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Replay of 152. Horticulture Educator | Master Gardener | Fruit Tree Care | Leslie Fowler | Eureka, MT
29th July 2018 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:54:24

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replay of my original interview with Leslie August 18, 2016

Leslie Fowler is a master gardener who has been growing food organically for her family for over 30 years. Today she shares her successes, failures, challenges and valuable tips for gardeners to learn from.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’ve lived in this valley for 34 years, I have 3 kids and 4 grandkids. I have an acre of land on a beautiful lake. I have a 30 x50 organic garden. And a  pretty large orchard there’s like 17 trees, maybe it seems big because it’s just me here, so that seems like a lot for one person!

That’s a pretty substantial size!

They’re fully producing. We’ve had the orchard in for like 20 years now.

What kind of trees?

Primarily apple, different varieties. I do have a pear tree. We had some cherries and some plums one thing or another happened and they just didn’t survive.

We did plant a peach tree one time, people around here were like you can’t grow peaches  around here. It was an Alberta Peach, we planted it, babied it, every fall we wrapped insulation around the trunk, and protected it, and finally on it’s 8th year, first year it produced, it was loaded with fruit … Unfortunately there were four main branches, they were so loaded down with fruit, it started to split in the trunk. As soon as we noticed we propped each branch up with a 2×4 and try to support the trunk and we had a wonderful harvest but unfortunately we lost it. 

I also have numerous

  • flower beds

  • raspberry patch

  • root cellar to store my crops

I work at a therapeutic therapeutic boarding school and I teach horticulture there!

That’s a grat thing for them to learn, It’s so beautiful out there. So I’m a little bit curious does it make a difference being by the lake. 

Well comparatively to town, town will often get a frost about 3 weeks before I do,

I tend to have about a month long

Is that because of the lake or is boarding that because your north of town?

IDK, I’m only five miles from town, we are kind of down from town, we’re down, we’re kind of down in the hole, Im not sure if it’s cause of the lake, ponderosa dry area… of course with Montana I’ve seen it snow in July so you never know. 

I know right? It’s interesting I’m actually working around the corner form you at the Wilderness Club this summer and just you know after living here for 25 years almost, you know we’re south of town and up against the mountains to see the different views out there, the views are breathtaking, it’s a little bit of a different summer climate and the different microclimates around here amaze me, we’re like the opposite of you because we’ere south of town, we’re like 3 weeks behind town.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

Actually I grew up in LA, in the suburbs of LA, we did in the residential area where I lived there were a lot of orange and lemon groves unfortunately they’re not there anymore but I remember as a kid being fascinated by those trees I would go make little forts and play in there. My real first gardening experience was with my great grandmother. 

She gardened her whole life so that was when I was introduced to it. I was pretty young  … I just adored her… I remember growing the pumpkins, all those fun things kids like to grow and  carrots…. I quickly realized her food always tasted better… So that sparked my interest … in my teen years, I didn’t garden a lot.

I actually went to high school in Colorado.

I went to an alternative school there. We had a green house and a garden. Our cafeteria was called “Munchies Central” … you could take a class and get a Home EC credit and feed the school. They would have you  create your own menus. You’d go out to the garden and see what was ready.  Try to create a menu around that, that’s So that’s when I first got exposed to organic foods and eating more healthy! And I loved it!

I was just gonna say a couple of things… one I was in LA this spring… in Venice Beach and I was so amazed at how good it smelled it was like walking around in this perfume bottle, it was just incredible the gardens I had no idea.  And then that’s cool that you went to an alternative high school where they let you cook and had organic foods. So how did you end up in Montana?

Well, that’s kind of a funny story, a group of friends in high school and I decided we wanted to live off the land, so we wanted to move to Alaska and try to do that, we wanted to go as far North as possible. A large part of the group went ahead of time, and I ended up back in California. And a good friend of mine was like, “You need to come up here!” So I ended up going up there, we were there for about a year, and quickly realized it’s realyl hard to do that up there, 

  • land is expensive

  • there’s a lot of tundra

it was just difficult to do. In the meantime the group stared breaking up a little, and ended up with just 2 couples, and we decided we’re gonna head down to the lower 48 and so the first town we come to when we cross the boarder that’s where were gonna end up and so when we rolled into Eureka, I was like I could live there …

So you kind of told us how you learned to garden but is that how you garden organically?

So then when we moved here, we  bought 40 acres up above Fortine….  it made more sense to us, we were so aware of the planet and we wanted to build it up and not poison it. In my opinion you could get the same if not better results in my opinion by adding organic matter it was sort of a no brainer.

Did you have books and things?

Back then, it was a little bit of everything …. back then we read a lot of books … my favorite was just to talk about the old timers got a lot of good tips from them. I lot of it was just from trial and error, experience, I did  take the Master Gardener course through MSU, later in my life but I honestly feel like I learned the most from talking to others and from trial & error.

I know what I was gonna say earlier is that you were talking about your grandmother introducing you to food… If your kids or grandkids are showing some resistance…. or not showing any enthusiasm, just kind of ignore it, and just share your passion and they tend to take it in. Our kids are here this weekend, picking the apples in the trees and stuff!

I have all grandsons, so I’ll say let;s go out in the garden and look for worms, I have a little bug box and a net, and I’ll be like oh look at this carrot is ready, and we inevitably we end up doing things out resistance there which is really fun!

I like that. I knew you’d drop golden seeds, because that would be totally me, like let’s go garden, or lets go pull weeds, or let’s go help Grandpa! That would be a better way to do it.

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

The weeds!!! Have grown the best!

I just did a snap chat of Mike this morning saying Man the weeds have exploded overnight!

I got things in pretty late!

We did too!

Because I garden for my job, it’s hard to garden for 8 hours and come home and be inspired to do the same thing….so things are doing well, I just got a late start.

Yep, Mike’s kind of trying a different thing, more for a fall crop. Something that would be over in the spring, we just picked the first head of broccoli the other day. It seemed like that we had an early spring and then things got away from us.


It’s doing really well, my orchard … my apple trees are just loaded with apples…. I actually had to thin them a little bit … 

Do you have anything to tell listeners or tips?

Orchard Tips

That was kind of my husbands’ baby, he did more of the orchard, I learned a lot from him… that was more of his passion. Just if you’re gonna put in an orchard

  • make sure it’s a good soil
  • a little bit of a slope a little drainage
  • amend each hole as you plant the tree
  • put it in a place with pretty good soil
  • research with how to plant
  • stake the trees down to support them

A lot of people around think you lose trees over the winter because of the cold, but you

  • need to soak them down really well in the fall

if I’m anticipating a frost in 2-3 weeks I …

  • put soakers and sprinklers and soak over night and move it over and over and over
  • water on the drip line not at the base of the tree
  • fertilizer same time, because it encourages the roots to reach outward

So is the drip line, IDK what that means, like the end of the branches?

the drip line is the canopy of the tree. amend big the tree is, how far the branches go out, imagine if it starts to rain, it’s gonna drip off However ends. And that’s where you want to water and fertilize.

So should you have a hole in the ground, where it’s bare dirt? I know it’s supposed to hav a those circle of bare dirt, amend it go all the way out to the drip line?

No, I don’t think that’s necessary.

Just get that grass wet?

My understanding is around here you can get a lot of voles and pocket mice in the grass in the winter and chew on the roots and stuff. So if you keep it bare around there it protects it from critters… 

Tree Pruning 

Other then that pruning of course it’s beter to

  • do it while the tree is dormant
  • close to spring… dormant all winter.

You wouldn’t want to go out in Dec … This year we did it really early, I had some friends came out and helped me prune and we did it in February, early spring, pruned while their dormant.

My orchard is organic so if I do need to spray I 

  • use neem oil
  • honey bees

want to do that

I think my orchard do really well, should because people have honey bees close by, whenever it’s blooming, once the blooms drop off and the fruit sets that’s should when when want to spray. But I didn’t spray this year and I didn’t seem to have any worms that I can tell so far.

That’s interesting I was just gonna say, what are you spraying for anyway?

Usually worms. 

if you keep your orchard really healthy…

Let me reverse that, if you don’t keep your orchard healthy and if your trees don’t get any kind of distress, if you don’t

  • water enough
  • fertilize enough
  • prune them properly

they get into distress and they actually send out a pheromone that attracts insects… If you keep them healthy you don’t need to spray.

Simply Trees Facebook Page fruit tree pruning

Well that’s great because I know my listeners are really into trees. Russ you from Simply Trees in Utah, was my guest in episode 26 and again this spring in episode 130 is always in my most downloaded episodes. He says the same thing

If you keep your orchard healthy and fruit trees healthy that’s the best thing you can do! 

So that’s perfect there there because because there there there there there and giving us some actionable tips we can take, lots of first hand knowledge!  

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

I because try something new every year, I feel like that’s how you learn, So something the Native Americans used to do,  one thing you do one year

used to catch fish, put them under your corn

had a bunch of sunfish in there and I brought them up to the actually gardening planted a corn I put a sun fish under each one

You’re just a because natural scientist…

when I experiment I find it intriguing

I did that and I didn’t notice any difference, and I thought that’s natural….

But the next year

I put broccoli there

I was getting these huge heads of broccoli

dinner size plates

that’s where I put the fish…

That’s a great tip, especially interesting is my Broccoli thing so Mike planted a lot of favorite broccoli this year, because last year I was just whining if I had a garden I’d plant like all broccoli. 

Usually I do crop rotation

corn is a heavy feeder and so is broccoli, I’m not sure why I put it because, it was probably just the layout of the garden. 


Because I do...