Garden Interview with Barbara, Part 6.

Today is the sixth and last part of this Friday series of interviews with gardening expert, Barbara. Today, Barbara covers many subjects for us, including preservation of garden produce, her favorite tool, and her favorite gardening books.

If you missed any of the previous posts in this series, they are linked below:


Q: I always had the impression when visiting your property that you were super-human in your ability to accomplish so much on such a large property while keeping it so tidy and neat, too. My understanding is that you did most of your own labor. Please comment on the time involved in “farming” one acre and if you have any secrets about labor-saving techniques, please share them with us.

Yes, I really believe that NOT tilling is the very best way to minimize your garden chores. Of course, you need to disturb the soil a bit when you plant seeds or starts, but minimize the disruption. Less weeds appear from year to year if the ground is undisturbed and mulch is applied continually. That is work, of course, but I considered it feeding the hordes of microfauna that will flourish underfoot and I find it very satisfying.

And walk through your garden as often as you can – every day, every evening, whenever! If you’ve deeply mulched, you can do so without fearing soil compaction. Getting up close to the plants lets you commune and observe small events like weeds sprouting. Getting them while they are tiny means little effort. A good mulch also means less watering and of course, less need to fertilize as the mulch breaks down into nutrients.

Q: Shortly before you left, a cute little self-service local produce shop opened up a few properties away from yours. Can you tell us if you were involved with that or how that project developed?

I wasn’t really that involved although I did sometimes take extra produce down the street for sale there. But it was very encouraging – the concept was such a great one. Every neighborhood should have a green grocer again – and folks should feel comfortable about putting up a stand to sell their extra fruit or pumpkins or whatever. We used to have those informal stands all over the countryside. It is such a convivial way to share your surplus and I hope we see it happening a lot more in the future.

Here in Washington, our town’s farmers’ market encourages folks to bring any garden goods they’d like to sell to a community table (no commitment, just do it if and when you want to).

Q: You had a cute country kitchen which was very unconventional by today’s standards. You no doubt did a lot of food processing and preserving in that kitchen. Which foods do you think are most worthwhile to dry, preserve, freeze, or can?

Drying tomatoes, usually cherry tomatoes like Juliet is a seasonal event. We also freeze large tomatoes a lot, chopping them but never peeling as cooking dissolves the skin and we usually make pasta sauce or soup with them. And those dried Juliet tomatoes thicken up any watery tomato sauce so nicely.

I always freeze vast quantities of basil chopped in olive oil with garlic and salt. It can be used for pasta pesto or just as a sauce – yummy over bruschetta or mashed potatoes or in soup. Every surplus fruit goes into the freezer (we have a very big one) or is dried to be relished in winter. Sometimes I make jams but canning is so labor intensive that it doesn’t get done at our house. We mostly just freeze and dry, very simple to do.

Q: The first time I ever visited your garden I thought of Tasha Tudor, the barefoot artist grandma who raised goats and parrots and gardened beautifully in Vermont. Earlier in my gardening years, I had a fascination with Tasha and bought her books and calendars. Do you see yourself as a Tasha Tudor?

Oh, I would never presume to be in her league. She had a natural beauty about her and everything she touched seemed to reflect that. She was such a purist about living simply. I have read every book about her many times and I suppose that I do adopt some of her love of beauty when I create my garden. But I could never be the talented artist she was. I don’t see myself as an artist but perhaps as an artisan, a craft person.

Q: Some longevity experts recommend gardening because gardeners tend to live longer. Maybe it just keeps us up and moving around instead of sitting, which is so bad for us. Many Midwestern farmers live very long lives on diets of beef and potatoes and rich desserts and I suspect it is because they remain active all of their lives. Do you think that gardening keeps a person young?

Absolutely. I hope to garden for at least 20 more years (I’m 70). Bending, stretching, using so many muscles – yes, that’s great. But the zen of garden immersion is the real key, I think. It is such a good way to decompress by enjoying the garden, and I think our psyches need to have that peaceful time of dealing with simple basic things like dirt and roots and buds and bugs.

Q: You are a small, trim, and fit woman who grows your own food. How do you choose to eat?

I’ve been a vegetarian for 57 years and a vegan for the last two. It is the only way I could possibly want to eat, both for the good of my body and for the good of the planet.

Q: There are two schools of gardeners on dirt. Are you in the one that likes to feel the dirt as you work, or do you wear gloves when you work?

Over and over I try to wear gloves to protect my hands from scratches, sun, etc. but they always seem to get left somewhere and before I know it I’ve got my fingernails nice and grimy. I guess that feels best to me. It seems there are bacteria in the soil that trigger serotonin-releasing neurons and therefore, we get a nice boost in our spirits when we get personal with the soil. Sounds fine to me.

Q: Are there any favorite must-have gardening tools that you would recommend?

I love the hoe called Winged Weeder and have used it in many ways for years and years. I wouldn’t want to be without it.

Q: Who are favorite gardening gurus and which are your favorite gardening books?

Ruth Stout is the goddess of mulching and I enjoy all her books (hard to find them now), simplistic though they may be. She was so influential to me in the 1960’s, the popularizer of our modern deep mulch movement . Back in the 1970’s, my dear aunt introduced me to One-straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming by Masanobu Fukuoka and I love to reread that from time to time. Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway has the best description of life under the soil – a great read. And Paul Stamets’ Mycelium Running is another favorite of mine.

Q: Which are your favorite garden spots in the world?

The Mediterranean countries. Simple gardens are everywhere, the colors seems so clear and there is magic in them.

Q: Do you have any favorite quotes or principles that guide you?

One who plants a garden, plants happiness. (Chinese Proverb)

Q: Anything else?

Keep growing in every way.

Thanks so much, Barbara, and best of luck to you.

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