Oh, you're going to love today's garden! Jules gardens with her family in British Columbia where they grow a lot of food, raise animals for fiber and evolve all of those things all the time. I particularly love (and am interested myself in) her journey to embrace and bring in more Biodynamic practices in the garden. And I'm grateful for a few new-to-us book recommendations as well. I hope you enjoy this tour as much as I have!
Welcome to Jules' Garden!
Gardener : Jules Slootweg
Garden Location and Zone: Kootenays, British Columbia...Zone 5
Garden Size: We have three different gardening areas as well as a greenhouse. Altogether, there is probably an acre of cultivated food and flowers.
How long have you been gardening? 20 years
How would you describe your garden?
In a word...evolving. I don't think any garden is static, and certainly ours changes with the seasons, with the needs of our growing family, and with our preferences for certain foods or creative hobbies. We began growing food in earnest when my first child was born nearly eleven years ago...beginning from scratch on our newly acquired, small acreage. I dug the big garden by hand, a foot deep all around to eradicate tenacious bracken ferns and other weeds, which was tedious but very thorough. While I spent several years clearing weeds and cultivating soil and my husband built bedframes from wood he milled in the mountains, I grew impatient to harvest our homegrown food. Within a few days, I hastily started a small garden in front of our house. It was meant to be temporary until the big garden was more established, but the kitchen garden has evolved into a flower and herb garden. When you arrive at our home, you walk through the kitchen garden on the way to the front door ~ I love being welcomed home this way. The last several years, I have tucked some special plants into empty spots for dyeing my wool, and over time, they are taking more and more space amongst the beds. My 7 year old daughter likes to grow catnip for the kitties and various medicinal herbs to make into salves and creams. Both my sons like to plant anything with themes...last year, my 5 year old had his own bed filled with Teddy Bear Sunflowers, Goblin's Egg gourds, Snapdragons, and Tiger Eyes beans. All three of them also grow various crops for our local fall fair.
Where do you go for gardening inspiration?
I have a few friends who are seasoned gardeners that are my main source of inspiration and advice. I retain information so much better when I experience things firsthand and can see different plants close up rather than through pages or photos. Strolling through a friend's garden and asking questions is my favourite way to learn...with the added bonus that I know I can also grow all the same things as we share a gardening zone. I also am greatly influenced by Biodynamic practices and have planted according to moon phases for well over ten years. My next step is to begin making the more complicated Biodynamic preparations...I'm just on the tip of all the possibilities available.
What are your favorite gardening books or resources?
Ohhhh, well...while I prefer touring the gardens of friends, I also love to read so I seem to always have something garden-related on the go. Mostly, I gravitate to books on Biodynamics, and I have found anything by Sepp Holzer to be helpful. I find myself reading again and again Scott Chaskey's This Common Ground ~ Seasons on an Organic Farm which is a series of seasonal short stories. I've read The Garden That You Are by Katherine Gordon a half dozen times ~ but that is because it is written about several of my neighbours and friends, including one of my dearest gardening mentors! A few kids books that have inspired me greatly are And The Good Brown Earth by Kathy Henderson (an absolute favourite) and Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney ~ there is such a wonderful and enduring message about helping make the world more beautiful.
What’s your biggest gardening challenge?
Avoiding the mosquitoes in July!!! And lately, the long, dry summers that are becoming the norm around here. A good watering system is essential in our valley, but it also requires a lot of upkeep as it is gravity-fed from the mountains and can get plugged regularly.
What’s your biggest garden accomplishment?
Nurturing a love of gardening in my children and helping them understand how valuable it is to grow our own food. In a practical sense, though, I think the biggest accomplishment ~ and most satisfying ~ is acquiring my flock of fibre sheep a few years ago. To garden on a bigger scale, animal manure is essential to the health of the soil, resulting in healthy vegetables. Not only do my sheep (and goats, chickens, turkeys, and pigs) give us so much happiness in their presence and personalities as well as amazing fibre for spinning and knitting, but their poop feeds the soil, which grows good food, and any surplus finds its way back to the animal's troughs to start all over again. Honestly, keeping animals on the farm has brought us full circle to the cycle of life and it has enlightened me as to how important these relationships are to growing food.
What do you most love to grow?
My first thought is flowers, flowers, flowers!!!! I just can't grow enough of them...and I see why someone once said that the earth laughs in flowers! I also love tending my dye garden...indigo, madder, hollyhocks, zinnias, calendula,, chammomile, marigolds, onions, fennel, tickseed...on and on. The colours that may be extracted from most plants is incredible! I get a deep sense of fulfillment spinning and knitting our own wool that is dyed from our homegrown or wildcrafted plants.
(My daughter, Sunshine, wearing her homespun sweater made from wool dyed with chammomile, madder root, onion skins, Queen Anne's Lace flower heads and lobster mushrooms.)
If you have children, what role do they play in your gardening?
Gardening, like everything else we do, is a family venture. Each child has their own garden bed that they are responsible for. Every year, we look forward to the arrival of the seed catalogues and begin planning what will be grown in their beds. All three have always enjoyed gardening, partly because it is such an integral part of our life...from late winter days of nurturing tender seedlings indoors to mid-summer weeding and watering, to autumn harvesting. It all becomes a part of our homeschool days...worms and composting, plant similarities and differences, making manure teas and sowing cover crops, learning local weather lore, and identifying medicinal herbs and knowing when to harvest them.
Learning the ancient ways of planting according to the phases of the moon and other cosmic influences has been a wonderful way to enhance plant growth (and deter pests, prolong storage, and more). For example, it is ideal to transplant starts in the waning moon when the lunar energy is pulling forces back into the earth. Also, picking fruit for storing ought to be done in the waxing phase of the moon as the lunar forces are pulling water and vitality upwards into the plant. In this approach, there are certain days that will best harness the energy of particular plants (explained in Biodynamic calendars) ~ either root, leaf, flower, or fruit plants. I find it quite fascinating that it works so well and haven't gardened any other way for years.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I am a wife to a back country ski guide who, when he is not skiing deep powder in the mountains, makes durable garden beds and can fix any watering problem. I homeschool our three kids on a small farm and find great happiness tending my flock of fibre sheep. I just launched an on-line fibre and yarn business, mostly made from our own homegrown wool. You can usually find me up to my elbows in soil or wool...both bring great satisfaction and a deep sense of peace to my Being!
You can find new batches of Jules' farm fresh fibre at www.woolmaiden.com, on Facebook at woolmaiden and on Instagram at @woolmaiden.com. You can also read more of her musings on her blog at www.alittlecraftynest.com.
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Thank you, Jules, for sharing your garden!
(If you'd like to share your garden with us this season, send me an email for more details.)