I’m replaying my interview with Jill Host of The Beginner’s Garden Podcast and blog Journey with Jill because she mentioned the book Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHouiller and he’s tomorrow’s episode so I thought it would be good to play her episode too!
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Jill McSheehy. I live in Arkansas. I currently am a stay at home mom of two children. My son Drew is 10 and my daughter Alissa is six.
After I graduated from college I was in the workforce. I was the manager of local Ford dealership. When my daughter was 2 years old I felt like I needed to be home. When I transitioned to be a stay at home mom, I started gardening primarily just to save money on the grocery bills because we were going from 2 incomes to 1. That was my primary reason for starting a garden.
I’ve been wondering where I fit into this. My husband’s more of the gardener. Time is always a big factor for me. I’m more of the eater in the garden. Yesterday I went to to the grocery store and I couldn’t afford to buy any produce or fruit. Then I’ve been trying to buy more organic fruits like strawberries cause Mike’s always saying there’s a nice container of pesticides, so I didn’t buy the strawberries.
So money is a huge issue! And kudos for you for staying home with your daughter.
So Arkansas is one of my favorite states, I’ve driven through all of the states except Louisiana and Alabama. I drove through Arkansas once and I can still remember going around each curve.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
My gardening experience is surprising to most people because I am now headlong into gardening. I did not start out that way. My mom gardened throughout my life and I didn’t want anything to do with it. She would me joke that she asked me to go pick a pepper and I would ask her what that was?
I had no idea growing up!
When I was 30-31 years old, a few years ago, when I decided I wanted to learn so I asked her and she could not help but roll her eyes and think how long is this gonna last? I did not have much experience at all!
But I was determined!
My husband wanted to grow a couple of things. So while I was working full time, he built 2 raised beds and we put some fruit and vegetables in those beds.
I started to get the itch then but not in a major way because I was working 40 hours a week at the time. But I knew I was going to be a stay at home mom full time. I dove headlong into this venture. That was in the fall. I was gonna create a huge garden in one particular part of the yard.
At the time I was studying the Back to Eden garden method that a friend of mine told me about. I didn’t know anything else. I was covering the yard with newspapers and woodchips that fall before I started my garden. That whole winter I spent researching, reading books and blog posts and everything I could get my hands on.
I compare it to college when you have all of this head knowledge but you have no life experience.
So when spring came I had all this head knowledge but I had no idea
- what pests or what diseases I might battle
- what my soil would be like
- rookie year
it started out as an experiment.
The whole area where my garden was that I had put woodchips on etc was pretty much flooded! What happened was we had a very wet spring I had not paid attention to that area before. And realized this was not gonna work. In the middle of spring we up and created a whole new garden where it was a little elevated.
We ended up having to redo everything! That garden ended up being very successful!
We built a 2500 square foot garden! I did not start small but it worked out really well!
I was hooked! I had to keep doing it every year, I loved it!
I love so much of that. I know your gonna be dropping golden seeds as I call my golden nuggets or value bombs that other podcasters say. I always say newer gardeners have a lot of lessons fresh in their head. Older gardeners have a lot of wisdom and value and different things to add but sometimes they forget those mistakes we all make. I know exactly how that feels and think this is my plan and something doesn’t work. The slope or something about a bed you didn’t count on.
Also, Im sure my mom rolls her eyes when she’s like I can’t believe my daughter has a gardening podcast. She couldn’t get me out there, I don’t like to be out in the hot, I still don’t really like to get dirty. Gardening, I like to eat food from the garden but I’m the same way when my mom goes to pick herbs for a salad when I’m there I’m always like how do you know what to pick and cut. I’m always like you have to come still and show me what to do!
How did you learn how to garden organically from all that research?
A lot of it was the research in that first year. To be honest, I didn’t set out to garden in an organic matter. My mom actually, my first year gave me seven dust to put on my potatoes to get rid of my potato beetles because mom said that’s what I needed to do. I sprinkled it here and there.
But the more I learned throughout the years,
- I want to eliminate chemicals
- I want to eliminate synthetic fertilizers
- I started really researching compost
In the past, this will be my fifth year. I have noticed that the amount of bad bugs have really gone down over the year because I try to use methods that encourage a healthy ecosystem where I have
- beneficial insects
- Im sure there are snakes but I try to make my presence known so I don’t see any!
I try to make an environment. where the good bugs will thrive
For me I don’t have to use those pesticides anymore.
I do have some issues with some specific bugs but I learn how to work around it without resorting to invasive methods etc.
I have heard a lot of guests talk about the fact in Montana we have less bugs because we have colder winters that kill off those bugs. I call my listeners Green Future Growers and you are doing the same thing so I think they will love your podcast etc. I love your story! The way your building an entire environment not just thinking I’m gonna grow some cabbages!
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
There’s one example I can’t exactly wrap my mind around it. We ended up building a few more raised beds within our garden and now it’s about 3000 square feet. We keep adding to it but I think we’re done for a while.
In one of the raised beds. In one of the beds we ended up using native soil from another part of the property and our soil is extremely acidic. It has a lot of clay content. We ended up using the native soil to save money to not have to buy soil. We knew that raised bed was going to be used for tomatoes.
What I did in January. We had 6 chickens and now we have 15. What I did was I took all of the chicken manure and pine shavings and put it on the raised bed in January. Most people have heard fresh chicken manure not good for fresh plants because it can burn them but if it gets a chance to break down naturally it will add to the fertility so I let that break down naturally.
I have read that can also be a problem because all the nutrients might leach out. I was just gonna test it just to see. In our area I can plant my tomatoes out in the beginning of April. So I added a fresh layer of compost on top of that. My own homemade compost.
I planted my tomatoes and I started everything from seed this year including some I saved from last year. so that’s like free tomatoes!
I have been so incredibly amazed at the Romas this year.
larger then any Roma tomatoes I have grown in my gardening experience. They were bringing down the steaks in high winds. I can’t help but think because I used that native soil that typically isn’t the best quality homemade compost and the timing of putting the chicken manure and compost on top of the raised beds.
That was a big garden success for me this year!
My only concern about putting fresh chicken manure is that the manure has to sit for 120 days before you can sell it at the farmer’s market but since you spread it out in January I think your good.
I began in January and didn’t plant till April and they are just coming ripe now.
Mike always raves about his best garden was on top of a bed he made in Colorado on an old chicken pen. He always uses chicken manure and makes compost tea from it. I always love compost. My mom always had a milk carton of compost on the counter. I even kept compost at school this year. The thing I struggled with was my worm bin but I think the biggest thing was keeping a lid on it, I think they need more air.
I there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
When I think about next season, I can’t think about a whole lot I will do differently next growing season in the spring and summer. This year was a year I did a lot of simplifying because last year I did a lot of test crops.
I’m all about a trying new things.
- growing mainly what we eat
- trying just a few new things
A lot of that has worked well so I’m going to continue that one thing I am gonna try differently is I want to do more for my fall garden.
We don’t get our first frost till November we have a long growing season. In the past I have haphazardly planted some fall crops but nothing real specific or intentional.
I got a good harvest of red carrots in November which were amazing!
I haven’t really taken advantage of our longer season. I’m gonna give a try starting seeds indoors in January…
Did I say January I meant July…
You can’t plant your cool weather out in that heat
trying those indoors and just hoping for a btter fall garden in the past. ….
I will start the seeds indoors in July or August, that way they have a chance to miss that really hot weather in July and August and I can get them in the garden in Sept or maybe Oct that way the heat has already past and that would be prime time for those cooler weather crops to grow.
Mike and I have struggled with that. Lisa Ziegler who talked about that. The hardest part is thinking if I’m gonna put it in the ground in Sept or Oct I need to start the seeds inside in June or July.
We should probably start them now! It’s June 29th today. If we were going to put brocolli in for a fall garden seems weird now. It seems like such an odd time to plant seeds because we are just planting green beans. Mike just put them in the ground yesterday. And we still have tomatoes that have to be transplanted are in containers here on the counter still.
Mike keeps mocking my summer break! He’s like your time is gone. You’ve had like one day off. I went to a training last week so I feel like my official break didn’t start till Saturday.
People tell you over and over count backwards but it’s still hard to embrace. And I think simplify is a good one. Gardeners we all plant to much get excited. Megan Cain is another strategic gardener you might like! Planning what you are going to eat and being strategic because gardening is a lot of work!
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
This has been a challenging season. It’s finally starting to look up. For a while there I was a little nervous.
We had 2 major issues this spring.
One was heavy rains this spring. We tend to get a lot of rain and then it stops and we have drought.
My bean seeds wouldn’t germinate! That area was under water.
I had to replant my pole beans, maybe 3-4 times. Part of that was the rain.
The second issue was rabbits!
Let me tell you why we had problems with rabbits where we weren’t before. When I first started gardening the rabbits were eating everything. My husband did some research and he put up an electric fence. We had 3-4 lines of electric fence and it worked beautifully.
When I went out to my garden and all my peas were gone I thought it was a cut worm. Then the next thing I know my beans are gone and then my son was out in the garden and he noticed a rabbit inside the electric fence. We watched to see how he got in. This little ninja rabbit jumped through the fence!
If you’re not grounded you don’t get shocked. So since he’s not touching the ground he’s not getting shocked! They figured out an easy way into the garden. We put up a temporary chicken wire around the pole beans. Until they could start climbing and there wouldn’t be an issue. But I lost entire pea crop to rabbits and I also had a very late start on my beans! I was devastated! That was very discouraging!
We were just talking yesterday about animals being the biggest problem. We had a deer get in the mini-farm this year! I think it’s a miracle there’s as much growing consiering 3 got i when they did at the beginning of the summer.
I’m curious what you are going to do next year.
We have a plan for that! On one side, we moved one of our chicken coops inside the garden and my husband constructed chicken tunnels for the perimeter and we are going to expand that and make that the barrier there. We are probably going to expand the chicken tunnels and make that be the barrier. Then take the chicken wire and make the chicken wire the lower barrier and keep the electric fence the higher part to keep the deer out. Hopefully that will take care of it once and for all.
Do you want to tell listeners what chicken tunnels are? Because I am just learning and barely have an idea.
I can’t tell you how to build them because my husband built them but they are basically little wire arch shaped tunnels that are open on the bottom and they can go all around the perimeter of the garden where ever you put the tunnels.
For us its not just the fertility
- it does create a more fertilite area because it does expand
- but they also keep the perimeters of the garden weeded by their scratching and they are always getting bugs
- taking care of the ground bugs around the garden as well.
Also it’s like making your chicken’s free range. Giving them places. Cause Mike and I have always had a thing about they have a big pen but I finally talked him into letting them out into the woods. Lots of neighbors and people up here let their chickens out. What’s gonna keep them out of the garden, I was like let them out there out in the forest and that worked in the beginning but this year they are in the garden.
He built this huge deer fence, there’s 260′ of fence off each edge of the house, so it’s a big space, it keeps the deer out now. He used to have these little chicken wire tents to keep them out.
We don’t let our chickens in the garden however we are going to let them in once the season is over. That way they will be able to fertilize the garden over the wintertime and that way they can hunt and peck away at any insects away. They can help out with the grubs and cut worms and anything like that!
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Let’s Get to the Root of Things!
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?
That’s a really good question because I really enjoy most everything.
I would say in this Arkansas heat after they are done.
- cleaning up after the plants are done
- pulling up corn stalks okra
- pole beans
Usually this stuff has to be done when it’s oppressively hot and that would probably be my least favorite thing.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?
Besides harvest, of course, I would say mulching.
It’s so pretty to wood chip mulch my garden.
- I love the way it looks after its done
- It cuts my weeding time dramatically
- beneficial for the soil over time
Over the last five years I have noticed the places that have wood chip mulch have much better soil tilth then the parts of my garden that I am just starting to cultivate!
That’s so true! I was just in Mike’s garden this morning thinking.
I feel like I’ve been paying more attention this spring to what he’s doing and noticing so much of what he does with what my guests say. I’ve always seen him take every piece of quack grass out of a bed before he puts anything in the bed. Then puts the mulch. I always thought it was because of the water because we always just watered the roots because of our water shortage…. but I also see the mulching you don’t get the weeds through the mulch. And then the mulch, it really rejuvenates the land!
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
I remember the first season and I was trying to get my hands on and ears on as many gardening podcasts as I can find.
Melissa K Norris Pioneering Today
She suggested something so small. She said:
Do a little bit every day
That has been such a big help for me, especially with the size of my garden that I have. I try to do as much on my own.
I try to get out a little bit everyday, so nothing gets too over- whelming!
I like to do it either in the early morning or the evening.
To be out there in the morning the birds are chirping. Around the evening around sunset the cicadas are singing and it’s pleasant time to be in the garden. It makes such a huge part of not getting overwhelmed.
Especially for someone like me who almost always had a full time job. I was just telling Mike yesterday when I got home, I haven’t watered my sunflower seeds in 2 days now have they got dried out? I like that tip about going out first thing or in the evening. It’s also what’s best for your vegetables you don’t want to be out in the super hot heat.
A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what could you not live without?
Hand’s down it’s my Rogue hoe!
I found it at the at the Arkansas Flower and Garden Show!
White Harvest Seed Company, the gentleman told me about it when I needed back surgery.
At the time I needed something to help me weed where I don’t have to bend down.
- It clips the weeds at the soil level and that keeps you from digging up the weed seeds in the lower levels of the dirt.
- Super handy and very sharp and makes quick weeding of the weeding I do have to do!
I love that because anything that makes it easier on your back! Mike’s new mini farm is all on the ground, I like those the raised beds where you can sit around and harvest. That’s great for anyone who thinks gardening oooh what a chore!
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden? What do your kids like to eat?
Well, my kids like fresh corn on the cob! They’ve really taken to that since we started growing corn!
As a southerner I can not mention fried squash or okra.
That is our favorite thing to cook from the garden.
How do you cook fried squash? Just like frying zucchini in the pan?
Well Im not sure how people do it in other parts of the country. It’s very unhealthy. I’m just telling you that up front!
- slice up the squash
- toss with vegetable oil
fry it with half inch of oil in the pan.
- Right after they come out, when they are brown on both sides
- sprinkle some salt on them so it bakes in while they’re cooling
So if you’re growing 3000 square feet of vegetables what are you doing with all this produce? Is it just for your family? Are you thinking about selling any of it in the future?
It’s mainly for our family because we do eat it fresh but I do a lot of preserving and canning.
A lot of what I have in this garden is corn and of course corn takes a lot of space!
A lot of space for tomatoes because I preserve as much tomatoes as I can!
I do have five blueberries that are producing more blueberries then we can eat or freeze so this Saturday will be the first time we take it to a local farmers market
Farmer’s Market New venture in that area
Easy way to keep them motivated to pick because I told them could keep all of the revenue from what we picked.
Got any tips for growing corn?
Corn had a huge learning curve for me! I had done enough research to know I had to plant in blocks for pollination. My first year I didn’t know when it was ready! I’d check an ear and I knew it wasn’t ripe yet and I’d leave it for a week. You can’t do that. It will get completely un-edible.
My first year was a disaster, but my 2nd year I figured out when to harvest it. My second year I did a lot of youtube searches mainly I had to do a lot of trial and error to fin d out when it was ready
prick that kernel
- milky substance coming out it’s ready
- if it’s clear it’s not ready
- if nothing comes out it’s past
that was my biggest challenge was knowing when to harvest the corn but if I can get it harvested at the peak time it’s well worth it!
NICE! Well WHO KNEW? You actually pull one ear of corn back. I thought it was when the tassels fell off or something. So then if you have one ear is ready are they all ready or do you break into each ear or how does that work?
That’s a really good question! You’re right about the silk. What I do is look for the silk to be completely dried out.
Once the silk is completely dried out, then I will take a little bit of the leaf and pull it down and then prick one of the kernels. They usually come ripe within a few days from each other. I do check each one before I pick it because what I find is if they are not all completely ready because just a few days can make a big difference in how quickly they ripen!
I have to catch that. I may not get them all at the perfect stage if I don’t check them all. Another way I can tell.
- when i squeeze around the cob if it gives just a little bit it’s ready if it’s hard or firm it’s not ready
You must have grown a lot of corn by now.
Once my son figured out that he loved corn on the cob thats one vegetable I can get him to eat consistently.
Also, corn’s such a scary thing. It’s in everything. Corn syrup. There’s GMO corn. I’ve been hearing all sorts of different things that the corn people eat is not GMO corn but then I feel like the only corn that’s not should be labeled that way.
I think that’s a gray area
To be growing your own corn is one of the best things you can grow.
I agree with you, the research I have done the Corn that is GMO is patented.
The ones that come from our own crop. What I do know is the seeds that we’re buying are not in general gonna be GMO if we’re buying seeds from our trusted co-op then we’re gonna be good.
Yep that’s true!
A favorite internet resource?
Initially I did most of my research on Pinterest. Pinterest had a lot of basic beginner knowledge but the more I was on it I was reading the same things.
There were some areas I couldn’t get answers from.
Videos from Gary Pilarchick at the Rusted Garden. He doesn’t necessarily garden organically all the time. He’s very specific what he uses and he always has organic suggestions. He seems very knowledgable about what he’s doing.
He has lots of good information. He’s taught me stuff I never even thought of before!
Cali-Kim in California not everything applies.
P.Allen Smith he has a farm here in Arkansas so I enjoy his videos because his climate is the same as mine.
Good to know about Pinterest lots of good beginner info. I agree it’s nice to have some vetted youtubers because it can be tough to find the right info. You can spend 1/2 hour before you find what you want.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
I bought a new book this year
It’s French I’m sure. I LOVE that book. It’s gorgeous. It’s designed really well. It’s aesthetically appealing… It’s a very beautiful book, lots of beautiful artwork.
What I like about it is it has everything you need to growing tomatoes specifically from an heirloom tomato perspective.
At the end he has all this troubleshooting info
- if my leaves are yellow what could it be
- if my leaves look like this what could it be
- my fruit is doing this what could it be
- not only from start to finish how to plant your tomatoes and what your tomatoes need nutritionally but also helps you troubleshoot them
- what to do about deer
- completely comprehensive
It’s the best resource on tomatoes I’ve ever found!!
If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry? Are you gonna write a book?
I have 3 books!
Writing is my business writing bible studies and devotionals.
Two of my books are
Don’t forget to go to amazon and write a review! Best way to show appreciation and help an author.
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?
Yeah, the chance that I want to see and working toward is to motivate and equip more people to garden. This desire is two fold.
- When people grow their own food they will be healthier. As they eat healthier they will be healthier and also less dependence on massive processed food which I think is a large part of the health crisis I see today.
Gardening does wonders for your mental health and since I have a bachelors in psychology it’s really important to me.
2. As a Christian, I believe, I have found personally that when we get into nature and work in the garden, we start to see God, because he created all this beauty and diversity.
intricate and biological workings
written from my eyes as a beginner gardener. When I was in the dirt and in the garden I saw the bible. What we learn about God in the garden.
In my second book I talk about how composting points to Jesus and how life comes from death. That was something that was huge to me when I first started composting that’s amazing.
So I feel like as people garden they have that opportunity to see God through his creation and ultimately come to know him.
From a planet perspective the more we see the planet as his creation hopefully that will motivate us to take care of it. My biggest passion is to see people get in the garden and get outside and grow their own food.
John Lee Dumas
So the guy I listen to John Lee Dumas. In the pre-chat we were talking about getting into podcasting and Cliff Ravenscraft and JLD always talks about being a person of value. You’re such a caring green future grower. Your kids are so lucky to have you at home taking care of our planet.
And then also teaching what you’ve learned. Another one of John’s then Ray Higdon’s Class ILT, invest learn teach, and you’re a master of that! You can never replace that beginner time. John always calls it the curse of knowledge so it’s nice that you are writing this down as you go. I love my podcast it’s a great way to meet you today!
Do you have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
That’s exactly it. If I think of a quote I would like to share
“Just plant something!”
It doesn’t have to be a 3000 square foot garden,
- containers on your patio
- plant something
I do warn people it can get addictive! I started out with 2 raised beds.
Just plant something!
How do we connect with you?
The name of my blog is
find it on my blog
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