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Episode 90: Tom Lampman | Father, Dairy Processer, and Gardener Extraordinare | Calmar, Alberta, CA | Part 1
19th October 2015 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:48:34

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Tom Lampman is a father and gardener who I’ve been emailing and bugging to come on the show, and he’s busier then I am, and he patiently dealt with my technology problems today besides and so he is here to share his story of many successful gardening adventures!

Tell us a little about yourself. 

I can start with the long story, but that starts back in about the 1700s, so I’ll give you the short story. I grew up in Minnesota, come from a long line of German Protestant farmers. Grew up basically in a the house my dad  built in basically the sheep pasture of my grandfather’s farm, which really was his wife’s farm, he was a hired hand and she married him, that’s how i got located there.

Went to University, met a girl from Minneapolis, what can I say? We hit it off pretty good, but getting tired of the big city life. Minneapolis, where we went to the school, was a great place, lots of lakes and bike trails, and stuff like that, but it was an urban center, we like the country and being out in the sticks away from people. A buddy of mine said come on up to Winnipeg. We’d  go up and visit, and really liked the lakes and the woods. Then he said “How’d you like to work up here?” I said “What do you got?” He had a job, so things came to pass, and I took him up on the offer! We went up there unseen, untried, we said let’s give it a whirl, and never looked back after that, been up north, living in the sticks as close as we can get for all these years?!

All this time I’ve been thinking you were a native Canadian. Was it scary moving to Canada? Was it hard?

Where is Winnipeg? About straight north of Grand Forks. From Winnipeg, we were there for about 10 years,  working for a big dairy processing company. They moved me out to Alberta, out to Calmar.

I’m all confused, I was thinking you were on the coast.

Well, everybody’s from someplace.

Are you on the coast?

Probably straight north of where you are. 53rd paralell about 113th longitude!

Straight North Eureka, Billings, Lethbridge, Calgary, that area.

For some reason I thought you were on the west coast on the ocean?

Nah, it’s too expensive to live there.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

I come from a long line of German Protestant farmers. My first memories, the first memories I have are of digging potatoes with my great grandfather. He was probably 90 years of age at the time we were out there digging potatoes. An old farmer who’d been farming for lots of years, who had retired in a post war house he bought after saving a little money over the years. He had a little garden in the backyard. He’d take his garbage and clippings and potato peelings and burry them in the backyard. I never thought anything of it at the time. Now were’ kind of back to that situation. I’m doing about the same thing now except I’ve got a big barrel, I keep all my compost in.


Several barrels as a matter of fact.

Tell us about that.

Up here we’re like the Texas of the north, oil patch is pretty big up here. Oil, Tar Sands and stuff. You get a lot of these old oil barrels, there’s plastic ones. Being pretty frugal I never throw anything away, I can always make a use for everything. So what I’ve done, I’ve taken these and cut the tops out and the bottoms out, drill a couple of 2” holes around the edges, and put all my stuff in there. Grass clippings, leaves, what have you. Then I water it down. I have 3 in a row, and I just keep transferring it every month  or 2 months, I got some of those red wiggler worms and I put those in there and it’s just amazing how fast those guys decompose organic waste. Just unreal! So that’s what I do, then I have another couple of big areas out back with some mesh, with grass clippings. I keep rotating it and flipping it, it’s a bit of work.

I’m looking at the picture you sent me, I’m picturing them sideways. but I ‘m looking at the pics you sent them. You cut the bottom out and they’re standing up. Are they hard to turn?

They can be, I just scoop it out at the top, and when they get half full I just wiggle the barrel, and theres a little pile there, and I just flip that into the next one. I don’t go to the gym but I use that pitch fork quite a bit!

I think we’re gonna do a Gardening Cross-fit program! Adam Pruett from last Monday’s episode 88  he talked about a contest! Kind of like an event and everyone would get together and we’d have a gardening cross-fit challenge. Who could throw the And Kelly Ware’s talked a lot about Gardening Cross-fit.

I got nothing to prove to anybody. I’ll leave the contest up to somebody stronger.

Yeah, well he’s just a young kid in college still!

What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?

I guess where we live here. We live right in black soil country, we got some of the best soil in North America right here. We’re surrounded by big commercial farms, the neighbor next door on the next corner over, he farms about 5000 acres, the guy across the road does about 1000 acres. It’s pretty commercially industrial type agriculture around here. Everybody uses sprays. There’s Roundup ready this and roundup ready that, there’s fungicides, and foliar sprays. And it’s really expensive to do that! I look at all of the equipment, I look at all the costs, and being a frugal German, again I try to keep things inexpensive. If I can use stuff right around the acreage here, then that’s what I use. Why go out and by things if you can make it at home just as cheaply?

Now do you want to tell us about your family a little, because you have quite a few kids you feed?

We were gonna be the typical suburban family, you know w 2 kids. never struck us the right way, bought a little acreage, we put a mobile home on it, later on we’ll build a house, lived in the moble home for 17 years, we had  kids that came every 4 years, by the end we had 5 kids. We had the kids stacked up like cord wood in the mobile. We finally did built a 2 story garage and built the house. To make a long story short, wala! That’s where we are. Most of the kids are getting to that stage of life, where they left home. Mom and I looking at 450 lbs of potatoes and 15 squash, once you have a garden, you garden it, you grow stuff! I don’t want to sit there and mow grass all the time. Even the grass that I do have around here, I make that work for me as well. Normally here you get big rush of dandelions, in early spring, and what I normally do it let that go and what that does is that brings in the bees like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve got bumble bees, and honey bees, we get all types of pollinators around here! When they get to be about 10% white, then I go in and mow it and I mow it at the highest settings, and I take all those grass clippings go into the major piles, and water them down, and heats up, and we have old leaves from the previous years, and that stuff decomposes in about 2-3 weeks. Just beautiful stuff. Then so once the dandelions are mowed, I’ll mow it mabye once or twice during the summer, then the clover starts blooming, let that go till it’s about 50% bloom, and the bees will come in and work that over, when it’s just starting to shrivel up, then I’ll mow it again and that all goes in the compost pile as well. So I can have 6-7 cubic yards of compost when I do that, and it all eventually ends up in the garden!

Sometimes its amazing how fast compost can turn into black soil. It doesn’t take as long as some people think.

The important thing, whenever you use that compost never work it into your soil, the reason for that is it sucks nitrogen out of the ground really fast to break that down. All those critters, will use nitrogen up to build protein, that is usually the problem, when they dig their compost and it if it’s not 100% composted and aged, it will rob the soil of nitrogen, so what I do with my compost is I put it on top and let the rain, the showers wash any nutrients into the soil.

I think that’s what we do too. So maybe that’s why it works good like that.

I think if you look around on the internet, there’s a lot of gardening,  the trend is going that way, more and more people going to the no-till. I’ve watched my neighbors who talk about no-till, they rely on the sprays to do it, but they’re usually in there with a chisel plow getting it ready for seed. That’s always bugged me, why are they spending all that money on chemicals, and then there’s out there ripping the soil up, knocking the heck out of the worms, and the  micro-biological life thats in the soil. That’s when I got in with the organic farmers, why spend all that money on chemicals doesn’t seem to make sense to me, that’s where I’ve gotten to be with organic farming, why spend all that money, sitting on a million dollars  worth of equipment, the payments  and the fuel?It’s just not ecologically right. Nature does such a wonderful job of growing food for us. All you do is put a seed in the ground and it grows a lot of food for us. Why do you need all the chemicals and all that other stuff?

I hear those things about there’d be too many weeds. Like you said, it can;t be good on our food. If you’re spraying it on the apples or whatever you’re putting it on. It would be wroth it for that extra labor.

I look at ti from a financial. point, i said that to the neighbor.

you can look at it from a few different points

why spend that kind of money?

do you own this land? I own it, but I’m just a hired man. Im working for the chemical companies, I work for the bank. I’m a peasant, I know I’m a peasant, we’v always been peasant. It doesn’t change, someone always has your hand in your pocket.

Once you get attached, to the soil.

you have to sell your products to other people, and there’s always gonna be a speculator. jacking the price up of what you produce for someone else, the Middle man.

Unless you sell to farmers market. CSA shares etc? Directly to the consumer.

I’ve had a lot of people say that, Gee Tom with all that produce you should sell it! I’ve tried that a few times. I have this thing, IDK, maybe its that German Protestant background.  But to take a head of lettuce and get, a the toonie coin,  it’s a $2 coin. here I am exchanging something I took out of the ground, and they’re giving me this piece of metal back, i would sooner give it to the food bank, take it to church for the seniors,

I just put the sweat equity into it, I’m not expecting to get rich, I got the house paid off. Do I need a lot more? I don’t think so.  It’s just my personal opinion.

We’re not growing to sell CSA shares? To me I thought this year I thought how much are we gonna have to grow to make a living, and sell CSA shares. A lot of times  I have a little bit of this extra here and a little bit extra there, to drive to town, and then when I am gong to town, I’m in a rush and it’s not food pantry day, or whatever.

Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?

i go back to my earliest upbringings, in Minnesota, a hard wood forest. We had oak trees, and Walnuts and chestnuts. I guess my dad would complain that the chestnuts would get in there, power mower would fire those things around eh yard. I grew up where my great grandparents basically farmed in the middle of this area. After WWII started subdividing this land as the e soldiers were coming home. So I grew up around familiar haunts. apple trees, we still collected apples from. We never used any pesticides then, if it had a few worms then we didn’t eat it. There’s that joke, what’s worse then finding a worm in your apple? Finding half a worm.

What are you gonna do? That was my background.

My mom’s side, my great grandfather was german, first words i ever spoke were German. He was born 2 days after Lincoln was shot.that hows you how old,and what kind of  Generational divide there was between us. That’s what I knew, that’s what was in front of me. I try to do that with my grandkids they come out here, and run around the garden and it’s like an easter egg hunt, picking raspberries! or here we found some strawberries!

We need to get the kids out in the world and out into gardens, that’s where those first connections are made. If you don’t do it then, working the iPad or game boy doesn’t fit for me.

They can do that in the dark! There’s plenty of dark! When my grandkids come up they always have a blast want to pick the carrots or harvest the green beans or anything.

when you’re digging potatoes, my grandson, when I put the pitchfork under the ground his eyes pop out and to make that connection early in life. Kids today don’t even know where milk comes from, they think it comes from the store. there’s no connection with their food. Maybe I’m an old reactionary conservative?

No, I don’t think so at all.PattiArmbrister Last week I had an educator on. Patti Armbrister! in episode 86 She was like what? You don’t know where potatoes come from? You don’t know the grow in the ground? And then she was upset that they weren’t getting beef from local cows in the cafeteria when we have so many cows in Montana! So she got that changed.

I think we all want that it’s just trying to figurer out how to get there.

She went through some major battles

Kids in the schools whose parents are cattle farmers, and said we’ll donate the meat but that didn’t work either.

I think they had to change a little bit of their buying structure because it costs a lot to eat meat that is grown in Montana however ridiculous that is!

Gotta start small and think local,

it tastes better!

Strawberries! fresh out of the garden tastes so much better then ones trucked in from California!

How did you learn how to garden organically?

I think part of it is those early experiences, kind of through osmosis, I wonder if it isn’t a cultural and genetic thing? I come from a long line of farmers, and most of the people who settled north america. Had been farming all their lives, left Germany so they could find land in the new world, I can count on my hands and toes all the farmers in my family. So maybe there is a connection there.

I did actually buy Rodale’s basic book of organic gardening back in the 60’s, used to refer to that, living this far north always had to adjust to the climatic conditions up here, which can be brutal sometimes but you learn to live in your environment, tailor make your gardening to the environment. it’s important to know your environment and your geography to be successful.

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

Everything this year, had that early drought, one rain shower, managed to fill up about a dozen barrels, 50 gallon stored behind the garage That was just enough water to get most of my crops watered once, because they were starting to grow dormant, hit them with that water and really soaked the area

finally got some

in July

my pruning shears going like crazy just to cut stuff back.

gone into an emergency

Funny even the commercial farmers, emergency situation, agricultural aide, and then all of a sudden the rains came just at the perfect time

neighbor had a bumper crop of barley, broke a record, never grew as much barley as this year.

I have cucumbers I couldn’t give away enough cucumbers,

The neighbors said you should put them in a bag on someone’s step and ring the doorbell

Didn’t want to throw the stuff in the compost heap

Here comes Tom he has more potatoes and lettuce. I haven’t had to work for it, mother nature has put all on my plate, so why not share.

can only be charitable

had the best corn ever

Normally this far north you have to be really careful about where you put the corn in.

sprout seeds in a jarBut the rains came at just the right time. we had bumper crops

up until the middle of November.

when did you start harvesting?

bout that first week of August

normally it doesn’t get that hot and that corn just took off. Normally we were worried about it, because you’ve reread the old thing, knee high by the 4ht of July, we had ankle high by the fifteenth of June

by the 4th of July it just took off,

heat and sunlight makes a big difference

Living this far North, you get a lot more light

people don’t realize it,

In the morning it’s up around 4 am and sets around 11pm lots of extra light,

makes things sweeter. Producing a lot of sugars through the sunlight, lucky to have that extra light.

don’t get the heat,

this year we did to get the corn to ripen, but

the tomatoes didn’t get ripe, because we don’t have warm evenings.

some nights maybe 40-42º

need 50ºF temp at night, to get ripening of tomatoes.

I couldn’t get that back that fast.

I worked in the dairy industry for a good 40 years, you had to be able to go back and forth between liters and gallons, something you had to learn.

People don’t realize. When my parents came to visit, we didn’t realize how light it’s been. Because most nights they go to bed

I remember waiting for Mike to come in before dark and I didn’t want to cook dinner at 11:00

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

This year, actually it was last year, I planted Jerusalem artichokes, those things are like a weed!

They’re from the aster family and they grow to about 8 feet tall, and make a bit of a tuber on the bottom, it’s kind of like a potato, not that big, a bit of a nutty flavor, a lot of work to peel them and get them ready to eat, but once you get them growing in your garden, watch out

they keep coming up

if you’re going to grow them, make sure it’s away from the

The other thing is asparagus, make sure that you plant it in one place, if you ever have to move one of those things… backhoe or dynamite because those roots go down to China.

if you are gonna grow it or give some away make sure you grow in a spot that is gonna be a...