Jennifer: Our guest is Amy Landers from Gardens That Matter. I’m just going to read her bio really quick here. Amy Landers is a nature nerd, gardener, educator, and mom of three boys. Right. Three boys, I know what that’s like. She recently published her first digital book, so her first e-book, The Happy Garden Guide to Composting. We’re going to talk about composting here in a minute. You can get that at gardensthatmatter.com.
Amy and her husband, Colby help families grow beautiful, bountiful gardens together. Amy also enjoys cooking with her kids, but suspects their messy experiments might be best kept in the garden. She loves homegrown tomatoes, sunflowers, and bluebirds.
Okay, so I got that all out. All righty, so hello, Amy.
Amy: Hello, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you and your family come to this gardening life, and how did you learn to garden?
Amy: Well, I learned to garden as a kid with my grandmother out in the garden like so many of us do. We have these really fond memories of being out learning from our grandparents in the garden. Then my dad had been a longtime gardener as well, so that was kind of what we did in the summer is we went out, and we helped hoe the corn, and helped harvest things. So then, as an adult, when I had my own apartment, it was one of the first things that we did. We decided we were going to make some raised beds. We had this whole adventure that involved a small car and boxes of manure, which now I realize, the right way to build great soil is not to fill your small car with boxes of manure, although that might be part of the process. But we’ve since learned a lot.
Since then, I got married to my husband, Colby, about gosh, almost 10 years ago now. We had a big garden in Albuquerque and did … Sorry. Let me just break this down. It’s asking me to restart. I’m like, “Not right now.” So yeah, so my husband and I have grown a big garden. We lived in Albuquerque, and then about two and a half years ago moved back home to western North Carolina, and actually live in my grandmother’s old house. She passed away years ago, and we live in her house, and garden in the same space that she grew in for years and years, and that I learned in. It’s exciting because we have three boys now. They are five, three, and one and a half. We are teaching them how to garden and all about nature, and plants, and chickens right in the same space where I really kind of developed a love for it myself, so it’s really fun.
Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah, and three boys. That is just near and dear to my heart. They’re about the same distance apart as my boys, just like a decade earlier though, right?
Amy: Right. I could learn a lot from you.
Jennifer: Mine are all teenagers now. What is Gardens That Matter. Tell us a little bit about that.
Amy: Gardens That Matter is our website and our business. We started that when we moved back to North Carolina. When I was Albuquerque, I worked for a botanic garden, a zoo, an aquarium. I was writing about nature and teaching about nature, so when we moved, I thought, “I would love to do this about gardening all the time.” So we started gardensthatmatter.com. We have a blog, and we do videos, and we have tutorials. We have our first book. We’ve got a course and some other courses in the works where we are just trying to really help families garden, because that’s where we are at.
You know, my garden is not like a beautiful, perfect garden by any means. Any project that we do is going to look a little crazy because one of my son’s just loves to put dirt in everything right now, and another one loves to like get water for everything right now, so it’s real, right? We have these real projects, and like we’ve tested things out with kids, and so we love to help other families get started, because we know how important, you know, nature, and gardening, and knowing where our food comes from is for our kids, for their health and for their happiness.
Jennifer: Okay, so you’re talking about not being perfect. When somebody is new to gardening, where do you suggest they begin? Because a lot of people, they see these beautiful pictures online, and they think, “Well if my garden doesn’t look like that, then I’m not a real gardener,” or “If can’t do this,” or whatever. How do you suggest people start?
Amy: Don’t pay too close attention to Pinterest because those people have carefully … Even pictures that I post, I’m thinking about what’s in the background, like I’ll straighten things up a little bit. Just know that gardens are places to learn and to experience, and to experiment, and that mistakes are totally fine. Mistakes are important to make in the garden. That’s how we all learn.
Yeah, so if you are a beginner, you’re just starting out with a garden, there’s a couple of things that I would suggest you do to have higher chances of success, right? Mistakes are okay, but of course we want to have success, right? The first thing I would do is I would put your garden in a really convenient place. Put it right outside your back door. Put it on the path you walk to to get to your car. Put it near your mailbox. Put it somewhere where you’re going to see it every single day, because if you put it in the back corner of your yard, you know where you only go to garden, then you’re going to forget. You’re going to miss things. You’re going to find that you suddenly have a garden that’s overgrown that weeds or that needed water a week ago. Woops. So start in a really convenient spot.
It doesn’t need to be big. That’s my second piece of advice is to start small. It’s so hard to do. I break this rule all the time, but I keep reminding myself like, “I’m going to keep it simple. I’m going to keep it small.” You go to the plant store and it’s hard to not like buy one of everything. Right? Do you have that problem?
Jennifer: Or two or three of everything.
Amy: Yeah, but as you’re starting, give yourself permission to really start small. And then, start with the things you love. The third thing would be to start with the things that you love. We were actually talking about … I’m like, “I want to grow kohlrabi,” and my husband’s like, “Don’t you think we should see if the boys will eat kohlrabi before we grow it?” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Good point. Really good point.”
Jennifer: I love that. I really love what you’re saying about putting it in a place that you’re going to walk by it, or you’re going to have easy access to it, because it’s something you have to nurture. You know, you may not have to go out and garden, as it were, every single day. But the thing is that just keeping an eye on it, because it’s something that you’re taking care of and nurturing and watching grow.
Amy: Definitely, and that is the fun part of it.
Jennifer: It is. It is. Okay, you say that every gardener should be a composter. Why?
Amy: I definitely think that every gardener should be a composter, so when you start your garden, you also want to come up with a place to put your compost pile, because that compost pile is going to be what closes the loop between your house and all the wonderful food you’re eating, and your soil that’s producing all that wonderful food. The compost pile takes that kitchen scraps, the yard waste and transforms it into this treasure, right? black gold for your garden.
There are so many different ways to compost, but everything coming out of your house, out of your garden, out of your yard that is organic waste now has an important job to do, and that is to replenish the soil with nutrients and organic matter. So when you start a garden, you also need to think, “I need to start a compost pile,” so that you can really have that full cycle and have healthier soil, a healthier plant, and a happier garden, for sure. And your home’s more sustainable too, right? Like it’s a really fulfilling, satisfying way to get greener is to say like, “Oh, these apple cores, I’m not throwing them away anymore. They’re feeding my soil.”
Jennifer: Yeah, I love that. Okay, so let’s dig in just a little bit deeper right here about compost. There is some confusion, I think, especially for beginning gardeners, because they will go, and they’re thinking, “Oh, well the compost is a great place to put all my kitchen scraps,” and it is, but composting’s more that. Could you talk about that just a little bit, the difference between green and brown material, and how that comes together to make compost?
Amy: Yes, definitely. I’m going to switch. I’m take a second and switch my microphone real quick, because I keep losing it. Sorry if this sounds funny.
Jennifer: No, we’re all good. It’s all casual. We’re barely made it onto Facebook, but we’re here, and we’re just talking.
Amy: This will be better, sorry. I was like, “Who knows what sound it’s making as it’s rubbing up against stuff?”
Jennifer: It’s just fine.
Amy: All right. So compost, can you just throw all your kitchen scraps in a pile, and get magic compost, right? You know the answer, right, Jennifer?
Jennifer: I do.
Amy: Your family will be so disgusted with you if you do that. They’ll be like, “Mom, I’m not going to empty the compost bucket. It’s gross,” okay?
Jennifer: There are things growing in there. Yes, we’ve had that happen.
Amy: Yeah, and you know, it will happen. It will decompose, but it won’t be a pleasant process, and we want it to be pleasant, right? Like we want our gardens to be close to our houses. We want our compost piles to be close to our houses. The same things apply that like when it’s in your space where you are often, you pay more attention to it, and you get to notice what’s happening more.
When you’re composting, you’re going to balance those kitchen wastes, which tend to be … We call them greens, so they’re nitrogen rich. They’re fresh. They’re wet. They’re potentially slimy. You’re going to balance your greens with browns. Browns are carbon rich. They’re leaves, straw . If you don’t have a lot of those types of things, shredded paper would work. Wood chips will work as well. They take longer to break down. Basically, the woodier something is, the closer to the tree, the longer it takes to break down, so something like straw will break down faster than paper, which will break down faster than wood chips, so there’s kind of this continuum. Wood chips are like super rich in carbon, too.
When you add those browns, they are going to balance out the moisture, and then they also balance this carbon to nitrogen ratio, which you hear about, and you don’t have to stress out over. The kind of quick and easy way to think of it is to have, by volume, two carbon, or browns, for every one green. So think about if you had a bucket – like here’s you’re little bucket that you have on your kitchen counter – if you had one of those full of kitchen scraps, you would add the equivalent of two buckets of browns when you add it to your compost pile. That’s going to give you a rough ratio that will work, and that feeds both the bacteria and the fungus that are working in your compost pile.
They’re like the workers of the compost pile. They’re amazing. They work for free. Well, they work for food scraps, right? So yeah, they are going to be happy when they have that balance, because it gives them all the food that they need, and when they’re happy, they are reproducing. Your compost pile gets hot. You’re getting all the good things happening in there, lots of biodiversity inside your compost pile, which is a benefit when you eventually move that compost to the garden. It’s going to kind of be like a probiotic for your garden, so yeah.
Jennifer: That’s great.
Amy: So you don’t have to stress out about it. When you get in there and you get experienced, you’ll be able to start tweaking it. You know like so you can experiment with fast composting or getting it all really hot, or you know, getting that balance just right so that you are getting just what you want, like really, you know, perfect compost, but it doesn’t have to be perfect to start with.
That’s one of the great things about composting is it fits right in with that experimental garden kind of approach, that it’s all about getting in there and trying and taking action, and then learning from what you’ve done. It’s a great way to be able to start without getting too stressed out about it.
Jennifer: Yeah, and I think compost especially is something that you have to learn as you go, because you have to learn … I guess it’s kind of just kind of like cooking, because that’s what you’re doing. You’re sort of cooking up the soil, right?
Jennifer: So yeah, when you learn, “Well, you need a little bit more of this, or a little bit less of that,” and so that’s how I learned, at least. It’s one of those things that it’s kind of fun, because when you’re done, you’ve got this really cool soil, and it’s wonderful for the garden, and it really is … You know, it’s just awesome to say, “Okay, well I did this,” and it’s sort of life comes full circle. I love that.
Hello, Richie and hello, Joy. I’m so glad that you could be here. Wendy, Meredith, Mary, thank you so much for being here. If you have questions for Amy, please write them in the comments because she would be more than happy to answer them. We are just going to go on with talking about gardening and biodiversity. You’re a big believer in biodiversity. Can you explain what that is? It’s like a sciencey word, right? What does that mean?
Amy: Sciencey word, yeah.
Jennifer: What does that mean? I’m just talking about mixing things up in recipes, so now you’re going to bring some science into it. What does that mean, and why is it important?
Amy: I love it. I love that idea, the recipe idea. It’s one of the ways that we talk about composting in our book is like thinking about that recipe, because it’s something that is super … Like we can picture that, right? so I think that’s brilliant, Jennifer, that that’s how you think about it. I think, you know, any kind of science or specifically biology, right? when we can put it in terms that we can see or put our hands on, that helps us experience it. Right?
I’m a biologist by training. I studied biology in school, and so I do tend to sometimes use my nature nerd words, right? But biodiversity, to put it really simply, is just the diversity of life, the diversity of living things from all the different plants to animals, to bacteria, to fungus. In our world, there are just more living things than we can even imagine. To give you an example, in a teaspoon … So right? Here we go; we’re cooking. Take your teaspoon out. Scoop up some soil from your garden like where it’s really healthy, rich soil. That teaspoon could have millions and millions of living organisms in it. Like it kind of blows my mind, and then it kind of makes me feel like, “Ew,” too. Right? It’s like “Ew.” But the good news is that they are by far, mostly beneficial organisms.
So the more diversity we have in our soil, in our gardens, in our ecosystems, in our regions, the healthier and the more resilient they are, because you can think about, in your kitchen … Let’s use the kitchen again, right? So in your kitchen, in your pantry, you’ve got wheat flour, you’ve got whole wheat flour, maybe you’ve got some oats, and maybe you got some rice flour. Right? And so you’re doing a recipe and it calls for wheat flour. You go and you look and you’re out, but because you have diversity in your pantry, you can make substitutions, because you know like, “Oh, I can use some of this pastry flour, but it’s going to be lighter, so maybe I need to add something that’s got more texture.” So you can kind of find other things that fit in that missing hole when you’re cooking.
When you have diversity in your landscape, diversity in your soil, there are all these different roles that are played by all those different animals and plants, all the different organisms, all the living things. If one of them is missing, if you have diversity, there’s other things to do that job as well, so it makes the whole system stronger because there’s more … There’s a bigger menu. There’s more in the pantry for nature to call on when different things need to happen, when decomposition needs to happen, or nutrient cycling, or nitrogen fixing for our plants that … You know, the nitrogen fixing that happens in the soil, especially like with our beans and the different legumes, that puts nitrogen into the soil that other plants can use. When you have that diversity, you just get a stronger system all together.
There’s a great quote from John Muir that I love. John Muir – you can think of Audubon, right? Or no, not Audubon. Sierra Club is John Muir. He says, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” I love that word hitched.
Jennifer: That’s a good one. That’s a really good one. Okay, so you’re talking about the biodiversity and microorganisms in the soil. If I was a new gardener and I’m walking out and I’m looking at the plot of land that I have to garden, how do I know that there are microorganisms in there? Once I find out that it’s good soil, how do I go ahead, and if there is something that’s been depleted, how do I put that back in? How do I find out what that is?
Amy: Oh, that is a great question. You could spend a lot of time and energy exploring that, right? and trying to nail it down. First off, you’ve got a new plot of land. Is it healthy or not? What’s going on? You can look at what’s growing there. The weeds will tell you a lot. Some weeds grow in places that are more fertile. Some grow in places that are soggy and wet. Some grow in places that have certain nutrients in the soil or missing from the soil. If you Google like, “What my weeds tell me about my soil,” you’ll find a list. You know, you’ll find lists that show you, “These weeds do this,” so you can look at what’s happening there, right? What are the weeds doing? How are the plants that are already growing there doing? When you plant plants, what are they doing?
You can use the appearance to help you. When you dig into the soil, if it is rich in organic matter, it will be easier to dig in. It will drain water well, but also stay moist. It will have a darker color usually. I mean, it depends. If you’re in red clay world, it’ll take a lot of organic matter to change that red clay color, right? But organic matter is a good sign that your soil is full of life, because those bacteria and fungi are both eating the organic matter and creating it as their bodies die or they’re eaten by bigger organisms.
You can look at the earthworms. A super easy test is to go out and dig a foot by a foot by six inches and count how many worms are in there, if you have earthworms where you live. If for some reason, you don’t have earthworms where you live, this wouldn’t apply, of course, but most of us do. If you have about 10 earthworms in that foot by foot by six inches … Dig it out and put it in a bucket or on a piece of cardboard. Count your worms. If you’ve got about 10, that’s pretty good. That’s a good sign, because those earthworms are kind of at the top of the food chain for your soil life, because they eat bacteria, and fungus, and other small things in the soil, so that’s one way too.
Soil tests are also useful, but they tend to focus on the mineral makeup of your soil, which is less helpful when you’re thinking about biodiversity. But some soil tests will like go in there and look at your protozoa, and your bacterial, different types of bacteria and different types of fungus. If you’re really curious, you can do that, and get soil tests that will tell you that. That’s kind of ways to gauge like, “How healthy is my soil? How biodiverse is it? Where am I starting from?”
Then as far as improving it, all of the different things we do to take care of our soil are really things we do to take care of the life in our soil. Compost, of course, is a big one. Mulching, covering that soil is going to help. Growing cover crops will help, green manures. Growing your vegetable crops will … The roots of those will be places, that rhizosphere, the word for the little spaces all around the roots of our plants, and that’s a place where living things live. So just the practice of gardening, if you’re thinking about taking care of the soil and replenishing the soil, will make your soil better. Every time you’ll get better and better soil, if you keep adding that organic matter back, adding mulch, adding compost. That’s where to start. That’s where I would start. It’s like kind of the panacea. I compost. Woo.
Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I love that. Okay, so you do have your garden, and you’ve gotten, you know, some compost going. You’re going along and you’re kind of happy, but then you notice some problems because you got bugs, or pests. Tell us about those, and tell us, how can we figure out which ones are beneficial and which ones aren’t, and then how can we get rid of the ones that aren’t?
Amy: Right. Yeah, because they will come. Because it’s like, “If you plant it, they will come,” right? Bugs in the garden are not necessarily a bad thing, right? You know, we’re humans. We like to categorize things. It’s how we understand the world, right? Good bugs and bad bugs, but let’s use tomato hornworm as an example. Do you have tomato hornworms where you live?
Jennifer: Yes. Yes, we do.
Amy: You’ll go out to your tomatoes, and you’re like, “What happened to my tomato? There’s no leaves. There’s like little brown dots all over the lower leaves.” You’re like, “What in the world?” and then you see it, a big old fat caterpillar. That’s a tomato hornworm, and they can eat a tomato plant really fast. Kind of amazing. So right: “Bad bug.” We think of them as a “bad bug” because they’re eating our tomatoes, but when they get older, they’ll pupate. They make a cocoon that looks like a little brown jug in the soil. Then they’ll hatch from their cocoon and they will be what’s called a sphinx moth or a hawk moth. Have you seen those around?
Jennifer: I have, yes.
Amy: You know, really big guys. They are so beautiful. They’re out at dusk, and they’re drinking from any kind of evening blooming, night blooming flowers. They have really long proboscises. I don’t know the plural of it. They have a long proboscis, like their little mouth part that they drink from, and they’re amazing and beautiful and so interesting to watch. So “Oh, good bug”? Then how do you kind of balance the two?
So my first tip for kind of pest control is to really think about that pest in its place, right? So young to adult, you know like, good, bad. Maybe it’s something that feeds other insects, right? so it has this place. So there are aphids, and they’re eating your plants, but they’re feeding all of these beneficial insects that are predatory, right? So when you are looking at your insects, you kind of want to see like, “Is it that much of a problem? Could I take all these tomato hornworms and move them off my tomato and put them over on my …” You know, if you had like Datura, that’s in the same family, jimsonweed weed. If you had some of that in your yard, you can throw them over there. They’ll eat that. You could be like, “Oh, I don’t think we’re going to eat eggplant this year,” so you can move them over to your eggplant, right?
Jennifer: I love that. That’s great.
Amy: You can find like some sacrificial plants where you can move them. You could say, “Okay, these tomato hornworms aren’t that big of a problem. I’m going to let them be. The aphids aren’t so much of a problem that they’re defoliating my plants. I’m going to let them be,” so you kind of can start to have a tolerance for those imperfections in the garden.
My dad is a traditional farmer. Like he will spray at the first sign of a bug. So when we moved in, I was like, “We would like to garden with you, and we want to transition to organic.” He’s like, “Well, I don’t like holes in my lettuce,” you know. So we’ve had to find that balance between, you know, a few holes are okay. You know, a few cabbage moths are probably not that big a deal, but when we start to notice a lot, we’re going to go in there and hand pick them, or we’re going to use some organic pest controls. There’s all kinds of out there about how to control pests in that way. But part of it, too, is just changing that mindset about good and bad aren’t quite as clear as we like to make them, and maybe sometimes it’s okay to let them be there, because they’re part of this bigger picture.
Have you seen the things about like the pest life cycle and the predator life cycle? Have you seen ..
Jennifer: No, I haven’t. Uh-uh (negative).
Amy: This is one of the ways that I’ve talked to my dad about it that I think helps us to understand why it’s okay to wait, and we don’t just have to spray everything with Malthianon or something, right? If you look at pests, right? they come in, and they multiply fast. Suddenly, your plant is covered with aphids, right? and you’re like, “What in the world?” They have a fast, quick life cycle. They’re at the bottom of the food chain. They need to be able to produce offspring fast. Predators are bigger. They take longer to grow. They take longer to breed. So praying mantis, lady bugs, wheel bugs, assassin bugs, all these different insects that eat the pests, take a longer time to grow.
So if you go out and you spray an insect killer that kills everything, you’re taking everything back to zero, right? When your pests come back, they’re like, “Boing, no problem. We’re pests. We like grow fast. We reproduce fast,” and your predators are like down here, and it’s going to take time. If you can wait a little bit longer, right? before you do something, then your predator population is going to grow and deal with those pests better, because you’ve got a stronger system. Right? You’ve got a more complete system. So that’s one way to think about it as far as dealing with pests.
Sometimes, you do want to deal with them. We just do organic approaches. We try to make it really targeted towards whatever we want to discourage or get rid of, and we try to think about the life cycle of the animal, or the way that that insect behaves. Do you have squash bugs?
Jennifer: Yeah, we have squash bugs.
Amy: What do you do for squash bugs?
Jennifer: We pick them off, basically. We just go out, because our garden isn’t really, really, huge. It’s manageable that way, but I just love what you’re saying, like about the egg plant. It’s like, “Oh, I changed my mind about that, so I can put the bugs over there.” I love that. Yeah, I think your dad and my dad, they sound alike because my dad is quick with that Roundup. He’s like, “Okay. Let me see. Is there a weed? I’m ready.”
Jennifer: Yeah, trying to change minds is a struggle sometimes, but it sounds like you’re winning that battle there, so that’s great.
Amy: We’ve kind of go back and forth sometimes, but yeah, he usually is willing to like at least wait a little bit longer, and then we can find something that works for both of us.
Jennifer: Oh, that’s great. I’m still working on mine, but yeah, it’s a struggle. Anyway, what would you say would be like the number one thing that hinders people when they go out. You know, they’ve got everything planted. It’s going good, and they’re waiting for that harvest, and you know, they just got a handful of tomatoes or something. They didn’t get one they thought they were going to get. So what’s the number one thing that people can do to get, you know, this huge harvest, or a harvest that they’re proud of, I should say.
Amy: That’s a really good question. It’s not an easy answer because part of it is time, right? When you’re starting out, you’ll have really good success with some things, and some things will not do what you want at all. When you’re starting out, you might have poor soil. It will just take time to get experience to understand what’s going on. It will take time to build that soil, to build that soil health and that biodiversity.
Actually, here’s the thing. The key is to be in it for the long term. You are creating this patch of soil that you are going to leave better for whoever follows you: your kids, the future owners of your house, you know, if you sell your house one day, your grandkids potentially. Like in our case, my grandmother’s great-grandkids are out there in the same patch of soil. If you think about it with that long-term perspective, it’s easier to not get quite as discouraged, because yeah, your tomatoes are just not doing it this year, but now you have this experience.
You’ve tried something. So next year, you’re going to try a different variety, or you’re going to try three different varieties, because that’s going to give you more options. You know, like one might not do well, but two might do great, so you’re going to be able to take what you learned, and adjust, and do a variable on it. Maybe you tried tilling the soil, so next year, you’re going to try doing some deep mulch and then planting into the deep mulch, or next time, you’re going to try double digging. You know, you just build on what you’ve learned over time, and I think that that is really the key to gardening, is to understand that piece.
Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah, and then also to have expectations in check. Like we were saying earlier, you were talking about it being a learning experience, and if you think about it like that every year … I know that some people really want to never and to go to the grocery store again, or put up all the food for their family, which is a great goal. It is something that you could strive for, but the thing is that it’s not always attainable, so you have to have your expectations, I think, in check in terms of whether you’re successful or not, because that is success, right? with the handful of tomatoes. So what do you think?
Amy: I agree. I definitely agree. What is your take on that, as far as like if your goal is to put everything up for your family, what’s the path there for you? Like are you doing it successfully, yet? You’ve been doing this for a long time, or have you made choice about we’re going to do this, and we’re not going to do that? Where are you at on that?
Jennifer: Basically, what we do every year is we sort of assess what we can do, and what we want to do in terms of the space that we have and the resources that we have. So I’m a big believer in knowing how to do all of the different steps, and if you decide, you know, “Hey, I’m going to take a year off from making bread,” or planting tomatoes or something like that, then that’s fine. You know, there’s different seasons of life, but it’s a good thing to know how to make bread from scratch, you know, to have done it a couple of times in the past, to know the process of that, and to understand the supplies that are needed, and the time that is needed, and what the process is. That’s kind of how we look at things.
It’s not an all or nothing type of thing. It’s more of a “Well, let’s get educated on this subject or this skill, and then, the next six months, the next year, let’s really decide what we want to invest our time in.”
Jennifer: That’s kind of how we look at things, and we advocate people to look at everything that they have, and like I said, the resources they have. That’s kind of how we approach it, that’s what I recommend people do, because otherwise, you get overwhelmed. You know, there are some people who do, you know, they’re totally self-sufficient. You know, self-sufficient and self-reliant are synonyms, but I don’t think they mean quite the same thing. At least, I don’t take them to mean the same thing.
The thing is, but there’s not that many that have the land, and have the resources, and have the knowledge to put all of their food up, and never go to the grocery store, and have animals that they farm, and all of that stuff. There’s just not that many people that do that. The reason is because of the way our society is, but that doesn’t mean that you have to pick one or the other. I mean, you can live in our society, and still but self-reliant with learning these different things, gardening being one of them.
Amy: Yeah. I definitely agree with that, and I think that’s important for us all to remember is that as much as we’re working on our own knowledge and self-reliance, like part of what we’re also doing is creating these communities where we have those pieces that … You know, like I have baked bread in the past, but I do not bake bread regularly. I just can’t. I’m not there, yet. I’m really good at muffins, but yeah. But if I know that process, and I know the materials, I can go to a baker who’s doing it in a way that I agree with, right? Then I’m supporting someone else who’s doing something important in our community.
I think with gardening, too, like it’s okay to give yourself permission to be like, “I’m going to grow these 10 things, or five things even, and then I’m going to go to the farmers’ market,” or I’m going to buy a share of a CSA and support my local farmers, because they’re able to do something in a way that I’m not able to do at home, or they’re able to give me a reliable … like I can count on it every week, as opposed to my, “What’s going to happen?” I think that that is something that we can all embrace, because it’s making our community stronger, which really does, in the long run, make us all more self-reliant, right?
Jennifer: Yeah, and then our community is sustainable. Exactly right. Renee is joining us, and she says that her kids love talking about predators. So do mine. Amy, you have a Facebook live show. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what you talk about on that show?
Amy: Yeah. I’ve kind of challenged myself to jump on every day. In the middle of the day, I jump on around noon. Today, I did not. Today, I’m here, but usually I jump on for like 15 or 20 minutes, and we’ll pick a theme for the week, and then have a little lesson or story or tip each day about that. Then I sort of package them up at the end and do a blog post about it. Part of it is just for me to like get out there, and get practice talking to people, and hearing what people are having challenges with, right? Then part of it is a good way for me to … You know, sometimes we do things to like get ourselves to do it, right? It’s important for me to get my kids outside. It’s important for me to have a garden, so if I’m talking about things, it means I have to go do them, too. I need to try it before I can talk about it, right?
So yeah, every day around noon Eastern time – I’m in North Carolina, now – we jump on, and then I’m playing with the idea of doing some longer shows, and some Q&A, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that. I love what you’re doing with the Self Reliant Living Show, and how you get to feature different people. That’s something I’d … The idea of like having different moms’ perspective and dads’ perspective, different family perspectives would be fun to bring I, so maybe the future of the show will go that direction. I don’t know. But yeah, so right now, I’m really focused on like taking action, getting out into the garden.
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun to talk to all these people, and people that are in the comments is my favorite time of the week. Shelly is saying that yes, that she would need a very large plot of land to put up everything that her family needs, and that yes, to support your local community, so I think there’s agreement there. Here’s one for you. How do you feel about grass? Right? You see all these manicured lawns, and you look and you see like this land, because I know that my older son … He is our budding gardener, he is taking over this year actually all of the garden, and he’s having such fun with it. But when he goes around, and he looks at all the people that have the grass, he kind of just shakes his head, and is like, “Why? Why? All that land, and you could be growing this or that.” What is your take on that, and how do you feel about it?
Amy: I’m a big believer in front-yard gardening, right? Full disclosure. We have a lot of grass around here. You don’t have to water it. It just grows. It’s a great way to cover the soil so there’s not erosion. If you live in a place where grass is growing, if you live in the Midwest, and you live in a grassland, like grass is not intrinsically bad to have. But when you start to think about the way we manage our grass lawns, that’s when you get into problems, right? because we’re fertilizing them. We might be using like – what do they call that – Weed and Feed, where it’s like …
Jennifer: Oh, yeah.
Amy: It’s like an herbicide and fertilizer at once, and homeowners are like not paying attention, right? Homeowners are a major source of runoff pollution as far as nutrient pollution that’s running off into our streams, and causing lots of problems downstream. If you live in a place that’s arid, which I think maybe … Do you need to water? Are all those lawns that your son’s seeing, are they irrigated?
Jennifer: Yeah, they need to be watered. They have sprinkler systems, and they need the Weed and Feed and all of that, yeah, to be maintained so that’s …
Amy: Yeah, so we’re creating these systems where we’ve got to water it. We’ve got to feed it. We’ve got to weed it, and like, “Oh, wait. Maybe we could take all of those resources and all of that energy, and devote it to something else.” You start to see really cool projects. Like I think in Orlando, Florida, there’s a project where this group will come and they will garden your front yard for you. Then you get a share of the food, and then they take part of it and go to the market. Again, it’s that community piecework, where you’re supporting other people, you know? So there’s people who will take that land, and grow on it instead.
You know, I think having a little bit of lawn is a useful way to have a place to play outside. Maybe it’s near your garden, so your kids can play in the grass with the sprinkler while it’s running, you can have dual purpose, right? The sprinkler and use organic lawn products and your kids can play there while you’re in your garden. Like there’s a way to fit some lawn into it, but I’ll tell you, here, we’re slowly but surely mulching the lawn away. We have a little orchard, and it has grass underneath it, but we’re mulching. We’re like, every time we get a load of mulch, we spread it out a little further, and spread it out a little further, because we don’t need to spend time and gas this money taking care of a lawn that could be going into our food, or into just wildlife habitat, you know?
What if all these lawns also included, you know, wonderful pollinator plants, and then they let them get long, so you had like your own little meadow in your yard, instead. Like how gorgeous would that be? You’d have to get the whole like neighborhood in on it, right? if you lived somewhere with like a neighborhood – what do you call that – a neighborhood association, right?
Jennifer: Like a homeowners’, yeah.
Amy: Yeah, so you’re going to probably have to like go do some educating first, but like how amazing would that be if everybody’s hedges included, you know, milkweed or included butterfly food or things that migrating birds need. You know, like there’s such potential there, I guess.
Jennifer: Right. Right.
Amy: I’m with your son. Like, “What? You don’t need all of this.” Then it’s like, where are we going to go with this, and how are we going to get everybody there?
Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah. He’s still at that grumbling stage, and I’m hoping that it will motivate him to actually do some of those things that you’re talking about, because you’re right. You have to change people’s perspective about things, and that’s a battle sometimes, but you know, it’s one that if you win, I mean, look at the potential, like you were saying, so that’s great.
Amy: He’s on the road to that, for sure, and it’s because of what you’ve done, Jennifer. You know, it’s because of the work that you’re doing that he sees that.
Jennifer: Yeah. He sees things that way. Yeah, it is, and we’re proud that he’s thinking for himself. You know, he’s looking at things, and going, “Hmm. That doesn’t seem quite right,” so that’s a really good sign, right?
Amy: Yes. Yes.
Jennifer: What are your favorite things to grow?
Amy: I love to grow greens, because they’re fast and the kids get kind of that instant gratification, so radishes and greens. I did grow too many radishes at the same time, last year, and I had like, everything. I took radishes to the pot luck. I was like, “We’re taking these,” you know. “This is herb butter with radishes. It’s special.” You know. But I love that instant gratification, so radishes and spinach and lettuce and kale and we have some mustard, right now, that is just going crazy. It’s like up and just going. My kids are not quite onboard. The mustard has a strong taste, and they’re not quite onboard with it, but I’m happy with it. They do good with lettuce and spinach, right now, though.
I love those kind of things that you kind of get that quick win. Then, I love … I could go on and on. I’ll shift and talk perennials next. I don’t know how many like edible perennials you grow. Do you have like some perennial edibles in your garden, like strawberries, asparagus?
Jennifer: We have some rosemary, and then we have some blueberries and grapes and those sorts of things.
Amy: Yeah, totally. All the fruits and the vines and the brambles, and then things like asparagus and horseradish and rhubarb and strawberries, those things and lots of the herbs, right?
Jennifer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Amy: … that come back year after year. They are just a delight to me, because it’s like they’re in. They’re doing their thing. All I need to do is make sure they have mulch around them, or maybe if they have some sort of pest problem, maybe I’ll manage it, but most of those things don’t have pest problems. Well, it depends on the fruits sometimes, right?
Jennifer: Yup, yup.
Amy: Like we had a lot of Japanese beetles last year, so we did do some work with our Japanese beetles. We used some Neem oil where they were really eating, and then had some traps that we were trying out. Although, have you heard this about the traps? Apparently, they just like invite all the Japanese beetles in the whole neighborhood to your yard, the pheromone traps.
Jennifer: Oh, oh. Not good.
Amy: They’re not always like a good thing. We were experimenting with how to work on those, but in general, those perennials are going to be able to keep going, and like that I love, so I’m always interested … We actually have some asparagus and strawberries coming in this weekend, so we’ll be planting those if the soil’s dry enough. It’s been raining here.
Jennifer: They’re great motivators, too, though, because they’re going to come back. They’re going to do their thing, no matter what you’re doing. So they’re like, “Hey, come on into the garden. Look what’s happening with me.” You know, it’s like …
Jennifer: At least it motivates me, so I love that about them.
Amy: Yes, me too, for sure.
Jennifer: Okay. We talked about your new book that you have. Can you tell us a little bit more about it, and where to get it?
Jennifer: Then you also have a course that you want to invite listeners to.
Amy: Yeah, we would love for listeners to come over and check out this course. Our book is the Happy Garden Guide to Composting. We really decided to start there, because even though it’s not the flashiest or the most delicious part about gardening, it’s such an important, foundational piece, and like everything else goes from there. So we have a book, and there’s digital bonuses, and there’s some one-on-one support in our packages.
So yeah, what I have for our listeners is our introductory course, which is called A Quick Start to Composting. In less than an hour, it’s kind of everything you needed to know to get started to a really simple compost system. You might have to help me with the url. Let’s see.
Jennifer: Oh, right. Yes. We have a special url, and you can go to SelfReliantSchool.com/GTM to get that introductory course for composting.
Amy: Yeah, so it’ll send you right over. You will be able to sign up for that course, and then I’ll be able to share information with you about the book. You can get our weekly updates if you want to get those that have kind of hands-on tutorials and tips and interviews with other family gardeners. Yeah, it’s kind of our place where we think if everybody starts there, they’ll have a really good, solid foundation to build from, and it’s just fascinating.
Like that process where you take something that seems like waste, and you turn it into this completely other new, beautiful, dark, rich, you know, compost is a way to kind of capture our own attention, right? and capture our kids’ attention. It forces us to slow down a little bit, right? Like you can make compost up and fast, but not that fast. It still like makes us kind of stop and be present and understand the space that we’re in a little bit more, and not take things for granted, either.
Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. Exactly right. Okay, so gardensthatmatter.com. Where else can people find you?
Amy: Ah, so we have our Facebook page, so facebook.com/gardensthatmatter, and that’s where we do those daily video tips. I do Twitter and Instagram a little bit as myself, AmyHLanders. Those I’m not as active on. I just find with business and work and kids and everything else, I don’t have time to do it all, and that’s okay. I do what I can. But yeah, and then we’re not doing a lot on YouTube, right now, but I’m interested in doing more as the season progresses, and we can get outside and can do some recorded video out there.
So yeah, we would love to connect with folks. Definitely interested in having kind of this one real time back and forth, and be able to help people with like what is bugging them, and what is problematic for them is really appealing to me, because the more people we can get out in their gardens and in their lawns even, right?
Jennifer: Exactly right.
Amy: They can start planting, and then all those beautiful plantings will just creep and take over the whole lawn, and the kids will be right there in the middle of it, and they’re fascinated by it.
Jennifer: Right, and they’re learning just right along with you.
Amy: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so they don’t necessarily have to be doing the garden work with you, doing the compost work with you. When they’re out there playing in their play area nearby, when they’re out there just exploring, they’re learning the whole time, right? They’re tiny, little scientists. They’re constantly observing.
Jennifer: It’s amazing what they pick up. It’s like they just almost absorb it. It’s just amazing to me. Thank you so much, Amy, for being here. It’s been a joy to talk to you.
Amy: Oh, I’m so glad, Jennifer. Thank you so much. It’s been fun.
Jennifer: Okay, so if you have joined us in the middle of this show, then I would like you to know that we were talking to Any Landers from Gardens That Matter. You can go over to her website and learn more about her and what she does over there. It’s at gardensthatmatter.com. Then also, I just need to let you know really quick here, that there is going to be a summit on sugar coming up. Actually, it’s going to start on Monday, and I just want to mention it here really quick, because it’s one of those summits that you can sign up for free.
Basically, it is going to go over how sugar is keeping you back. It’s called The Sweet Freedom Summit. Like I said, it’s going to talk about sugar in a way that we have not thought about it in the past. So if that’s something that you struggle with – I know I do, so I’m going to be signing up for this and learning right along with you – go over to SelfReliantSchool.com/sugar. You can sign up, like I said, totally for free. We will be talking more about that next week, but I just wanted to throw that out there, because it’s going to start on Monday.
With that, remember that being self-reliant is not about being selfish. It’s not just about you. It’s about taking care of yourself, so you can take care of the ones that you love. Take care until we talk again.