Melissa K. Norris from Modern Homesteading the Pioneering Today Podcast where everything is homegrown and homemade!
Gardeners are so excited to share what we have learned with others who are interested and I feel like that is what we get to do on garden podcasts! And I love podcasts!
I’m a 5th generation homestead and as a youngster I didn’t appreciate it. My dad lived through the Great Depression so if hey didn’t raise it they didn’t eat through the winter. I thought everyone grew up like that. With a
- preserving food
- raising beef cattle
It wasn’t until I hit high school really, I didn’t realize I was an anomaly. When my husband and I got married, I was working 40 hours a week and we started our family and I was trying to balance family, and growing our food and all of that, and it has been a 20 year journey to get here.
I feel like my husband grew up in a similar situation on a cattle ranch, growing a lot of their own food, baking their own breads and cookies.
I feel blessed now to have all that insight as an adult it has served me well, but as a teenager I didn’t really appreciate it. My husband and I got married, had kids and I was working as a pharm -tech.
I loved the Little House books as a child, my mother instilled in me a deep love of reading. For us to have tv where we lived you had to go out in the snow and turn the antenna. So I read a lot.
I wanted to write books, my lifelong dream was to write historical fiction. I was always writing about dutch oven cooking and barrel riding and all these things. I was at a writer’s conference and they said you had to have a platform with a blog etc. I was like what’s a blog?
But I learned, we had dial-up internet. And I wrote this blog about things my heroine did that I was also doing. I thought well I cook in a dutch oven so I’ll share my favorite recipes and hopefully people who wanted to read that would read my books and I eventually got a literary agent, and wrote lots of manuscripts but none got accepted. But then the last publishing house said how would you like to write non-fiction, your blog is amazing. And I said YES! Yes, I will!
We raise all of our own beef
increasing a garden
Both of my first books I was doing all of this. Just 2 years ago I was able to “retire” and stay home to focus on
And of course raise our own food!
Learning how to do all that while I was working was very
because so many people are working and want this lifestyle and aren’t able to leave their regular jobs and I was able to say,
YES YOU CAN!
This is what I did
And how I can help you do it too!
And you do! And you give away lots of free content, but then you also go way in-depth in your classes etc.
Being able to feed our family and grow our own food.
My new book, The Family Garden Plan: Grow a Year’s Worth of Sustainable and Healthy Food often people see we raise fish, or hunt, and then grow 55-60% of our own fruits and vegetables. I have over 20 years doing it on my own plus another 18 years watching my parents.
Get info at the FamilyGardenPlan.com
I have always raised enough green beens and we always had our own beef.
Those were easy for me to see and start with.
If your goal is to raise a years worth of food my #1 best advice is you pick one thing,
START WITH ONE THING
If you want, you can do 1 fruit and 1 vegetable.
This doesn’t mean you aren’t growing other things, but it means OK, this is the one thing I am going to grow enough of that we will eat FRESH through the growing season and enough to preserve it so we can eat it all the way through till we can harvest again next year!
Green beans was one we do. They have been in our family for generations.
Tomatoes are Very Versatile in the Kitchen
Maybe it’s tomatoes for you because tomatoes are very versatile in the kitchen.
Once you have one vegetable down, where you feel it’s coming on kind of easy over the seasons you add the next vegetable or fruit. Maybe after a while you add 2-3 vegetables each year. You get confidence and it’s contagious and things go pretty well.
And we all have those moments in August where we’re pulling our hair out and saying why did I do this to myself? But then when you see on the shelf “I don’t have to buy that again this year” you will feel so empowered.
But if you try it all at once the first season you will get overwhelmed and be like this is way too much to do!
So my best advice is build it slowly once block at a time.
Where are you located?
We are located smack dab in the middle of the mountains between Seattle and the Pacific Ocean. I’m technically Zone 7 but usually our last frost is about May first mid may, a lot of times we have aour first frost mid september. So basically the end of May through mid Septembe.
We have a relatively shorter growing season.
Still a bit longer then us in Montana.
How do you get fish? I was watching the video of your in your pantry. My husband works at a mill, and we get fresh caught salmon as a bonus, so I love smoked salmon.
We live an hour from the coast so we also have ea little boat and we catch our limit of crab each year with our 6 crab pots too.
Picking Varieties For your Climate
It’s a good thing in fall and winter months to make a list of things that did really well and things that didn’t.
Do a FALL AUDIT
This is what I am gonna do again, this needs fixed. If you don’t take notes at the end of summer you are going to forget, you think you wont’ but you will.
Especially as you go from fall into winter and you are
- getting seeds
- decide what to plant next year
take note of crops that were cut short.
This is what happened to us with some new heirloom tomatoes I wanted to try. It’s good to try varieties because you never know when you will find a beloved favorite but I always struggle with tomatoes here in the Pacific NW.
As a matter of fact I have to grow all my tomatoes in a high tunnel or unheated greenhouse. It’s basically an old carport we covered in plastic.
But these tomatoes are more heat loving. They were good for sandwiches and slicing but for sauces etc. Melissa recommends a paste tomato
If you are going to preserve tomatoes for the year, the majority of your space be paste tomatoes that you can use for
- pizza sauce
- tomato sauce
- pasta sauce
Paste tomatoes are
- more flavorful
- don’t have as much water
so they cut down your time simmering and overall preserving process.
Look for varieties in your area. The DAY TO HARVEST is so important.
Varieties you want to save will be ones that
- produced fastest
- forms blooms the earliest
- disease feee
- and of course most prolific
Eventually you will get the most perfect plant for your UNIQUE Microclimate!
It is a REALLY BIG DEAL if your variety needs 120 days versus only 90 days because that means you can harvest for a month instead of just a week.
The most important thing you can do is RESEARCH SEEDS that are best suited to your climate and garden!
Do you use paste tomatoes for SALSA?
YES! There are lots of different paste tomatoes. You don’t want salsa that’s watery and soupy.
When picking varieties you want to think:
How am I gonna use this thorough the year.
Sometimes you’re just so excited about canning and a new recipe but over year, our tastes change and often you find you won’t put up as much jam and jelly as when kids are young.
So I would write down this is what we had for dinner, this is how much produce we used? Maybe just do it for a week, and then multiply by 4 for a month and then x 12 for a year. To get an idea.
How many plants do I need if I use 4 cups a month?
Melissa has a free chart you can download from her website and the book is filled with charts.
Lots of charts tell what vegetables will produce but Melissa’s book includes how many berries and asparagus and perennials you will want as well.
A big take away is that it’s different for EVERY single family.
When picking varieties and ordering seeds, for example cucumbers.
We love garlic dill pickles. So I like a cucumber, a Chicago cucumber, it stays firm, is good with yogurt dips etc but also for pickles so I call it a dual-purpose cucumber.
If you pre-order the The Family Garden Plan: Grow a Year’s Worth of Sustainable and Healthy Food you get all these bonuses including the Amendment guide!
I think the amendment guide is worth gold. Do you want to talk about soil health?
If you pre-order, it hits shelves January 7th at Barnes and Noble etc but if you pre-order you get access to worksheets an bonus items, video packages, including the companion planting and crop rotation courses.
Melissa states that those 2 things alone,
companion planting and
were big enough topics when she was first learning they overwhelmed her. Trying to figure out how to do it in a backyard garden and not on a big agricultural farm.
It’s all that I needed and what I use in an usable easy-done format. It’s what I implemented and the charts we used.
Soil Amendment Guide
is all natural standpoint. You can find a lot of things online that are synthetic, but this is an easy organic natural method for a small garden.
They had their soil tested. They found out that the ph level was off from around 12 years of growing.
After having a lot of troubles
blossom end rot etc
did a test for the 12 macro and micro nutrients in the soil and after a ton of research on what to do if soil is high or low and how to fix soil health back in harmony so you can grow
the biggest vegetables and harvest the best yields of produce you can get from nutritious soil.
I know you have been doing this a long time and it’s working as you feed your family.
Getting to the Root of Things
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?
I don’t love to weed, it can be therapeutic but my favorite things are to plant, harvest, just stroll in the morning and enjoy. Weeding, not so much.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?
I love to prune.
It increases the health of your plants
it gives a larger yield.
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
We were growing our broccoli, first time, with brassicas and I had this close friend and mentor and she taught me how to prune blueberries…she said:
Don’t plant brassicas in the same place for 3 years!
Do you have any advice for squirrels and critters?
The most effective thing we have found time and time again is a barrier. We have deer, elk, and birds that get our fruit trees and perennials.
So I put netting on blueberries and fencing around fruit trees and then on some of the garden row cover especially to keep cabbage moths out of crops.
How big is your place?
People assume you have to have a big space. But depending on the size of your family and how much you eat of a particular item really makes a difference.
We have 14.96 acres, but only grow on one acre, the rest is woods and pasture for the animals. The house and yard are on one acre, less than 1/2 is the orchard and berries.
There’s a 20’ x 10’ covered high tunnel where there are 18-20 tomato paste plans and a 10 foot row of hot peppers.
And then the regular garden beds of annual vegetables that are about 56’ wide by 20 foot long.
Plants that grow vertically. There is a cement patio with grill and ag rape arbor that provides shade as well as grapes, but is only 2 plants on each side so takes up little space. There are herbs in containers spread out through the landscape.
Blueberries are with rhubarb so Melissa only has to amend one bed as they both like a more acid ph level in the soil. There’s also an asparagus bed. So less than half an acre in produce. Melissa says she wants it close to the house and water sources for summer irrigation. That way there is no time wasted going back and forth helps with productivity.
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.
Heirloom seeds – green beans – that have been in her family for generations.
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
Almost everything Melissa cooks comes from their garden but her husband’s grandmother’s pumpkin roll is a seasonal favorite right now. Made from sugar pie pumpkins. Or a pumpkin savory soup.
A favorite internet resource?
Lately doing so much research for the book, from scientific sources, extension offices have some of the best information for SAFETY especially when preserving and gardening working with food.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
I do really like as far as magazines go. I do like The New Pioneer Magazine and also Mother Earth News which I’m sure most people are super familiar with, but I feel like they have good solid stuff that’s always right up my alley as a gardener and a homesteader resources when I’m surfing on the internet.
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?
You know really I was so what it boils down to for me as I really feel like we would see the biggest change in our world as of every single family and every single household grew at least one item of their own food!
And then they cooked with that because I feel like if everybody could see even in an apartment you can grow your own basil on a windowsill in water you don’t even need to have dirt! I have a blog post on that, I didn’t mean that got be a plug.
Often times people say well, not everyone can do that, if you live in the city or you live in an urban environment or everything.
For goodness sakes you can grow sprouts in a mason jar in 3 days!
I feel like if every single family and every single household grew at least one thing that they would notice the flavor difference!
Then if you’re growing something you’re going to use it to cook from scratch with it or you’re going to add it to a dish and you’re going to notice that the flavor change like oh my goodness like this tastes better!
Especially when you get kids involved! When my kids grow a vegetable if it’s something we purchase in a store before their like, I don’t like that I don’t want to try that!