Jamie Todek is a listener who reached out to me and with a little coaxing is on the show today to share her gardening journey which is just beginning! Jamie shares her struggles, successes and passion for creating not just a place to grow food but caring for our planet with intelligence and care. Graphic designer by day, gardener by night, Jamie builds her skills and knowledge base as she combines these loves at her website the Astric Studio.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I’m born and raised Michigander. I’m 27 years old, me and my boyfriend just moved out of Suburbia to Oxford, it’s a little bit of a rural town in Michigan. We have 13-15 acres, about half of it is farmable and then we have a 2 acre pond and some wooded area as well. We’re just loving it, it’s so much fun!
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
Well I remember growing up with my mom mainly, she would garden a little bit in our backyard, I just remember playing with the compost a lot, helping her turn it, finding a lot of worms. Like me, I have 2 brothers, and we would have clear buckets, we would have worm farms, I was thinking maybe that could be why I’m very conscious of the soil.
Having a big brother as a kid is the best!
Yeah, it makes life interesting for sure!
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
Earth Friendly gardening to me means, growing your own vegetables or flowers and disrupting the natural cycle of things as little as possible. So not only are you using less fertilizers and chemical additives to it, but you can get organic things that also impact the natural course of bees and other insects, so it’s just being conscious that even the little things will roll, if they don’t get solved it develops a larger problem, letting nature run its own course, pretty much.
Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?
It all goes back to I used to be a very big meat eater, and in high school one of my friends bet me that for lent I could not give up meat, and I ended up doing a research paper on vegetarianism. And from there I’ve always been health conscious. And then in college I did some research papers on GMOs and learned all of the harmful things that can cause can be not only to yourself but to the environment. So wanting to stay away from those, led to what is causing that? OK, chemicals. So let’s try and grow organically so we can help the world be healthier.
I heard this woman called Vani Hari on Lewis Howe’s School of Greatness. And she goes by the name Food Babe, and she is developing the Food Babe Army, she doesn’t really like that name, but it stuck. But she is doing these studies that are changing the world. She’s the one that got Chipolte to list their ingredients, and then lately I think she is responsible for Kraft Food, that were putting dyes in American food but they weren’t able to put it in food in Europe and now I think they don’t put that dye here either anymore because she got so many people to sign her petitions. She influenced me to really give up processsed food.
It’s right up my alley, it’s amazing the kind of things Europe bans that are still legal in the U.S. It’s the public’s duty to do the research themselves so I really commend her on all of her work.
She really kind of fell into it, I can’t remember if she got sick, and she started eating healthy, but food was expensive so she started buying big bulk loads of food. But to get the discount she had to order like a whole truckload of food, so she would have like these giant food sales in her parent’s garage. Like a CSA, but from the grocery store. But eventually her neighbors weren’t too happy with all the traffic on Thursday evenings and it just took off from there…
How did you learn how to garden organically?
Doing my own research,looking it up on line, having to write a research paper, kind of doing in looking at both sides of the story. I wasn’t one of those just do it just to do it people, I wanted to know why. And why is that in our food to begin with? And a lot of times it comes to the corporations that are growing the food. So it comes back to Buy Local.
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
Our garden I’m so excited! It was a lot of fun! I did have a little garden, back at my boyfriend’s moms, just cucumbers, tomatoes, and beans. And I couldn’t figure out what kept eating the beans. I had a fence around it, and I couldn’t figure it out until it rained, and I could see the tunnel sink into the ground, so I knew it was like a mole or something that finally devistated all of those!
This year we have a little bit of everything, corn, squash, cucumbers! What did most prolific so far, I got some seeds at work, I thought it was mustard greens, so I planted it, but it’s actually mustard seed! So I have a bountiful crop of mustard seed that I will be grinding down soon. It’s laying out to dry right now!
Really! How exciting is that! What are you going to grind it in?
I’ll probably get a grinder to do some of my herbs as well. Everybody asks what are you gonna do with mustard?
Now that I’m harvesting more things you’d be amazed how many recipes call for mustard! So It’s gonna be exciting. Add it to pickles etc. Really you can hang the whole plant up upside down, just over a cardboard box or some paper bags. So as they dry, the seeds just fall out, so you just sift it, so its really easy to harvest!
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
Keep better records of all my planting, I do love watering, waking up before work at 6 o’clock and going out there, but I think installing a drip irrigation would be really helpful for those days I can’t get out there.
David from Arlee said his favorite tool was his drip irrigation system in Episode 69. And my husband keeps telling me he’s gotta do something about water. Joyce Pinson recommended Jean-Martin Fortier‘s book called the Market Gardener: A successful Grower’s Handbook for Small Scale Organic Farming in Episode 45 of the Organic Gardener Podcast. Mike said there was an irrigation system where you build holding ponds for water, because our wells keep running dry…
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
That would have to be my sugar snap peas, the animals ate them. I do have a fence up, but it’s just a favorite, but they would get em before they were even 6 inches they would just chomp on them. I had put, I started doing seedlings cucumbers and squash indoors early on and when I put them outside. I did watch some videos on how to harden them off and introduce them to the light and it was raining season. So I would put them outside gradually increasing the times, and then it would rain for like 3 days, and I kept them inside, so finally after I got them out all day, they burnt to a crisp in the sun, so I actually had to replant all my cucumbers, but now they’re doing ok.
It’s hard sometimes when they are shocked they come out better in the end. It’s hard to keep on top of everything.
Especially when you work all day and school and I’d rather be out in the garden so it’s hard to find time to do the stuff I need to do!
Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.
Mine is that seedlings this round with the cucumbers. I’ve had pretty good success with them. Last year they were humongous! They really we’re growing too fast, I couldn’t get rid of them on time. Other then that, herbs, basil is pretty easy to grow.
Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate.
I heard, like we have a pretty short growing season here up in Michigan. Watermelons that take a longer season to grow, they might not ripen in time. The past couple of years, tomatoes, some people might have a good harvest, but it can get really cold, really fast here in Michigan. A lot of people I knew, that grew tomatoes, they got rotten last year, so that’s been a challenge, so hopefully this year mine seem to be on track, so keeping my fingers crossed.
It’s hard, tomatoes are hard. They’re hard here too. I was going to ask you about the basil. Because to me basil’s the most fragile there is.
I have some in the ground near my tomatoes for companion planting. But most are in pots so once it starts to get cold I just bring them inside.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
Couldn’t really think of anything that I didn’t like to do. I’d say, when we first moved in here, we had 2 composting bins already made, and weeding those things and the weeds were like 2 feet deep, and I had just had rotator cuff surgery too so my mom and I were going at that for a couple of days.
That’s good that you said that in the beginning. I think it encourages people, it makes it seem not so hard.
Even if it doesn’t make it, so to speak, then next year you know how to do it a little bit better. I feel like farming and gardening is always a live and learn.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
I really like planting the seeds, getting dirty, you know, watching them sprout up. That would be my favorite. Harvesting too, thinking of the recipes you can incorporate as many of the vegetables together.
Tell us about the best crop you ever grew.
Those cucumbers last year were like crazy. Some I left on the vine too long, I’ve never seen orange cucumbers before. I’ve never seen orange cucumbers before. I don’t know if it was a chemical reaction to being on there for so long. They turned bright orange! I still ate them.
Did they taste ok?
They were pretty bitter, so I would try to pick them, but they would still turn orange.
Like a pumpkin!
It really was like quite large too like the size of a squash!
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
I think it was from your podcast. I don’t remember who it was, but it was just “go try it,” Get dirty pretty much! You learn the best by doing it yourself, research is good but you will retain more information once you actually do it yourself.
Have you ever entered a fair? How’d that go?
I haven’t not yet, i was just told that my squash this year would be a candidate! Michigan doesn’t have a state fair anymore. Certain counties do but they got rid of the big one.
I was just talking to someone, Mike’s won most of his awards for uniform size. Where they are all about the same length or thickness.
Do you have to sell like a wholesale quantity?
We don’t sell any of our food. We just grow for ourselves. I don’t think that matters. Usually there’s a fair book that tells you all the different categories and things you can enter.
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.
Definitely my shovel, just for ease, I have this little hand shovel. It’s razored on one edge. The tip of it has like a fork. So you can weed with the tip, you can shovel if you need to plant anything, and it kind of works as a saw. I left rows of grass in between my garden beds, Idon’t know if that was a good idea or a bad idea because they keep trying to get into my actual planting, so I just kind of take that and try to keep them back.
Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last?
I’m starting. My boyfriend’s mom was big into canning, she brought over all of her cans, I’m gonna try my first pickling. We do freeze some stuff, just blanching and freeze them. I do want to put a root cellar in the basement. I’m not sure how hard that will be but it’s on the list of things to do.
Do you have any special techniques for cooking weird or unusual foods?
Usually we grill al lot of foods, we just take some aluminum foil, put whatever’s harvested or sounds good and put some olive oils, make a pack of vegetables or potatoes.
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
Recipes? Well my mom has this cucumber salad recipe. It’s a Polish recipe, with a salty vinegary taste.
You peel em, I like them with the seeds in but my mom scrapes the seeds out, then puts them in a bowl, and salts that. Then makes the sauce that goes on top:
Then she lets it sit overnight, everyone seems to love it, and it goes well with a number of things.
A favorite internet resource?
YouTube is like my Go-To. Recently I google the first thing I do, I look at this video, I ran across the frugal green girl, she posts a lot of videos about everything pertaining to garden and she explains things really well. Other then that, when I was first starting to plan my garden, I was studying what companion plants would go together, and crop rotation for next year so it completely enriches the soil. I ran across this website my gardenplannner.com and you can put in your vegetables and it has a brief description so you know when to start. It has everything all in one spot! It tells you when to plant, when to harvest. You can print them out. I think there is a fee. I used mine to plan out the garden. I printed the page and put it in my gardening book for next year. I’m not sure I’ll end up paying for the subscription but it was a great way to start out.
I think that’s why newer gardeners have lots to offer listeners because people who have been doing it for 30+ years etc don’t know about the basics that new gardeners are struggling.
I hear the almanac.com would be another one, and they have the planner.
My boyfriend will wake up in the morning and say “no planting, it’s a bad day for planting” and I’ll be like where did you get the from and hell be like the almanac.com! they are kinda good! I know a lot of farmers respect them.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
there’s so many gardening blogs out there
square foot gardening that’s kind of what I’m reading to maximize my garden in smallest space but I’m debating if I should do the above ground beds.
Ladonna Kinnick in Episode 5
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?
I would have to say that the biggest problem right now in America, the labeling of GMO’s and then using conventional means of farming, while where undergoing a huge drought in some of the states and in the past the dust bowl, a huge portion of it was attributed to the chemicals and not rotating your crops, so I think addressing those problems.
to those in the future
everyone’s always going to need to eat.
You’re the second person to say that this week.
Let food be thy medicine kind of thing,
people need to eat healthy in order to feel good.
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
“Let’s get growing!”
How do we connect with you?
They can reach out to me, I have my design studio Astric Studio.
from there I will have my gardening blog soon. Yeah! Reach out to me! I’d love any suggestions or things to participate in, I’m just now becoming part of this gardening community and I’m looking for people to kinda help me along.
Tell us a little more about astericstudio.com
Yep, pretty much my portfolio and how to contact me, I just recently put that up. I’m a graphic designer getting into web design that is my resource on the web right now!
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