What is the one thing that every first time gardener should remember? Sustainability expert and master gardener Celeste Longacre is here to tell us! Celeste is joining us for part three of our interview series on learning to grow your own food at home. In this segment we cover the benefits of community gardening, what to look for when purchasing seeds and how to preserve food to last all year. Can't you almost taste the delicious, fresh homegrown veggies just thinking about it? Enter Celeste...
What is the number one thing new gardeners should remember?
Play and figure out what works for you! Everyone is different, and everyone has a different amount of time that they can give to this endeavor. Also, this is something that I absolutely love to do, so even though it takes an immense amount of time I’m happy. I think that is really important. If you hate gardening, buy your vegetables from a local farm! I believe everything carries the vibrations of what has happened to it, which is one of the reasons why it is really not good to buy meat or eggs from animals that were not well treated. So if you really love your garden it is going to love you back. And if you don’t, find a farmer that is happy to farm and get your stuff from them. Farmers will sell large quantities during the fall harvest because they want to get rid of their goods. It is there for you to take to put in your freezer or root cellar, or to can or dry. Buying and preserving food in this way can help you save a lot of money too.
What are your thoughts about community gardens?
Community gardens are starting to appear in lots of places and I think that is a wonderful thing. If you look at all of the lawns we have in this country it is kind of ridiculous. Sometimes churches will have a big back area that they will let people use for a garden or even the town commons. Another advantage is that when you take part in a community garden there are usually people who have been gardening for a long time and who are willing to help you figure out how to go about planting and maintaining a plot. Experienced gardeners often enjoy sharing their knowledge with other people, which works well for newcomers. Members will have meetings in the spring to discuss plans for the year and then additional meetings throughout the planting season. The community garden that I wrote about in my book has a meeting in January to buy seeds together and then the members have regular potluck dinners during the year. The town clerk or other individuals in the town offices can be very helpful at locating community gardens in your area.
What should people look for in purchasing seeds?
You can go online and find a lot of different companies that sell seeds. Ask them to send you catalogs, because they include a lot of information about how to grow things. The catalog will explain details like “if you live in the North, start this seed inside for 6 weeks before you transfer it out,” or “this seed can be planted in the ground,” or “this type of lettuce does particularly well in the spring but bolts in the summer.” Read the descriptions of what the catalog companies are telling you about the seeds and see if it fits your needs. That’s a way to sort through the different choices. Generally I am a proponent of organic seeds, because they don’t have chemicals in them.
How do you preserve food to last all year?
I have a very large garden and I grow all of our fruits and vegetables for the entire year. Because I live in New Hampshire and we have winter, I do a lot of preserving in the warmer months so that things last during the cold season. I have a root cellar where I keep beets, carrots and potatoes. They keep wonderfully there; I can pull them out the following July and they will still look fresh and taste delicious. For onions, you need to grow a specific type called Keeper Onions. You place them out in the sun for 7 days, and bring them in at night so that they do not get wet from the dew. After that they keep until the following year. I freeze corn, beans, broccoli and lots of different kinds of berries. Freezing is pretty easy to do. I have two big freezers and I already have enough food in there to keep me through the winter and into the spring without buying much. I also do some canning. I can my Garden Delight which is a tomato based dish that cooks down into a sauce as well. Preserving takes time and organization, but that is why I included a schedule of what I do each month in my book. If you live in an area that is not exactly the same as mine, you can play with timing and move tasks around a little. This has really helped people to get an idea of how to schedule their time to have a more successful garden.
Will you share a little about your house?
Sure! My house is an octagon. When I first met my husband he had just built the octagon structure. It was solid and warm, but had no electricity or running water. It had a wood stove and a gas stove, but we had to bring the water in and originally bring it out as well, as there wasn’t even a sink or a drain until our first summer there. We had a big conversation right away, and decided that we didn’t want to have a mortgage, so we were only going to buy stuff as we could afford to pay for it. After 3 years I got a hand pump at the kitchen sink so that I could have water. I waited 8 more years until we had all of the plumbing and electricity finished. So I lived in this house for 11 years before I had hot running water. This type of lifestyle is not for everybody, but I was young and investing my todays in my tomorrows. A lot of people now want everything instantly, which takes away from their futures. Once I had the hot running water I had everything, and still no debt. Since then we’ve done some additions to the octagon like the root cellar that is now under the floor and a pantry. We have an area for all of the plumbing, a porch, and a sun space. Living this way gives me the ability to take the time to spend in the garden, because I don’t have to come up with a lot of money to pay for a high rent or a high mortgage. I’ve never been forced to work a 40 hour week because I don’t have the financial pressure.
Keep up with Celeste and learn more about her gardening and homesteading adventures at celestelongacre.com. And don't forget to check out her book Celeste's Garden Delights: Discover the Many Ways a Garden Can Nurture You, which is now available through our store.