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107. Alice B. Elrod | Short Season Montana Gardener and Rabbit Tractors | Trego, MT

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Montana’s Wild Woods

I am super excited to introduce you to my next guest who has been a local friend for a long time.  I can truly say this woman is brave living in the wilds of Montana because not very far from her house at all I saw one of the coolest sights I’ve ever seen. Last spring, I was driving near her home late at night and I saw a pile in the middle of the road and thought what’s that? When suddenly the heap came to life and there was a whole family of mountain lions wrestling in the middle of the road, the mom and 1-2 ran off and two of them just tromped up the road in front of me till I came to a T and they ran up the hill towards their mom into the woods … so here today from the wilds of Montana I’m excited to introduce my guest Dr. Alice B. Elrod!

Tell us a little about yourself.

Living here and having cats and dogs, I appreciate your joy and I have seen mountain lions out as well, and I love them but when I’m going out to get wood at night and my dog is barking and my cats are freaking out it makes me a little nervous. Yes, seriously usually cats are what you are usually scared of, but I I’ve had bears that have  gotten into my compost heap. Unfortunately last year I had a bear trapped and relocated by Fish and Wildlife on the property here, it’s part of what happens here.

With the cats there’s nothing you can really do, they’re just around but with the bears there are things you can do to make sure they are not attracted to it. To me that’s very important, we live here, they live here, and I know from talking to Tim Their who’s a fish and wildlife specialist  that when you relocate something, you’re taking something out of it’s natural environment and moving it. So to me, it’s important to make sure you don’t have anything to attract them, I try to make my compost pile something they can’t get into. You want them to move through, that’s cool and that’s good, it’s nice if I see a bear in my yard, and everyone’s safe inside and they keep on going.

I would like to see  a mountain lion, on our property. My neighbors have seen them on the road but I haven’t. And I’ve only seen one bear on our property in our yard.

Well they’re stealth, you don’t always see them. They’re there!

Yes! They are!

I’ve been here for 27 years, I am a chiropractor, I started out in the Forest Service and was doing that for 10 years, and went back to school and became a Doctor of Chiropractic. I’ve been practicing in Eureka for the past 13 years. Since this is a garden show I will talk about that.

I was raised in the mid-west and my mother had a huge garden and we lived off of it, that and they would get a side of beef from a neighbor. We were sort of in a rural area, we were not farmers, but I was raised with the concept of you raise your own food and you put it u[p! And  I spent a lot of time in my childhood breaking beans and hoeing rows, and stuff like that. I went to college and school. I was in the Peace Corps in Kenya, with that I spent a lot of time with farmers and learned a lot about substance farming, after that I came to Montana and worked for the U.S. Forest Service and was impressed how closely the cultures were between where I was in Kenya and here, were that they live very closely to the environment and depend on each other as neighbors and friends  for the support because they were rural areas, I am attracted to that and love living like that. Since being here, I’ve gotten into gardening myself, like I said I was raised you know that’s what we did. I’m the only child of a family of five who still does that. I still do canning and raising food. For one thing, it gives me something to talk to my mother about which is really pretty fabulous, we trade stories about gardening and we exchange ideas!

I am fortunate to have a large group of friends. We exchange ideas! I have what I call the hot line of gardening: Eve Clowers and Karin Lamb and say I’m trying to do this can you tell me how to do this! To tell you the truth, gardening up here in Montana is a lot different then gardening in the mid-west. Our growing season is a lot shorter!

Especially where you are!

In Trego! Yeah. I know! You start out you can’t hope to put anything in the ground before May, and even then you have to cover it with row cover it or plastic, and then generally you have to cover it again in the end at August or September you have to over it again because you have frosts on both ends of the season!

Which is so different from the mid-west! My mother uses to put potatoes by St. Patricks! You can’t dig into ground here at St Patrick’s day here, you can’t dig in the ground until the beginning of May here. It’s a wonderful thing here to have this community of people who have been doing it longer then I have that I have that great group of friends and of people who I can call, like I said, the hotline and I say, “What do I do now?” And they can give me lots of great information!  That’s fabulous I love it!

One thing that I have noticed is a difference between here and the midwest is in the midwest the soil is black, and it looks like you can eat it! Here, the soil layer, I know this from being a forester. There isn’t a big soil layer so for one to start a garden, you have to do what I call playing God!

Because you have to create soil, because it’s either non-existent or it’s very shallow 1/2 and inch. In the flood plains then you get into a lot of silt, and it just doesn’t sustain itself, you have to always look at it, you have to supplement the soil! I add, manure, and peat to my soil every year to try to grow the garden. It gets very compact, so you have to break it up with the sand or peat or also manure. That with the temperatures and the short days it makes it very challenging to grow food here, but very worthwhile!

Once you get it figured out, there’s nothing that I think I enjoy better then to get up in the morning and go out and pick my food for the day! The only thing better is to come home in the winter time and have food that I canned. And just think, “I grew this! It’s delicious and it’s organic and I just love it! But it’s a process here!”

We have been eating good foods from the summer! We just had vegetable soup. Last night I had leftover eggplant parmesean from this summer that was soo good!

Montana Eggplant With Flowers

We grew a lot of eggplants this year!

Eggplant grows really well here. What do you do with it?

Yeah, what do I do with them? I was going to freeze a bunch of eggplant parmesan but I only got one batch frozen. I did talk to someone the other day who was explaining to me this cool way of  roasting the eggplant in the oven and then just scooping it out and putting it in the freezer!

I did that this year!

One tip when you do stuff like that is that you spread it out in the cookie sheet, so you can slice it into pieces and then it’s not like big clumps. and then pull it in too. I found that with zucchini as well, grating zucchini, and spreading it out on the cookie sheet and then put it into bags so you can put it into soups.

That works well, somebody gave it to me.

You do it with Huckleberries, you clean them and spread them out on cookie sheets, then put them into the bags, so you can pull out handfuls of them.

It works really well with greens. Greens grow really well, I love collards! I love greens of all kinds!

they do grow really well here

I’ve picked them

Spinach is spinach! Spinach is not collards and mustard greens!

I had a good batch of fall spinach this year but my spring spinach just bolted, but it went to seed and was delicious this fall.

It’s a cool weather crop, it got to that point and it froze and warmer,

I should go out and check my spinach in the garden.

I have different garden spots, because i live in Trego, there’s trees and I put all of my warmer crops in a fenced in area in my yard, in the driveway on the gravel and that’s where I grow my eggplant and squash. Then I put the spinach and lettuces over where it deosnt get very much sunlight. You have to choose different spots based on the light.

I don’t has much sun

It was a long hot year, it’s the first year that my beans that they didn’t freeze out before they

I got so many beans by the time they froze out i was like thank god!

I actually red tomatoes! Amazing for Trego.

I don’t think we got red tomatoes, we got some cherry tomatoes

Normally that’s all that grows is cherry tomatoes. I always  put tomato plants because I am always hopeful. I am ever hopeful! This year they grew great!

Richard Wiswall gave some great tips when I interviewed him in Episode 102 on getting red tomatoes, and he’s in Vermont. He just said doing it in hoop houses, the plastic walls will go up to ventilate in the summer, but being able to keep them warm at night and watered evenly.

they

we maintained the temp at night, that we normally don’t the thing with tomatoes, it can get up to 90 degrees in the day then if it drops down to 50º at night that’s where you don’t get luscious delicious ripe tomatoes unless you can maintain a night time temp.

And then he said they just keep growing through the summer, starting in June and they keep producing these massive plants until August/September and then they finally cut the tops off so they stop growing!

I have an idea I want to try to build a green house so it has insulation around it, toying with the idea of tires because they are black, they can maintain the temp at night

the sunlight

Idk where

we very short daylight, well in the summer time we have obviously long daylight here but we don’t have the heat.

then

One thing, I am really surprised that we can grow excellent garlic here.

Why are you surprised about that?

Because garlic is a mediteranean plant. Isn’t it?

IDK?

Mediterranean plant you put it in the late fall, you plant it you cover it in straw and it’s the first thing that comes up, and it away comes up and I’m always so delighted with that. It starts poking up through the straw. OMG It’s early and it’s cool!

There’s some things we can’t do. WE can’t grow okra and we can’t grow sweet potatoes.

Potatoes and onions, I think they have to do with a loamy soil, giving them enough room to produce, so that’s something I’m working with constantly with my gardens is figuring out how to make it less compact.

Do you do soil tests?

I actually this year got a month ago got a soil test for PH and

Honestly I found it in the thrift store. There was this soil test kit! I was like this is great?!

That was one of Peggy Jane’s recommendations. And this girl Sarah Harding form Whitefish from the Buggy Road Farms who does Microgreens. Peggy Jane is probably one of your hotline people. 

 

I haven’t

Im gonna talk

 

What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?

It means healthy food, you supplement the soil so you

they can integrate into their fruits so you get the best that is possible and it’s environmentally friendly in that you are not adding chemicals to the soil and so it’s a win win proposition that way. It also means you have to be willing to accept the fact, there’s gonna be some bugs in your food, and you have to figure out how to deal with it. For example, I use on my cabbages, this year was unusual. Normally, I have to get out there and sprinkle some Diatomaceous Earth on the cabbages and broccoli. I didn’t have to do that this year.

I did read a lot of this. They were talking about we did this study and it said with organic farming you don’t get more nutrients, you get less herbicides and pesticides. Really, hello that’s it. If you get rich soil, perhaps more importantly, you don’t have all the residues of all the pesticides and herbicides! I don’t want to put that in my body and I think that it’s very important that people avoid putting those chemicals in your system, as a doctor and chiropractor, I totally appreciate what that does to your body. It’s healthier for these reasons for not putting those chemicals into your body. What do they do to the plants and the insects? You look at and think if they are killing that stuff what are they doing to you body?

It’s also important to a life style, your life style is healthy and healthier then going out and just buying crap!

And you’re a super healthy person!

Well, I try!

I guess I grew up with really healthy food, I attribute that to I am healthy that is how I was raised, and I continued that through my life. And I’m reaping the benefits.

You feel good when you eat really good food. Why? Because you

of course if I may

it’s diet and exercise and a good mental attitude that’s what health is all about.

And you always look good and super healthy!

Thank you darlin”~)

How did you learn how to garden organically?

You know I remember planting orange corn seeds.

Orange Corn seeds?

they were treated

my dad would get manure from our neighbor. It was

they weren’t focusing on organic. When I moved here and started farming, talking to friends here who were organic farmers, and a good friend of mine in portland , Oregon. who I lived with for a year and half

focusing on it as I got older.

after I moved here and grew my own garden.

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

The beans, every thing grew well

the broccoli just kept growing into Sept and Oct!

and cauliflower

my cabbages we’re huge, it was such an amazing growing year this year.

what didn’t grow well

I’m still working on how to make bigger onions. I’m gonna talk to Karin about that because her’s are just fabulous!

I probably could have corn this year!

We grew corn this year! We put in a well and Mike grew like a mini-farm this year. He saved a lot of seeds, we could give you some seeds.

I don’t want to try to grow corn in Trego. I have 3 little micro climates

even trying to rotate crops is difficult, because of the space, I don’t have room for corn.

I have friends who grow corn!

have you ever thought of doing one of those little community spaces in town?

No, I haven’t. I’m aware of those and I think they are wonderful butI love having a garden at my house. I love getting up in the morning and picking my food. Im the summertime. It’s what I do, it’s therapeutic, it’s what I do at night. I go out in the soil.

I sit outside and look at it and its beautiful!

I love the fact that that’s available I know a lot of people who do that, I think it’s a great thing.

I thought it might supplement but you probably do a lot with what you do!

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

Doing the soil testing is something new, I’m excited about that. How to do that, do something different in different areas,

as far as crops, I like what I grow

I am honestly excited about trying to improve how I grow what I grow!

Today after school I listened to this woman who wrote this book called the Lentil Underground, you might want to grow some lentils?

I’ve grown lentils.

I have never tried to grow a lentil I’m excited to grow lentils! 

I intentionally rotate beans and peas because of the nitrogen fixing qualities of those plants. Why? Because it breaks up the soil and get the nitrogen fixing. As far as different species that would grow well here let me know. I know that’s a very grate thing and then you could do intercropping things, I have been playing with this, planting plants that grow really well next to something else. If you can plant some legumes next to something else even if they don’t produce if they grow well if they can supplement the soil that’s a wonderful thing!

They also have this rice called farro that I’m excited to try because imagine being able to grow rice here?!

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.

I did try something that was called a Chinese cabbage it just didn’t produce. It didn’t turn out as well, working on getting the soil better for carrots and onions,  I think that has to do with my loamy soil. That’s something I’m working on.

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.

Weeding is always a problem, it’s always a chore, but once you get doing it it’s fun, because when I get done it’s beautiful. Idk I just love gardening… because the world dissolves once you get out there…

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.Picking the food! And looking at it my dog Sam loves peas! The pod peas, you just pick off the vine and eat, and giving it to her, she comes over and just eats the peas! Just going out an harvesting and eating it! Truly a wonderful thing.

Tell us about the best crop you ever grew.

Beans this year, my garlic, just does really well, I do try to give it away. That’s something. Eggplant. My eggplant does really really well.\Do you have any secrets for growing eggplants? It seems like we had the hardest time figuring it out.

Do you have any secrets for growing eggplants? It seems like we had the hardest time figuring it out. 

I don’t know, I grow them out in the driveway which is gravel, I have a space that I fence off.

You haven’t asked what’s the worst thing that I can grow? The thing everyone else has too much of, it’s in the same area, I grow things out there in plots my eggplant and I have a terrible time growing zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, which is to my dismay. I have to figure out how to do that.

What’s the worst thing? Zucchini. Have some of mine!

I put zucchinis on everything. One of my secrets. 

I have copious amounts of blossoms but I don’t get the fruits.

My mom taught me some thing about zucchinis this year that some are males and some are females maybe you have to hand pollinate them? Do you have a lot of bees?

I have a lot, they’re not just covering the skies. I certainly don’t have a deficit of them? It think that could be part of it. This year my bee balm was fabuolus!

And that’s an herb right?

Yes and herb and a beautiful flower, I didn’t think about that till you said it, I  might move some of that over to where my squashes are.

What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?

Depends on from whom, advice that was not spoken but inferred

it’s a great thing love it, do it,

take the advice from people you have a long time

it works! It’s great!

Have you ever entered a fair? How’d that go?

But I did, I got advice from Eve… she told me, was the fair lady for a number of years! You have to dig up your entire your carrot crop to get the perfect carrots. It’s so difficult to do it,  and in Trego, I don’t have anything I could probably enter a green tomato contest.

That’s what Mike complains about that it’s too early. The thing I hate is you give your best product in and then it sits there. It should be shorter, you should take it in Friday and it gets judged and you bring it home Sunday early afternoon, but that’s not how it works! They don’t want my advice, they’ve been doing it for years!

My food is so precious when I pick it I want to eat it, I don’t want to give it to someone to judge it!

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

A really good gardening trowel. I assume we’re talking about gardening, my chain saw … my … a really good gardening trowel.

Eating or harvesting vegetables or fruit on time? 

We’re in between the phase of growing enough for us but not enough to take to town. We give a lot away but …

Grow what you know you are going to use and utilize and if you grow more then you can use, then find somebody to give it to. Fortunately, my cabbages were fabulous this year, I love cabbage but I can’t use it all, but I still had to give a bunch of it away made some into sauerkraut! But grow and use what you can utilize and give away and then if you can’t grow it, then know someplace you can get what you can use to supplement. I don’t use a lot of potatoes, I can grow some, but I know where I can get some. I don’t have chickens but I know where I can get eggs. Then get a root cellar. Get a root cellar!

Do you know what we got? We got sheep, 4 shetland sheep. 

What did you get sheep for? To eat?

They’re for the manure! To improve the soil.

I have a good resource for horse manure. Root Cellar! Root Cellar! Root Cellar!

If I had one thing if I did not have I would want it would be a root cellar! You can put your potatoes and cabbages in there!

 

Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last? 

I got this from Eve and Karin, about doing kraut, putting it into the jars, don’t there is a recipe, for putting kraut in jars as opposed to in a big crock, that’s one of my favorite canning secrets get a pressure canner and just pressure can stuff. Follow the recipes! A lot of the recipes I’ve found I was raised in canning, and my mother would do jelly, put paraffin on top

you have to water bath

doing soups and doing

I do a lot of soups that I can for the winter time, is that minimal cooking because you’re canning it at 1 hour and 1/2.  Fifteen pounds of pressure. You don’t have to cook the meat or the vegetables. And get it hot and put it into the jars

if anything comes out and the lid bubbles up Don’t Eat It!

What kind of soups do you can?

I can  venison stew, chicken soup, I can a  marinara sauce, black eyed peas. This zucchini chowder, that is fabulous with chicken stock and corn blah blah! It’s fantastic! And I made a cabbage stew this year.

I made delicious cabbage rolls and then I made soup the next day with extra sauce. MMM…

Do you have any special techniques for cooking weird or unusual foods?

Greens, I guess that would be weird and unusual around here. Greens I was raised in a southern house, parboil it and put it on a cooking sheet, You get a gallon or what ever you can throw into soups. Throw into black eyed peas. People ask, what do I do with these greens that I have? This is how you do it!  You take em up, you rib ’em, cut em in 1/2 in strips, throw them into boil water for two minutes, then  throw them in cold water, squeeze them out, and put them on the cooking sheet in the freezer. Mustard greens, collard greens, spinach you don’t want to put in for more then 20 seconds.

What about swiss chard?

swiss chard about a minute.

With greens you  , kale is about 2 minutes kale collards, mustard, swiss chard is a really delicate green.

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

I can’t answer that? I have so many of them! I love them all. Anything I pull from my garden that I cook I love!

A favorite internet resource?

No, I go to my friends.

OldFashionedRecipeBookA favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living Old Fashioned Recipe Book. This is the bible of canning, cooking, preserving, it is an incredible book!

 

Montana Rabbit Tractor

You were telling me about these rabbit tractors you made out of an old bed frame, a portable rabbit carrier? grazer? 

 

I also got a screen door, that I used for the bottom of a rabbit hutch. I mad a wire fence, a wire hutch for rabbits out of that that I put up on stilts and put a door on top and all that kind of stuff. It’s something that was on wheels, it was a bed frame and once I put wire around that. There are 3 different phases you have a rabbit thing with a little birthing box, where the rabbits are born, it’s actually adequate and then you move them into the other phases, and the screen door is open to the bottoms os they can poop and stuff.

When they et big enough and you want them to go out, you can open it and lift them up and put them into this port bole rabbit traveler on wheels, the old bed frame and it has the fencing around.

They call them chicken tractors if they put chickens in them.

The thing I learned is you have to wait till they are big enough and they can’t escape

i made the mistake and they were all over out of the rabbit tractor. Fortunately they were small enough and not scared and used to my voice and I could pick them up and put them back into their home. The rabbit tractor move it from one part of the yard to the other and having it doing one of those metal bedding frames where it’s on wheels. I built it up with some rebar and then put the fencing around it. If it’s high enough they can’t jump out of it. It’s big enough they can’t jump out of it. They’re big enough they can’t jump through it. I’ll never forget that, I thought my bunnies are all out in the yard! Once you get it it’s cool.  You can move them around. I did that during the day butat night I would pick them up and put them in their cage.  Which was elevated off the ground. You have to hose it out. Another very important thing that I learned that needs to be fenced around.

put a fence around it,

put the rabbits in the rabbit tractor they walk around

hey look at this here’s some dandelions but you can ’t leave them out there n

it works!

 

Final question-

If there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

I think the most important environmental issue is one that is one of social consciousness and one in which we get over this idea that we have to be separate because of religious and national ideals and also one in which that corporate greed is a predominant driving of economic resources in a sense it’s not an easy questions butt basically it boils down to we have to realize we’re all human and we all live here. We need to get along to survive!

Do you have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?

Start with a plant on your porch. Grow plants. Just grow plants! Start growing plants and enjoy it! Put some lettuce in pot and enjoy it!

About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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