If you are a gardener (or hopeful gardener) who is eagerly browsing seed catalogs and mapping out garden plots in anticipation of the upcoming growing season, this episode is for you! Bailey is a wealth of knowledge on backyard gardening, and our conversation was full of practical tips, especially for the suburban gardener. Bailey tends ten raised beds on her California neighborhood lot, and she helps gardeners in every zone plan, start, and cultivate their gardens no matter their level of experience. If you are looking for some garden inspiration as we look ahead to spring and summer, join us for this chat!
In this episode, we cover:
- Growing a garden on a small suburban lot
- Gardening year round in a warmer climate
- Raised beds vs. in ground gardening
- Finding quality soil and keeping it healthy
- Options for composting with animal manure
- Considering what grows well in your climate
- Favorite plants to grow that are often overlooked
- Why you should grow flowers and herbs
- Five things gardeners can do in winter to prepare for the growing season
- Top recommendations for ordering seeds
- Starting seeds indoors vs direct sowing
- Best advice for new gardeners
- Making the garden part of your daily rhythm
- Deciding what to let go when your plate is full
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Bailey is a self-taught gardener and writer, helping the everyday person create veggie gardens of their own and cook with their harvests. She lives in San Juan Capistrano, California with her husband, Joe, and two kids.
Join Bailey’s FREE garden planning masterclass in January
Join Bailey’s monthly gardening membership, The Kitchen Garden Society: a subscription for all US hardiness zones, helping gardeners to stay on track, sharpen their skills, learn from experts, and live a garden-inspired life
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Lisa Bass of Farmhouse on Boone | Blog | YouTube | Instagram | TikTok | Facebook | Pinterest
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Lisa Bass Welcome back to the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about gardening. This is the time of year where there’s not a whole lot to do outside as long as you live in a zone where gardening is not year round. Our guest, Bailey Van Tassel, lives in Southern California, but she is an expert on gardening, self-taught, kitchen garden style gardens for all zones. So we’re going to chat about gardening, what you can do right now to prepare for gardening season, some of her best tips, some crops that she grows that maybe you’ve forgotten about. And then we’re also going to be talking about how we don’t do it all. So that’s coming at the end of the interview. Join me as I chat with Bailey Van Tassel.
Lisa Bass My name is Lisa, mother of seven and creator of the blog and YouTube channel Farmhouse on Boone. Join me as I share with you my love for creating a handmade home, from-scratch cooking, and a little mom and entrepreneur life along the way.
Lisa Bass All right. Well, thank you so much, Bailey, for joining me to talk about gardening. It might seem like an odd season because we still have several months here. I know where you live, you’re actively gardening year round, but January is the time that us Midwesterners do start thinking about gardening because we don’t have a whole lot else to do. So it’s fun to dream. So we’re going to talk about that. But first, tell us about you, your garden, your family, your podcast, whatever else you want to share.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, well, thank you so much for having me, first and foremost. I’m super grateful to be here. And I know. I get a lot of people that are like, “I can’t believe you can garden year round,” and it is cool, but it comes with its own challenges and pitfalls and sometimes I’m like, “Gosh, I’d love to have just a month of rest sort of.”
Lisa Bass Right. Oh, yeah.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah. So I am Bailey Van Tassel and I am a home gardener, essentially, self-taught. I found myself in the middle of the suburbs, really, beginning to raise a family and feeling this deep need to run to the country, which is how I was raised. I grew up on three acres with a creek in the back in northern California, which is like a different country than Southern California where I live now. And I just really was craving that connection. And so I started gardening. Kind of long story short, my husband was sort of like, “Even if you had this big dream garden, would you even really be into gardening?” was sort of his challenge. And I was like, “I will prove to you that I will.” And I went and got this one pot and there were like six veggies in it. I killed almost everything, but I fell in love with the process. And that spiraled into building raised beds in— I lived in a condo and we had this HOA, so like the Homeowners Association owned this patch of lawn in front of our condo. And I petitioned them to make that raised beds, turn that into raised beds, and was able to actually really raise my kids out in nature more in a way I never thought was possible. And so that really got me into gardening. And now I would say it’s sort of taken over. It really did sort of change the trajectory of my life. And now it was really the cornerstone for reconnecting me to everything from growing my own food to growing my own flowers and making my own bread and just everything garden-to-table. Like the whole thing just— even in the middle of Southern California suburbia, it really kind of took over. So from there, I started taking it really seriously. It became my career. I started a monthly gardening membership. It’s a subscription called The Kitchen Garden Society. It really is a place for people to stay on top of the garden and stay inspired. Because gardening—when I got started—first of all, it’s not one-size-fits-all. You can’t just grow anything the way most gardening books teach you. They’re sort of catered towards the Midwest. So if you’re outside zone seven, really, the garden is going to have variations. And so that was something I really wanted to help people with is no matter what hardiness zone you’re in, we’ve got you covered on what you should be doing in that month— either harvesting or transplanting or direct sowing or tasks and tends you should be doing, and then seasonal recipes, lessons to keep you just on top of how to grow potatoes properly, growing potatoes in a grow bag. All the things. So yeah, that’s kind of long story long, maybe.
Lisa Bass No, that’s good information. Very good information. So are you currently gardening on just like a small plot in suburbia?
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah. So I started out with the one pot, and then I moved into two raised beds, and now I actually have ten raised beds. And it is a little bit— I’d say we’re on just under a quarter of an acre, but that includes the square footage of our home.
Lisa Bass Right. Right.
Bailey Van Tassel But yeah, we are deep suburbia, Southern California, where it is like not cool to garden. It is very uncommon, especially if you’re under the age of 65.
Lisa Bass That’s interesting. What I love is that you can grow so much food on such a small plot of land. I learned that same thing in our last house because we had a small city lot there, and I gardened as much there as I garden here. Now I have big dreams of expanding that, but more like I don’t have the mental space and the time, I feel like. I’m sure if I gave up other things I’d have the time. But I don’t currently have any more time than I had at my last house. And so therefore I grow the same amount of food even though we have a lot more space. So that is really encouraging that you can grow so much. Now, what percentage of your vegetables and fruits are you able to grow on your little plot?
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, so we just started over maybe five months ago with these new beds in this new home. So I sort of— my yield dropped a little bit because you’re getting the soil right and we planted new fruit trees and everything. But I would say, especially in the fall, I’m pushing like 65%, and that is just a ton of leafy greens, all our brassicas. My goal this year is to try and grow as much of our own broccoli for the year because you can freeze it and all that. And potatoes and onions and herbs. So a big part of it, too, is really keeping your eyes on seasonal eating, and that’s helped me replace a lot of veggies if I’m not buying tomatoes in December because you shouldn’t be able to. I mean, in California that’s a little different because the growing— I actually have tomatoes growing right now that were volunteers, which is totally bizarre. But it’s a lot of work, too. So if you’re really focused on four raised beds, and you’re just kind of focused on ten, you’re going to grow the same amount of food. And that’s where it gets interesting, too, and you just evolve as a gardener.
Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s true.
Bailey Van Tassel I mean, you know, as a mom—I’ve got two little ones and a third on the way—life gets super busy and sometimes as much as I wish I was just killing it in the garden all the time— not like— alive-ing it in the garden all the time, it becomes second fiddle.
Lisa Bass Oh, for sure. What’s the rhythm in California for— I’m sure there’s still, like— stuff grows, then it dies and it grows. I have no clue what that looks like. So how does that work in your zone?
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, so depending on the year, but I mean, for the most part, we actually can grow a ton of things as perennials if you can keep them well-maintained. So, for example, like a tomato plant, most of the time our tomatoes are too high maintenance and so they get like blight or mildew or critters or something, so I can’t grow them perennial. I like to pull them out and replace them. But the climate is mild enough that we could. I would just say that our seasons are sort of flipped where, for me, fall is almost like spring. I can grow so much more and in so much more abundance because there’s less heat, there’s more water. I mean, we really live in a drought almost all the time. California, for the most part, is like a desert, especially Southern California. So that is really crazy. So we don’t get any hard frosts whatsoever. We will maybe get temps below the forties, but that’s super, super rare. So I don’t really have to worry about that. However, I can’t really overwinter anything which is a benefit of frost when it comes to brassicas and carrots and some of those good root veggies. And the rhythm is just really spread out. So we don’t have— like usually the month of April, for gardeners, is super stressful. Everyone’s getting everything in for spring and getting everything ready for summer and some things are coming out and going in, and that’s a really low-key time for us because we really have to wait. We have a later summer and then our fall is really kind of fall/winter, and then end of winter, you can get started. We get like an early spring and a late spring. It’s really weird.
Lisa Bass It’s just so different from everywhere else. I’m sure you’ve learned your rhythms over the years. Now, have you always done raised beds? And if so, what advantages do you see with that? Or when do you feel like people should till? I’m sure in small spaces—like you have in Southern California because everything’s more expensive and people don’t have acres of land—it’s probably almost always raised beds. Is that why you chose that option?
Bailey Van Tassel Um, kind of. So I actually have grown in ground. While we were waiting to have this garden built, I had like a year and a half where I actually grew in ground with berms. So I built these raised soil beds without edges, really, because the soil here is super, super dense clay that lacks a ton of nutrients. And so I knew it wasn’t going to be permanent because, yes, the raised bed gardening is so much more efficient and effective. And I didn’t feel like I had the time to invest in either a no till method or amending the full space. I wanted to just pop up the garden and get going, for better or for worse. So when I grew in ground, things actually did okay in the fall, which is our better season. And there are a lot of vegetables that you can really push. If you start them by seed in ground, they’ll push through that clay soil, but they’ll just be weaker veggies and smaller yields and just— it’s not ideal. So that is why the raised bed gardening is so much easier and you do get a bigger bang for your buck because yeah, I mean, getting land out here is crazy, crazy, crazy expensive. And then finding— like I remember telling my husband, “I want to find a small house on a big piece of land.” And that’s also not really like the suburban way anymore. So it was hard to find even just space on a property. But yeah, the raised bed is really the way to go and you just have so much more control in general, especially— we live kind of near a hillside with critters and so we can control with gopher wire at the bottom of the beds. We can cover with bird netting. You just have so much more control. And then from a soil perspective, you’re bringing the soil in and you don’t really have to amend it as much. However, you don’t get to benefit from that… like the soil web in the ground is always going to be—if you can get that to the right place—the healthiest option, because we’ve got Mother Nature on our side giving us like all of her little micro bacterias and the good stuff.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Where are you sourcing your soil? Is it easy to come by for you?
Bailey Van Tassel That’s a good question. It’s not easy to come by. And I’ve played with like a thousand different bagged soil companies and recipes and mixes and was just recently able to source something local to us. It’s called Number Two Organics— not an ad, not a sponsor. Totally obsessed. And you got to find these companies that are really, really investing in having good compost. And also topsoil is so important when you’re filling a raised bed. You need to just have just dirt in your raised bed. And if you’re bringing in native clay soil, it’s not exactly the quality that you want, but if you’re buying topsoil from a big box store, it’s full of wood byproducts, which is what you want to avoid because wood is really nitrogen stealing and it just can really mess with your first few seasons of gardening. So you’re slow starting. I’ve tried bulk soil around here. It’s just harder. I would prefer to source from a farm. A lot of times farms have great compost or they’ve just got soil that they need to get rid of that they’ll sell to you in bulk. And that’s just really hard to come by where we are. So I’ve had to find good bagged soil options. It’s been a journey. I’ve killed a lot of plants and spent a lot of money making soil mistakes.
Lisa Bass Yeah, well, that’s such an important foundation of the garden. Are you doing composting, too? Now, I know you don’t have farm animals, so you probably aren’t doing that, but saving all of your vegetable scraps and leaf waste— actually, maybe you don’t have leaves either. I’m not sure if you have any trees. But yeah, are you doing compost?
Bailey Van Tassel No. I mean, that’s the crazy thing. I literally tell my husband, I’m like, “I’m going to go on a hike and forage for leaf fall because—” and this is what breaks my heart about suburbia is it’s like there are people blowing leaves away and getting rid of all the leaf litter. I’m like, “No!”
Lisa Bass Do you go pick them up, maybe? Like ask your neighbors, “Can I have your leaves?”
Bailey Van Tassel Yes. I’m like that weird person that’s like, “Hey, can I throw all your dead leaves into a garbage bag and take it home to my garden?” And they’re like, “Sure.”
Lisa Bass I don’t feel like that’d be that weird in California. I feel like people would be like, “All right, I’m doing something green here. I can give you these, and I feel better about myself.” Or maybe their coffee grounds or something, if you crowdsource that. Maybe you actually could make— people would probably want to move their stuff to a better place than the landfill.
Bailey Van Tassel Yes. Yeah. No, it is. There are definitely varying levels of crunchiness in California, so you got to find the pocket.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Bailey Van Tassel And the perception— my husband is from Illinois, so he’s from the Midwest. And the perception of Californians from the Midwest makes me laugh. It’s hilarious.
Lisa Bass Okay. Well, that’s probably what I’m operating off of here. I’m from Missouri.
Bailey Van Tassel I love it. But yeah, I mean, you could be onto something. And they do have compost systems where we live, too. And most municipalities have the green waste. You can buy compost from the city. We have a worm bin, which I’m looking to expand. I have a girlfriend who built this big like hutch for her worm, like vermicomposting system. And that’s the best I’ve found for a really, really small space. You’re like literally using a Rubbermaid. But it’s not enough for the amount of garden that I have now. So we’re doing that. And then I get compost from— again, like I’ll buy bagged compost. Or what I’m always in search of— the ultimate animal fertilizer is rabbit poop because it’s not hot. So you can use rabbit poop like fresh out of the bunny and put it in the garden, and it’s like the best slow release fertilizer.
Lisa Bass Oh, I didn’t know that. My sister has rabbits, so I could source that pretty easily.
Bailey Van Tassel Get it, girl. Yes. No, seriously, my garden mentor is my godmother and she raises rabbits for meat. But she collects all the rabbit poop for the garden and it’s like her major, major secret. So that’s hot tip right there.
Lisa Bass Yeah, hot tip that rabbit poop is not hot. That’s really good to know. Yeah, because we have cattle, and so we have that option. But it’s always like, at what point can I put that in there? And then one year I went out to my sister’s farm and I collected horse, and we got the most— like the nastiest weeds you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Like, I couldn’t overcome them. So I’m like, I don’t think I’m ever going to try that again.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah. That is definitely— that’s like the next level of my suburban compost foraging. We’ve got some horse stables down the way. My husband’s like, “You should go scoop the horse poop for the garden.” I’m not above it. I grew up with horses. I would love it, but yeah, I mean, the horses around here with the trails, like if any of those native plant seeds got in the garden, it would be game over. We’d just be growing like thistles.
Lisa Bass That’s exactly what happened to us. I forget— they were like these terrible, hairy, thorny, like the worst weeds I’ve ever seen. And I couldn’t ever get— that whole year was just ruined. And so I have that in my head now. I’m like, I don’t know what those horses were eating, but it was not the right idea. And I’m afraid— I don’t know. I’m afraid now of certain poops like that. So that’s a whole thing to figure out too.
Bailey Van Tassel It is. It’s delicate to figure out how to age manure properly. I got a bunch of chicken poop one year, too, and I was like, “Okay, how old is this? Like, how old is the youngest part of the chicken poop?” Because you just don’t want to— the soil can be sort of fragile. Not to deter anyone from gardening, because that’s always my thing is like, just you’ll overcome it. Like, just get soil in the ground and we’ll figure it out.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Bailey Van Tassel But I know.
Lisa Bass For the most part, yes.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah. Once you start really getting into it with manure.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Even that year, if we would have— I guess we could have overcame it. It just became like, okay, I’m going to buy my vegetables at the farmer’s market this year. This is just too much work to get rid of these weeds. But a lot of times if you can get past— here, I don’t know, in your zone it’s different, but if you can get past about June with the weeds, then everything’s tall enough that you don’t really worry about weeds anymore. Now, is that something you experienced because you never have to completely start over? Are the weeds continuously crowded out and not a huge problem every year?
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah. I’ve actually never experienced that, like a garden being overrun with weeds. I mean, truly the nature here in Southern California, it makes me sad. Like there’s just not— I mean, it’s so barren naturally here. Or the hillsides do have like wild mustard or something like that, but there will never be— we just don’t even get enough moisture for weeds to like pop up overnight. So yeah, but also the beds are usually full for the most part. I rarely have an empty bed. And I’ve dabbled in cover crop, but that’s rarely even really that necessary because again, I mean, I’ve always got garlic, onions, potatoes going through winter. Kale. So it’s nuts.
Lisa Bass Have you ever found that there’s anything that you can’t grow in your area or anything that grows especially well because of where you’re located?
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, I have a really, really hard time growing carrots because it needs— like, anything that needs high moisture to germinate. And then simultaneously carrots as a root veg don’t like to be transplanted, so they’re just tricky to really grow successfully. Same, I had a really hard time, too, with beets. Radishes are hit or miss.
Lisa Bass They probably like cold, so maybe that’s the challenge. Like for me, those are early spring things.
Bailey Van Tassel Yes, exactly. So we don’t get a ton of that cold. And then sometimes even just the delayed heat, too. Sometimes you need that high heat to really ripen things. I have a hard time even with beans sometimes. You just really have to hit it right with some of those crops. But in terms of what does well, like the leafy greens, like lettuce, kale, Asian greens— I can figure out a way to grow those almost year round. Just no problem. I usually do really well with peas grown in the fall/winter. And then herbs usually do well because if they don’t love the sun, they’re fine in the shade. And my all-time favorite plant of all time is Nasturtium, which is an edible flower. The leaves are edible and the seeds are too. And those do really, really well in our climate. And a lot of people are just like, “I cannot figure out how to grow those.” So it just depends. And we usually do really well with squash. Like that’s something that’s pretty easy for us to grow even from seed. You just have to stay on top of getting air in those leaves and powdery mildew, which is an issue for us because of humidity.
Lisa Bass Right. Yeah. Yeah. Those are always an issue. That’s always an issue for me. And then also squash bugs are a problem. I’m not sure if you guys get a lot of that.
Bailey Van Tassel We do. We get some of it. Squash bugs and like cucumber beetles. Every year, I feel like there’s a different plague that we have to tackle depending on—
Lisa Bass Overcome.
Bailey Van Tassel You know, like aphids on year and then— yeah, it’s crazy. I mean, I don’t know, I kind of think that’s what keeps gardening fun sometimes is you’re always sort of sharpening your spade, so to speak, and figuring out how to either prevent or overcome pest issues or what have you. Something that I found really interesting when I got started gardening was, as I was looking through seed catalogs, which is what you guys are all probably doing right now— myself as well.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Bailey Van Tassel When you read the seed catalog, there’s actually so much information to be gleaned about what is hardy for your zone, and that will really help you because each zone is going to be plagued with different issues more commonly. So if squash beetles are a main issue for your area, you’ll be able to find varieties of plant that are more resistant to that for your zone that will really help you overcome that.
Lisa Bass That’s a really good tip. I feel like that’s something that when I read, I think like, oh, I’m sure I could probably still grow this even though it’s not suited for my zone. But that is not information to ignore. That’s where you run into a lot of issues and there are certain things that just are better for your area. And so I’m going to keep that more in mind this year when I’m looking through all of my seed catalogs. Is there anything that you grow that you feel like people forget about that you always— it’s like one of your favorite things to grow or a couple of your favorite things to grow that other people just never talk about?
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, I would say arugula is one that I always grow every year. It does really, really well. And you can harvest it at different maturity levels and it will change the taste. And that replaces a ton of lettuce for us because it just does so well. I would say—oh my gosh, what else is overlooked? I think there are some old school veggies that need to make a comeback, like rutabaga, kohlrabi. Leeks, I feel like, are kind of having a moment. But leeks and shallots. Like getting off the beaten path will really elevate your cooking in a way that I feel like makes gardening and then taking your veggies to the table really, really exciting. And so that’s something that I feel like people often overlook. But I think, too, really dabbling in unique herb and tea plants is something else I always encourage people to because that’s really— everyone can grow herbs. Like that’s the entry, that’s like the gateway drug of gardening.
Lisa Bass They’re so easy, too.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, they’re so easy and they’re so much more versatile than you think. And again, like majorly up level your cooking. So that’s something I always recommend that people really get into. But I also think that you have to have an edible flower moment in your garden no matter what, because that also— it’s exciting, it’s beautiful, it attracts pollinators, which people I think overlook, too, getting flowers in the garden. And especially if you’re really into veggie gardening, which for me at first I was like, this is the highest ROI. I’m spending time out here, I’m growing food. And now I’m starting to get much more into flowers, but I always, always have edible flowers growing because it’s sort of a double whammy.
Lisa Bass What I like about that, too, is we can’t get that locally. There’s nobody that sells at the farmer’s market. You probably have grocery stores that have that. Yeah, we definitely do not. We do not have any of the off-the-beaten-path type veg— I would have a hard time finding a leek. Like if I was going to have to go up to my grocery store and find a leek, I’m not going to find that. So that would be a really good reason in itself to grow some of the things that you’re talking about, just because a lot of things like, well, I could always grab that from the farmer at the farmer’s market. I can’t get edible flowers, certain herbs, certain root vegetables. And so I like the idea of focusing more on those.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah. This year there’s been crazy like flu and virus season, and I was super grateful because my first approach is like, okay, let’s load the family up on herbs and this and that. And I always have weird things growing. I’m growing like catnip, which is super good for little kids and their immune systems. And most people are like, “Why? Why would you grow that? You don’t even have cats.” It’s like, no, it’s like so beneficial to have. And you know, and just always be drying them. Like calendula is another one that is a super powerful plant. And it’s like, even if you’re not into herbalism, you can eat the petals, you can decorate cakes with them, you can set them out as a bouquet, like they’re really good for pest management. Like there’s just so much. And most places, you can’t just buy that somewhere.
Lisa Bass Right. No.
Bailey Van Tassel But it will grow really well for most people.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Are you growing herbs for a pregnancy tea right now or any kind of medicinal teas that you’re drinking regularly?
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah. I wish I could grow berries. I have the hardest time. So, like, raspberry leaf tea is so good when you’re pregnant. And I couldn’t grow raspberry to save my life. It needs really sandy soil and some space. And it’s just— I would have to really go all in on raspberries.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Bailey Van Tassel But I’ve thought about going to some local farms and seeing if I could source it just because I think it’s fun and interesting. But I grow— so one of the herbs I grow is lemongrass. And one of the reasons is it’s super good for you. I’ve been drinking tons of lemongrass vanilla tea. I just shared a recipe actually on my Instagram and it’s so good. It’s lemongrass, vanilla, dried apples, dried orange peels, and raisins. And if you get the mix right, it’s just super calming but refreshing. It’s just a really good afternoon tea with a little bit of honey. But lemongrass looks like a landscape plant. And I like it because it’s big and grassy looking, so it kind of creates an aesthetic and a vibe in places in the garden where I want to hide a wall or just create different heights. But it’s also edible and super useful. And it’s so pretty when you cut it and you braid it and you dry it. Like it’s a dream. So lemongrass is a new favorite that I think everybody should be using. It’s great to add to a chicken noodle soup. Just really bump up your immune system a little bit.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I love the idea of those kind of plants because you might have a limited garden space, but then most people do have a spot around their house where they can plant more of those ornamental things that look also like landscaping. I like the idea of being able to incorporate something that works for both. That’s a really good tip.
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Lisa Bass I saw that you had a reel over on your Instagram that was five things we can do right now in the winter for our garden. So can you talk about these for all of us who are just getting excited for garden season?
Bailey Van Tassel Yes, for sure. So the first thing I always recommend— and if you’re not doing this, don’t panic, but is to review your garden journal or just kind of sit down and reflect on what worked in the garden and what didn’t, what your pain points were and what your major successes were, just to reset yourself and kind of get your mind right before you binge order seeds or transplants. But I think it is really critical to sit down. And then the second component to sort of reviewing the garden journal is to set an intention for the next year. So an example of that is, some years, I grow for major abundance of core crops. And I call them my hero plants. So it’s like I would like to replace all onions with my garden. So that would be a major goal, whole beds dedicated. And that tends to be— I go through these cycles every couple of years where I’m just growing a ton of a few things. And then I’ll have some years where my goal is actually to branch out and try growing new things and push the limits of my zone or to invest in the swing seasons more. And for people that have maybe like a greenhouse or a cold frame, maybe your goal for the garden is to like grow more greens or maybe you want to do more cut flowers because you found that brought you tons of joy and you spent $10,000 at Trader Joe’s buying cut flowers like some people. So whatever your goals are, think about that before you start planning. The second would be to take this time to really map out your garden and keep into consideration crop rotation and succession sowing. So obviously, if you grew tomatoes in your fourth bed, try and move those around so that your soil doesn’t lose out, like doesn’t miss out on too many key nutrients. And then also making sure there’s enough space for veggies that you are going to succession sow. For me, I will plant broccoli and cauliflower three separate times. And I always underestimate how much space they need and then kind of get off track on that and not grow as much as I would want. So that’s kind of number one. Number two, I would say go through your seeds. Most seeds are good for 3 to 5 years, but the germination is going to decrease. So go through your seed storage, toss old seeds, as much as that will literally break your heart. Go through what you truly need and don’t need cause I feel like we all get those catalogs. I feel like a little kid when you’re going through your Christmas catalog circling things. And so obviously, do the seed catalogs, but be smart about it, go through it, read the details on it. I always buy things that are like not hardy to my zone and probably bring a ton of pests. We all do it. But you know, the seed catalogs are a whole part of it too. The other thing I would say is taking time to fully map out your garden, like I said, with the crop rotation and succession sowing in mind, but thinking about what is going to go on your trellises, what’s going to go on edges and corners of your beds where things can spill over to really maximize space. That’s always something important to do. And then number three or four—I’m losing count—would be to totally go purge your potting shed and clean all your tools and take inventory. So really getting in there and disinfecting any shears, anything that prunes, making sure any soil or if you do use fertilizer, any of that that’s being stored is still quality and still useful. It’s really smart to clean out and sort of sanitize any empty pots, especially if it’s porous like terracotta. You really want to make sure that old plants and old soil— there’s always a crust of soil left over in those pots. You want to get that out and make sure that’s all clean. So these are all really, really good tasks for the winter gardener that wants to get ahead of the game. And usually this time of year, too, I’m investing in new gardening books and kind of getting started on that side of things. And I mean a mixture of learning new skills, but also I’m always diving into even fiction books that have fun gardening themes, herbalism books, all that stuff. So it’s a good time now to sort of update your library and kind of update your skill set.
Lisa Bass Yeah, research time. Sitting by the fire. That sounds like a perfect winter task. Now where are some of your favorite places to order seeds? Where do you get catalogs from? Where are you looking at?
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, so I love Territorial Seed Co, Baker Creek Seeds, and Johnny’s Seeds. Johnny’s catalog has the most comprehensive information. Baker Creek is a sweet little family. They have tons of really unique heirloom varieties. And then Territorial Seed Co— I buy my garlic from there and a lot of really unique and interesting plants from them. So it’s always just a mix. And some years like I really wanted to plant like, what is it? Jimmy Nardella peppers. And only one of those three carried them for the year. So it’s always— I usually have a very specific list and sort of cross-reference who has what. But those are my top three. Those are the catalogs I always get every single year. Renee’s Seeds is really good. Botanical Interests is really good, too. I’m mostly looking for heirloom organic seeds because I want seeds that have open pollination. So when you go to the grocery store, a lot of times you actually wouldn’t be able to regrow a plant from a seed from the grocery store because they have genetically modified the seed so that you can’t do that to sort of perpetuate the beautiful cycle at play. And so you want to find these heirloom seeds that are openly pollinated so that you can actually continue to save your own seeds and continue to grow your garden that way, which I think in this day and age, as much as I never want to play into any crazy fear tactics or any scarcity mindset things, I really think it is going to become very crucial for us to learn how to grow veggies and flowers from seeds, save our seeds, and then invest in using those each year. They’ll also better adapt to your zone, your microclimate in your garden, and create higher quality plants because the seeds are adapted to where you are. So that’s always what I’m looking for in seeds as well. And get picky about seeds. You get what you pay for, for sure.
Lisa Bass Now, are you doing all direct sow or do you start them indoors at all and bring them outside? Or is that not something that you have to do where you live?
Bailey Van Tassel I do a little bit of a combo. I don’t have a ton of space to start a bunch of things indoors. That would be ideal. I think there’s this very glamorized— I don’t know, when I got started, I was like, I’m only like a gardener if I’m starting everything from seed, but it’s not the case. I do a combo, honestly, and it depends on just my life and how busy it is. But there are some things that just don’t do well if they’re not direct sown, like peas and beans and beets and really any root veg. Potatoes, even corn really likes to be direct sown. So I respect the laws of nature on that. Let a corn be a corn. Plant it directly. But I do have the benefit— and I’ve really found a sweet spot for my zone where I start a lot of seeds under— I have this micro greenhouse that I can carry around that I start a lot of seeds outside just under my little mini greenhouse, mainly to protect it from birds, because birds will get into my beds and eat all my seeds, and the elements. So I can baby those seeds a little bit that don’t need like— you know, tomatoes sometimes need a heat mat and a certain amount of light. But we can typically grow most things outside year round. And then I don’t have to go through the process of really hardening things off, which is for some reason, the garden task that I cannot overcome. It’s too much responsibility for me.
Lisa Bass I know. Me neither. Same. I am so much better— even in my zone, which I know some zones, if you don’t start stuff indoors, you aren’t going to have a harvest. But I do live in a long enough season that we actually can direct sow as long as we get it done right after the last frost. And so I definitely prefer that method. I almost always every year start seeds indoors just because it’s like a ritual. It’s what you do. But I’ve had so many years where I do it and then none of it ends up— like my stuff that I put directly in the garden ends up passing it up. So I know there’s art to it, though.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, I know. Well, and I feel like I always— my seedlings always get leggy. I never get the right amount of distance with the light. And I’m not adjusting the grow lights and like I’m not— I mean, I don’t know. I can’t really keep houseplants alive either for some reason. I’ve just decided that houseplants are not for me. I have children in the house and husbands and dogs in the house. Like, that’s what we’re keeping alive in the house. But I think, too, like with nature, especially where you guys are, the rain has so many more nutrients and such a higher nitrogen content than what you’re getting from like the— well, depending if you’re on a well or city water. But there’s just something about actually growing things in nature that will always do better.
Lisa Bass Yeah, there is definitely something about that. I remember my husband’s grandpa, he was always like— he always gardened and so I always asked him a lot of questions because he had so many years of experience and he was a big believer in the rain is just different. Like I’ll water my plants if I have to, but it just does not do the same thing as the rain does. And we thankfully get plenty of rain here most years. This year was actually pretty bad, but normally we do and so we can rely on that and it does just do so much better than from the well. I don’t really know what the deal is, but it totally, totally does.
Bailey Van Tassel I love that.
Lisa Bass When you cook from scratch in your home, one thing that you might notice if you’re new to this whole endeavor is that you need a lot of salt. Whether you are simmering bones for bone broth, gotta add lot of salt to that because store-bought broths come with salts that make it delicious. You’ve got to add your own. Whether you are making ferments like sauerkraut, where you need a tablespoon of quality salt for each head of cabbage. Sourdough. Obviously you don’t feed your starter with salt, but every recipe calls for salt. I have 20 grams and my two loaf recipe. We use a lot of salt in this family because it is good for you and none of our foods come pre-salted. Now because I am trying to source quality meats, quality milk in our home—I take that very seriously; it’s a priority—I also want to make sure that we are sourcing quality salt. That is why I love using Redmond Real Salt. I can trust that I am getting a high quality salt for all of my from-scratch cooking, my ferments, my recipes. They all turn out beautiful with my Redmond salt. And one thing I really don’t want to do is run out. How many times have you gone to just make a simple meal and it’s all from scratch so there’s no added salt, you’re out of salt. You almost have to run to the store for it. I have been buying bulk ten pound bags of salt so that that does not happen to me. We don’t have to re-buy that very often, but it’s so nice having a large stash of that in the pantry that we can often pull from and refill the jar that sits by our stovetop so that we never run out. Redmond Real Salt is offering Simple Farmhouse Life listeners a discount. It will be automatically applied when you go to the link bit.ly/FarmhouseRedmond. I just clicked that link to make sure that everything still worked with it. I added a ten pound bag of salt to my cart and saw the discount, so make sure to head over to Redmond at bit.ly/FarmhouseRedmond. Get your discount and make sure that you never run out of high quality salt for your from-scratch kitchen.
Lisa Bass Okay. Anything that you wish you knew as a beginning gardener that you know now?
Bailey Van Tassel Kind of like I’ve mentioned before, I really wish I had leaned into my specific U.S. hardiness zone from day one and really sort of taking that as like— like Bible-ing that as what I really needed to stay true to to kind of lessen the learning curve. And I think also there’s a level of ignorance with the beginning gardener that I really enjoyed and I really loved not knowing some of the challenges I was going to have to overcome. And I just kind of got— I fell in love with it before I was like, oh my gosh, some seasons are— I guess this is what I would say: some years are just going to be hard. Some seasons are just going to be bad. Some years are just not a tomato year. It doesn’t mean you have a black thumb. That doesn’t exist anyways. But just keep going, keep testing things, keep finding ways to stay excited because I think the benefits far outweigh the costs emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, nutritionally. It’s just keep going. But I would say really study your hardiness zone, get to know your garden, and play with things. Move things around your space. A lot of times, too, I’ll just have something that’s getting too much sun and I just move it to a shady spot. And plants are more resilient than you think. I feel like kind of like children— they’re going to be okay.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Bailey Van Tassel Move your marigolds even though they’re partway through growing. They’re really going to do— they’re really less fragile than you think most of the time.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Alive stuff just has this drive to stay alive. And so that is definitely something true that stuff can do better than you think it will.
Bailey Van Tassel How many years have you been gardening?
Lisa Bass Oh man, probably like at least 12 or 13 at this point. But I’m not a super serious gardener. That’s the thing. Like, I have definitely put in a garden every year for the past 13 years, but some years are a lot better than others.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah. Do you get your kids out there with you a lot?
Lisa Bass I do. Each year I’m like, okay, next year, I’m going to get the kids out a lot more. Next year, we’re going to make this like a daily part of our routine. And we really need to somehow get that— like we have dairy cows, and so every morning we go out, we milk the cows, we have certain chores that we do every single day, and somehow we cannot get that groove with the summer garden. And so we put it in and then we kind of ignore it for five or six days and all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh my gosh, we have to weed everything and harvest.” And that’s something that I’m really wanting to get better about is actually making it to where it’s just a little part of our routine. It’s not that much time, but every single day we all devote a little bit of time. And I feel like at the beginning of the season, we do that, and then it just slips and slips and slips like all the way until August or September. And I’m like, “Forget it.” Which is why I’m like, I really can appreciate that we do have that break. Like, no matter what, right now, there’s nothing that I can do out there except for plan and dream. And so I see how that would, in some ways, have its benefits, like you were saying, over having a garden year round, because it is very fun, but it’s very nice knowing that there’s nothing I can do right now.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, for sure. I think the blessing and the curse, too— I mean, for me, I don’t have any irrigation right now and actually never have had full on irrigation in the beds. And that’s what’s getting me outside is I have to water. But I also have way less chores than you do or anyone that lives on a farm. That was kind of part of why I wanted the garden, too, is we live in a place in the suburbs where if you don’t insert adversity and challenges and natural rhythms to set the family at the pace that you want them to be at or insert the character and the values that they want them to have, it’s really easy to let comfort and convenience just take over. And so this was something for me where I felt like I could sort of reclaim that, like, no, it’s our responsibility to go out and keep the veggies alive and keep the garden going and make sure there aren’t any pests. And similar like with our kids— I mean, this is off topic of gardening, but you know, like giving them chores to feed the dog and the dishes and all these things. It’s so easy where we live to not have— to just choose, like opt out of those responsibilities. But then you’re opting out of the good stuff that comes along with them. And so that was a big driver for me. But it’s also— my husband’s like, “We need to get the irrigation going.” I’m like, “We do, but we don’t,” because it keeps me out there and it’s way harder and more time consuming. But it’s part of what I think keeps the garden really healthy. I’ve always got eyes on it and it is a part of our routine and the kids know every morning if they wake up and I’m not in the house, I’m in the garden, and they come find me. And I love that.
Lisa Bass Yeah. No part of it’s automated. It requires daily attention. That’s when it also becomes part of your routine. And since you do live in a climate where it never really stops, I’m sure it just stays part of your daily routine that you go out, you do certain tasks. That’s like with milking chores. It’s not something we have to think about doing. It’s not something that we have to motivate and will ourselves to do. We just do it. And we haven’t gotten to that point with the garden. But I know that we definitely should. I think what it is, is I’m just— I don’t have a natural love for gardening as much as you or some people do. And I wish I did, but I just sometimes just don’t care. Some years I care a lot more than others, but some years it’s just like one of the first things to go mentally. If there is something to go, it’ll be that. And so if there’s anything else that’s really weighing on me or I feel like we have too many obligations or whatever, usually the garden is the first thing to be like, eh, maybe we’ll just put in less stuff this year.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, well, I’m like the opposite where I feel like I wish I had more of a drive for sourdough. Like I just always somehow find a way to be like, I don’t care about my starter and I’ll just restart it again later. And it’s always something.
Lisa Bass It’s exactly like that because I have so much drive for that, like I’m not going to stop doing sourdough. I love it. But gardening, I’m like, I wish I did. I like talking about it. It’s cool that other people in my listening audience get to hear your wonderful tips. And I’m not saying I don’t put a garden in, but like I just don’t care that much.
Bailey Van Tassel I know. It’s the same. I’ll do like a couple weeks where I’m baking my bread and I’m like, “We’re a sourdough family now. We’re sourdough waffles, we’re sourdough bread, we’re sourdough sandwich. We’re sourdough everything.” And then life gets busy and I forget and something goes wrong and I’m like, back out to veggies back. We’re focusing on veggies. I love. I know, but it’s like at least you guys are doing it.
Lisa Bass Yeah, well, there is going to be something to go. And that’s always encouraging for people to hear, too, because I share about gardening, I share about sourdough, I share about having a dairy cow, I share about chickens. You share about a garden, you probably share about sourdough, and having three kids and being pregnant—or two kids and being pregnant—but people think that because you share all of that, you’re doing all of them all the time. And here we’re like, you know what? Whenever things get crazy, there’s always something that we just don’t care that much about. And thankfully, there’s a farmer’s market. And thankfully, you might have a market that sells sourdough bread. There’s other ways—or raw milk—that you can still source those things and it does not have to all rely on your shoulders. I think it’s good, though, that you have the skills. Like maybe you don’t do sourdough every day, but if you needed to, you could do sourdough. And if I needed to, I could probably grow all our vegetables because I do have the skills. I’ve built them up over the years. This year, maybe I don’t have to because things are fine and I can get them at the farmers market, and I’m going to just kind of coast in with that.
Bailey Van Tassel I definitely get the most feedback from people when I share fails. And they’re like, “Oh my god, it was so refreshing to see that you, like, murdered all your radishes.” Like we’re all dropping some balls. It’s just having the intuition slash wisdom to know which balls it’s okay to drop and to be okay with it. But like you said as well, I think leaning into the community component— I mean, and this is where living in California is great. I can get raw milk at the grocery store. We have a local farm with a CSA. Like there are a lot of safety nets for me as my little suburban homesteader dreams start falling apart. But I think leaning into that is super crucial. And that’s given me— like creates a lot of fulfillment in itself is connecting with other people that just have those similar values that are striving for the same lifestyle and finding ways to lean into it however it makes sense. Because yeah, I mean, most— not everyone can make it so much a part of their lifestyle or their career or their mission in life to pursue all these things. So finding ways to still make it happen for you. And totally, like you said, having the skills. I went on this crazy like we’re going to do raw milk and get like the butter mold and do the butter thing. Like it’s just cool to know how to do it. I will not have a dairy cow. I can’t. I can’t legally.
Lisa Bass Right.
Bailey Van Tassel But it’s so cool to be able to know how to do it. And just, like, maybe someday, you know?
Lisa Bass Yeah, but just knowing that you can and you’ve built connections, it sounds like, in your local community, so that even if you can’t do it, you know people who can. You know where to source those things. Those are all very valuable skills and they all come over time. Like you said, you’ve been gardening for many years and this is just— one thing builds upon the next. So all very encouraging. Tell the listeners where they can best find you and what it is you offer with your gardening course or whatever else you want to share.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, the best place for sure to find me is just BaileyVanTassel.com or on Instagram @BaileyVanTassel. But if you’re interested in the monthly gardening membership, that’s The Kitchen Garden Society. And then I do have a podcast and we’re going to twist your arm and get you on there talking about things. And that’s called The Garden Culture Podcast, which is available wherever podcasts are. So that’s pretty much it.
Lisa Bass Awesome.
Bailey Van Tassel Yeah, January this month is all about— I’m doing a huge masterclass on planning out the garden. So that will be like— if anyone’s into gardening, that’ll be a fun thing to do.
Lisa Bass Oh yeah, that’s an awesome thing to be thinking about right now. And yes, I will join you on your podcast, so go follow along with the podcast, and we’ll be doing an episode probably in the next month or two on there as well. So. All right. Well, thank you so much, Bailey. This has been very encouraging and helpful and exciting to think about the upcoming season for all of us non Southern Californians, which is probably most. So thank you.
Bailey Van Tassel Yes, thank you for having me. This was such a pleasure. Such a treat.
Lisa Bass All right. Well, I hope that you enjoyed this interview. As always, thank you so much for listening and I will see you in the next episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast.