started them the end of January, yeah, you started them a little bit too early. So, if you didn't have like half gallon pots to start moving them into, then they definitely would have become root-bound like you experienced before you could actually plant them outside.
Melissa: I would just adjust that timeframe. I usually start my tomatoes ... Now, I don't actually plant my tomatoes out in the high tunnel until usually the first or mid-May, and if I don't have them in the high tunnel, because that does provide me with about five to 10 degrees warmer protection, then I don't plant them outside until the end of May. I think you could probably plant outdoors probably the 1st of May or the very tail end of April.
Shannon: Yes. I typically get out there around Mother's Day. That's kind of my weekend. I'm sure that I can push it earlier because we really are starting to warm up by then. You probably experience this too, we have these very random May hot days, where just out of the blue, it's 95 degrees, just 90. It's more like 90, but literally, we have like one to three every year out of the blue, and if you're not ready for it, that's really hot for us.
Melissa: It is very hot for us. Yes, we've had some weeks like that where I'm like, oh, the soil's got to be warmed up by now. I'm just going to plant the whole garden. We're just going for it direct sowing and everything. Yeah, and then unfortunately that week ends, then it-
Shannon: Yes, and June arrives, and then we're drowning until what? 4th of July? Maybe the day after 4th of July [crosstalk 00:35:02].
Melissa: Summer starts July 5th year.
Shannon: It sure does.
Melissa: It really does. Yes, because usually the 4th of July you're in rain, and then it starts the next ... Yes. I don't really do much with those days. I'll take advantage of them and go out and do work that needs to be done in the garden and the yard, don't get me wrong, but I don't usually plant. I stick to the plant days and I don't try to plant then. Because we've tried it and you have that really hot period, which is great for warming up the soil, and then those seeds want to sprout. But then, here then, we'll typically be followed at least two weeks of really soggy, wet weather after that little hot streak, and then they like to rot or they're just stunted because they got started with a super hot temperature and then boom, you're flipping a switch, and it's like 30 degrees cooler almost and they just don't seem to do really well.
Melissa: We have found that it's better for us just to wait until the end of may and not get suckered by those few hot days of weather and just plant through the regular direct sowing, like full summer garden then. But with your tomatoes, being that you could plant around Mother's Day. I wouldn't seed start my tomatoes indoors or my pepper plants then until end of, probably close to the end of February. Really, 12 weeks would be the longest out, but even eight weeks is going to give you a good start on those, and then I'll have to deal with the root-bound issues, especially on the tomatoes. The peppers don't seem to get root-bound as easy as the tomatoes, because tomatoes have a much larger root system and are a larger plant.
Melissa: I think just adjusting that. Then the beautiful part about that is, if you start your tomato seeds indoors and your peppers around that end of February, that's going to be about the right time that you would also be looking to start your broccoli. I don't seed start cabbage. You could, if you wanted to, depending on how much space you have indoors and how much you want to do indoors for seed starting, but really, the broccoli and the cauliflower, because you're going to be able to plant those out earlier, but you can seed start them at the same time. That way, you're doing all of that seed starting work at the same time, but you'll have different plant out dates for those cool weather crops versus your warm weather crops.
Shannon: Okay. That's good. That's good. Then how do you juggle? How do you manage all of these? How do you do what you do, Melissa?
Melissa: I love it. Well, first off, as I said, I have been doing it for 20 plus years, so I'm more than happy to share it, but it's been an evolving of all of those years to really narrow in for me and my growing time and what we're eating to really get it into those optimal spots. But I will look at that, which is why, and you, and already know them, which is key because a lot of people don't even know off the top of their head, their first and last frost dates, because it all really revolves around that. First is figuring out those first and last frost dates, and then deciding, do I want to do a spring crop of cool weather crops, a regular warm weather summer garden, and do I want to do again, some of those cool weather crops in the fall?
Melissa: That is how you maximize the amount of food that you're growing in the same amount of space, or one of the ways that you can maximize, and of course, doing vertical planting, and that can help you grow more. But really, that's how you can grow essentially three gardens in the same amount of space in one calendar year.
Melissa: Knowing that is just pulling like a day planner or your calendar, or if you have my family garden planner. We've got all of those charts in the family garden planner, and so you look at those and you're like, okay, I'm going through and I know that these are the crops that A, me or my family liked to eat, and B, these are ones that I want excess of so that I can preserve them. Those are the ones that I focus on growing first. After I have identified that, then I go to that planner and those charts, which if anybody's listening and you don't have a copy of the family garden plan, you can get for free at the book website, which we'll have links in the show notes, how much to plant for a year's worth of food of each crop.
Melissa: That's where I go and do this first work in those worksheets. I don't want to spend too much time going over those because those are something everybody can download for free, even if they don't have the books and grab, but those worksheets are going to help you identify, what I just said, the crops that you and your family eat, how much of it you're eating, so that if you do want to try to raise a year's worth of it and not buy it from the grocery store, you'll have an estimation of how many plants that would require, and then knowing, okay, I'm going to be preserving these, so that gives them higher priority for me to plant more of them, so I have the excess to preserve. That helps you identify, first off, just, this is the crops that we want to do.
Melissa: Then you're going to look at them and say, okay, these are cool weather crops. That means I can grow these in the spring and the fall and not focus on growing them during the summer, once when they're probably going to struggle anyways, which is usually what happens. Then the warm weather crops, this is what I'll focus on for that second planting that's going to happen, usually in May or April, depending on where you live in your weather, unless you're extremely hot in the south, and I'm going to grow throughout those summer months. Then, if I'm going to do fall, I'm circling back around to these cool weather crops for a fall garden that I'll be putting in, I'll be actually planting it in summer, but that way these crops are of harvestable size, or almost harvestable size once my first frost hits.
Melissa: That helps you lay out, these are the crops I'm growing and they're in which garden, spring, summer, or fall. After you've done that, then that's when we look at each crop itself and we look at our frost dates. That will help us to know, in the spring time, for the early spring garden, if I'm going to be seed starting these, how many weeks back, and it's usually by crop. Like I said, onions are like 12 to 16 weeks beforehand. Tomatoes are usually 12, cauliflower and broccoli can be like six to eight, so you'll need to count backwards on your calendar to know, if I'm seed starting them, this is how many weeks before this plant date for my spring garden that I needed to start them. Usually, for the summer garden, most people seed start tomatoes and peppers.
Melissa: I usually direct so everything else, but some people decide, oh, I want to seed start some of my winter squash, for example, or summer squash. Those usually are just a couple of weeks before your first frost that you will seed start them indoors, but it's just counting backwards and marking it on the calendar, this is when I need to start these indoors. I do that for spring and I do that for summer crops on ones that I will be seed starting. A lot of your root crops actually don't like to be seed started, neither do beans or peas. Usually, they don't like their roots messed with, so I don't ever seed start those, but I will have, okay, my direct sow dates.
Melissa: Then, same thing if I'm doing that fall garden is looking at, okay, this is my first average frost date, so if I want to have these in, and there's charts in both the family garden plant and the family garden planner, which is actually like a month, year, day planner, so that you can pop all of these in and have them in your day planner so you don't miss them, this is when I need to seed start my fall crops, which generally falls in the summertime. Like you heard me say for me, it's going to be July 1st for some of those things.
Melissa: For other people, like for you, if I'm doing July 1st and our frost dates are about four weeks apart, you probably wouldn't want to be starting those until the last week of July, or the first week of August, but definitely go by each crop and how many weeks before or after those frost, depending if it's spring or a fall planting that you would be starting them. That's how I put my plan in place. Then, each year, like I just said, like last year I did mid-July. Well, that actually wasn't early enough because I got little tiny heads of broccoli, ad then we don't have enough daylight hours now, even though they're still alive, I don't have enough daylight hours for them to form any larger heads, and I didn't get any cauliflower heads.
Melissa: I have now, in my planner, okay, we're going to move this up two weeks. You're going to be seed starting these babies July 1st for that fall garden. We have like these best dates that are averages for everybody that we go by planting-wise, but then, the more you do this, the more you will dial it in to your area, and micro-climates like, you have those micro-climates where it's warmer, so you might be able to put things out a little bit earlier, but each year you'll dial it in just a little bit more and a little bit more, and it'll be a constant learning, but you will get a better handle on it. But that's how I approach these three different gardening times.
Melissa: Also, it may seem like, as I'm laying this all out, I'm like, boy, that might sound a little bit overwhelming, but honest to goodness, having those three different crops, even though yes, I am starting things at different times, it's much less overwhelming because I'm not doing a huge volume or as huge a volume all at once as if I was planting all three of these gardens at one time, or seed starting all of them at one time, and then the actual harvest and the care-taking of the amount of space and the preserving of all of these crops is spread out over three different growing seasons, so it's actually less overwhelming that way too.
Shannon: Yeah, it actually sounds very relieving to me when you broke it up into the ... Just something about how you said that just organize my brain. It just made it more doable. I really appreciate that. That's amazing. I will be plotting along in your book, following it like it's a textbook, because I think that's going to really help a lot.
Melissa: Oh, good. Honestly, that's why I wrote the books and especially the planner, because I'm like, I need all of this information thrown in my tape planner. I was using different day planners, like Business Day Planners. There's all different planners out there. But I was finding, I was having to look up everything to actually put it in my planner. I'm like, I need these sheets in my planner for the ones I don't have memorized so that I'm not constantly going through three or four different things. I want it all in, in one spot. Hopefully, they will provide as much help for you as they did for me, because I actually wrote them first for myself.
Shannon: Well, I'm looking forward to it. It's exciting and fun. Also, so much of gardening is the planning of it. It's inspiring. It's fun. We have these really rough January's here in the Pacific Northwest where you really ... It's the one month where there's just not a lot you can do. It's just nice to know that I can pull back and get organized with all of it and get into the planner, and map everything out so I'm still feel like I'm gardening during these times where I'm doing less. So, it feels like I get to garden during these next couple months, even when I'm not, it will just be in my planner.
Melissa: Yes, and that is why those seed companies, they are so smart. Well, what if you are seed starting early, you want to get your seeds early? But all the seed catalogs start to come end of December and the definitely through January and even February. It's like, oh, your gardening heart feels so rejuvenated, even though you're just looking through a catalog, but yeah.
Shannon: Oh yes.
Melissa: Yes. I do a lot of my planning and it's really good. I had to say too, I really do believe in planning, obviously, otherwise I don't get things in, and it can ... I just don't get as much as I would like to out of our garden, but that being said, there have definitely been times where I have missed the ideal window. In fact, this past summer is a prime example. This past summer, we weren't sure we were going to do potatoes and corn. We're like, you know what? We have this space, let's till up this area that's just lawn right now, that we're just mowing. Let's till this up into a garden space. We didn't even start doing that because it was so rainy and the ground was so saturated.
Melissa: We couldn't actually till up and it was all grass like we had to. We hadn't prepped it beforehand. It was like last minute decision. So, it wasn't even until mid-June that we got it prepped, and I didn't get my seed potatoes or my corn planted until the end of June. That was a whole month late compared to when we would normally plant these items. But I'm just like, well, if we don't get much of a harvest and it frosts too early, like, well, one we have livestock, so the pigs and the chickens, especially on the corn, I should say, and the cattle will eat that up just fine.
Melissa: And We may just have little, tiny, super, super baby potatoes instead of full-sized ones, but let's just go for it. Actually, it was great. The corn came in late, but it was perfect because that's when all of the fresh corn that usually can buy from local farmer markets or fields around us, theirs was already done because we had planted later, and then it worked out perfect with the potatoes, because they were fully formed right when that first frost hit and so they are still in the ground. I was able to mulch them, and it's really keeping them in basically a root cellar, but it's out in the garden. My husband was like, we are going to stagger plant, so it ended up being a good thing.
Melissa: It wasn't ideal, but it's again, it's like testing that. Sometimes you just test it. You're like, oh, I missed the perfect window, let's see what will happen if I do it anyways. And you have that expectation, like you said, you have the expectation of knowing this might not come out the best, but if we get anything, we're just going to be excited, versus totally heart-stricken that nothing came on, and we're going to plant, actually, we're going to stagger a plant now half of our corn crop. We're going to plant it later like that. So, we have that later crop come in of the fresh corn.
Melissa: And we're going to do the same thing with the potatoes. We're going to plant half of them later like that, so we have that crop that's done just right as the frost is hitting, versus when we normally would do it much earlier in the year and then just be storing them after the summer harvest. Sometimes it works to your advantage. Definitely do the planning, but if you missed it, try it anyways, push the boundaries, see what happens.
Shannon: For sure. Thank you. Yeah, that's so exciting. I'm so inspired. Thank you so much. I feel so much more organized and like I have a direction, and not as overwhelmed, so I really appreciate it.
Melissa: Oh good, I am so glad it was helpful. Now that I know that you have that amazing area for peppers and you like to give away, if you have an over abundance of peppers this year, I fully expect you to message you.
Shannon: I will fully message you. It was such a pleasant surprise. I had peppers for days. I was like, this is crazy. I've never grown them in my life. I've never even bought a start, I've never tried it, and I just threw him in. I even grew jalapenos, and they worked. I was giving them to my neighbors, giving them to everybody like, look, look at me, look at me. They're turning red.
Melissa: That is awesome. Yes, hot peppers here can definitely be a challenge.
Shannon: Oh, for sure, that's why I never tried them, so I'm excited.
Melissa: Oh, you should be. I can't wait to see what you get out of your garden this year. It's going to be super exciting. I'm so glad that you found this helpful, and thank you for coming on the podcast.
Shannon: Thank you, Melissa. You have a Merry Christmas. It was so nice to meet you.
Melissa: Oh. I hope that you enjoyed this episode as much as I did and that you got some valuable pearls from that. It was so much fun to get to actually talk in person and visit with some of my members and people who are on this journey, and I loved ... It really helps because oftentimes, it's so funny, I have shared many times on this podcast, I'm a podcast junkie, I love listening to podcasts. It's probably my favorite form of learning and continuing my own education. I feel like the podcasts that I listen to all the time, I feel like I really know the people, but there's something really special about when you actually get to talk to them.
Melissa: As someone who's doing the podcast, I think of many of you, in fact, many of the podcast episodes are because many of you guys, either on Instagram, or email, or YouTube comments, you'll send me messages and things that we'll get a chat that way, but there's something so special about me getting to visit and having that one-on-one connection with someone, even if it is just audio. We don't get to be in person. I think since the whole pandemic has started, that I value that even more. I'm really glad that you got to be here and listen to this too, even if I didn't get to actually speak with you.
Melissa: I hope that you will check out the Pioneering Today Academy, and maybe you will be one of the consults that I get to visit and get to know better in ... Well, not in person, I should say better virtually, anyways, in-person. We will be having more of this part of the series coming up. We'll still have our regular episodes where I'll be sharing what's going on and what I'm learning with you from my own life, as well as other expert homesteaders, I guess, would be a good term, but we're definitely going to be continuing this series, and I would love to get your feedback if you enjoyed this, what you liked about it, or perhaps, if you didn't enjoy it.
Melissa: I do honestly want to know that as much, because as much as I love to see that things are helpful to you guys, I do also want to know if you aren't a fan of some type of format or another, because it definitely help it feel more like a conversation with this podcast. Thank you so much. I don't necessarily have a verse of the week for us this week to wrap up the episode, but more what I've been doing right now, and that is just putting on some praise music.
Melissa: It could be old-fashioned hymns. I grew up in the church. In fact, my great uncle was a Freewill Southern Baptist preacher. I would go to his church when I was really little sometimes, and then I also grew up in the Assembly of God Church, which is where I went with my mom if we weren't going to the little Freewill Baptist Church that was bias. There is something, I don't know if it's because it takes me back to my childhood, but those old, really old Southern Gospel Hymns, something about them are so soothing to my soul, and so I have been purposely not turning on the television, which I actually don't watch a lot of TV, and I rarely have the television on myself.
Melissa: But even, instead of listening to a podcast all the time, I've been putting on old hymns and just listening to them. Sometimes I'll play newer songs too, newer, I guess you'd call it contemporary Christian music as well, but there's just something about it I have found with it just in the background is so soothing, especially if I'm starting to feel maybe anxiety or overwhelm, and biblically, it says that the Lord inhabits the praises of His people, and that we're always to have a thankful and grateful attitude and to be praising the Lord.
Melissa: There's something about when that music comes on that it just lifts my spirits and I instantly can become more thankful and single on and feel like I'm entering into the presence of the Lord. If you're not listening to uplifting Christian music, then I highly recommend, try listening to just a song or two a day and see if it doesn't lift your spirits as well. So, thank you so much for listening to this episode of the podcast, blessings, and Mason jars until we meet again next week.
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