Many people discount themselves from growing a successful garden because they think they don’t have the time, space, money, or skill. Carrie of The Little Pallet Farmhouse is here to break down all of our preconceived notions about gardening being unattainable due to these barriers. The truth is that gardening can be simple, inexpensive, and successful, even for a beginner. As many are gearing up for the upcoming spring/summer season, come chat all things gardening with us!
In this episode, we cover:
- The tragic diagnosis that led Carrie to pursue health through food
- Starting small when you are overhauling your food sourcing
- Why you don’t have to be an expert to take responsibility for your own health
- How to get started with gardening even if you have limited time, space, and budget
- Deciding what to grow and how to get it started
- Foolproof seed-starting setup for a new gardener
- Thinking through the garden infrastructure that works best for you
- Sourcing and maintaining optimal soil
- Choosing plants that you can use beyond the kitchen
Thank you to our sponsors!
In my free Blogging Success Masterclass, I will teach you my 4-step framework for going full-time with blogging, how to avoid the most common mistakes new bloggers make that I learned the hard way, and how to make it all work with just a few hours a day. Visit bit.ly/farmhousebloggingschool to find out how you can earn a full-time income by sharing what you love!
Toups and Co Organics uses nourishing, organic ingredients to create simple and safe skincare products. Toups and Co is offering my listeners 10% off any one purchase with the code FARMHOUSE. Visit ToupsandCo.com to order today. And check out my interview with the founder of Toups and Co, Emilie, to find out more about this amazing company and their products.
Born and raised in the quintessential English countryside, Carrie lives with her husband and 3 children, on their 20 acre woodland homestead.
After a move to the rural Midwest in 2019 Carrie quickly plugged into the homestead community, has been a guest speaker at Homesteaders of America, producer of 2 seasons of ‘The Homestead Documentary’ and author of her first book ‘Ready Steady Grow’ for busy people on a budget.
With a passion for Jesus, Horses and growing food, Carrie enjoys the challenge of creating an edible ecosystem in their backyard applying both her medical science background, a creative eye and the principles of regenerative farming.
Grab Carrie’s Ready Steady Grow bundle for only $27 | Use code BOONE15 for an additional 15% off (seven days only!)
Join us in the Simple Farmhouse Life Facebook community!
Lisa Bass Welcome back to the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today we are going to chat gardening. It is that time of year. I’m sure all of you were very excited about it. I know that I am. I really just cannot wait to have bare feet out in that hot sun. Today, we’re going to be chatting with Carrie from The Little Pallet Farmhouse. We have just all things gardening to discuss, so join us for this interview.
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 Well, thank you so much for joining us here, Carrie. I was just reading through your entire story. So I know you on Instagram and YouTube as someone who helps people learn how to garden and you have so many practical tips. But your story is very interesting. I don’t feel like… Maybe you don’t share your whole back story all that often on your Instagram. But let’s start there. So we are going to talk about gardening. I think everybody’s probably getting pretty excited about that depending on your zone. But most people are starting to think about that that are in the audience. Let’s start with your back story. You can share however much you want to share, however little you want to share, but just some introductions would be awesome.
Carrie Wilson Sure. Well, it was really what got me into gardening, which is sort of why I thought to sort of give you a bit of my back story would help. And like a lot of people, I did have parents and grandparents that gardened, especially post-World War II. And I would love to tell you that it was them that got me into gardening, but it was actually a bit more of a harrowing story. After I graduated medical school in England with a degree in physiology, I had moved to London, where I met and married a rugby athlete who was an international athlete. And his life was cut short when, just eight months into our marriage, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as motor neuron disease, and he was given 18 months to live. And the reason that’s part of my story is because I’d come from a background of conventional medicine, but yet here was… You know, conventional medicine had nothing to offer us. There was little understanding or awareness of the illness termed as a geriatric disease with little funding. And what happened, because my husband was sort of a public figure, his story was all over the press. And some naturopaths had kind of then sort of reached out to us. And one of the things that I kept hearing again and again and again was that we needed to start looking at the food that we were eating, which was really the only sort of ammunition that we had, something that we could tangibly take control of to start to address what we were facing. And so what happened is sort of a snowball effect that as I began some research into food and what we were consuming, I actually came across a professor in Illinois, Dr. Christine Farlow, who had written a book called The Shopper’s Guide to Food Additives, where she listed over 300 additives and preservatives. Now this was 20 years ago. She had independently tested most of them. And I was just blown away by how many of them were sort of actually seen to be toxic, carcinogenic, just really bad for your health. And sort of coming from a science background, that really spoke to me.
Lisa Bass Yeah. And at the time, did you feel like the only way that you would be able to get healthy food into your home was to actually find a way to grow it? I feel like 20 years ago, it was harder to find quality food than it is now, possibly.
Carrie Wilson Right. I mean, fortunately for us… Well, it was a double edged sword. We were living in central London, so we were right in the heart of the city. I didn’t really have space to grow food, although that was where I wanted to go. We had a small three foot by four foot balcony, but we lived quite close to a farmer’s market in Twickenham. And so what I learned how to do was to grow the things at home on the balcony that could influence the flavor of my cooking. So I grew a lot of herbs and spices and things like that. And then for my bulk produce, I would go to the farmer’s market where I would get bulk tomatoes and things like that. And then just being able to speak to the person who had produced it about how it had been produced. And then to do things like chicken stock, I would go down to the local butcher and I would get his chicken carcasses and come home and make the stock with my own herbs. So that was really the beginning of my journey and that was kind of where my homesteading journey began.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So it wasn’t so much a focus on getting the bulk of your food from where you were gardening, but mostly just flavoring it because you were mentioning—whenever I had received just your story—that a lot of the flavors that we’re tasting in store bought food and restaurant food, it’s chemical based. And so you wanted to create a flavor that was good, that you wanted to actually eat, and you needed a lot of seasonings and herbs to actually make that happen. I feel that sometimes when people first start cooking, they don’t add enough salt and herbs and it’s just not as good as going out to eat or getting something less healthy.
Carrie Wilson Right. It can quickly turn you off, cooking from scratch when you don’t actually know how to get the flavor back in. Because as you said, a lot of the flavor that is put into commercially produced food is done so synthetically with artificial flavorings and colorings. Even additives and preservatives that are there to make food even have a better texture, how it feels in your mouth, aside from a better color and looking better and those kind of things. So yeah, it was all about trying to relearn how to make home cooked food taste good.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So another thing you mentioned is that you lived in a very small… You didn’t have this big homestead. And now I know you and your family actually moved and started this from-scratch homestead that you’re completely building up. But you were talking about how your homestead journey looks very different than it looked then and how it’s not about the space. So can you tell us a little bit about that transformation and what it was like where you lived and how you did a lot of the things that you do now and then why you ended up seeking out your place? Or if you want to tell us a bit about your farm and what you’re building there.
Carrie Wilson Okay. So sort of fast forward 20 years, my now husband, Caleb, is actually from the Midwest. And we decided that we want… We were living in England at the time. We decided we wanted to move out to the U.S., which was obviously a loss to my family, a gain to his. But someone was going to lose one way or the other. But really for us, just to have the affordability of a bit more space and the ability to be able to homestead. Because of sort of the journey that I’d been on, as you sort of get into it, you want to be able to do more, to produce more and see, well, could I put up enough tomatoes to last me the year? How much of my food can I actually produce? So to go from sort of growing on a small balcony in the city… So as I’ve sort of traveled and moved, I always say the one thing that’s hardest to relocate is a garden. I don’t know how many avocado trees I’ve started again and again and again. And this time I say, “I’m not moving,” because when those things become established, that’s so precious. And so really, I’ve sort of grown with the garden, sort of along the different stages along the way. And what we’re doing here in the Midwest is we have a 20 acre homestead. Largely it’s wooded, but then I’ve had to learn how to adapt to the changing soil types and climates and that kind of thing. And the different length of growing season with the UK being a much more temperate zone. So it’s given me sort of a depth of experience of growing in different areas.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Well, and I like what you say about homesteading. That homesteading, cooking from scratch, or growing food is a mindset governed by principles and values, not a certain acreage or country house. And I like that because I feel the same way. Whenever we lived—four years before we moved here—on a quarter acre, I was doing almost all the same things that I am now. And I had learned all of that in our not country house. So yeah, I completely agree with that.
Carrie Wilson Right. Yeah, it’s very much a mindset and, like you say, the principles and values. It’s not a certain acreage or the dream that some people sort of visualize maybe because of Pinterest, you know, the country farmhouse. But yeah, very much sort of just the values and principles of what you’re trying to do. And that can be done anywhere, being resourceful in different ways.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Lisa Bass Okay, I want to take a quick break from this episode to tell you about our home-based business. This isn’t something I talk about a lot, but I get a lot of people who say they want to hear more about the entrepreneurial side of what is behind the podcast, Simple Farmhouse Life, my blog, my YouTube channel, and all the components of the business that brought my husband home from his job almost five years ago. Now, the first thing that I started with my business was my blog. And still to this day, when people ask me where I would start, where I would put my attention if I was starting over now and the favorite aspect of my business, I always respond with blogging. There’s a misconception out there that blogging is dead, and I find that interesting that we think the best place to put our efforts are some of the most popular places where everyone is doing that when there really is a— almost like the best kept secret over in the blogging space. It is far from dead and my favorite way to earn an income because I’ve built something there. And it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve realized just how beautiful it is to have built something that is so passive when everything else feels like a content treadmill. There is something that I’ve built that I now have in my blogging business. Now there are things that I would have done completely differently if I was starting from scratch today, things that would get me to success and earn an income that I definitely did not know in the beginning. I made lots of mistakes. I created a one-hour masterclass where I talk about these things. Some of the common misconceptions about blogging and earning an income with blogging and some of the things that I would most certainly change to get my blog monetized a lot faster. You can find that information in that masterclass over at bit.ly/FarmhouseBloggingSchool. Whether you are simply curious, like how do you even make money on a blog? Or you’ve been thinking about it for a while, but you need some guidance. That is a great place to start. My free one-hour masterclass is packed full of information. Again, you can get that at bit.ly/FarmhouseBloggingSchool.
Lisa Bass Okay. So moving through your story a little bit… I know we’re kind of going back and forth, but that’s okay. Did your… Well, I know because you said your now husband, I’m sure people already know the answer. But did your husband recover? And what is it that you learned from that that pushed you forward into continuing to ask questions, continuing to want to go down this path of learning how to do these things for yourself?
Carrie Wilson Yeah. So unfortunately, my husband did die. It was just five years later at the young age of 38, although his neurologist thought he was a bit of an anomaly, given that he had originally been given a prognosis of 18 months to live. It’s a terrible illness. And that might sound like we lost the battle. But what he did with his profile is he gave a lot of hope to other people who I think prior to that thought that it’s just a death sentence. There’s nothing that you can do. And we actually even found a guy who had reversed his own symptoms of the illness, and we actually flew him over to London to learn from him. And disappointingly, when he shared his story with his own doctors, they had then turned around on that diagnosis and said, “Oh, we must’ve misdiagnosed you.” So it really made me disappointed with the medical world. And what was going on for me, as I said, I was fresh out of medical school with a degree in physiology. I think over here the equivalent is like a pre-med degree. But anyway, as a physiologist, you are the one in the lab doing the research. And as my husband was declining in health, I was pouring into the medical journals, looking for answers, trying to understand the biochemistry. Have you ever seen that movie Lorenzo’s Oil, about the little boy? And then his father figures out a sort of a combination of oils to actually help people with that disease? Anyway, I was kind of on this pathway of scientific research. And I came across—and again, you know, 20 years ago—the food additive MSG, which I think a lot of people are familiar with today. Monosodium glutamate is used in a lot of Chinese foods and chips and crackers. Often, you don’t know that it’s in there. We met a Chinese practitioner who said, “When you go to a Chinese takeout, make sure you tell them don’t put MSG in the food because they just add it like salt or pepper.” And I had found a study by the University of Calgary where they actually showed how toxic it was to nerve cells. They had this little video and they added the MSG and this nerve cell kind of just like unzips itself. So I’d gone to the neurologist, put this research on his desk, and I said, “Hey can we measure the level of glutamate in the spinal fluids? What’s going on in my husband’s body?” And he sort of brushed it off to sort of say, “It can’t cross the blood brain barrier. There’s nothing that you’re eating is able to affect your nervous system.” But actually, he had sort of neglected to look at a different paper I’d put on his desk that showed that when we eat a meal and our blood glucose is elevated, then our blood brain barrier actually becomes permeable. It becomes more leaky, and there’s certain things can cross that membrane at that time. And when I sort of looked at him expecting sort of answers, he’d actually turned around to me and said, “You know what, Carrie? You probably know more about this than me right now.” And this is not a move to tear this man down. He was genuinely there to support us. He wanted the best outcome for us, like many doctors. But it was just that I was 100% putting my faith in modern medicine, and he just didn’t have the right information to help us. He was giving us the best information that he had. To me, it was a wake up call that you need to be invested and take responsibility in your own health. And as consumers, it’s your responsibility to be informed. So one more thing before we do move on is that now, 20 years later, they have actually scientifically linked monosodium glutamate to a whole host of neurological diseases, including autism, bipolar, chronic fatigue, depression, and also motor neuron disease, which is what my husband had. And what’s quite staggering is that, even though that research is out there, it’s continued to be approved for use in food.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I really like what you said about just being able to advocate for yourself because you were this very concerned wife. You obviously did have some medical training. But even people who don’t, you were digging through studies that… This doctor, how could he possibly have the time to dig that deep for every single one of his patients? It just wouldn’t be possible. So for someone who is very concerned, like a mother, like a wife or a husband, to be so invested, I completely agree. That’s something that I’ve learned a lot over the last 15 years of being a mom is not to always just take everything exactly as this is how it is. There’s a lot more to learn and there’s always more information that’s coming to light. Like you said, now we kind of know that there’s that link there, and some of the other things that you discovered are probably more well-known now. And to not be able to or not think that you’re capable of doing the things that you have control over is something that I think a lot of people miss. And it really can lead to things that… There’s a lot that you can learn from it. And so with that, you got into gardening and learning how to source your own food from all of this. What would you recommend? You started on a balcony to your homestead now. Do you lay out or do you have those steps mapped out for others to follow if they have never started on any path like this?
Carrie Wilson I absolutely do. I’m really passionate about helping other people learn to grow food, especially if they not just if they don’t know how, but if they feel like they want to but they have limited time and space and budget because I’ve been there. And I absolutely think that where there’s a will, there’s a way. And I would say the most important thing to do is to start small, because if you take giant leaps, then often you’re going to get yourself in a mess. And I think that making small changes is the one thing that people can do because we need to develop new habits. And if we try to change everything at once… And I’m sort of preaching to myself here because sometimes I wanted to do everything all at once and then I got so far down the path and think, “Oh, you dummy. I need to just scale back a bit.” Because I think that’s where success is found. So I don’t know if I’m digressing from your original question, but the steps that I map out, I’ve actually just recently launched a new book. It’s a program called Ready, Steady, Grow. And what I do is I take not necessarily the beginner gardener, but someone who wants to achieve growing organic produce, who is maybe challenged by their time, space, and budget. We start with grow bags. It’s something that I recommend as manageable. You can do a lot with grow bags. So we start with that. We go through ten crops and we repeat this cycle of growing, harvesting, storing and using. I think a lot of people underestimate plants. One pepper plant is going to maybe give you ten peppers. Well, if I came home from the store and put ten peppers on your counter, you might not have a plan for those. And so when you’ve got a plant that suddenly starts throwing peppers at you, you need to know what to do. And tomato plants are way more productive than that. So I think even just starting with one or two plants to sort of get a handle on, well, what am I going to do with this once the plant is producing? Because at that time you need to sort of be on the ball and start moving and know what to do.
Lisa Bass Yeah. And something I find interesting that I’ve noticed that I’ve done a lot over the years and then I’ve seen other people doing is we get very wrapped up in the “it’s gardening season” and you go to the nursery and they have all of these different plants and you buy a bunch of things that you don’t normally use in your kitchen. And so then whenever… It’s like you don’t think about what it’s going to be like eight weeks from now when you have a million eggplant and you never make eggplant. You don’t really have any plan for how you’re going to do it, but you’re wasting garden space on that. So, yeah, have you noticed that? Or what are some of the basic crops that you recommend people starting with?
Carrie Wilson Well, I think you make a really good point, Lisa. You want to grow what you’re going to use. But with that, I think you have to stay within the constraints of your zone. So don’t take a… I’m sort of one of those people who loves to be challenged by growing things that are out of zone. Like I mentioned avocados. Don’t start with that. You’re likely not going to get avocados. But do you start with A) what you’re going to use and B) what’s suited to your zone. So as I mentioned in my book, there are crops that are suited to longer growing seasons and shorter growing seasons, and that’s all linked to your climate. Your length of season is going to dictate primarily what’s going to grow well in the area that you live in.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So it really just depends. You and I are both in similar zones, I think. And so I think we… I was kind of wondering when you said avocado, I’m like, I don’t know, I don’t think I can grow that here, but you’re up for the challenge clearly. So with it being March, what plants are worth growing from seed? And which should you buy as started plants? If you’re starting out, would you say to grow a lot of it from seeds? Or what are your tips with that, especially for the beginning gardener?
Carrie Wilson Yeah, I always say—and this is one thing that I do talk about in the book—is that if you are starting out, buy as much as you can that are already started plants. There’s just a lot that can go wrong with seeds. It’s not rocket science, but if you’re indoor starting, that’s what we call “force starting”. And so you are trying to create the ideal conditions for that seed to germinate. And there’s just a lot of variables. And I think that if you are just finding your feet, you want to just wait a little bit until the last frost date has passed and then go to your local nursery. You can order plants online. I’ve certainly done that with some hydrangeas or certain varieties that I’ve wanted to buy. But for your produce, if you go to a local nursery, chances are that the varieties that they are selling there are already going to be sort of adapted for your zone because… You know, we keep talking about avocados. They have actually now created a hybridized dwarf avocado tree that will grow in zone five, but that is not standard for avocados. So what I’m saying is that when you go to a nursery, usually the plant selection that is on offer there is more likely to be suited to the area that you live in.
Lisa Bass Yes. Okay. So as far as seed starting, I’m actually… Our family is going on vacation. And then right after that, I’m going to start all my seeds. And I’ve done a lot of different methods in the past and I can’t say that I’ve ever really nailed anything down that’s worked really well. So what is the seed starting setup that you recommend?
Carrie Wilson I start seeds in lots of different ways. I like to experiment. I think if I was going to tell anybody just the straightforward in seed starting, I don’t do soil blocking or anything like that. What I tend to do is I get a seed tray and I just fill it with a potting mix. You would get a store bought potting mix like Miracle-Gro. It has an in-built fertilizer. And the reason that I go for potting mix over a seed starting mix is that seed starting mix has got no nutrition in it. Seeds will start on anything. You see people start them on a kitchen towel because they have that in-built food store. But the minute that those green leaves appear, then the seed needs to photosynthesize and it needs to be able to draw nutrients from the soil. So I kind of skip that step by just starting the seeds in a potting mix. And then what I’ll do is I’ll pre-moisten the potting mix. And I do that because if you plant your seeds and then water, especially with the small seeds, they tend to kind of get thrown around and you can’t tell where they are. So I will pre-moisten a tray of potting soil and then literally just use a piece of stick or bamboo cane and I will make little rows as if it was a garden bed. I’ll just make little rows, and then I will sprinkle my rows of seeds down each one. Label at the end. And then after about two to three weeks, when the seeds have germinated and they’re putting on their first pair of true leaves… So the first pair of leaves that you see are not true leaves. They’re cotyledons. The second pair of leaves that you see are called the true leaves, and that’s when the plant is really starting to photosynthesize. At that point or soon thereafter, I will take that little seedling and start to transplant it into a pot of its own. Now, in terms of temperature and light, some seeds need light to germinate, some seeds don’t. A Google search would let you know. Like onion seeds do not need light. Peas do. So just seed by seed. And I do have grow lights up because, again, as soon as they will germinate, they’ll need… Someone was asking me the other day about sunlight in a windowsill. If you’ve got a big sunny window, it’s as good as a grow light. Someone was asking me if the UV is filtered out by windows. And UVB is filtered out by windows, but plants actually don’t need that to grow. They operate more on a blue red spectrum, and they only need the UVA when they’re putting on size. But anyway, not to overcomplicate things. A sunny windowsill will do. Grow lights are good because you’ll get your full spectrum. And then with heat, I sometimes use a heat mat and I sometimes don’t. It depends how fast I want them to germinate. So if I’m wanting to start tomatoes very early, then I would use a heat mat because they need a higher level, a higher temperature to germinate. But right now, I don’t know if I want my tomatoes to germinate, so I might just leave them off the heat and let it warm up a little bit. I start my seeds in the basement, so I let the house temperature do some of that work sometimes. So again, that’s why I say there’s quite a lot of variables with seed starting based on the needs of that specific plant.
Lisa Bass Yeah. I have this huge picture window, a south facing window, and I’ve always started the seeds there. And I think my biggest issue… Because I feel like it hasn’t been all that successful even though, light-wise, it should be because it’s a very bright room, and I put it right by the window. I think it is the heat that’s my issue. And so I was thinking about moving everything down to the basement, obviously with grow lights because there’s not much in there. But then the heat issue is something. So do you put a heater on in your basement or what kind of lights do you get? I’m ready to completely redo my entire setup at this point.
Carrie Wilson Well, our basement runs at about 50 degrees, which is kind of an ideal temperature for seed starting apart from things like peppers and tomatoes. It would want to be a bit warmer. But most other seeds will germinate at around 50 to 55 degrees, and our basement is on central air. So if your basement runs a lot colder than that, your brassicas might start, but other things would probably require a heat mat. And the problem with your window might be that sometimes, depending on how filtered the sunlight is, you can get where seeds start to reach. Do they stretch? They tend to lean and stretch towards the light.
Lisa Bass Mm hmm.
Carrie Wilson And then what you have to do is then turn the seeds around. In situations like that, what I’ve tended to do is to re-pot them, and then as soon as I can, get them somewhere outside, even sort of under a cold frame so that the light that’s coming from sort of all directions. But yeah, a basement can work, but if it doesn’t have good light, then you need to provide the light for the seeds.
Lisa Bass Yeah. I think also I’m kind of drawn to the basement idea because they get knocked by children because we have a lot of children. And so I have this beautiful south facing window, but it’s also our living room. And so I’m trying to figure out how I can make this process just actually work. So I want to start my tomatoes. I want to start my flowers because I care about that. The rest can just start outside. But as far as… you know, I want to have tomatoes before August. And so to do that, I’m going to have to start them indoors. And I think I need a whole new setup for that because it’s just been very unsuccessful. They’ve worked, but just never great. And so I’m thinking I’m going to do just some shelving and then some lights in between that is kind of my plan.
Carrie Wilson Yeah, yeah. I have a shelf system that has a… I think it was a pack. They’re in my Amazon shop and I can’t remember the name of them, but they’re grow lights that come in a six-pack and they were very inexpensive. And I just zip tie those grow lights on to the shelves. So there’s like two per shelf, one in each corner. And they sort of shine in. And yeah, I think I’ve got about six shelves. I also have a grow light that is a normal light color. You can get them where they don’t shine pink or blue. And I quite like that one, but it was a little more expensive. So I actually just hang that one up in the room in the basement. And it looks like a normal light, but it’s got a full spectrum to it. So you can get those as well if you don’t want your basement to be sort of glowing pink out the window.
Lisa Bass I don’t really care. We don’t live where anybody would ever see our basement window, so nobody would… It doesn’t matter. Whatever works for us is what I’m going to do. We live out in the country, so nobody’s going to see it anyways. What seeds are you starting? Or what seeds have you started so far?
Carrie Wilson So… What have I got? I’ve got a whole range. I recently did peas, which are probably a little early, and I might use those for pea shoots and then restart some more peas. I’ve got cabbage and broccoli in the basement. I’ve actually got two pepper plants that I overwintered from last year that were producing peppers this winter. I’ve got a whole bunch of herbs, you know, my rosemary. I say oregano. You say oregano. My husband’s always correcting me.
Lisa Bass Oh yeah. Well, I mean, neither way is probably right. But yeah.
Carrie Wilson I’ve got basil. What else have I got? I started artichokes. They’ve just started germinating because they need a little longer of a growing season. And asparagus I’m starting this year. I probably will buy some asparagus crowns because it just takes a few years for asparagus to get going. But I want lots. So I’ve also started a pack of seeds. And I can see the beginnings of them germinating now. So yeah. Oh, the other thing that I am growing… And again, it’s out of area, but it’s coffee. I actually brought some Arabica coffee seeds back with me from the UK. It might be a little bit naughty, but anyway, I’ve started them in the basement. And we’ll see what happens. My husband loves coffee, so I was like, well, I’m going to see if I can grow some coffee beans. So we’ll see.
Lisa Bass You’re ambitious. I’m just like, okay, I think I’m going to grow only tomatoes and flowers this year and call it a day. And herbs, because summer is not summer without herbs.
Lisa Bass Want to take a break from this episode to tell you about a sponsor, Toups and Co Organics skincare. I have loved Toups and Co for I don’t even know how long now. They use high quality ingredients like grass fed tallow. All winter long I have been putting that stuff on my face three or four times a day. I just leave the little jar sitting out so that I can go back over and put it on my face again because I really struggle with dry skin in the winter. And natural moisturizers a lot of times don’t have ingredients that absorb into the skin. Usually they’re very oily. They sit on top of the skin. I really struggle with that. Tallow does. And they focus on those types of high quality ingredients throughout all of their products. So I’m also a huge fan of the makeup. Currently, I have on the Toups and Co foundation. Their little eyebrow thing, I just started getting into. It is the best. It has a brush on one side and then a little pencil on the other. Their mascara. I haven’t tried anything that I didn’t like. I’ve been referring family and friends and then, of course, my listeners. It just so happens they sponsor the show, but I am all in sold on Toups and Co products for sure. I will be a lifelong customer. I’ve always wanted a high quality makeup and skincare source, everything from the face wash to the moisturizers to the makeup, and it’s just really hard to find. Toups and Co is a family company. They’re made right here in the USA. All the things I love supporting. They are offering Simple Farmhouse Life listeners 10% off your order with the code FARMHOUSE. So you can go over to ToupsandCo.com and use the code FARMHOUSE to try out some beautiful skin care products that I know you’re going to love.
Lisa Bass Okay. So with the next set of questions that people wanted us to talk about—we put up a question box over on Instagram—is garden infrastructure, location. What are your recommendations for where to put the garden and then also your favorite ways? So whether it’s no till— or not no till. That’s what they call it in the farmer world. No dig. Container gardening. Yeah, what is it that you would recommend for people if they’re starting? And then also if people have been frustrated with their garden, some better ways to do it.
Carrie Wilson Okay, so as I said, with starting out, I’m always going to recommend you start with containers and grow bags. And the reason for that is because you control the soil. When you get into gardening in a sort of a row crop situation, then you’re going to deal with what’s already in the ground. And that can be diseases, it can be pests. I think probably a lot of people in our region get experience or they get a fast learning curve with Japanese beetles. And then with a grow bag or a pot, you get to control the soil that goes in there. So the other thing that having containers allows you to do as a beginner gardener is to keep your crops close. I’ll put my hand up and say that having a garden for many, many years, there are plenty of crops that I have neglected. I end up with the Amazon jungle. I get weeds. If something is too far away and I don’t get to it enough, then the garden does its thing. So with containers and grow bags, having them on your back doorstep. I have ginger and basil in the house right now and I tend to them on a daily basis. So even the tiniest little sprouting of a weed seed comes straight out. So I think that just to kind of get plants into the rhythm of your life, if you’re starting out, then keep them close. Moving up from there, I would say getting into raised beds is going to allow you a bit more space. It’s going to allow you to experiment with things like companion planting. It’s going to still allow you to control the soil, but then sort of maybe be a bit more productive. And then from there, maybe go to sort of a square foot garden area before you think about getting into row crops or longer beds. I’ve got a combination of everything. I have my pots and containers, I have my raised beds, and then I have 60 foot rows where I grow lots of different things in different years. So yeah, I think variety and creativity. I like to add the arches and a lot of trellises and vertical growing to my raised beds. You can also do that with containers as well. So there are no rules. You can really do a lot of different things.
Lisa Bass Yeah, our garden is kind of far from the house because we live in a very wooded area. So there’s only one place that we could actually put the garden. But for my herbs, I’ve always just did one of my raised beds with herbs. And in a pinch, whenever I’m in the middle of making dinner, I will never run out to the garden to get it. But last year we made this little patio area in the back, just right behind our house. And for decoration, I put herbs in a pot just because it looked really pretty with the ferns and everything. And I visited that thing nonstop all summer long. Like I just needed something really quick. It was just steps away. And my other garden is not that far. It’s—I don’t know how to estimate—100 feet away? But that’s enough to never want to go while the chicken is simmering on the stove or browning. There’s not enough time for that. So I just wouldn’t do it. I’d send the kids out to gather a whole bunch. But just real quick, it’s so important to have things like that you’re not going to harvest, but you want them fresh as you are cooking things right by the house. So yeah, this year I’m going to be putting several pots of herbs and just keep all the herbs. I probably won’t even do an herb garden out there. It doesn’t even make sense because you don’t harvest herbs. I mean, you can if you want to, at the end of the season, cut them all down, dry them, freeze dry, whatever you want to do. But normally, you’re using them for fresh cooking. And so with that, it almost never makes sense to go out and get a huge basket of herbs. You want them in the moment. So yeah, I think that’s a really good tip. Okay, so you mentioned having the grow bags and the raised beds for the soil. What are some of your tips, easy tips for acquiring the good soil?
Carrie Wilson So soil can get expensive. I would say, to start with for your grow bags and containers, like I said at the beginning, just go with a store bought potting mix. Again, what you’re buying is sterile soil, and it’s going to be free from fungus and bacteria. And it eliminates a lot of things that can go wrong when you’re starting out and growing in pots. From there, to fill a raised bed… And you know, you’ve probably seen, there’s been a lot of videos on Instagram how you can pack raised beds with logs and things. You’re not filling the whole bed itself full of soil. If you live in an area where you’re close to a farm, I would say make friends with a farmer who’s got cows because they always have cow manure. And it’s a really cheap way to buy… We’ve got people from the local village who will come to get our horse manure and they just bring a trailer and then they fill it up by hand and drive away with it. So the only problem with farm manure is that it’s going to have a lot of weed seed in it. So be prepared for that. When the growing season comes around, you will get… There are ways to deal with that, but weed seed is something that you’re going to get with fresh composted organic manure. As I say, you can buy it and you can buy it where it’s been cleaned, but you’re going to pay a lot of money. So it doesn’t kind of fit with my ethos of gardening on a budget. The other thing is that some people, you know, when they keep chickens or ducks, that’s great fertilizer that you can collect yourself and put it on your garden. And then even just your kitchen waste. Before we had animals that would eat our kitchen scraps, I used to keep it all in a… I had a dedicated trash can outside and everything would go in there. And over time, with the heat, it just starts to break down into beautiful, rich dirt. So those are some of the ways that I would personally start to build good soil is through composting animal manure and then resourcing things from your garden. Another one is leaf mold. Although it takes a couple of years… Sometimes, you know, you do something and you put it away so you can fill bags, like feed bags or plastic bags, with dead leaves in the fall, and then you just tie them up and then you store them somewhere. And as they rot down, that makes a perfect sort of humus that you can add into your soil. Or even fill your raised beds with straw, leaves, all that kind of stuff at the base of the raised bed, so that it’s rotting down underneath the plants above.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. You mentioned earlier getting lights that aren’t the typical color that you expect for grow lights. I like the idea you had mentioned putting it in a different way. Or maybe I was brainstorming. Putting a light like that in a lamp. For somebody who lives in a very small space or an apartment, putting a light like that in a really cute lamp either on the kitchen counter or in the living room and growing things year round indoors. What are some of your favorite things to grow in that way?
Carrie Wilson So indoors, there are sort of different plants that will grow with a requirement for less light. So for example, ginger, it grows… I think it only needs about… It’s sort of a shady garden plant and tumeric is in the same family, and they’re great spices to have on hand. And with ginger, you can actually harvest it while it’s growing. After about four months, you can just take little pieces off. And with ginger, a little goes a long way so you can sort of have this constant supply. It’s happy in a window. It grows indoors. It needs less than five hours of light a day. But yeah, it’s a great idea. And there are now these sort of, I don’t know, contraptions you can buy. Not that I’m recommending them, but there’s this idea, as you say, it’s a sort of a small grow light. I haven’t seen them in sort of a traditional style bulb. I’ve only ever seen them in a sort of like the tube bulbs. But why not with your under counter lighting? Now you’ve got me brainstorming. You could put those little tube lights under your kitchen counter and have a little row of herbs that would grow quite happily underneath there. So I think there’s all kinds of things you could do. I’ve been experimenting with indoor tomatoes and peppers and things like that, but in my kitchen I always like to have access to herbs and different things that I can use in cooking.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I like the idea of brainstorming ways to make them look pretty and aesthetic, because when I think of starting seeds indoors, I’m usually thinking, how fast can I get these out of here? Because I don’t like how the whole setup looks. That’s why I want it moved down to the basement. But it sounds fun to think of ways to incorporate not the whole seed starting setup because that is just going to be messy, but a few things here and there throughout your home that would actually be really pretty with it as well. Okay. So for some of the specific plants questions that we got, what are some of the best medicinals and flowers for cuttings? I love fresh flowers all summer.
Carrie Wilson Me too. Well, medicinal plants are sort of… I mean, goodness, it’s almost like a whole book in itself because medicinal plants and herbs are really sort of the subject of botanical gardens. And there are huge botanical gardens which grow hundreds of thousands of species. But I know that when people think about medicinal uses, they’re mainly thinking about herbs. One of the flowers that is grown widely and I think commonly understood to be beneficial is the calendula. And you can use that to create bombs. It’s got an anti-inflammatory property that you can use on your skin. A favorite of mine is chamomile. I love to cut and dry chamomile flowers that you can just make your tea. I don’t know why you would spend the money on chamomile tea bags when chamomile grows like a weed. It’s so easy to grow and you get loads of it. And so you definitely, definitely want to be growing chamomile. Mint is another good one as well. Mint grows… Well, I think a lot of people know that mint will take over your garden if you let it. So it’s great for growing in a pot. Easy to dry, is very vigorous. And again, you can use mint in teas. You can make chocolate mint ice cream, things like mint jelly. It’s quite a traditional English type of sauce, but it goes very well with roast lamb. So there’s lots of ways that you can use that. I’m getting back to food again. Aren’t we talking about the medical properties? Ginger, as I mentioned before, is an antiviral and antifungal. And it’s another one that I love to have around. It’s actually got many more… There are so many plants, actually, that are just… When I say “superfoods”, they have such powerful nutritional and medicinal qualities because of their antioxidant properties and the vitamins and nutrients that they deliver to you. So whatever you can grow and consume fresh, I think is medicine.
Lisa Bass Yeah, definitely. I know. We put so many things like echinacea and—I’m trying to remember what all comes up in the front of our yard—as landscaping. And I love it because you can make teas with them. They’re beautiful. You can cut them and put them into flower arrangements. You can dry them out so that all winter long you can have bundles of things like chamomile is beautiful for that. Echinacea. Hang them in bundles hanging from somewhere in your kitchen just to have something sort of fresh and herbs all throughout the winter really brightens everything up. And it’s, like you mentioned, some of those are just so easy to grow. They come back year after year. Even if you are terrible at gardening, you can grow mint. Obviously everybody can grow that. Just throw it out there and you won’t be able to get rid of it. So yeah, there’s lots of things like that.
Carrie Wilson Yeah. Most people don’t know as well that roses, the plant family of roses are actually edible as well. Because you don’t think that we make rosehip syrup from the fruit of roses. And so that’s just another one. I was always fascinated growing up by rosehip syrup. And it didn’t dawn on me until probably 20 years later that actually that came from a rose bush.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. So many of those things that we don’t even think about as food that we put in as landscaping, you can actually use them. So they have so many purposes. And roses are… I wish I would have started putting roses in earlier. We moved here four years ago and I just started putting roses in the last couple of years. So I’m like, why did I not do that faster? Okay, tell us about your program, Ready Steady Grow. You have, I believe, some kind of discount or bonus you’re going to tell us about as well for your program.
Carrie Wilson So Ready Steady Grow is a framework, a system that I put together around developing skills to develop habits for people who want to grow a bounty in their backyard on a budget. People who lead busy lives and who have limited time and space. And so what I think I said earlier to sort of describe how the program works, but quickly, again, it’s ten crops on a repeating cycle, learning how to grow, how to harvest, how to store, how to use. And it includes a lot of the tips and tricks we’ve talked about for growing, how to know when to harvest, the signs to look for, when not to harvest, and basic methods for curing and drying, freezing produce for storage, how to make extracts and syrups, lots of ideas and suggestions for how to use your produce, and then lots of healthy recipes for smoothies and other cooking. And yes, I added some bonuses because as we sort of get bitten by the bug with gardening, you want to think about what’s ahead. So I included a bonus on garden design. There’s also many guides for transplanting and bolting, which is another phenomenon that a lot of people get worried about. And I put in a guide on composting, sort of the perfect compost blend, the things that you can compost, the things that you shouldn’t. So all of that together— there’s ten modules in the main book, and then a book on garden design, and then three mini guides. So for your audiences, they can grab it for just $27, and that’s going to be a seven-day promotion that runs from today.
Lisa Bass Okay, awesome. So that’ll be linked down in the show notes. And follow along with you over on @TheLittlePalletFarmhouse over on Instagram on your YouTube channel. Thank you so much, Carrie, for sharing your wisdom. People can go follow along with you and follow all throughout this upcoming season to get tips along the way and potentially have their questions answered. So thank you, again.
Carrie Wilson Thanks, Lisa. It’s been a joy to catch up with you.
Lisa Bass All right. Well, thank you so much for listening. I will see you in the next episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast.