The Little House Living Show – Episode 017 – The First Time Gardener
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Hello, and welcome to the little house living show. This channel is for those trying to live a simpler, slower, and more cost-effective life. My name is Merissa and I will be your host and your friend as we journey along together to find new tips and advice as well as lots of encouragement. Hello everyone. And welcome back to another episode of the little house living show.
I’m excited to be doing another interview today. And my interview today is with Jessica and I’m just gonna let her go ahead and introduce herself and tell her, tell us a little bit more about her and what she does so welcome, Jessica. Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here. I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you. My name is Jessica and I have a YouTube channel called Roots and Refuge farm. My husband and I are doing a small scale homestead. We’ve got about seven acres here in central Arkansas, and we started this endeavor about seven years ago and growing our own food and just it sort of snowballed from there and we thought we’d get a few chickens and grow a little garden. And now here we are seven years later growing a large amount of our food on our small farm and sharing about it.
As we raise our family here. That’s awesome. That’s, that’s always how it happens though. Isn’t it like you think, especially with chickens, you’re like, Oh, I’m just going to get a couple. And then all of a sudden I know it really does. It really does snowball in a fast way. We had to rein it in on the chickens because at one point we had like 150 and we’re like, this is we brand it. We framed it back in on the chickens, but now we’ve added lots of goats and pigs and all the other stuff that can, that can also snowball. Yeah. It’s crazy like that. And then it happens with the garden too. You’re like, Oh, I’m just going to put in a couple of beans and then, Oh yeah, I know now I have to, I have to tell myself all the time, like, you don’t really need to do that.
You don’t really need that expansion, but I’m always, I love trying new things. So I’m like, maybe we’ll just make it a little bit larger garden. We’ll just expand a little bit. Yeah. I think my problem is always, like, I looked through the seed catalog and I’m like, Oh, I just want to try this kind this year and just add another one. And then I have to find room for that one. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I have dangerously inspired and seed catalogs and craft stores. Those are the two places where I should not go without a list. And like some sort of restriction in place are two inspired in those two places. Yeah. Okay. So kind of wanted to talk
A little bit today about just kind of first-time gardeners. I know that there’s so many of them out there. A lot of people were probably first time gardeners last year and there’s probably a lot more this year. So I think a lot about, cause I get a lot of comments from people who want to start a garden, but you know, don’t have the acreage like, like you do. And like I do. So if a person would want to start a garden and doesn’t have the space, or maybe like a lot of time for a large garden, where would you recommend that they start?
Well, first I want to start with saying that it is worth it. Like even if you have a dream for a really big garden and you only have a small space right now, it is 100% worth it to start growing wherever you are in whatever capacity. The thing with gardening is that I’ve really learned over my years, which I was in, I was in town dreaming of this lifestyle for years before I got out here and, and had our property in our Anchorage. And I learned so much growing on in pots and in very small garden beds. My first successful garden was two, four by four foot raised beds, which is really considered a very small garden. And I encourage people all the time, turn your waiting room into a classroom just because you are not where you hope to eventually be, does not mean that the stage you’re in is not very worthwhile.
Just one year of hands-on gardening gives a person so much experience. I remember I was actually talking about this with my cousin yesterday because she’s starting her first real garden. And she was like, I feel like I know so much about it after being in your garden. I was like just watching things grow one time is so enlightening. The first time I grew okra, I remember just being stunned. I had no clue that the growing pattern of okra, that it grew into such a large plants and that the ochre pods grew off of the, you know, the stock pointing upwards. I just, it was surprising to me and we, we live in a generation and a culture that our Mo our experience with produce and vegetables and fruit vegetables, it’s in a grocery store. It’s in a sterile environment that is completely disconnected from the soil and from the plants and from the actual place where these things are produced.
And just starting in your backyard with a four by four foot raised bed with pots on your patio of your apartment, just starting on a small scale, it teaches you so much. It teaches you how quickly soil drives out it, it teaches you the growing patterns of things. It honestly teaches you the confidence that seeds want to grow. And when you find those easy things to grow and you have success with it, it bolsters you in such a way that you are prepared to expand. I think it just teaches people the lesson that we’re really just the support system for a process that works because it was designed to work you in nature. These things just happen in spite of us. And so if we can just support it and give it the ideal circumstances we get to reap the harvest, it, you don’t have to be a good gardener. And I don’t believe in good and bad gardeners, I believe in attentive gardeners or, you know, lacks days ago. I still kill a lot of plants because I’m distracted, but like, I’m not a bad gardener. And I think that’s a lesson that people can learn no matter where they are.
Yeah. That’s, that’s really good advice. I mean, it’s just like anything, you know, you’ve got to start somewhere and then build up from there. And it probably is better to make mistakes on a smaller scale than on the largest shell and have much more time and money put into something, for sure.
Absolutely. And, and that’s something that like, I see people say, I’m going to wait until I get my five acre farm to have a garden and they get their five acre farm. And then they go till half an acre. And you know, it’s not eight weeks into the gardening season where they’re overrun with weeds that they can’t handle and they end up failing anyway. Like, I mean, you’re going to face failure in gardening. And so face it on a small scale in your classroom so that when you get to a larger scale, you’ve got the experience and the knowledge to steer it that well. Yeah, for sure.
Sure. So on that same train of thought, what are some good vegetables that are good for first time gardeners to grow? Maybe something that’s a little bit simpler.
Yeah. Well, that’s probably going to be a little bit affected by the zone that people live in. I know that I think what people tend to gravitate towards is a salsa garden. That’s something that I see a lot, like you type in Pinterest, first-time garden plants. And I, for some reason, a lot of people suggest salsa gardens, which if you live somewhere like I do in the South, I live in Arkansas, that would work fine. But if you live somewhere in the North, peppers might be problematic. However, if you live in the South, cilantro in the summer is going to be problematic. And so I would say keeping it very simple, I’ve found like a cherry tomato plant to be a pretty fail proof way to get started in the garden. If you give a cherry tomato plant at least, you know, 10 inches of soil in a raised bed or in a pot or something like that to 10 to 12 inches of soil for a really strong root system it’s gonna serve you well.
Like, I mean, they do pretty well, whether you print it or not, however you support it, you’re probably going to get a pretty good harvest to cherry tomatoes. So that’s kind of, fail-proof okra. If you live in an area that’s warm, if you live in a really cold area, maybe not so much okra, but ochre is very, very tolerant of a lot of neglect, summer squash, like, you know, your quick mix and zucchinis and stuff like that. The they’re very encouraging because they just they grow really fast. And so you plant those from a seed. You just, you don’t have to start those inside. You can direct sow them and you’re going to be harvesting within 50 or 60 days. And that’s very encouraging. And those are prone to some pests that people might struggle with, like squash bugs and stuff like that. But usually you get at least some harvest before you, you know, you really start struggling. And as well as cucumbers, cucumbers is a really great thing that you can just put the seed in the ground. Even if you live in a cold climate after your frost has passed. And you’re, you know, you’re into your growing season because they grow so fast. And so you’re, you know, you’re looking at having a harvest in 50 days and that’s something that’s really encouraging for new gardeners. Yeah.
Yeah. I think I agree with all those acceptor, the cucumbers for me personally, every single year, like they just dry up and look terrible. So,
Yeah. It’s funny how you have things. Like, I actually struggle some with, with summer squash, I can usually get a pretty good harvest before we have just horrible squash bugs where I live. And of course I don’t put any sort of poisons or chemicals on my garden. And so I usually just plant a whole lot, get a really big harvest. We get good and sick of them. And then when they dry out for the squash bugs, I’m like, okay, well, time to move on. Yeah.
Yeah. I think I, me and my mom have kind of devised this system now where like, she grows certain things that she’s just better at growing
And I grow other things
That I’m better at. Cause like I can grow winter squash all day long, but the cucumbers just
Yeah. Good system though. Fun play to your strengths.
Yeah. Well sometimes you just get so frustrated with the failures. You have to figure something out.
The little house living readership is kind of all about saving money and being more frugal. And like, I know that some things are maybe not as worth it to grow yourself than they are to get from the store. They’re going to taste better. But just like dollars wise, it’s not as worth it. What are some things that you think are worth it to grow where you could save a lot of money over buying them in the store?
That’s such a great question and such a great thing to take into consideration when you’re planting a garden. Whenever I was very new in gardening and I was struggling again with the squash bugs and the yellow squash. I remember I had planted all just straight neck, plain yellow squash. I had actually bought the plants from starts, which is not economical. And in the heat of summer, after working my tail off, trying to keep the squash bugs off, I went to the grocery store and I saw squash on sale for 79 cents a pound, the exact same squash that I was fighting for my garden. And I thought I just spent seven hours. Yeah. I just spent the last us at seven o’clock this morning. I spent three hours in the garden by battling squash bugs to save $8 worth of squash. You know, what am I doing with my life right now?
So that’s a great question. That is actually what led me to heirloom gardening was, was that incidence with the yellow squash because it was so disheartening to see what I was struggling to grow in my garden for, to be so cheaply had, of course the homegrown stuff will taste better. I know where it comes from. It is, there are benefits, but that’s what led me to growing heirlooms because whenever I walked into whole foods and saw those heirloom tomatoes for five 99 a pound, I thought, Hm, that’s probably a better choice for my garden space. Yeah. So I, I really do air like tomatoes or something. And especially if you’re growing those, those richly flavored unique heirlooms that you are just not going to be able to get affordably because heirloom tomatoes are so expensive even in season because you have to pay a grower.
That’s willing to deal with their quirks because you know, hot house hybrid tomatoes, you can grow bushels of those with a lot less effort than heirloom tomatoes, which take, you know, more intention. They’re just harder to keep healthy. And so that’s really where I put in a lot of my effort. I grow a lot of cherry tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes. They’re easy to preserve. And whenever I, I in the summer, whenever I go to the grocery store and I see those little containers of cherry tomatoes for three 99 each, I feel so wealthy because I literally have $75 worth of cherry tomatoes at any given point of the summer. So I would say tomatoes are a good, a high value crop as well as peppers, because you can do things like grow paprika peppers, and you can drive those growing cayenne peppers and you can drive those.
And when you consider the cost of those spices at the store, they’re not difficult to dry. I mean, you can just lay them out and dehydrate them. You don’t even have to use a dehydrator, but letting those dry and then crumbling them. And you’ve got this organic spice that would cost you a lot per ounce at the store, whereas you can produce a lot at home. I really like winter squash. Again, it can be had cheat, but especially if you grow unique varieties and it stores so well that I feel like it really helps offset the grocery budget over time. Because obviously winter squash can be like a really big part of a meal and fill it out. Some things I don’t really fool with just a whole lot is like corn because of the amount of space that it takes versus how cheaply it can be purchased, even organic and non GMO corn purchased from local farmers.
So yeah, those would probably be my biggest, like high value crops that I really focus on and herbs herbs is, are great because they’re just so easy. I mean, I’ve got so much time in my garden right now and it’s perennial and it just keeps growing. And when I see those little packages as blister packs for three or $4 at the store, I think, gosh, I’m time rich right now, part of this whole of this. Yeah. Herbs is something I need to get better at this year. I tried to plant them last year and nothing came up. So I don’t know what my problem is, but herbs is going to be my challenge this year. I did get some different varieties. So maybe that was the problem. But I think herbs are one of those things. They can be a little more difficult to start from seed sometimes, but just, I have these massive, I have to cut back my time because it’s just taken over like a carpet and some of my beds. And they started, that’s one of those things that I will invest in, starts on if I’m going to like give them a dedicated spot in the garden because they just so, you know, they can be perennials. And I think I spent $2 and 97 cents on a time start four years ago. And I have harvested. I mean, if you count in it by those blister packs, I mean, I’ve harvested hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars off of those plants in time. Yeah.
They are super expensive. I think my problem was, is I’ve had success growing those hydroponically. And so then I thought, Oh, I’m going to do great growing these in the ground. And hasn’t turned out that way yet. So maybe I just start with this stuff this year and something different because we definitely eat a lot of herbs and they’re so hard to get and we have to, we live about an hour and a half away from the grocery store.
Wow. Yeah, definitely be nice to have. Yeah.
Or something you use like a lot of at one time and like you need them often. So yes, I will have to try that again this year, but that is something that could save a lot of money for sure. Okay. So kind of on that line then, what do you think are some other benefits to gardening besides, you know, the fresh flavorful and saving money?
Well, I love talking about this. This is such a good question too. One of the, there are a few benefits that really stand out for me. The first one being just the, the impact on the earth, what I consider. I just, I think of it in plastic bags sometimes whenever I’m harvesting all of this food in my yard and I’m carrying it into my house and baskets and laying it all out on a table and processing it, I will sometimes look at it and think, man, that would have taken me six plastic produce bags to get this home. And then it would have been bagged in however many more plastic bags from the grocery store, or even if I’m using my reusable bags. You know what I think about the shipping of getting that food from wherever it was grown in South America to North America and then to my grocery store.
And then I had to drive to the store to get it. And I just think of this, the ripple effect of how much waste is avoided by growing your food and your yard. And then when you think of saving your seeds and sharing them with your neighbor and you think of how much the ripple effect of gardening, because it is such a community thing. And it is, I always say gardening is contagious because whenever people see your joy in it, they want to try it. And I think of how many plastic bags have been saved because of people watching a YouTube video about how to grow tomatoes. And at first it feels like, Oh, you can’t make that big of a difference growing a home garden. But then when you think about that ripple effect, it’s like, man, I think that there’s probably been thousands and thousands and thousands of plastic bags saved because of those tomato videos.
And then it starts to go, man, this really actually makes a really big difference. And if you think of the ripple effect from each person, sharing it with their neighbor, it’s just, there’s actually a lot of potential for change as far as the impact we make on the earth. The other thing is I dealt with anxiety for the first 25 years of my wife in a really crippling way. And one of the things that I have found in the garden is just so much peace. It’s it? It has really coupled with my faith to give me a rest in knowing that the processes that God created work. And the, the other thing is, is just it. You can’t rush it. You, you know, we live in such a fast paced man-made world and the garden forces you to slow down and wait. And it, just, to me, it’s such a benefit to mental health.
It’s such a benefit to physical health. I love using my body. I love challenging myself. I love going out and doing things that are hard that build my muscles. And that require me to get up off my, off the couch. I also live before this life you know, I was just as a stay at home mom that was doing the regular stay-at-home mom things, going to playgroup, going to church, going and doing all of this stuff. And I had started to struggle with my weight just because I was chasing little kids around, but my lifestyle was not super active. And now I don’t have those struggles anymore. This gives me just a really natural way to use my body in a positive way. And I really appreciate that about the garden as well.
Yeah, that’s so true. I, I, I mean, that’s one of the reasons I like to get in the garden too and have the kids in there with me because they go in there and they just plop themselves down and, you know, start eating whatever is closest to them. And you can just see that there’s such a peace and a relaxing spirit that just kind of comes over them. And yeah, it’s awesome to see and then experience yourself for sure.
Yeah, absolutely. I and the legacy of it is just incredible. Like my, my kids, it’s just such a normal thing. It’s like you said, they get down there, they just start eating and there’s not this struggle over food anymore. I remember when my teenagers were babies hiding the vegetables and trying to read all those books where I would try to get them to eat that stuff. And I mean, it’s just, there’s not, it’s a complete non-issue now because it’s just really normal. And they don’t like everything. Like some of my kids won’t eat tomatoes and they have things they don’t like, and that’s okay. But we, we say, okay, well, let’s find what you do. Like, and let’s grow that. And it’s just makes it so normal.
Yeah. And when they can be involved in the process like that, you’re going to let my kids pick out a couple of seeds that they, you know, they are going to be personally responsible for. And they’re so excited for it. And it’s like, you get to do that whole thing yourself, the whole process, put it in the ground, watch it grow, you know, nurture it. And then you get to reap the fruit of what you did. And yeah, I think it’s important for them to see that process and go through it themselves.
Yes, absolutely. I think giving, I know my, I mean, I eat more fresh food now that I’m responsible for growing it. I mean, I value it more because I know what went into it. It’s not like, Oh, I’m just going to buy this at the store. And maybe some of it, or maybe end up putting it in the compost or whatever, you know what I mean? I just, I, it gives you such a great value for what goes into growing food.
It’s too much work to waste it.
Yeah. So you don’t waste it when you grow it, you know, what went into it. Yeah.
So I know that you have a new book coming out really soon. So if you could just talk a little bit about that. That’d be awesome.
Yeah. So my new book is called the first time gardener growing vegetables. And it is genuinely my goal in writing. This was to give instruction, to give information, to give the charts and the lists and all of that staff, the step-by-step, but also to be a cheerleader in the corner of people who have decided that this is something that they want to do. My gardening journey started out pretty rough. I was really a self-proclaimed black femme and I failed spectacularly multiple times in trying to become a gardener until I embrace that. I’m going to do this on a small scale. I’m going to try to figure out what I’m doing wrong and I’m just going to keep going. It was definitely like be knocked down and get back up and be knocked down and get back up experience for me. And when I started my YouTube channel, I actually did not, I would have never guessed that the garden would be the thing that exploded my channel.
I loved goats. I love chickens. I totally would have thought that that would be the direction that my channel would go in. You know, the kids and homeschooling and all of that, because I felt like such an inexperienced gardener. I felt like here I am just bumbling through this. But what I found is that there were a lot of people who wanted to get started and seeing someone who was just a regular person, not an expert having success in Boldens then. And so I really sort of carved this niche out, unintentionally being an encouraging, being an encourager to new gardeners. And the book is really an overflow of that. I had signed the contract before 2020. You know, these things take a long time. You know, you signed the contract a lot of times a year and a half before the book is on a shelf.
But I like, it was such a perfect thing as 2020 began to unfold. And I went through my channel, had this onslaught of new gardeners and here I am actively writing this book while actively receiving all of these questions and answering them through the YouTube channel. And I really got to see what is it that new gardeners are really concerned about? What is it they’re, they’re confused by? And it worked out in such a way that I got to write the first time gardener book while helping and giving direction to probably the greatest influx of new gardeners that gardening has seen. And that’s really what it is. It’s pretty practical guide. I really do believe that it’s beneficial information, even for people that have been burning for a little while, just because I have people tell me all the time, well, I don’t think gardening for years and I didn’t realize that, or I didn’t know that’s how that works. And, but it’s just a practical guide with a lot of encouragement in it and a lot of beautiful pictures of my car.
Well, that sounds great. And I will make sure to put a link to your new book and to where the listeners can find you in the show notes so that everybody can watch your channel and definitely check out that new book.
Thank you so much. Yeah.
So I really appreciate you doing this interview today, and I hope that everybody enjoyed this and just, yeah. Thank you for taking the time today to do this interview with me.
Absolutely. It’s my honor. I appreciate it so much.