Overcoming Garden Disasters with Holly Baird

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Overcoming Garden Disasters


Holly BairdHolly Baird and her husband Joey are serious gardeners from south east Wisconsin.  In addition to growing vegetables, Holly speaks at garden expos across the mid-west and she is an award-winning state level home canner.  With this wealth of knowledge Holly and Joey publish a popular blog and a massive Youtube channel loaded with video tips.

Holly and Joey are passionate about vegetable gardening, home canning and simple living.  They enjoy sharing their wisdom with gardeners all over the world!


In This Episode You Will Discover:

  • tips on using vertical gardening in your backyard
  • ideas for gardening indoors and for year-round outdoors
  • how to overcome big problems in your garden without getting discouraged
  • “Cowboy Candy” – them’s good eatin’
  • Holly’s secret recipe for home-made soil boosting!




Ball – http://www.freshpreserving.com/

Dollar Seed – http://www.dollarseed.com/

Bonnie Plants – http://bonnieplants.com/

This is the book Holly mentioned on the show!

Interview Links

Follow Holly Baird on Twitter:  http://twitter.com/thewiveggardenr

Holly & Joey’s awesome blog:  http://TheWisconsinVegetableGardener.com

Holly Baird’s Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/WisVeggieGardeners


Watch the Podcast Interview Here:


Dave:  I’m Dave Ledoux and welcome to another edition of Back To My Garden.  And today we have an exciting guest.  Holly and her husband Joey live in southeast Wisconsin.  She is the visionary leading force behind a new digital magazine as well as an awesome Youtube producer.  Her website, TheWisconsinVegetableGardener.com is approaching a half a million views on Youtube and climbing.  She’s passionate about vegetable gardening, simple home living, and home canning.  She has some interesting stuff on growing indoors for those of us that live in winter climates, with year-round gardening ideas.  She speaks at garden expos across the midwest and she’s an award-winning state level home canner.  I want to welcome to show Holly Baird!  Holly welcome to Back To My Garden.

Holly:  Thank you, thanks for having me!

Dave:  Exciting to talk to you.  I want to get to know you a bit, and I’m sure our listeners do as well.  Holly, take a minute or two and just share with us a little bit about your background.

Holly:  Sure.  I grew up in Milwaukee Wisconsin.  I grew up in the city.  We had a small 4×4 vegetable garden and we did a lot of composting.  Joey grew up on about a 1000 acre grain and cattle farm.  And he did a lot of gardening.  We had met and then we combined our gardening and compost experience and took off from there.  We decided to set up a Facebook page that we started, there was really no Facebook community just for midwestern vegetable gardeners.  Our information can be applied to any vegetable gardener, it doesn’t really matter if you live in Wisconsin or the midwest.  We really wanted to start a community there and we did that.  I had won a video camera through a job I was working, and we were getting a lot of these questions that we couldn’t necessarily answer by writing it out.  It would be better for people to see a video so we decided to start doing the videos then.

Dave:  Fantastic! And you’ve just done amazing things on social media.  Let’s make sure everybody gets your links. So Holly’s main website is www.TheWisconsinVegetableGardener.com.  And make sure you follow Holly on Twitter, very active Twitter feed, @thewiveggardenr.  Did I get it right?

Holly: Yes.

Dave:  Your Twitter is short form for The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener.  All the main links to social media is on Holly’s site, including your awesome Youtube channel.  You’re at 380,000 views or something like that?

Holly: Yes, and it keeps growing.  We have a lot of views that’s for sure.

Dave:  What I loved about it is the first video I saw was a challenging moment with your drowned peppers.

Holly: Yes, poor peppers!  We had a lot of rain in June and the beginning part of July which we kind of knew was going to happen a little bit. So we put them, there’s part of our garden that kind of dips a little bit lower, and I don’t think we necessarily thought about that when we were planning where to put the peppers.  They got a little waterlogged.  They’re a little yellow but I think they’ll be okay.

Dave:  You know Holly I’ve had the privilege of talking to a lot of gardeners down in Texas, Arizona, California and the’re dry as dust, so to talk to a gardener getting too much rain, that’s something a little different.

Holly:  I’m sure, yeah.

Dave:  You get all 4 seasons, right, in a big way?

Holly: Definitely.  There’s definitely a big separation of all 4 seasons.

Dave:  I want to go back, because you’re very experienced, and it sounds like Joey knows his way around the dirt as well.  What was it like when you first started your first garden together as a couple?  What were some of the challenges and what was it like?

Holly:  I remember that at first we started kind of small.  I think it was about 10 x 16.  Maybe a little big bigger, so it wasn’t too big, but it was about 10 feet by 16 feet.  And that was the biggest garden I had ever grown.  I remember we were turning the soil over and we were getting stuff planned out and everything, and I remember I felt a little overwhelmed but Joey had more experience.  I think the biggest challenge was he’s from southern Illinois, which is almost close to Kentucky, so it’s a little bit warmer there.  I had to keep explaining to him that Wisconsin has a really unpredictable spring.  So it might be 70 degrees one day at end of April, but then the next day you can get a freeze.  So I remember that was the biggest challenge.  And he still, it’s been five years now that we’ve been back up here gardening, and sometimes he still wants to push it and I have to remind him, you never know what’s going to happen with Spring sometimes.  You have to follow when the last frost is predicted and have to go from there.

Dave:  Do gardeners in Wisconsin in late March or first of April, you know that first warm sunny day in early spring, do they lose they mind and go crazy?

Holly:  Some people do. One year we planted, I think it was onions, way too early and they didn’t do very well.  Then you end up kicking yourself for it.  It happens.  But you get excited because you’ve had this winter, and you’re like, “I can finally be in the garden, I can finally plant something!  I can finally grow something outside.”  As tempting as it is I just know in my personal experience that Spring is tricky here and it’s sneaky.  We even had fear of frost around Memorial Day weekend a couple of years ago.  So you have to pay attention and you have to be aware.

Dave:  I love learning from the old timey gardeners from the days gone by, and they always say after the full moon in May, for where I am, the May long weekend.  There’s nothing more discouraging than that early snow storm in May when it half sleet, half snow, half ice.  So you’ve been gardening together for five years, what do you love most about gardening?

Holly:  I just enjoy being outside and watching the whole process.  Starting it from seed, we start our seeds inside and we start things as early as January inside.  And then throughout the whole process it’s kind of fun when you have your seedlings growing and then come mid-May you feel like you’re being bombarded by seedlings!  Moving them outside, getting them planted, I just enjoy the whole process from seed to end.  It’s always amazing to me that we can grow these beautiful vegetables just from these tiny seeds and I think it’s great.

Dave:  I understand.  February and it’s 10 below and you’re dreaming about seedlings.  Do you use the window sill with the sun?  Do you have a sunny corner or a grow light?

Holly: We use some of the windows, where our little seedling area is we have a west-facing window.  And then we also have some grow lights as well.

Dave:  Fantastic!  I’m nodding along.  For those of you driving, I’m nodding along we have something similar.  We’re on the same latitude as Cleveland, Ohio so I’m sure your weather isn’t that much different than Chicago is it?

Holly:  No, we’re just two hours north of Chicago.

Dave:  Got it, good good good.  Some people garden just for the flowers, and the beauty and some for the vegetables and eating and the practicality and some people for the outdoors and the fresh air.  Some people garden because it literally recharges their emotional batteries.  What’s it like for you, or is it a combination of everything?

Holly:  It’s a combination, we enjoy the food canning, and put up the food, so we garden for that reason.  For me I think it helps with, not that I necessarily have a lot of stress, but I think it helps to feel relaxed and it gives you a sense of accomplishment and it gives Joey and I something to do together, and to work on so together so it’s a combination of pretty much everything.  Having the production of it, and also having a hobby for us to enjoy together that is pretty much something I’m sure we’ll do for the rest of our lives.  For me, just getting to be outside, I love to be outside and it’s nice to be doing something that you really enjoy.

Dave:  Nice!  Now Holly I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about canning because you’re very good at it, you’re very experienced.  We have a lot of listeners who live in apartments with little patio gardens, this is very daunting like how does a brand new person get into canning?

Holly:  The biggest thing is to find good resources.  So there’s canning websites like Ball, it’s FreshPreserving.com.  And Ball is the maker of the canning jars and they have good information on there.  There’s a lot of preserving groups on Facebook.  But the thing to keep in mind is you want to find a canning recipe that’s been created within or even updated within the past 15 years because a lot of things have changed.  I got into canning because of Joey, his mom and his grandmother canned so he kind of taught me some things.  And I took some classes through my local rec department.  That way I learned more techniques, more of the science behind canning, just how to get more refined on things.  So if there’s a class you can take through a community center or rec department, or anything like that it’s good to do that.  And our videos, when we show our canning, I try to be as technical as possible and try to explain why things are done a certain way.  Canning is a science and there’s low acid foods, there’s high acid foods, so you want to keep that in mind.  You want to make sure you’re canning the correct way so that it’s safe.


Pickled Beets


Dave:  It’s that time of season too, I mean we’ve been coming back from the store and I’m carrying 6 jugs of distilled water on every trip.  Do you have to stockpile vinegar and distilled water?

Holly:  We don’t worry about that because we have well water, so we are lucky in that sense we don’t have to worry about the chlorine or the fluoride.

Dave:  Magic, good tip!  We actually dug up beets this morning, we’re going to do a little batch just to test the beets.  What is your all time favorite to can?

Holly:  You know, I love canning salsa, and I love canning pickled beets, I just enjoy them.  We try to can as much pickled beets as we possibly can and I’ll even go to the Farmers Market to get more beets to can than what we grow.  Because it’s just so nice in the middle of winter to open up a jar of pickled of beets and have them with your dinner.  It’s a really good reminder of summer.

Dave:  Oh man, I’m just nodding along, we are so in sync.  My wife transcribes these gardening podcasts and we just love the beets, now last year we did two kinds, a white kind and the classic red kind.  I’m crazy for salsa.  And I’ve been bragging on this new pepper that I’m growing, it’s called a Naga, and it’s the third hottest pepper on Earth.  I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, it comes with a warning label.  But we have some Red Rocket chilies, and we have some jalapenos growing, I’m big on heat so I’m really fortunate this year.

Holly: That’s a big thing, people grow the really hot peppers and we’re not big on heat.  We don’t usually add any kind of spicy peppers to the salsa unless I’m making it for somebody who wants it more spicy.  But I typically keep it pretty mild.  We did something called “Cowboy Candy” last year which is basically sweet pickled jalapenos and you can do any kind of spicy pepper.  And we don’t enjoy it very much so we have been giving it away to people that enjoy the hot foods.

Here, take this!  Start giving away cans of fire.  Beautiful.

Dave:  I want to ask you this season, because I’ve been looking on some of your Youtube videos and I know your peppers got too much rain, I love the fact that you share challenges openly because everyone looks at you and says “Oh she’s so experienced everything is wonderful cotton candy and nothing ever goes wrong!”  Can you share a humorous story with the listeners when things went drastically wrong in your garden?  What I call a “Catastrophic Oopsie?”

Holly: Actually that happened to us this spring.  We planted some cauliflower, broccoli and brussel sprouts.  And we must have labeled the seedlings wrong or something, I don’t know what happened.  I don’t know if we labelled them wrong or if we started them wrong or labelled them wrong or planted them where we didn’t think we planted them.  But we’re still finding that we have brussel sprouts growing where we had broccoli planted.  Or the opposite.  So it’s kind of funny that we have all this experience and we’re so careful to label everything and then we totally botch that.  It happens!  I think we did mention it on one of our videos that we did that.  And we feel it’s always good to show these mistakes because everybody makes mistakes and you watch a lot of these Youtube videos it seems like everything is all perfect and well they have the perfect garden and everything is lined up great.  But it’s not like that.  And we like to show that because people can relate to us then.


Brussels Sprouts


Dave:  How do you cook your brussel sprouts?  Because I’ve had some disastrous recipes and my wife and I have learned a way that works for us.  How do you cook your sprouts?

Holly: We usually just saute them in some butter and garlic.

Dave:  You don’t boil them until they’re little grey rubber balls?

Holly: No! We try not to overcook our vegetables.

Dave:  It’s always funny when people listen to these podcasts the flower gardeners especially go “Oh, I would never grow brussel sprouts!” but some people love them.

Well let’s talk about your garden this season.  What are you growing? What are you most proud of and what is frustrating you?

Holly: We grow a variety of different things.  We grow the basic stuff, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, winter squash, summer squash, the basics.  And we do carrots, beets, radishes, lettuce, sweet peas in the spring.  I guess we’re most proud of the tomato plants, we kind of had exhausted our soil and we didn’t realize we had exhausted our soil last summer so we didn’t have the best tomato crop.  Then we rejuvenated our soil and now our tomatoes are looking really really good!  I’m pretty proud of that.  And our corn is looking good too, last summer we didn’t do so well with the corn either.  So that’s what we’re most proud of.  I guess our peppers are the most frustrating, one of the biggest things.  And we never have good luck with broccoli, and yet we keep trying to grow it because we hope that one day it will be good but it never works out for us.    We kind of assume that’s going to happen.

Dave:  You’re growing broccoli for practice, that’s good!

Holly: Pretty much!  We have friends that grow beautifully within the area so I don’t know, we don’t know what’s going on.  But like I said, we just do it.  Our tomato crop is something that’s looking really good, and our peppers are frustrating they’re just too waterlogged.

Dave:  You know Holly you dropped a little bit of wisdom, a tidbit and I grabbed my pen to write a note down, you said “exhausted your soil” and you rejuvenated it to grow some tomatoes.  Can you talk a little bit about this soil rejuvenation strategy?

H: Yes, we added, we brought in some leaf compost, this is compost that’s made from leaves and it’s just pure leaves.  The things about leaves people don’t realize is that the trees get all these nutrients from deep within the Earth and then it’s basically put into the leaves.  So when you have leaf compost it’s just full of rich nutrients.  So we amended that into the soil, we amended  our own compost from our compost pile, and we amended that, and then we added some organic fertilizer in, and then we tried these methods that we’ve done for a couple of years now of how to get beautiful tomatoes and it includes things like epsom salts, whole grain corn meal, and then spraying your tomato plants with a combination of molasses and liquid seaweed.  This helps the tomato plants as well.  But the soil part was adding that leaf compost, adding some fertilizer to it, and then adding our own homemade compost to it.  It really helped the soil.


Rich Garden Soil


Dave:  That’s like Grandma’s Secret Recipe there!  Corn meal, epson salts, liquid seaweed, did you say molasses?

Holly: Yes!  Molasses helps basically to help strengthen the stems of the tomato plants and wards off some of the bad bugs.  And liquid seaweed raises the sugar content of your tomato plants so that if there’s an early frost in the fall, then they’ll have a higher sugar content and they’ll be less susceptible to a light frost.    Sometimes you get that one light frost early in the fall and then you have an Indian Summer, that tends to happen and this will help prevent that.

Dave:  Brilliant!  Do you have a philosophy on the suckering on the tomatoes?

Holly:  We don’t cut them, and a lot of people do.  We just feel that if the tomato wants to grow that we’re going to let it grow it.  Since we’re so organic we’re kind of in a sense, low maintenance.  I think we have about 50 tomato plants, so could spend all day cutting the suckers but we kind of let it grow how it wants to grow.

Dave:  Now is the time in the show when we play our favorite game, 5 quick questions.  Question one, what stops most people from trying gardening?

Holly:  I think that they think they need a lot of space and a lot of a time.  But you can grow a lot of food in a 4 x 4 area, or even in containers on a patio or deck.  In a one square foot you can grow 1 tomato plant, 2 pepper plants, 16 carrots, or 12 beets.  So you can grow a lot in a small space.  And you don’t need a ton of room or a ton of time, it’s something that you can work on a couple of hours in the evenings or a Saturday morning.

Dave:  Fantastic! Everyone is going “Oh man I better go check out Holly’s website”, that’s www.TheWisconsinVegetableGardener.com.  I told you this is going to be an awesome show, tons of wisdom!  Holly, you have learned from books, classes and experienced gardeners plus your own trial and error.  What is the best gardening advice you’ve ever received?

Holly: Grow what you know you’re going to eat.  Because if you grow stuff that you don’t enjoy you’re not going to enjoy growing it.  So if you enjoy growing tomatoes, then grow all the tomatoes you want.  And also another one is that if something keeps failing for you, I guess I should take my own advice, if something keeps failing for you, then just stop growing it and get it from the farmers market because you’ll probably be happier that way.

Dave:  Brilliant!  We’re not picking on the poor broccoli are we?

H: Yes!

Dave:  The internet is a massive place now with tons of great gardening resources.  If you had just 2 websites to share with a new beginner gardener, what would those websites be?

Holly: I would say check out your local university extension office.  Those university extensions have great information for where you live.  So if you have, for example for us its the University of Wisconsin, we have the Agricultural Horticultural extension, and they have different information and it’s centered to where you live. So we get a lot of information from there.  And then another website, our website has a lot of good information obviously, and then I would try to find something more local to you.  I know the Bonnie Plants website has a lot of good information too on how to grow things, how to combat things, reasons why people use stuff like Epsom Salts in the garden, so I would say Bonnie Plants is a good one.

Dave:  You also mentioned FreshPreserving.com   I love to read new books about gardening.  Can you recommend a great gardening book that you think I should read?

Holly: The one that we always tell people especially if they’re focused on how much space they have, is the Square Foot Gardening Method, that’s a good book because it tells you different methods for how to set up your garden.  Especially if you need the space.  Then there’s another book it’s called The Victory Garden. But that one goes through vegetable by vegetable and it explains how to grow, tips and things, and then it talks about the areas as well.

Dave:  Yeah, that Square Foot Gardening book, my wife picked that up a decade ago and it just changed everything.  It’s almost like, when everybody calls a photocopier a xerox machine, or a tissue a Kleenex, but Square Foot Gardening is a brand.

Holly:  Yes.

Dave:  And number Five, and you can make this a two-parter.  What is one thing that you want to grow next year?  And what is one thing every gardener should try to grow next year?


Climbing beans


Holly:  Well, we tried scarlet runner beans this year, and they’re doing okay.  But one thing I always encourage gardeners to grow is the things they’re going to eat.  But it’s always good to have the basics, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers …. a lot of people don’t think about growing beans because of the space.  You can grow pole beans and you can trellis them, and it doesn’t take up as much space, and they’re delicious.  So, I think that’s something I would encourage people to do is try the basics and then try something else that can be trellised, because if you’re concerned about space, you can trellis it.

For us, we’ve been trying to work on the corn and get more experience with growing it.  We try to grow an organic variety, so I think we’re going to continue with that next year, working on growing the corn, and getting better at it.

Dave:  Do you buy your seeds locally, or online from one of the organic houses?

Holly:  We get ours from DollarSeed.com and then if we can’t find something there, we get them from BakerCreek.

Dave:  That’s RareSeeds.com

Holly:  Yeah.

Dave:  Their website is incredible.  My wife is on it  and she just shouts out, “Hey, how about something from India or England?”  She’s going country by country.

Holly:  But if you’re looking for just basic organic or heirloom variety seeds, DollarSeed is good because the seeds are only a dollar a pack, and the have a lot of variety as well.  Unless you’re looking for something super-rare, standard seeds from DollarSeed.

Dave:  I loved your vertical gardening idea with the pole beans on the trellis, everybody can do that.

Holly:  Yes.

Dave:  Fantastic.  Well Holly, our time is rapidly running away from us here.  I want everyone listening to run over to Holly’s and Joey’s website at TheWisconsinVegetableGardener.com  Subscribe to their YouTube channel.  That way when Holly puts a new video, you’ll get a notification from Google.  Follow them on Twitter  @thewiveggardenr   Lots of good stuff you can share on social media.  Holly, you’ve been an amazing guest, I took like a half a page of notes.  I don’t know why, because I have in on audio now, so I’m going to go back and study my notes.  I want to give you the last word.  Do you have a pearl of wisdom or a note of encouragement for our gardening listeners?

Holly:  I would say, just keep track.  You know gardens aren’t perfected overnight, or even in a season.  Keep trying different things, get good information, and ask questions.  You are more than welcome if you have a question, we have a Contact Us button right on the right side of our page, I believe it’s in red.  So just push that button, come to our Facebook page, ask questions, and we are more than happy to help you out.

Dave:  Awesome!  Thank you so much for being on Back To My Garden.

Holly:  Thanks for having me.

Listen To Holly tell us about how to overcome gardening disasters Here: