193. Urban Farm University and Podcast | Greg Peterson | Pheonix, AZ

Greg Peterson Urban Farm U


Greg Peterson host of the Urban Farm Podcast is here to share his gardening knowledge and expertise.


I call my audience Green Future Growers people who are interested in growing a more earth friendly world and taking care of our planet.  I know you’ve been doing this for a long time and taking care of the southern part of the US. I’m just the humble host. I have an inner desire to be a biographer some day so this is like getting to do mini-biographies and I get to hear them first so I feel a little spoiled. I am hoping to get 32 episodes done over the summer break to get through to Christmas.

I tell people that if we could

I am a true believer that we need to grow our own food!

My husband believes that and as an educator. He would love to be an locovore, but we’re not likely to give up coffee and I’m not ready to give up chocolate!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 56 years old. I planted my first garden in 1975 I would have been 14. That same year I wrote a paper on over-fishing the oceans. How does someone know we were over fishing our oceans? IDK. I just  knew back then there was a problem. I knew that I could do something about it. 

In 1991, I made a couple of discoveries

discovered permaculture

the arena of science of nature that mimics natural systems

human beings love to think we can do it better then nature, but I know without a doubt nature always bats last.

will always

How do we work with nature.

I love the way you put that. That’s a really nice way to describe permaculture. I had never heard of permaculture till I started my podcast. That’s pretty young to learn about permaculture! 1991, that’s when Mike and met and we got married in 1993.

Tell me about your first gardening experience? What were you doing planting a garden at 14?

Good question! My mom grew up on a farm in Canada. She wasn’t always 

moved from a town house to a half acre. when we moved in the weldon house

She said see the right half of the backyard that’s your garden! Go start digging!

I’ve had conversations with her, we both don’t really know where the impetus for me to garden came from or where the desire to garden was? It was just there!

What about your grandparents?

Good question. I didn’t really know either side of my grandparents. You know maybe where we would go up once every 5 years in the summer time. 

I met them 3-4 times

I did an event recently where we were asked to talk about a childhood memory around food. What came up for me was my grandfather who came from Czechoslovakia he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Czech but he took me out to the bee houses and I have a memory of him showing

self projected

Somebody about 5 years ago, in a lecture…

How does a 15-14 year old in 1975 get this notion about the oceans and you have to do something about it?

Jacques Cousteau

You were probably a great big fan of Jacques Cousteau weren’t you?

And this flush of knowing came across me.

That’s probably where

Dude! I have a Jacques Cousteau Play! Of course I remember the TV show! I just turned 50. We watched it. And remember the show that came on before Disney. I remember sitting with my parents eating dinner. My kids are so funny they love to do the Jacques Cousteau play, but it has 2 problems. 1 it only has like 2-3 lead parts and a bunch of little parts and then also I have done it with 2nd graders and it’s really for 4th graders! 

How did you learn how to garden organically?

Arizona is in the desert! 2 weeks ago it was 119º. Once it gets over 105º its’ just crazy stupid hot! We probably have 80 days in the summertime that go over 105.

Ohhhh! I couldn’t live there!

Starting at mid may – sept if we have a day under the 100 it’s rare. The best time to grow is in fall winter and spring. The hardest time to grow things are in the summer. We actually have 4 growing seasons here. We can basically everything here!

We had a frost on August 8th one year I think. So tell us one of your tricks. 

Trick #1

The biggest one is we have to plant shade!

there are a handful of amazing desert plants

  • paloverde
  • pionwood
  • mesquite

that are all edible and make great nurse plants

plant these larger desert trees on the west side of the project over the course of 3-5 years they grow up. They are a nice filtered shade. It filters out 60% of the sun coming in!

Not a dense shade like an oak tree

The other nice thing is they can be pruned like a nice umbrella shape

  • Nice trunk up the middle
  • nice canopy that reaches 15 feet in each directions
  • 30 foot diameter trees

Trick #2

We have winter growing gardens

  • winter growing gardens
  • different micro climates 

Microclimate is a space that is cooler or warmer

In permaculutre

what we like people to do is go out 

  • observe
  •  take notes

winter time

warmer microclimates

Summertime Growing

cooler microclimates

Isn’t that interesting. Kind of like people. For us we need most of our stuff in the summer for maximum sun. I need to cut down these trees that are putting out too much shade? Are they deciduous trees? Or evergreens?

Desert Trees

  • Desert trees are semi deciduous lose some leaves the cool thing is they are also nitrogen fixers
  • take nitrogen out of air and soil and put it into the leaves,
  • when the leaves drop you have a nice source of nitrogen that creates great compost and you just add it to your soil!

Planting Calendar for deserts

What do you grow in those cooler or warmer microclimates?

What I did about 15 years ago is I put together my planting calendar. It’s a desert adapted planting calendar! You can download it at plantingcalendar.org

It’s specific for low desert environments

tells you month what to plant then

In the fall

hardy greens

  • kale
  • swiss chard
  • lettuces

in oct nov

brassicas in the fall

  • brocolis
  • cabbages
  • cauliflower
  • snowpeas
  • garlic
  • onions
  • beets
  • carrots

Winter Planting

  • tomatoes
  • peppers

are pretty hardy

go in in Jan

knowing if you get a frost if it gets cooler

Summer Planting

Summer stuff starting in march

  • pumpkins
  • cucumbers
  • watermelons

in april


June and July

Educate people about fruit trees and then they can get fruit trees from me. 

Stone fruit

  • peaches
  • apricots
  • plums

harvest in July 1st

anything with a pit in the middle of it is a stone fruit

like a

  • peach
  • apricot
  • almonds
  • nectarines

Tell us about your school and courses


Urban Farm U is an online portal to teach you on how to grow your own food

We offer 7 different courses

webinars on seed saving




Jake Mace

do Ask Jake and Greg once a month where we are basically fielding people’s questions.

So I want my husband to jump on Facebook live with me.  What do we do if someone asks us a question we don’t know the answer to?

Those are the best ones!

do you know everything?

Heck no!

Neither do I! I only know what I’ve experienced, usually what I do in that case, I’ll be checking out google for resources. Nice thing about having 2 of us so we can bounce off of each other. 

I start asking

nice thing what I’ve done over 42 years, I can get a sense of what somebody’s saying is the truth or not.

I feel like I spend a lot of time explaining to people about media literacy. I feel like I have a good sense of if something is a legitimate source!


Jumpstart your urban farm


regenerative design


so much more

Generally what sustainability speaks to let’s figure out something that will sustain what we’ve been doing for the last 100 years just a little bit longer. I call sustainability a stop gap measure between doing what we are doing and what comes next.

What comes next is what we call

Regenerative design

how do we create systems that regenerate themselves. When you look at nature. Nature constantly regenerates itself, right?


How do we put these systems in place. That’s what I talk about in Jump Start your urban farm!

most of these are 7 weeks

Carrie Spencer teaches Backyard Livestock and Urban Animals

Carrie Spencer teaches: Urban Animals: How to Raise Chickens, Goats, and More in Your Backyard

Toby Hemenway Website

Which was taught by the late great Toby Hemenway

Urban Farmer 101 

which was the first course I ever built 3 years ago.

Tell us how it works. Like what’s a course for gardeners? Is there homework? Do you have to do the work at your garden? Does it start at a certain time? How does it work?


You can start any time. The courses are evergreen. What that means you can start 24/7 any day you want. You just go to the website and find the course you want to take and go. 

Each week is a topic


So in growing healthy food the first week will be on soil

Do you know the single most important thing you can do is to build healthy soil in your garden for your success?

How do you build healthy soil? We talk about that for one week.

  • We talk about water one week
  • fertilizing nurturing your plants
  • pest control

one per week

What does that mean? Is there a video that they watch is there a workbook?

We’re talking about building out workbooks as we speak

Each week comes with an hour long presentation.

In growing food the basics there’s

  • videos kari and i presenting
  • power point presentation
  • resources
  • pdfs
  • other videos
  • checklists


  • Each week is self contained


It reminds me of when I joined Podcaster’s Paradise and that checklist was so essential and it took me almost a year to complete it. I’d focus on different parts and pieces each month. I joined in April and launched in Jan almost February of the next year! Checklists are invaluable. That’s excellent it sounds like you almost have a workbook.

Janice is listening to the classes making workbooks from the classes and we will make them available. 

  • live powerpoint lecture
  • powerpoint presentation as a pdf
  • workbooks each week.

You could take them all if they all fit in your needs. They’re probably thinking urban farmer but this would apply to a backyard farmer as well.

Let’s have that conversation since you brought it up. I have a 1/3 of an acre which is 80feet by 160’ deep

If you walked up my driveway, you would think my 1950s  house was just nicely landscape. Until you looked deeper and saw all the food I’ve integrated it into my landscape.

Tell us how that works?


  • food foresting
  • nurse trees providing shade
  • design landscapes in 3d
  • not just putting a garden in
  • ground up
  • ground down for healthy soil
  • Different things that can grow
  • perennial trees
  • perennial bushes
  • grow the annual vegetables under that

All I’ve done is I’ve taken my gardening beds that were flower beds and turned them into food production beds.

what I tell people becoming an urban farmer is simple

  • you grow food
  • you share it
  • name your farm

The naming your farm is one of the most important piece for growing your local food system. Then your starting to create an identity for urban farming where you live. Starting to create an identity for who you are and what you’re up to.

That’s how I became an urban farmer.

So do you help people if they give you pictures of their garden/yard and you give them suggestions?

do about a 50 minute garden consult on the phone… send me their picture.

send me their address

I used to do onsite consults

I would do a design and nothing would happen. I decided to teach people to do it themselves. That’s what Jumpstart your urban farm. 

Take these courses and then you get to design your own space. My space is different then my next door neighbor. Even though he’s next door, he’s gonna put a different. You’re all the way in Montana and that’s a totally different game

What we need to do is learn our space


I always tell people when you buy your land, you can’t do anything better then spending a weekend camping on your property at least one weekend each season where do you want to put your house and what directions you want things to be facing etc beucase our our passive solar living room is awesome!

one of the biggest things you can do is have your house face north and south and not east and west. Especially in the desert or really cold climates!

We get a lot of solar …

I’m thinking our house faces south even though the front door faces east.

The main part of your house faces south…

Here’s an example a friend of mine here in pheonix

Chris really great guy and really conserving on utilities. It’s January. IT’s 50º gets down to 32º at night. That’s cold for us here in Pheonix. 

It’s 80 degrees

Chris what are you doing? Concrete in the living room. I open the door during the day and the sun will warm it up during the day.

passive heating and cooling his house. 

that way

You can do the same thing in the summer time here with opening windows.

my problem is my garage is on the south side don’t get any solar gain in the wintertime.

if the front of your house or your north you are so much farther ahead on the passive solar heating and cooling arena! 

We’re right in the middle of that right now,open the windows in the morning…. cool it off and then shut it up!



Tell us about something that grew well this year.

Normally tomatoes do really well here. Here’s one of my challenges here in the desert.

Normally get a great crop of tomatoes.

We start them in March from plant form starts

6” tall

By the time mid-May comes around the tomatoes are just rocking it!

April and May

I told you that – we’re over 100 most days from may first to oct first!

Sometime in April and May, we had 3 different times that it got cool again. So cool it was down in upper 60ºs at night and that slows everything way down!

Isn’t that crazy how that happens…

I’ve never seen that happen in 15 years 3 times it slowed everything way down!

at beginning of june we had a nice flush of tomatoes and once it gets really hot like over 110º

2 weeks of good tomotoes

Thgings that grow really good for me are

  • greens
  • kale
  • swiss chard

Those are winter time crops.

My swiss chard is doing well. I use it for just about anything you could use spinach for. Blanch it and freeze it and it’s good all winter!

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

my task is to look at what happened. Make an observation. 

I put them in a hot microclimate and they fried early.

if I would have moved  a few feet to the west they would have got shade.

the tomatoes are going in the western most part of our yard

has an eastern exposure

refining the whole microclimate idea!

I’ll bet listeners are gonna love that, listeners might not even realize that they have microclimates around them. Even in Eureka, 6 miles north of me, I have a friend in town who’s 3 weeks ahead of us, but such intense microclimate even on our own property.

other thing people do here is put gravel mulch around.

gravel mulch

granite or gravel mulch – great way to cook your garden and they put up block walls. Both create a much warmer micro climate!

things you can do to abate that

in all those wood chips they are chipping in your neighborhood. It costs them an obscene amount of money!

Ask for some of that and putting a 6 inch layer of woody mulch throughout your growing space. You don’t want to put it where your growing food because the woody mulch uses up the nitrogen. But in your pathways etc it’s a great way to

  • mitigate heat, 
  • holds water like a sponce
  • interface between dirt and woodchip 

makes for amazing happy healthy soil

I’m actually gonna talk to a guy who has a business nearby

technically you don’t want to add it to your healthy soil in your beds. You can put it on top of the bed if you like, I think you need to take it out when you go back to replant. 

what I put on top of my beds

is either straw

organic straw


lots and lots of compost

Us too, and chicken manure!

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season. Would that be tomatoes?


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Let’s Get to the Root of Things!

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden is there something you have to force yourself to do?

Like pulling up noxious weeds?

bermuda and nut grass they will take over in no time

pull the weed up

if there is a weed with Bermuda and nut grass you have to dig them out completely.

Mike has a thing like that with quack grass. Every single thing. I know he doesn’t weed like others. He makes it look effortless to me but I imagine it’s very similar!

What’s your favorite?

Chill with a glass of ice tea.


A lot of the systems I have put in place here are based on nature

once they are in place i can just let them be.

I know a lot of my listeners work full time like me. There’s a lot of days this summer I’ve gotten in the garden most years I will go a whole week without seeming the garden. Mike’s been working on this place this job, it’s quite a ways form our house so he hasn’t been getting thir regularly but it has an automated water system so it’s fun to see that in place!

What is the best gardening advice you have  ever received?

Larry Santoyo is one of my permaculture he encourages people to get out and do epic s**t! Really get out! I told the girl at the coffee house this morning when I pick up my ice tea! She said you‘re all smiles today! I said, “every morning when I get up, I have a choice to have a happy day. So I’m always looking for that epic thing to do to move my movement forward!

MSLAPeaceSign copy

I love podcasting. Where else am I gonna go and meet someone as passionate about Jacques Cousteau as I am. I love the way you talk about making an epic day. One of my all time favorite heroes is Jeannette Rankin who was the first woman elected to Congress from the US and she’s from here in Montana and she said, “What if we died and didn’t do everything we could for world peace?” And I always have that in the back of my head…. 

Jeannette Rankin Protestors

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.


broadfork from Amazonyou’re broadfork

AT a garage sale, 25 years ago at a garage sale a guy was selling a really heavy duty pitchfork with a really heavy metal handle on it. I use that every day. 

It’s only 8” wide broadforks are really wide, I have yet to bend it  because it’s so heavy duty. Made by some old timer 25 years ago. 

I’ve been totall loving ours, I got it on amazon for $99, and I was a little worried would it be flimsy but mike said it’s sturdy the bolts cam out and we had to replace them but IO coudl toatlly understand our pitchfork!

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

The really the cool thing about my yard is there is something to eat 365 days of year! A lot of weeds. 

  • lambs quarter and purslane, mallow
  • sour grass things that grow in our yard
  • use those in salads
  • always a meal in the yard
  • plus we have chickens so we get eggs
  • either
  • farm soup
  • farm salad

whatever is in the yard!

Mike was just telling me the biggest thing we can do is grow our own food. I get so frustrated when he looks at my strawberries and says those are some ymmy looking strawberries.

Do you have a favorite internet resource?

urban farm.org is great

I’m 56 I started my first tech company 1984. I was in tech for 20 years. 

I run a tech business called Urban Farm U.

When I go looking I just ask google

lame resource, it answers all the questions you need answered.

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

So the other thing that happened in 1991 is I read a book that changed my life forever

Dan Quin is the author. He has 14  or so books out. I’ve read them all.

Ishmael A Novel


A conversation between a gorilla and a man. Ishmael, the gorilla frames out how we have come to dominate and destroy the world and he points to things that can be done to start doing it differently.

The story of Bee

My Ishmael by Daniel quinn

My Ishmael

14 or so that are just amazing books. I call what I believe now Quinnian philosophy for the philosophy for how can we work nature. I heard a rumor he’s writing another book.

Where does he live?

In New Mexico, I think. I met him once, I was so excited. I took some books and had him sign them.

Don’t forget to have John sign your freedom journal at Podmastery.

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?

I went back to school late in life at 39 years old.  That was toward the end of my tech period. One of the things I did to make money from 99-04 was I raised food in my front and back yard and took it to farmer’s market. One of the things. 

it’s really simple. Farmer’s markets, they are amazingly simple to get into. 

  • Be consistent
  • you want to make sure you’re there every week
  • someone to get into growing food 

There’s an easier way.

  • Find a couple of chefs
  • find out what you can grow for them
  • start growing for them
  • they will often buying it for you…
  • That’s a super easy way to get in.

Last summer when I was working at a restaurant they wouldn’t use it because I wasn’t an official farm.

Some of the things you get to work around. Make friends with a chef and they’ll buy what you have. 

The other thing is I did learn was how much produce they went through. they would order like 6 heads of romaine and get them every few days. It seemed easier then trying to provide for a farmer’s market. It was very enlightening.

when you’re asking a chef there are gonna be specialty items

  • water lettuce

A chef who was buying specifically from a farmer here because he was the only one growing it. Only one growing it.

some specialty item

you can grow cucumbers

or you can grow armenian cucumbers

  • that are footlong
  • burpless

sell them for  a whole lot more.

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?

grow your own food

from an environmental perspective or from a human’s living on the planet. The second part is we need to grow our own food and save our own seeds.

From an environmental perspective. 7 1/2 million people, we have way too many people here.

Like birth control? Education?

IdK… Education….

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

Growing food is actually really simple you just have to learn the rules for where you’re at. A lot of the courses we do speak to how do you learn for where your at. It can be as easy as growing basil in your windowsill!

 and what that takes is to

  •  jump in
  • grow something
  • dont get discouraged
  • I promise you you’re gonna kill something
  • I have killed more then you probably ever will

when we fail


always asking people

what’s your failure?

what did you learn from it?

don’t be afraid to fail

that’s where we figure this out at. 

Just starting…this year, my husband’s the gardener, if I had to feed some people, ,this year I actually grew lettuce to feed our guinea pig, I couldn’t believe when I first started buying him food it was like $6 a day I couldn’t believe what he ate. You can start with lettuce in a windowsill.

How do we connect with you?



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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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