Although winter is still in full swing, it’s already time to start thinking about planting seeds for your summer garden. In today’s conversation, Meg Hollar of The Hollar Homestead joins me to talk all things gardening: selecting seeds, preparing the soil, what we are growing, and even how to use and preserve the harvest. We have both been gardening for many years now, but we are continually learning more each year. Whether you are a seasoned gardener or just starting out, this conversation may give you some new strategies to try this year!
In this episode, we cover:
- Ordering seeds
- Preparing garden beds
- What we are excited to grow this year
- When to start planting seeds
- Strategies for successful transplanting
- Gardening mistakes and what we wish we had known before starting
- Favorite methods of preserving
- Why you want to include flowers in your garden
Meg and her husband, Ben, are trading in “normal” for making their own path. After suburban homesteading in Southern California for a few years, they sold most of their stuff, packed up the rest into a trailer, and set out across the United States with their four sons to find their forever homestead. The Hollar family is now revitalizing an old homestead in North Carolina, and they’ve added a baby girl and a variety of farm animals to their family along the way. They live small, love hard, and have one major goal: to LIVE a life worth living.
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Lisa Bass Welcome back to the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today, we’re going to be chatting about something that I bet a lot of you are starting to think a little bit about, and that is seed starting gardening, planting seeds indoors, and getting all ready for the upcoming spring season. It just seems like the right time, considering that right now, at this time of recording, there is a blizzard about to sweep through the entire Midwest. So why not get out those seed catalogs, start looking through them and seeing what you might want to plant on the nice, warmer days ahead? Now, Meg and I had a little bit of trouble with the internet. We had about a five second lag, I believe. So if it seems like the back and forth is a little bit awkward, it’s just because both of us were trying to see if the other one was going to keep talking or not. And so we hope that you’re able to still enjoy the conversation where we just share a little bit about our gardens and what we’re excited to plant and some of the preserving methods that both of us prefer and use for the summer season and planning the garden around that. You can plant all day long, but if you don’t have a plan in place for how you’re actually going to utilize what you plant and preserve it for the upcoming winter season, really, that is where your garden can fail. So you need to be thinking when you’re planting about, you know, eight months from now whenever it’s harvest season. And so that’s what we’re going to talk about in this episode.
Lisa Bass We can dive right in and you can tell the listeners about you and your homestead and your family and where they can best find you, which I know YouTube is a good place where you guys share all of your homestead living.
Meg Hollar Well, I am Meg Hollar from the Hollar Homestead. Mostly on YouTube. We do have Instagram and we do that, but our most of our sharing is on YouTube. It’s been a very long journey for the past four, almost five years now that we’ve been doing YouTube. We started in a suburban homestead in California on a very tiny lot, had a few chickens—illegal chickens—and a little bit of garden. And then we decided to up and leave California kind of before a lot of the political stuff started, but we decided we just needed more space and more land, and my husband and I were actually going through some really rough marital struggles. And he walked in one day and said, “What if we sold everything, bought a trailer, and left the country— not the country, the state— and traveled the country?”
Lisa Bass Yeah, across the country.
Meg Hollar Right, exactly. And honestly, it was kind of that or get divorced and I said, “Sure, why not? Let’s try it.” And we did. We traveled the country for ten months and just explored around and took a look at everything to see where we wanted to land and wound up in North Carolina. And here we are, and we’ve been here for almost three years now, rebuilding a very, very old little farm. Six acres. And we’re just doing the thing.
Lisa Bass Wow. Yeah, that’s awesome. And you guys have five children, I believe.
Meg Hollar Yes. Yeah. So we had four boys before we left California, and then we just had our baby girl a year and a half ago.
Lisa Bass Oh my goodness. I just had my fifth boy in a row, and it feels like— I mean, I had two girls first, so there’s that. But I feel like boys is like all that they make these days.
Meg Hollar Yes, that’s kind of how I felt at the beginning. And then when we had a girl, it was like, “Oh, it’s not impossible to have a girl.”
Lisa Bass Yeah. Did you start your YouTube channel then before you had your homestead? I guess you did. You started it when you were in your suburban environment there in California?
Meg Hollar Yes.
Lisa Bass Nice. That’s really neat to be able to see the progression of something because our viewers like to learn alongside us as we embark on things like this. They’re seeing you going from just having a little bit of garden and chickens in your backyard to basically a full-blown homestead where you now have a dairy cow and all the things.
Meg Hollar Yes, we have the dairy cow now. We have pigs. We raise American guinea hogs. We do have some Mangalitsa pigs that we’re trying out. We’re not sure we’re going to stick with them, though. And we have way more chickens than we know to do with. It’s chicken math.
Lisa Bass Yeah, it sure is. Just the other day, I was telling my sister we were talking about it’s chicken time again. I’m like, “Do we need more chickens?” She’s like, “I don’t really need more chickens.” I’m like, “I don’t really need more chickens,” but do you just not order them whenever it’s time to order chickens? I’m not sure that’s really the way it works.
Meg Hollar I always order chickens, because why not? It’s kind of like seed catalogs, right?
Lisa Bass Yes, exactly. Yeah. So that’s a really good transition because that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. We are going to be talking about gardening, which feels strange because I don’t know if you’ve seen the forecast, but there’s like Snowpocalypse going through the whole swath of the Midwest, and we’re right in the middle of it. So starting tomorrow, we’re supposed to get like a complete blizzard, but that usually happens for us when it’s getting towards the end of winter, more in the February and March. And so that means it’s time to think about seeds and starting seeds, and that’s just a really exciting topic to dream about whenever it feels like it’s never going to be over. So, yeah, what catalogs do you have?
Meg Hollar Oh my gosh. Right now, I’m still diving through the Baker Creek catalog. That’s like our go-to one. And then they send me the Territorial one. Since we’ve moved, I’m still trying to resubscribe to all the ones with our new address. So, it’s mostly the Baker Creek catalog.
Lisa Bass Yeah, they have a very beautiful catalog. It reads like a magazine. You can just sit down in front of the fire and just pore over it.
Meg Hollar Yeah, and my kids will actually do that too, and they’ll pick out seeds.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. So have you started ordering your seeds for this year?
Meg Hollar I actually ordered my seeds for this year last fall. I was good about it. I took notes during the garden season. And I was like, “You know what? I’m going to get ahead and order seeds.” Of course, I would probably find more to order come spring, but I’ve already ordered a lot of them.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I know. It’s kind of like chicken math. I’ll end up at the nursery like, “Well, this spot—” I always forget how much all the plants grow. Every single year, it’s the same thing. I think, “This garden looks really bare,” and then I always have to go get some emergency runs to the nursery because I thought that I had enough seedlings, and then I didn’t and then, turns out, I should have stopped where I was before. Because I always end up over-growing and turning everything into a jungle pretty much every year.
Meg Hollar Oh, totally. Yes, we are the same way for sure.
Lisa Bass All right. Well, let’s first talk a little bit about your garden and your garden history. What kind of garden have you planted in your new location? Do you have an open field that you’ve tilled or do you have more— like, we have woods everywhere. And so we have very limited garden space. We actually had no garden space at all on our new homestead—which we’ve also been at exactly three years—before we tore down one of the cottages on the property. What’s your situation like? Are y’all doing raised beds or are you doing the no dig gardening?
Meg Hollar We’ve had to get creative out here because our property has a 30 foot elevation from the top to the bottom. And it is swailed. So it’s really awesome that there’s already swails in place, but it has made it very difficult because we have no flat spots except for where the house is. So we are working with terraces basically, and we’re having to just kind of put our garden in pockets around there. We don’t have a flat spot that we can just till up and go for it. So we are doing raised beds. We have two that we’re doing experimental, no dig, no till, no nothing in it. But for the most part, we’re just doing raised beds that we amend yearly with compost and whatever they need in them.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Your property sounds maybe sort of similar to mine. We have very few flat spots, too. We’re in a very hilly area, and most of our property is in hill, which we utilize for the animals, which right now we just have a cow and a calf. We need a lot of work on all the pastures and everything, but it’s mostly just hill. And so finding a large garden spot, even though we have seven acres was difficult. Sounds very similar to what you guys are doing. How do you incorporate your animals into your compost? Are you composting throughout the year for your soil?
Meg Hollar Yeah, we do. All of our kitchen scraps go to the pigs, so that’s kind of like out of the question. Until we got the cow, which we just got her this last fall. Until then, we were just pulling all the chicken manure out of the chicken house and grass clippings. My husband would mow the lawn honestly just for grass clippings. And collect leaves. And so we just kind of all put that together with the chicken manure and got a balance there. Now that we have the cow, for the most part, we rotate her once a day until this fall, and now there’s no grass for her to rotate. So we’re kind of just keeping her in sacrifice paddocks right now and collecting the manure while she’s out there. So every couple of days, the boys and Ben go out and collect the manure, and he’s starting to build compost piles with that.
Lisa Bass Okay. Yeah, my husband’s is still not totally sure. He’s my compost person. He is always the one out there, adding things to it and stirring it. And he wasn’t quite sure exactly with the cow manure, how much time it takes to break down. And he’s he’s still experimenting with all of that because we’re pretty new to dairy too. We got her over a year ago, but she had her first calf over the summer and we’ve been milking her now for, I guess, like seven months. It’s all relatively new for us as well.
Meg Hollar Yeah, and Ben is also our compost guru. So he’s experimenting, and I think he’s got three different piles going with different stuff in them to see what does best.
Lisa Bass Yeah, and that’s it, too. There’s just a certain amount of experimentation with it. Neither of us are gardening experts. I’ve been gardening for 12 years, at least now, and just experiment a little bit each year to see what works and how it gets better and how to amend the soil. Oh, this worked. This didn’t. We do exclusively raised beds, mostly just because of the amount of space that we have to work with. It’s not a ton. I’d like to redeem some other part of our property for more garden space, but it’s going to be tricky. Like you said at your place, it’s definitely going to be a little bit tricky to carve that out. How much space would you say you have devoted to your garden?
Meg Hollar We actually just measured this out the other day because we were trying to buy amendments, so we had to figure out how much square footage we had. Right now, with the beds that we currently have in the ground and ready to go for this spring, we have about two thousand square feet. We are also going to be adding probably six or seven more raised beds. So that’ll give us another two to three hundred square feet. We do have a slightly flat spot a little farther out, so we’re going to try crop gardening out there, which will give us another— I think it’s about 700 square feet. So all in all, we’re looking at probably about three thousand, hopefully, this year.
Lisa Bass Nice. I would like to get another spot on our property somewhere and do pumpkins because I love it. You were showing on your Instagram somewhat recently your pumpkin pie that took a year in the making. I love that. It was from the pumpkin you grew, the cream from the cow, the lard you rendered. This pie, a year in the making, but I’m sure it was really delicious and rewarding to eat it.
Meg Hollar Oh yes, it was the best pumpkin pie I have ever had.
Lisa Bass All the hard work that goes into it, too. Yeah, I actually was telling my kids today— I already told you about our big storm that’s coming. They’ve really talked it up to the point where it probably will end up being absolutely nothing because this has been like the thing everybody’s talking about. And I’m going to make a reel on whenever they tell you to get your eggs, your milk, and your bread from the store, and do like a, “We got our chickens, our cow, and our grain mill.” So, you know, perks of homesteading.
Meg Hollar Absolutely. Long time coming.
Lisa Bass So let’s talk about seeds. What are you planting? What are you excited to plant? Is there anything that doesn’t grow well in your area that you wish did? Or what grows especially well? What are you trying out this year? Maybe something different.
Meg Hollar The struggle has been— because we moved from California to here, and we’re only three years in out here, we actually came down or I guess maybe up in zones. We’re two zones cooler now, so I’m still learning the climate. In California, it was one of those like you put the garden in in March and it would grow until December or you ripped it out because you were tired of looking at it. So we’re still learning out here, but I am really excited this year for actually more pumpkin. We are going to be growing as much pumpkin and squash as we can this year because we want to use a lot of it for pig fodder, for feeding the pigs and trying to just kind of reduce our need for outside input for stuff like that. So we’re going to be doing a lot of pumpkins. We want to do a couple of different varieties of corn this year. We’d really like to start milling our own corn meal at least a little bit, if possible. So we’ll be doing that, and then, of course, I’m always excited for tomatoes and peppers. I mean, I could say, like everything, I’m excited for everything, but specifically, probably those things.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I’m always excited for pretty much the entire garden. I get this big burst of enthusiasm around May or June, almost too much enthusiasm. Then around July and August, “Okay, now we actually got to do something with all of this stuff.”.
Meg Hollar Yeah, then it’s overwhelming.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I always tell people with pumpkins, I tell people that it’s the perfect thing to grow if you don’t want to spend a ton of time on your garden because they grow so fast that they overcrowd the weeds really quickly. The vines produce so many pumpkins, and then out of each thing, you get a lot of food.
Meg Hollar Oh yeah, absolutely. We enjoyed pumpkins so much last year. We had grown a tiny little patch. By that, I mean, like one or two plants. The second year we were here. And even out of that, we got probably ten pumpkins. And then last year we were like, “Let’s grow all the pumpkins,” and grew like a 50 foot bed. By the time they were just about ripe, we were hitting our first frost. So we ran out there that night with flashlights and the whole thing to save these pumpkins that were going to be taken out by this frost. And we got probably three or four hundred pounds of pumpkins. It was nuts.
Lisa Bass Wow. So are you still eating it? Did you just store it in your basement?
Meg Hollar Yeah, it’s just in the house because we live in a mobile home, so unfortunately, we don’t have a root cellar yet. That’s something we’d like to do. So I’ve got a pile of pumpkins sitting in my kitchen that we just pick from every now and then and just eat pumpkin. And they’re so good.
Lisa Bass Oh yeah. That’s another thing— they keep so long and it doesn’t take any special preserving to keep it. I like that too. So many things about pumpkin. If you want to get a lot of food for the least amount of work, squash all the way.
Meg Hollar Oh, totally. And I think what was nice too is we picked a lot of them while they were still underripe, and they have ripened beautifully inside without any problem.
Lisa Bass So what varieties did you plant of pumpkins?
Meg Hollar We did the Cherokee tan pumpkin last year. They were some seeds that we had gotten from one of our friends. She’d mailed them to us, and they are so easy. They didn’t have a ton of pest pressure, or the pest pressure that they did have, they kind of rebounded from easily. And they’re so sweet. My one complaint is they don’t have a lot of flesh on them. They’re pretty light in the flesh department, but their flavor is incredible.
Lisa Bass Well, that’s actually kind of nice, because are you able to get through one pumpkin? Like if you cook a pumpkin, are you able to then use it throughout the week? Or do you need to freeze some of it? Sometimes a large pumpkin is a bit overwhelming anyway to cook.
Meg Hollar These are smaller. I would say they’re probably, I don’t know, maybe a five to six pound pumpkin. So I actually have to go through probably two or three of them to feed us for a meal with seven people, which is also kind of nice because then I’m using up more pumpkins, and I don’t have 15 massive pumpkins sitting in my kitchen.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. I like the idea of that. I really hope that we get to it this year. I feel like every year we’re like, “We’re going to do a pumpkin patch,” and then we just keep up with the garden that we already have in place. So was there anything that you found whenever you moved from California? What zone are you in actually currently?
Meg Hollar We’re 7B now.
Lisa Bass Okay, we are zone six here. So I’d have to look up where you are. Must be just a little bit cooler. Does that mean you’re cooler than me? I think so.
Meg Hollar No, that means we’re warmer than you.
Lisa Bass No, no. That means you’re warmer than me. You’re warmer than me.
Meg Hollar Yeah, a little bit warmer. So I think we’re a little more south than where you’re at.
Lisa Bass Okay, okay, that makes sense. Yeah. So when will you start your seeds then? We can jump into that. When are you going to start planting them indoors or have you already?
Meg Hollar Not yet. We’re pretty close. Our actual frost date is supposed to be April 15th, but every single year that we’ve tried that, we get a late frost and a lot of the locals around here say, “Do not plant until Mother’s Day,” so I’m going to go by that this year. So going off that date, I think our 12-week start date is February 14th. So I’ll start after that point probably doing peppers and maybe tomatoes then, and then kind of just work my way closer with what needs to be done.
Lisa Bass Okay, yeah. Actually, ours is the same. Everybody always says Mother’s Day here as well. My biggest mistake is usually every year I get a little bit excited and I start planting too early. So I’ve done mid-February, and then I’ve had literal flowers blooming in the house. I’m like, “These are supposed to go outside.”.
Meg Hollar Right? Yeah, I’ve done that too.
Lisa Bass If you’re brand new to gardening, definitely don’t plant cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, anything zucchini, anything like that indoors. That’s just my two cents. They take off so fast. Unless you just do like a week before.
Meg Hollar Right. They will totally take over your house. I’ve had that happen before, too.
Lisa Bass I also have had a little bit of trouble with transplanting. What method do you use? Or what method has worked for you to have the best success?
Meg Hollar I have had the best success with just the plastic trays that you can pop them out of and then just gingerly take them as a plug into the garden and just dig a little hole. I’ve tried the toilet paper tubes and I’ve tried the peat pots, and I’ve tried a couple of different things. I think I did the fold up the newspaper one year, and I still just have the best success with just having the little plastic trays.
Lisa Bass Okay, that works. Do you do some hardening off for them?
Meg Hollar Yeah, I do when I can remember. It’s always hard every year. I mean, when you get busy, it’s like, “Okay, hopefully I have to set a timer to remember to bring the plants in so they don’t burn.” So I try. And for the most part, they at least get a couple days with being out in the sunshine.
Lisa Bass Well, and that’s actually really nice to hear that it doesn’t have to be super by the book, and it usually works out. That’s what I like to know about gardening, or I like to convey to people. I’ve totally done the same thing where, yeah, sort of hardened them off. I brought them outside a couple days, but they usually tend to make it anyway. They’re very resilient. They harden off almost in the garden sometimes, too.
Meg Hollar Yeah, they do. I’ve never really had too bad of luck unless we get a freak heat wave while I’m hardening off and they’re just like baking in the sun. But for the most part, everything’s been pretty fine. I kind of have this attitude of like, “If you can’t survive this, then you don’t deserve to be in my garden anyways.”
Lisa Bass Yeah, there you go. Well, that’s one thing too about starting too early. Last year, I had way too many spindly plants because I started them too early and they definitely had a little bit of trouble. Some of the tomatoes, they grew so fast and were so spindly that then what they did was they bent over and rooted themselves again, like a new part of the stem. So that way they could survive, and it worked. But it’s not ideal.
Meg Hollar It’s not. And with tomatoes, I think tomatoes are one of the most forgiving plants because if they do get too spindly, when you go to plant them out in your garden, you can just bury them up to their neck, and they’ll root and are usually fine.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah, that’s really true. They work out just fine. So have you had any gardening fails or anything that you wish you would have known the first time that you started a garden that you know now?
Meg Hollar I think I go back with what you were saying about spacing. I am terrible about spacing. I will plant everything way too close together. And then, like you said, at the end of the year, you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, this is a jungle. I can’t even like harvest my tomatoes and get into the tomatoes because of spacing.” So I have to hold myself back and try to be careful about that every year. Definitely don’t think about it too hard. That was something in the beginning when I was beginning to garden. I wasjust like freaking out about every detail, and every step, and having the right seed starting soil, and how much I was watering them, and how many times I was watering them, and what the temperature was in the garage where I was starting them, and all these things. Everything turned out fine and everything still grew and it was okay. So there needs to be a lot of forgiveness too. I wish I could go back and tell myself, “Just don’t worry about it so much. Just put the seeds in the dirt and it’s going to be okay.”
Lisa Bass Yeah, totally true. If there’s seeds in the dirt, there’s sunlight and water, they do tend to do well. I feel like there’s so many options these days. There’s so much that you can— you know, you can see one person that does it with raised beds, one person that does the deep mulch gardening, and you can get overwhelmed but just know that any way ends up resulting— there are definitely better ways and others, but you will learn that over time and no matter what, you’ll end up with something. My tip is to plant what you can manage. So even if you can plant ten plants, but you go out every day and you weed around them, you’re going to end up with more than if you plant an overwhelming garden, and then you just have to neglect the whole jungle because it’s just got too out of control. That would be my tip that I need to repeat to myself pretty much every single year.
Meg Hollar Yes. But then you get a beautiful harvest at the end, hopefully. So I mean, it’s not all bad.
Lisa Bass Yeah. But what about preserving? What are some of your favorite ways to preserve the harvest? Obviously this is all at the end of summer, but it’s a good time to think about it now because some things are easier to preserve than others. So you want to be thinking ahead. What am I actually going to have time for and be able to put up whenever you go to plant? What’s going to actually be the thing that is going to fit into my lifestyle?
Meg Hollar Yes, and I’ve actually been planning my garden more around that this year. Usually, I’m just like throwing plants in and hoping for the best come August. But this year I’m trying to be more realistic about my time and also what we want to preserve rather than, “This is what I have from the garden, so I’m going to preserve this.” I’m thinking more about preserving this year. I really do prefer canning. It’s just easier for me. I get the most satisfaction out of canning. I like to see those jars on the shelves looking back at me, rather than buried in a freezer. Dehydrating is awesome, and I love it. I did a lot of dehydrating this past year. But you can only put so much in your dehydrator at a time, and that’s like 24 hours that it takes up that little bit of space. Whereas canning, you can do a big pot of tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce and bang out a couple of batches in a canner all in a day. I do some freezing for things like peppers. So I have those quick on hand like a fresh, snappy pepper for dinners rather than like a canned pepper. But for the most part, I think I do mostly canning.
Lisa Bass Okay, so with that being said, what are some of your favorite things to can? What are you planting, so that way in August, you are canning?
Meg Hollar We are probably going to be doubling our tomatoes this year, realizing how many tomato products we actually eat. It’s a lot. I think a lot of our diet is tomato products, so we’ll be doing a lot of tomatoes. I try to can at the most basic level. By that, I mean, just tomato sauce. And then I can season it for something else later. Or just tomato paste, which I can season for something else later. It leaves it more open, rather than having 50 jars of sweet chili sauce that I now have to figure out what to do with. If I just canned the tomato sauce, then I could later add in some seasoning and some spices, and it’s good to go.
Lisa Bass Yeah, we’re the exact same. I find myself buying so many tomatoes. I’m buying canned, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta sauce. So yeah, I’m with you there. I feel like if I could can just— I don’t even know how many pounds of tomatoes— we would probably not have to buy any canned goods all winter long. What are you doing with your tomatoes? Are you mostly just adding them to soups?
Meg Hollar We eat a lot of pasta, so it’s a lot of pasta sauce. I do add them to soups. I will use them like on a roast. I’ll mix up some sauce and put it on a roast. I haven’t done tomato paste in the past, but I probably will this year just because I like to use that for my pizza sauce. Really anything. I’ll use them in rice, like a tomato sauce just in rice to get a Spanish rice. So I just kind of stick them everywhere.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I agree. We use tomato paste. Lately, we’ve been adding it to our chicken broth based soups, which we never did that before. I don’t know why. My daughter just did it one day. She added a can of tomato paste to it, and it just tasted so good. It tasted like the whole soup was a tomato base, even though it was mostly just bone broth, and it really added a lot of flavor to it. So I’m with you there. I would really like to do that, but part of me is like, “Okay, how much time does it take?” So if you have 100 tomatoes, what does that processing day look like for you?
Meg Hollar Well, we have our normal flow, which this year is going to be the cow. So we get up and milk and we do that. So I probably don’t start processing until 11:00 by the time breakfast is done and the kitchen’s cleaned up and everything. And then I’m going to be washing and chopping tomatoes. Usually, because my husband’s home full time with us, he’ll come in and help. He’ll be chopping and washing and doing his whole thing. I prefer to do my tomatoes— I don’t blanch them, I don’t peel them, I don’t do any of that. So I’m picking recipes where I can just like maybe soften them and throw them in my food mill and grind them through so I don’t have to worry about skinning. It does all that for me, so that’s super easy. Anywhere I can reduce steps, I will because it’s busy and I have a lot of things to do. And then usually by that point, I’m just kind of maybe even deciding what I’m going to make as I’m processing the tomatoes and getting them ready. So I’ll see how much I have, and maybe I’ll make a batch of hot sauce and pull out some hot peppers. Or I’ll be making a batch of spaghetti sauce which is going to be added with spices and stuff and go in the roaster so it can cook down. It’s just kind of how many tomatoes I have, and what I have for the day, and what I need. And I’m looking at my list for what I planned for the year, and just kind of go from there.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I think I’m inspired. I want to can a lot of tomatoes this year too, just seeing how many we end up going through and how many I buy. Have you ever canned fire roasted tomatoes?
Meg Hollar I haven’t, but I want to. Every time I see them on the shelf, I’m just like, “Oh, I should do that,” and then I never wind up doing it.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I think I really want to try that this year. That seems like something that would be a nice, summer project. Last year we did roasted peppers, so I just roasted them over the gas flame and packed them in oil, and that was a really delicious way to preserve them. And then my other favorite way is fermenting. We are still eating our jalapenos from the garden right now. We just fermented them in a salt brine. That’s my usual way. I don’t do a whole lot of canning, but I really should. I just have it in my head that it’s going to take me the entire day to get like a couple of jars of tomatoes. That’s what worries me.
Meg Hollar I guess it depends on how much you’re doing at a time because tomatoes are kind of one of those things that you can just put on a really big pot and let them cook down. Because you can water bath most of them, they don’t take too long. So you’re not worrying about the pressure canner, like coming up to pressure and then depressurizing and all that.
Lisa Bass Yeah, true. So you’re just doing a water bath canner for most of your canning?
Meg Hollar Yeah.
Lisa Bass Perfect. Yeah, that’s not too bad. So what what else are you canning in the summer? Do you do green beans?
Meg Hollar We didn’t do green beans this last year just because we didn’t have the harvest for it, and by the time the garden was almost done, I was like, “I’m not even going to buy these in bulk. I’m just sick of canning now,” because you do get that way at the end of the year. We did a lot of corn this year. Like I said, a lot of tomatoes. I also put up a lot of fruit this year. We went and got apples, and so I put up a lot of apples this year and applesauce and apple butter because we do like apples. Apple pie filling. Kind of went crazy on the apples this year, actually. I bought some cherries in bulk from Azure Standard and put those up. I’m trying to visually go through my pantry right now. I do like to have condiments on hand. I’m trying to get better about doing condiments. My husband really likes hot sauce, so I did a lot of hot sauce this last year and that was really good. Something I will probably be doing again this year in mass because he has eaten nothing but the hot sauce I canned, even though we still have commercial hot sauce available. I did a lot of that. I want to do more ketchup and barbecue sauce and stuff like that. I try to pick at least one thing each year that I can stop buying from the store and just start making it myself.
Lisa Bass Yeah, even when you have a homestead, you find that there’s a lot of areas, like you were saying earlier, with needing to grow more pumpkins for the pigs. There’s a lot of areas where you’re still very dependent on outside. I know that we are. Yes, we have the cow, but we still don’t grow our hay, and we still don’t grow our grain. Is that what’s motivating you all to want to grow corn?
Meg Hollar Yeah, a lot of corn and pumpkins and stuff like that. If you can cut costs, why not? And you can keep it in house. I mean, obviously at some point, unless you’re saving all of your seeds, you’re probably still going to have some kind of input somewhere. But we try partly just because if we could save the money, cool. And also just the experiment of, “Hey, could we do this? That would be fun to try it and see if we can.” And a lot of times it works out.
Lisa Bass Right? Yeah, I love doing that. Are you planting any flowers? This has become one of my favorite things to plant, even though it doesn’t serve any purpose except for joy.
Meg Hollar It’s really funny you ask. My husband is actually the flower man. He loves the flowers in the garden. I think he gets it from his mom. His mom is really all about the flowers, too. I always forget. I am terrible at planting flowers. And every year by August, I’m like, “Dang, I wish I had planted flowers. That would have been so pretty here.” So last year, Ben came in and he was like, “Where’s the box of flower seeds?” Because I buy flower seeds every year. I just never plant them. I have this big box. And he came in last year and he grabbed handfuls of packets and he went around the entire garden and planted flowers everywhere. And it was so pretty. I’m like, “All right, this is your job now. You get to plant the pretty flowers.” Last year he did zinnias. He did little Mexican sunflowers, which are smaller. They’re the size of like a canning jar lid. And he did big sunflowers and the whole garden was just beautiful. It was so pretty.
Lisa Bass Yeah. I feel like too, it attracts bees. And so attracting the pollinators, maybe that it actually does boost your garden production, even if the flower itself isn’t edible. That’s my theory, so I’m sticking with it because I would devote half the garden to flowers, I think.
Meg Hollar Oh, totally. It does. We had a lot more pollinators. We don’t have very many pollinators out here, period. We’ve noticed it’s very low. We’re probably going to be getting bees this year, hopefully just to kind of boost that. But with the flowers, we did see a lot more pollinators come through, which was really cool to see.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So it helps the garden ultimately. Is there anything else you want to share about gardening and what you’re excited about for this year? Any encouragement to gardeners?
Meg Hollar I would say definitely just start something. A lot of people say, “I don’t have the space for it. We don’t have the acreage. I don’t know what we could grow.” We grew in just a few four foot by five foot boxes in our backyard in California. That was so good for me because I got to get used to planting and seed starting and transplanting and pruning tomatoes and all that stuff, even in just such a small space. So I think my encouragement would definitely be start even in a tiny little space, just to learn the skills for when you have more space later.
Lisa Bass I think that’s a very good tip. Yes, I agree with that. We lived on a quarter acre before we moved to our current homestead which is seven acres. And I think my garden there was as big as the one that I have here. I just devoted like the entire backyard to a garden. There’s a lot you can learn from tiny little spaces like that. Well, tell us where everybody could follow up and follow along with your family. Do you guys have any big projects or plans coming up that you are excited to share about that people can follow along with?
Meg Hollar Yeah, so we are actually planning to expand our garden this year, so probably almost double space-wise. So we’re really excited for that. And Ben wants to hardscape it and put in some steps and a lot of places for more flowers and stuff like that. Maybe a window greenhouse, we’re hoping. Just a place to start seeds. So if you want to follow along, you can find us on YouTube as The Hollar Homestead. We vlog our life there. And then I also post on Instagram over there with the pictures and everything.
Lisa Bass Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing what you know and encouraging gardeners to just get started this year.
Meg Hollar Thank you for having me. It was so much fun.
Lisa Bass All right, well, thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. I hope that you’re really excited and inspired to start thumbing through those seed catalogs and plan your garden based on what your family eats and what you want to preserve. And I hope that you learned a little bit too and ultimately just got the encouragement you need to get started and put some seeds in some dirt. All right. Well, as always, thank you so much for listening, and I will see you in the next episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast.