Artwork for podcast GREEN Organic Garden Podcast
55: Jackie Marie Beyer | Host of the Organic Gardener Podcast, Educator, and Watercolor Artist | Organic Oasis in Fortine, MT
1st January 1970 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:53:38

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Mike and Jackie Marie Beyer live in a cabin nestled in the NorthWest corner of Montana where they enjoy the “Organic Oasis.”  Mike is the real organic gardener, who’s been growing vegetables, fruits and flowers for over 40 years. Living in a small cabin on 20 amazing acres in rural NW Montana, they only garden on about an acre of it. Mike starts broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, and lots of flowers in a makeshift greenhouse on their porch in the spring and then plants the rest outside as soon as he can work the soil. Every year they harvest potatoes, carrots, green beans, beets, and much more and eat fresh salads topped with radishes, fresh herbs, and nasturtiums all summer long.   In 2012 they planted a small orchard of fruit trees including apples, pears, and plums. Every year Mike’s goal is to plant more and more of our own vegetables so eventually they can make it through the year without having to buy any, or at least not many.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in NY on Long Island, about 20 miles outside of NYC. I read a book about Montana when I was in 4th grade, and said Im gonna move there some day. It’s  called Sasha, My Friend , it’s out of print by Barbara Corcoran who’s written lots of books for kids way before YA was popular. In High School I got Montana Magazine and so when I was 21 I applied to the University of Montana  and I moved to Missoula.


Tree Planting

And when I was a junior my friends were like you should go plant trees and this one friend of mine said I should go work for this crew the “Frog-skinners” up in Eureka, MT. I said the frogskineners? Ok, they gave me the phone number, and it turned out to be Lisa’s husband and I called them, and they hired me, and I came up to plant trees, which was one of the hardest jobs ever but definitely one of my all times favoritest jobs ever! And that’s where I met my husband Mike on a mountain right in the middle of the woods and we’ve been happily married almost 22 years in a couple of weeks.

That’s basically where I learned how to garden in Mike’s Organic Oasis. We’re both passionate environmentalists. He’s the biggest gardener who’s taught me everything I know, a lot of you know I talk about in the garden he does most of the work. The interesting thing in the book, the girl moves to Libby which is right near here, her dad has like 500 acres, we have 20 acres of Christmas trees, natural doug fir that Mike’s sold forever. I always think that’s a coincidence, that I didn’t even realize till I’d lived here for like 10 years and I ordered the book from amazon so I got pretty close. So that’s how I ended up gardening in Montana!

How long ago was it that you originally came to Montana?

I moved to Montana in 1988, right after the big Yellowstone fires, and I lived in Missoula for 3 years and then I came up here in 1991, was my first season planting trees! And then we got married in ’93!

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

So my mom, who I interviewed on episode 10, was always a big gardener. My very first experiences were always in her front yard and back yard, she always had a beautiful garden, she grows tons of herbs. But my first actual gardening experience where I gardened was a summer program at Clark Botanical Gardens (a 12-acre living museum and educational facility) in NY,  they have gorgeous flowers and tons of information and they had like a gardening program for kids. My mom tried to get me to garden as a kid, but I was definitely not interested in being in the hot sun, she thrives in the hot sun and I wilt. She didn’t grow a lot of vegetables. To me the big difference was having to bend over on the ground all the time whereas Mike has built all these raised beds and to me that is the big difference! When you don’t have to bend over in the back breaking weeding, when your up on the bed, and you can sit on the edge of the beds and weed makes it all the more appealing, convenient, easier.

User friendly huh?


What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?

Organic gardening to me, since I started doing the podcast tons of people have talked about permaculture but I don’t know much about that. Organic gardening means to me using natural compost to enhance your soil, not spraying any kind of chemical fertilizers on your plants, doing what you can do to create an ecosystem that makes your plants grow in a natural way, I just think putting pesticides on our fruit and vegetables that your gonna eat just seems counter-productive and there has to be a better way to get rid of the weeds, and I always think it has to be less expensive, maybe it’s more labor consuming, I think if you water properly, we’ve always had a shortage of water and by watering less by putting the water right at the roots we get less weeds all the time.

After reading Rodale’s Organic Gardening Magazine which is what inspired me to learn about and promote organic gardening how they talk about their farm test trial, where back in the 1940’s  (this should say 40 yeas ago in the late 70s) they started two giant test plots. They would plant the commercial conventional way using fertilizers and pesticides and different things and they would plant the organic way side by side and sets of identical crops and the organic crops would produce more. The conventional way would produce more if you had the exact ideal conditions. The chemicals are made for when you have the amount of sun, heat, rain, and everything is ideal, and we all know in nature we don’t get that. The only time the conventional methods produced more.

The article was about feeding the world, and that we have the technology, we have the knowledge now, there is no reason for any people anywhere to go hungry, we just need the political will.

So is that what inspired you to start using organic techniques?

That inspired me as an adult, but my mom, ultimately always grew that way, and she is a passionate educator! She taught kindergarten for 25+ years, and was a sub before that, the head of her PTA, the president of her auxiliary gardening club at the botanical gardens for years, and she couldn’t walk down the street without talking to her neighbors about the benefits of organics, or anywhere, she was just a natural educator, and I think just living and being around her, we always had a compost collector on her kitchen counter. It was a cardboard milk carton. Now she probably has a nice porcelain one with a lid and everything. I remember bringing one to college in Brooklyn. And my roommates were like what’s that, and I was like didn’t you always have one on your counter?

How did you learn how to garden organically?

I read the Organic Gardening Magazines, and I watched my mom for years, but really Mike has taught me everything. I think just practice is how he learned, and doing it. He’s always been gardening since he was a kid, and his mom had a garden here. His parents had a 1200 acre ranch here, that we have the last 20 of it so he’s gardened in this area for years, he moved up here when he was in jr. high, and before that in Colorado. We’v always had compost, we started small, we had a 10 foot bed, we always had deer. We had these two 10’x4’ beds, and he would put chicken wire triangular teepee things to keep the deer out. Just over the years building up. I would say Mike’s probably taught me the most watching him over the years.

So if I’m not mistaken, did you haul water for your garden?

We did. We dug a shallow well in 1999, but we just dug a real well which is 560’ deep two years ago! From 1993-1999 we hauled water, we had a giant water truck that would hold like 1500 gallons. I always thought the most magical thing like that was when Mike would water the grass and it was a gravity fed sprinkler that would water like a little 3 foot radius. You could literally see the lawn turning green, it was like painting the lawn. When we hauled water for dishes, and laundry and stuff we didn’t really garden. But even with the shallow well our water was limited, we could never water the lawn with sprinklers etc. It was pretty neat to see the spigot

It’s pretty amazing when you struggle for water to finally have it!

I think when you live like that for a long time, you really learn about what you’re watering, etc. You really focus on the roots of the plants that you want to grow. You were only gonna water the plant, our weeds were so limited. When I look outside now at the beds and grass growing in some of the beds. Mike started this new mini-farm that’s like a 1/2 acre this year, so the regular garden where we have like 260′ of fence where the regular beds the tomatoes and peppers grow are already getting pretty weedy this year.

Tell us about something that grew well last year.

An Apple Tree in the Organic Oasis

I’m gonna say what grew well last year for us were our fruit trees. We planted an orchard with 14 fruit trees, apples, pears, an apricot and a cherry and I just can’t believe how many apples we got last year. We have one tree we planted in 2005 and I do think the extra water had a lot to do how prolific that tree was last season. The other day I went down and filled up a 5 gallon bucket and put 2 on each tree and years ago we never could have done that.


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

I’m actually gonna try to grow kale, because I have never grown kale before. And after listening to the podcast and all my guests talk about kale. I started that green smoothie thing, everyone told me I need to drink hemp protein, but IDK about smashing up my vegetables. I was almost in tears this winter putting my spinach I finally splurged on into the blender.

My favorite way to eat kale is raw in salads.

I love salads so having something new to put in my salads will be nice!

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.

Blooming Sage Plant in the Organic Oasis

I’m gonna say was my sage plant, because it died. I’ve had this sage plant for years and one of my all time favorite recipes is raviolis with a sage butter sauce, I got in a restaurant in NY one time and I was like I can do this with just some butter and sage and parmesan. And if I’m really lucky Mike will make me homemade raviolis, because he makes delicious macaroons that use the egg whites and then he’ll make noodles with the yolks.

What’s something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.

I think the easiest thing to grow around here, the most successful thing, would be, oh what was I gonna say for this? Simple things, carrots, radishes, spinach which will come up through the snow, it practically reseeds itself and just comes up in the spring. I’m gonna go with spinach.

Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate

I think the most challenging thing to grow here, I’m gonna say potatoes, even though we get lots of potatoes … and IDK, Peggy Ousley was on my show, she suggested it was the soil, we’re not putting enough alkaline, we’ve always had really scabby potatoes. I always thought it was our lack of water, and not being able to water consistently, they would get dried out a lot, I always thought that’s what led to the scabs but she gave me the impression it could be the soil because we all think that we have very acidic soil because of all the pine needles, but we don’t we actually have very alkaline soil, so she suggested we do a soil test, so I got Mike one of those soil tester things. So we’ll find out. Now last year when we had more water and he grew 100 lbs of potatoes, he didn’t have that scabby problem as much, but I think those are hard for people to grow.

The other one I think is really hard to grow here is cabbage, without bugs  and I know some people say you can use this dipel dust, and some other organic pesticides to put on them, but then when I read what the pesticide does, and how it ate out the insides of the caterpillars, I thought I’m not gonna do that.


Mike never really grows a lot of cabbage plants, but he does grow these amazing broccolis especially from seed, but last year he grew 2 of the most delicious cabbages I have ever eaten. That was another tip someone gave me, to harvest them right away so the bugs don’t have as much time to get in there. Although I think it said the cabbage caterpillar lays its eggs and they are born right inside of he cabbage, and then the caterpillars  eat the cabbage from the inside out, it lays it’s eggs on the inner leaves and it eats it from the inside out. They have a hole or two but I just cut that part out. I made some delicious Cole Slaw. I think potatoes are a little challenging but scabs aren’t that big of a deal you just peel em off.

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.

My least favorite activity to do is anything that gets me super dirty inside my jeans. So like sometimes even harvesting, because I come home from work, I like to go down there in my flip flops, or I go down there and I don’t want to get all dirty, I come home after work and go down there to harvest and next thing you know I’m standing in the dirt and I got dirt in my toes and dirt in my clothes and I’m only planning on being there for like 5 minutes and I’m down there for 1/2 hour. I like clean gardening jobs like, people say they hate mowing the lawn, I love mowing the lawn, to me mowing the lawn’s a nice clean gardening job.

I do like digging beds, like brand new beds, like you pull out the sod and digging with your shovel a brand new bed, but then I’m wearing my hiking boots and I’m planning on a day in the dirt, and I have jeans that are specifically for gardening, but I don’t like to go down there when I’m in my street clothes and get them all dirty. Sometimes even harvesting, or pulling weeds, anything that I’m not planning on spending the day in the garden and I don’t like that itchy feeling of dirt inside my clothes, like my gardening jeans are for gardening and then I take em off, you know, unless we’re going fire-wooding.

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.

And my favorite job to do, is not really a job, it’s definitely painting in the garden.

Painting in the organic oasis

Going down there, hanging out, listening to the birds and the loons that go over, and the animals around, and just being in the garden. Going down there with Mike in the morning with my coffee and filling in my journal. Just hanging out in the garden.

That is probably a lot of our favorite, gardeners favorite thing to do.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

I call it the Organic Oasis, because it is like a little oasis, before we had running water we used to go to the lake all the time, like all summer long, like every single day, we would go to the lake, we were just laughing about this the other day, I don’t even hardly go to the lake anymore, cause we just go to the garden and sit down there in the shade in the in the evenings, this is like my favoritest place to be.

Yeah I’m gonna have a lot of visitors this summer and I live where there’s lots of coyotes and animals then their used to, so I decided I’m gonna put my tent in the  middle of the garden.

Murphy Lake

Murphy Lake

What’s the best crop you ever grew?

I think my peace sign full of lettuce, I just love being able to go down there and pull the leaves off and there was one year I just had lettuce straight thru September, through the hot August summer, and I just love being able to constantly go down and pick the leaves off the outside, and I always get...