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Learn to Grow Your Own Food

While the cold winter weather may have you bundled up inside, Spring is just around the corner. That means it’s almost time to start thinking about what yummy plants and herbs you might want to plant in your garden.

Here is an interview with Mary Andrews, an experienced Horticulturist and Homesteader, who talks to us about Artemisia Academy’s Holistic Gardener Course that she teaches and the reason why we co-created and designed this brilliant course for you all to enjoy.

Emily: Tell us a little about why you wanted to create this course and what you get out of teaching?

Mary: I missed working in nurseries and talking to people about plants. I'm super enthusiastic about plants and I'd love connecting to people to encourage them to try and grow some of their own food. It's so empowering to reduce your impact on the environment.

Trucking food from Argentina has a huge environmental cost that we really ignore. If you can grow your own lettuce or your own tomato plants, even if you just grow a little bit, you are reducing your impact on the planet and providing for yourself.

We only lost the connection to growing our own food in the last couple of hundred years. A couple hundred years ago, 90% of people grew 90% of their food. Now, we have such a reliance on large-scale chemical agriculture.

I am an Organic Gardener and I really hope to teach people the methods that I use. I don't use any pesticides, not even organic ones. I go Beyond Organic, but I'm also willing to have a certain amount of crop loss. I'm not trying to make a living off my property, I'm just trying to feed my family and my friends.

I have tried to grow things like winter wheat for bread making and found that the scale for harvesting and processing is a bit beyond me, but it was a fun experiment and now I know how to make bread if I need to.

One of the things you learn when you try to grow some of your own food is an appreciation for the farmers out there. When you have a crop failure, your heart goes out to them. And you realize this is a very difficult way for people to make a living.

Emily: What have been some of the most exciting things that you've gotten out of being a teacher for the Holistic Gardener Course?

Mary: Well, I think your mom is an incredible example. She was one of my students and she was so enthusiastic. After the course was over, she pulled out a whole section of lawn and put in a berry patch. I love to see that happen and there's nothing better than going out and picking your fresh raspberries. You just cannot buy the same quality at the store that you pick off your vine. You just can't.

I also love teaching my students about fertilizers. So many people don't understand how to decide when to fertilize their gardens because of the way fertilizers are branded. And it can be confusing when people at the nursery are just trying to upsell you on fertilizers.

Honestly, unless you've done a soil test, you don't know what fertilizer you need. You might not need any Phosphorus. It’s abundant in most home gardens, so adding additional Phosphorus can actually be bad.

So we really need to train ourselves to be more scientific and less on the consumer side in our gardens. That way, we can be greener with our gardens.

People that get into gardening are often very into nature. But then you might go out and buy things like peat moss not knowing that it’s very detrimental to the environment. Peat moss is a fantastic carbon sink. And so if you're harvesting it to put in your garden, we're losing that in our environment. So I think it's really important to teach people these things.

I've also learned a ton for my students. I love it when they ask questions where I don’t know the answer and I have to research. That's been a great thing. And I've had students teach me so many new things.

One of the things that I really love about the Holistic Gardener Course is that you teach people how to properly research plants for their area. It’s important to consider the diseases in your area so that you're not just going out and buying random plants in the nursery that are going to die.

At the end of the course, everyone shares their garden designs and the feedback that all the students give to each other is so invaluable. Everyone’s supportive and encouraging and the students give each other lots of great tips to consider. So you get to learn from your classmates, too.

Now that we’ve been teaching this class for a few years, I love seeing the garden designs and then getting to see the after effects. We talk long-term about our hopes, dreams, and visions in this class and our bigger visions for the future.

Emily: What do you hope that students will walk away with when they’re done with this class?

Mary: Well, I certainly hope that anybody that takes my Holistic Gardener Course will feel empowered to go and try to grow some food. And also, don't let your failures dictate your future. If you fail at growing something, try it in a different area.

When I buy a new plant that I'm not familiar with, I plant it in three different areas of my garden to see what it actually prefers. Does it really want the full sun like the book says? Or does it prefer a little bit of shade?

Especially as our climate gets hotter, I’ve found some plants prefer different conditions from what the books say. So I hope that my students will walk away feeling empowered to experiment in their gardens and feeling empowered to fail and try again.

Also, I think that we have such unrealistic expectations of what our gardens should look like from Martha Stewart and that whole industry. What you need to understand is that gardens are seasonal. You can see a beautiful picture of a garden, but that’s not how they always look. Right now my garden has lots of dead bits and there's no flowers. It's looking pretty sad out there right now, but give it another month or so and it'll look beautiful.

We need to be gentle with ourselves because gardens are ever-changing. They're not picture-perfect. I've been called Messy Mary for a reason. My garden is a bit messy. And actually, it's good for the beneficial insects to leave a little bit of a mess. You want to have a little bit of rotting wood for your insects.

I hope that my students walk away understanding a little bit more about themselves, how they approach their garden and what they want out of their garden.

Emily: Well, thank you very much, Mary. And I definitely know I'm looking forward to another round of your Holistic Gardener Course.

For anyone who's interested, you can click here to learn more about the Holistic Gardener Course. Everything's recorded, so if you miss anything you can always go back and catch the recordings.

We also have a slack channel for anyone who's interested in chatting with Mary during the week and asking a couple extra questions, she gives really good advice. It's been fantastic for me as I've still been learning how to grow plants to be able to ask Mary for her expertise. Another great benefit of the course is getting all the feedback from other students and seeing their projects at the same time.

So if you're interested in joining, click this link to register for our Holistic Gardener Course. We’re really looking forward to growing some delicious food with you all.


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