Shawn Studer is a passionate, dedicated organic gardener in Carlsbad California. He grows his own vegetables and loves helping friends to discover the wonders of the soil. An entrepreneur, Shawn’s company assists farmers and gardeners with problems like hard water, chlorine and removing impurities at the source. His new book is “Organic Vegetable Gardening 101 – How To Turn Your Brown Thumbs Green”!
In This Episode You Will Discover:
- compost tea secrets – microbes and how NOT to kill them!
- why gardening is a metaphor for your entire life
- why poisons in our water hamper our gardening efforts
- dead plants may not be your fault but a much more insidious situation
- why the discoloration around your bathroom sink is a hint for your garden’s problems
- Don’t Panic, it’s Organic! Are you a serious student of organic gardening? CLICK HERE for one of my favorite resources loaded with tips for building your own organic garden
- curious about aquaponics? discover the perfect set-up for a classroom – the Eco-Cycle Aquaponics Kit
- How healthy are you really? Take the test at http://NutritionWeCanTrust.com
Howard Garrett – http://dirtdoctor.com
This is the book Shawn mentioned on the show!
Our Guest’s Links
Follow Shawn Studer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/bodymindsoil
Visit Shawn’s fantastic gardening blog: http://BodyMindandSoil.com
Watch the Podcast video Here:
Dave: Well, good morning, good afternoon or good evening depending on where in the world you are when you listen to this. I’m Dave Ledoux, and welcome to another edition of Back To My Garden. Today we’re going all the way to the west coast of the United States. Shawn is passionate about organic gardening and teaching others how to grow vegetables. His company helps people with hard water and chlorine and impurity problems, and he’s the author of Organic Vegetable Gardening the Natural Way 101 – How to Turn Your Brown Thumbs Green. We’ve got tons to talk about. I want to welcome to the show, from Carlsbad, California, Mr. Shawn Studer. Hi Shawn.
Shawn: Hi Dave, thank you very much for having me on.
Dave: I’m glad you’re here. I’ve given you a brief introduction. I want to hear your stories, and I know our listeners want to get to know you as well. Can you take a minute or two and just share with our listeners a little bit about your background, and how you got into gardening.
Shawn: I started with a house I bought in Phoenix, back in 1996 or 1997, and when I bought the house I had a guy come and do the landscaping. I always had opposed using any kind of chemicals, in doing anything really, and so I wanted to make sure it was done organically. And I really didn’t know anything about it, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do. So we did that, and I started there and I kept learning from there. So it mostly started with the landscape, I didn’t start growing vegetables until many years later.
Dave: Now Shawn, we get to visit here, but we’ve got people listening to us driving it the car, and we don’t want them to take notes, because it’s probably a bad idea. So keep both hands on the wheel, I’m going to put all of Shawn’s links and resources in the show notes at BackToMyGarden.com Make sure you follow Shawn on social media, he’s on Twitter @bodymindsoil and he’s got an incredible blog at www.BodyMindAndSoil.com and that also links to his different corporate endeavours which we’re going to talk to in his book. Shawn, where do we begin? Maybe we’ll talk about your company that helps people with impurities and getting good water. Do you want to start there?
Shawn: Yeah, that’d be great. How we got started with this company was, me and my partner were meeting with a water manufacturer about 4 years ago and we were meeting with them and talking about home systems. A few days before I had made some compost tea, and if you’ve ever made compost tea you know you have to use dechlorinated water, because chlorine will kill the microbes that you’re trying to actually brew and grow. So it’s a real hassle to fill buckets up and wait for chlorine, which is a gas, to escape. So when we’re there talking to the guy, he happened to be an engineer, he owned the company. I asked his, could he make me a hose-end filter that can take out the chlorine and chloramines out of the tap water. He said, Yeah, Sure, and that was on a Friday, and that Monday I had a prototype. As as soon as I saw that, I said, great, how many can you make? And we started a business, and the name, Body Mind and Soil just came to me, and we started from there. What I was also doing at the time was I had a business installing raised-bed organic vegetable gardens.
Dave: You had a business installing raised-bed organic gardens. Where have you been all my life?
Shawn: Well, I’ve been here, where have you been? (laughs)
Dave: (laughs) I know. I moved 4 yards of soil last week by wheelbarrow.
Shawn: We did 6 the other day.
Dave: Oh my gosh! Now, the minute you made the filter, I’m sure a hundred guys go, “man, I had the same idea and you beat me to it”.
Shawn: Could be, you’re right. The thing is, once I made it, it took me 6 months before I started doing the searches and wondering if anybody else was doing this. There are a couple of other people doing it. But, during that search I found out that the other people that are doing that are companies. Theirs is a much inferior product because they use plastic hose-end fittings on their filter, and ours has brass. Ours is built to last, and has replaceable media, so as we came on the market we had the best one immediately.
Dave: Fantastic. So your business grew and now you have multiple layers of your business.
Shawn: Yeah, it started out with the organic vegetable gardening, doing that, and it’s built from there.
Dave: Why is it so important to take out the chlorine? You’ve explained it well for the compost tea, you don’t want to kill the microbes. So does that mean with all of our gardeners out there, I’m thinking of people with container gardens on their patio, they’re just running it out of the city tap, aren’t they?
Shawn: That’s a great question. Why do we need to do that? We put chlorine in the water to kill bacteria, the harmful bacteria that can hurt us. Well, we also have good bacteria called microbes in the soil, and those microbes we want as part of the soil biology. And we want to not only protect that but to feed and stimulate it. And when you’re dumping chlorinated water onto that good soil, it’s killing a lot of the good microbes, so it sets you back. It’s not going to completely kill it, but it does set it back, so rather than having a good foundation and building on there, each time you dump on chlorinated water it does harm it. And it also harms the plants, because if you’re getting chlorine on the plant leaves it can burn them, but it’s just not good for the plants either.
Dave: Do you ship the filter nationally or internationally?
Shawn: All over. Not international yet. I’m looking into doing that, I’ve got to set up some other things first, but we want to get into the international market also. As a matter of fact, we have a sale on right now plus free shipping.
Dave: For those of you listening globally, we’re now in 26 countries Shawn, if you’re entrepreneurial, reach out to Shawn. We have listeners in Japan and all through Europe. BodyMindandSoil.com Who knows, maybe we can hook you up with somebody internationally.
Shawn: We need to do that.
Dave: You started gardening in Phoenix, Arizona, and now you garden in Southern California. Two of the driest places I can think of.
Shawn: (laughs) In between that though, I’d moved back to Dallas where I grew up in the year 2000, and that’s where I really started learning about organic gardening. There’s a guy there who’s on the radio on the weekends, he’s actually heard in 200 markets around the country. I learned most of what I know from him, by listening to him, I’d call into the show … and then just applying it in my landscape. Then I started growing vegetables, I started applying it and seeing the results there. I became very very passionate, it took me years to realize that this is my passion. I had always heard people say “you need to find your passion and turn that into a business”. I was thinking, I don’t know what my passion is, but my neighbours could tell you what it is because I wouldn’t shut up about organic gardening.
Dave: I guess during your career you’ve see people make some terrible mistakes when it comes to putting poison right into our environment.
Shawn: Especially where I am here, these landscapers, everything they do is destructive. We’re in a situation right now here in Southern California, we’re in a drought and it’s critical. And everything the landscapers do is harmful to the landscape because of the practices. They come in and they call them the Mow, Flow and Go guys. They come in here and they mow the grass too short if they do have grass, they rake out all the leaves from underneath the bushes and the trees which are valuable to lay there, not only to act as a mulch, but to return the nutrients to the soil which also feeds that soil biology. And they then take all that away, they stop the nutrient cycle, and the leave the ground bare. The train the homeowners into thinking that this bare ground looks nice. To me, I look at it and think that looks horrible, it’s very sterile. And what happens is that the soil becomes dry and compacted and water can’t soak in so it runs off. The homeowners are using 30-50% more water on the landscape then they should have to then if they were following an organic program.
Dave: Wow. In some of these markets water is more expensive than oil (laughs)
Shawn: Well, it’s valuable. We can’t drink oil, we have to have water anyway. But, water is, of course, a crucial ingredient when it comes to gardening and growing.
Dave: I was telling my wife that I was getting to interview you today, and I told her about your book. We keep running into friends who keep saying “I kill everything I try to grow”. You know that brown thumb philosophy. Once you start to believe it … these people have labelled themselves as non-gardeners.
Shawn: That’s a great point, you’re right. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy so to speak.
Dave: Talk to me about your book. How did you dream it up and was it hard to write?
Shawn: Not really. Once I started, it really just flowed and I just took off with my experiences, everything I’ve learned. I tried to write it as much as I could for somebody who has a brown thumb, who doesn’t know where to start. And take it step by step, this is using the raised-bed garden system for pots. I take them step by step how to do it. And we also talk about the soil biology and how it all starts with the soil, it’s all about the soil. I talk a little bit also about why people think they have a brown thumb. It’s usually because if you have a plant indoors, you think “I always kill it”, but it’s because they treat that plant like an inanimate object. They don’t understand, that plant is alive and it grows by the attention we give it like all plants do. The more attention we give them, the better they do grow, and they have done studies on that and the data is in and that is true. Just the same, by ignoring those plants, what happens is that that attention and that energy that they need is not there, and they end up looking bad. So then they over water, and usually it’s the death knoll.
Dave: I’m thinking about your philosophy, if you overwater with poison in the water and they get wet feet, and you neglect to feed the soil ….
Shawn: Or feed it the stuff like … I won’t mention the name, let’s just say it’s a miracle anything grows in it. But, it’s just not knowing how to feed it, how to water it. Even with a houseplant, when you’re giving that attention, it changes your whole philosophy about that plant, it’s a living thing and you pay more attention to how you’re watering it and whether you’re feeding it or not. You’ll think “ok, what do I need to feed it?”, you’ll ask questions of people, instead of just sticking it in the corner and hopefully it will live.
Dave: I wanted to ask you Shawn, when you’re so busy on the work side of gardening, you have a company and you have distribution and teaching and writing, did you get to garden this year, and if so what was your garden like?
Shawn: I have to garden, it’s part of my therapy you know. Another great thing about gardening is it’s the best therapy you can get. So I have a vegetable garden I grow. Right now I’m in between — I pulled out some summer stuff and now getting ready to plant my fall crops. I’m doing stuff for clients too, I love getting my hands in the soil and just growing things and planting seeds and planting plants and watching them grow. It’s just all part of who I am and what I do. My mission is really to help people, not only to learn how to grow food, but to stop using chemicals, because we have to stop that first and then the next step is let’s start regenerating our soils and bring the health of the soils back because that’s the foundation on which all the plants and trees grow. Without healthy soil they don’t grow well and we suffer from it.
Dave: You know Shawn, I’ve been getting to chat with gardeners and I ask them about growing the wrong thing for your zone. I was just talking with Amy Andrychowicz up in Minneapolis, and she’s in zone 4B and then Janet Cassidy she’s a gardener in Delaware, Ohio, zone 6A. Shawn what zone are you in?
Shawn: I wish you wouldn’t ask that question, because I don’t really pay attention. (laughs) You can do it by zone, but if you really want to know what you should plant there’s a couple of things you can do in your zone. You can check out a Master Gardener’s Association in your area, they usually have a chart of what you should grow. Or go to your local nursery, not the big-box stores, but your local nursery. They’re going to have plants that are made for your area, that will grow in your area. If you’re not sure about your zone, just do that. For me it’s like I think I’m in zone 9 or something, but again I guess I’ve been here long enough that I have a list of vegetables that work and what months to plant what.
Dave: Your summer crop, we have listeners in Europe and England so they’re going to get a thrill out of this. What are some of the unusual things that you’re able to grow where you live. You can’t grow bananas or peanuts, can you?
Shawn: Well, some people do. Some people are trying to grow more tropical. You have to be aware that they usually require more water, so a lot of people are getting away from some of that kind of stuff. Growing the stuff that’s edible, it’s usually tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes, there’s not anything unusual that grows here unless somebody has an unusual variety that they get from somewhere else.
Dave: I just had an a-ha moment, because when you take something out of the Caribbean and put it in Southern California, sure it’s warm enough, but I never thought about the water implications.
Shawn: Water and the different soil conditions. Maybe the soil is more acidic over there, where here the soil is very alkaline, we have a lot of clay, so it’s very alkaline. You have to consider the soil. The good thing about raised bed gardening, it doesn’t matter what your soil conditions are, because with raised you’re bringing in some good soil anyway, so it’s not crucial to know what your pH is in your soil unless you’re digging your yard up. It you’re bringing in your own soil for raised beds then that’s not a problem you have to think about or worry about.
Dave: You mentioned you’re putting in your fall garden, and that made me smile because ours is put to bed now. What does your fall garden look like?
Shawn: Here, you can grow more here in the winter than you can in the summer because you have a lot more different lettuces, because they like cool weather. The kale is growing year round, as do beets and carrots. The broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, kohlrabi, turnips, a lot of the root vegetables and all the lettuces. In the summer you can grow tomatoes, but it’s a little more difficult to grow lettuce because they tend to bolt in the heat. You have good tomatoes and other crops that you want to make a nice salad out of but it’s hard to grow lettuce. I did plant some lettuce a week ago and I still have some tomatoes going too.
Dave: I’ve been this evangelist for this thing called Malabar spinach. It said on the package it will grow 4 feet high, so I said I’m going to make a little teepee in the bed and let it climb up the teepee. It grew 6-1/2 to 7 feet long.
Shawn: What were the leaves like?
Dave: The size of my head. And I don’t know if durable is the right word, it handled heat, it was sturdy. And we finally let it go to seed and it has these pretty pink seed pods on it. I think we got if from Baker Creek.
Shawn: I’ve got their catalogue, they’re a great seed company.
Dave: The whole heirloom movement, it’s really stringent, it’s not easy to grow seeds for an heirloom company.
Shawn: You’re right. And we need to bring that back because look at all the different varieties that they have and all the hundreds and thousands that we’ve already lost. That’s one thing I tell people is try to plant heirlooms as much as you can.
Dave: When I looked at your geography, California, obviously the epic, catastrophic drought. What’s the bee conversation like in your part of the world?
Shawn: Well it is a problem. There are movements of people trying to ban these pesticides. We still have them here, it’s a bigger problem I think up in Northern California where they have a lot of almond trees, they got hit really hard because the bees have been dying. In the neighbourhoods where I am, we have bees here, that’s a good thing. Not as many as we should, and sometimes we have to hand pollinate the squashes, because they’re not getting pollinated. I’m teaching my clients, they have squashes starting to grow and then they just die because they’re not getting pollinated — you have to hand pollinate them. You don’t have the pollinators around. But the good thing is that we’re getting educated about that and we realize that if the bees collapse then everything collapses.
Dave: This viewpoint of every bug is bad, kill all bugs with poison …
Shawn: Yeah, chemical companies love that don’t they, and their chemicals do. Even they label weeds a bad thing, and some of the more nutritious plants we have like dandelion, they consider a weed, whereas other people would grow it for the nutrient value. So they label things like that so they can sell more chemicals, that’s really the purpose of GMO’s when it comes to RoundUp Ready crops so they can sell more chemicals to spray on the crops.
Dave: One of the things I love about this podcast is that the listeners kind of think how you and I think, and at the end of the day we get to vote with our wallet.
Shawn: You’re right. As a matter of fact I wrote a blog post on that, how to really support your local nurseries. Instead of going to the big box stores, I don’t really buy anything from there except for tools, but for garden supplies the nurseries usually carry better quality stuff. They know what works in the area and usually they have a better understanding of organic practices. If you want to know what any store or nursery knows about organics, just walk in and look at their selection. Like in the big box store, 3% of their products are organic, that tells you how much they know about organics. If you go into a nursery that has 60-100% organics then you know they know a lot about organics.
Dave: For those of you driving, I’ll send you a link over to Shawn’s blog at BodyMindandSoil. Brilliant name by the way, congratulations. I just glanced at the clock Shawn, our time is rapidly going by. Now is the time in the show where we play a game called 5 Quick Questions. This is your chance to share wisdom and experience with novice gardeners. Are you ready to play?
Shawn: I’m ready.
Dave: Question Number One: What do you think stops most non-gardeners from even attempting gardening?
Shawn: Fear. Fear of not knowing what to do and how to get started. That’s basically it.
Dave: In all of your career as a gardener, have you ever planted something that didn’t grow?
Shawn: Oh yeah. And if I look back there’s a couple of things when that does happen. It could be that the plant you got was not good, sometimes they come with diseases and pests, and it just wasn’t a very healthy plant. Not knowing how to pick out a healthy plant when you do go to a nursery, or planting it wrong. So you have that, that can happen to even experienced gardeners.
Dave: I remember in our third grade science class we planted lima beans. And one of the kids kept digging up his bean every day to see if it was growing. (laughs) That’s always stuck with me.
Shawn: You have to trust the process. Mother Nature knows what she’s doing.
Question Number Two: Speaking of Mother Nature, what is the best gardening advice that you’ve ever received?
Shawn: It’s all about the soil. Once you focus on that, and if you just try to get some understanding of the soil and the soil biology specifically and how that’s working, then everything else will fall into place. You’ve got to remember, you don’t feed the plants, you feed the soil, the soil feeds the plants. These nutrients in the fertilizers that we put into the soil, they’re not in a form that the plant can absorb. They have to be broken down by the soil biology in order for those plants roots to absorb them.
Dave: Yeah, you know Shawn, while you’ve been sharing, I’ve been taking notes. And I wrote down microbes and put a big circle around it. I’m going to write in the show notes about microbes, because if you kill them with a poison, it’s bad.
Shawn: You kill the life of the soil. That’s the problem if you look at conventional farming and you look at Big Pharma, what they do together. Conventional farming kills the life of the soil, and now the plants are dependent on the chemicals to even survive, much less grow. Well, what happens when we take drugs from Big Pharma, we kill our immune system. Now we’re dependent on Big Pharma’s drugs. It’s the same thing. The soil is the immune system for plants.
Dave: I have this conversation with anybody over age 35 or 40, and I say “when you were a kid, do you remember anybody with a peanut allergy?”.
Dave: There was no one in my school with a peanut allergy, and I think one girl had asthma. And now you get a letter and you go to jail if you bring peanut butter to school. Where did it come from? One generation, two generations …
Shawn: That’s true. It’s obvious if you look at it.
Dave: Number Three: The internet’s a big place, and you’ve got a tremendous website at BodyMindandSoil.com Can you recommend one or two websites or maybe blogs or resource sites for a novice gardener?
Shawn: Yes. DirtDoctor.com that ‘s the guy back in Dallas I was telling you about that I learned so much from. His name’s Howard Garrett. And he’s got a lot of great information. MotherEarthNews.com is another good one, especially for beginners. They have a lot of good articles on there that you can read.
Dave: Fantastic. And again folks, all those links will be hyperlinked at BackToMyGarden.com I’ll have to check out Howard’s site, that sounds interesting.
Shawn: Yeah, he’s very very good.
Dave: Number Four: Old time books, paper books, libraries. Can you recommend a favourite gardening book?
Shawn: Absolutely. We were just talking about microbes, it’s called Teeming With Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. The subtitle is The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web. Excellent book.
Dave: I get a sense that you really like the science of gardening.
Shawn: Well, yeah, without getting too scientific. Really what I love is the life of the soil and understanding the life of the soil because that’s where it all happens. If we kill the life of the soil, we’re dead.
Dave: You’ve given me so many “A-Ha” moments. We had a garden bed this year, and you know when you plant zucchini, we planted three because one dies and you can get rid of one and have one good one. Three zucchini plants, all male flowers, not one piece of fruit, no females.
Shawn: It could have been if you had a phosphorus deficiency, because that helps with improving flowering and fruiting production.
Dave: You’ve got it. My wife said we’d better do a chemistry test, and you know the test tubes with the powders. pH was over 8, 0 nitrogen the NPK was screwed up. It couldn’t have been any worse. These zucchinis were so upset, they were under protest.
Shawn: You may have phosphorus in there but it just ties it all up when it’s out of balance like that.
Dave: That’s when I got hooked. It’s so predictable, measurable, quantifiable. It was amazing. That was a bed where we had grown giant mammoth sunflowers the year before and never amended the soil in that bed.
Shawn: If you’re adding good organic matter, compost and other things that feed the microbes, the soil is going to balance out after a while. That’s why you want to protect the soil biology because it helps balance out the soil to the right kind of pH, it’s going to help with your growing what you need to grow.
Dave: Incidentally, your filter. Have you had any stories from flower gardeners or anybody seeing results that are visible?
Shawn: One commercial grower, I believe they were in Alabama, she sent me a note saying “wow, they’re no longer discolouring”. I think they were having a problem with discolouration on their tulips or something they were growing, and now that cleared that up. They were talking about how their gardens were growing much better now. And it makes it easy for people who make their own compost tea, they’re having a lot of success with it.
Dave: It just makes so much sense. You think of the poison in the municipal water.
Shawn: And a lot of people don’t think about that. If you understand the soil biology, then it starts to click. We put chlorine in water to kill bacteria, but what’s that doing to my soil bacteria?
Dave: I live on the edge of Lake Erie, I live on the same parallel as Cleveland, Ohio. We had that crazy wet, hot summer and a couple of cities had boil water advisories, you couldn’t even drink the tap water for a while because they get that algae bloom. And then to compensate, what do they do … you’re drinking swimming pool water after a while out of your tap.
Shawn: Then they put chloramine in it. Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia, and it doesn’t escape as a gas. Chlorine, if you just sit a bucket of water out, all the chlorine will be gone within 24 hours, but with chloramine it doesn’t escape. And it’s even more toxic. So our filter helps take care of that.
Dave: I have cat, and he’s smarter than I am sometimes. He would always drink out of the toilet, not his water dish. And then when I switched his water to de-chlorinated, filtered water he would finally drink it again.
Shawn: Animals have that acute sense of smell, and if you drink filtered water long enough, then you drink a glass of chlorinated water, you can tell the difference right away. It’s hard for me to drink it.
Dave: Finally, Question Number Five, it’s a two parter, kind of a fun one: What’s the number one thing that you would suggest every new gardener try to grow next season? And the second part is: Is there anything you’re going to try to experiment with that you’ve been thinking about and maybe going to try next year?
Shawn: For the first part, what I would say, grow your knowledge. Especially in organic practices. That’s going to benefit you more. It’s not going to help you grow a plant if you don’t have that knowledge. The second part, I started doing more experimentation with compost tea, and using that. There’s test gardens, where I have one garden with and one garden without, so I can see and document the results.
Dave: Whoa, a real A, B split test with photographs. That’s powerful.
Shawn: I hope that answers your question okay. The knowledge part is so important.
Dave: I got some compost tea for the first time from Annie Haven, manure tea. I got some cow and horse and alfalfa.
Shawn: She has different varieties, I didn’t know that.
Dave: She says make the tea of what you believe in, so some people believe in cow better than horse manure. And then the flower people. Apparently, if you’re a competitive rose or orchid grower or that’s your livelihood, you can’t fool around, there’s money at stake.
Shawn: That’s true. The thing about tea is you can have a bacterial-dominated tea, or a fungally-dominated tea, or a combination of both and it depends on what you’re growing. Trees need more fungally-dominated tea, where plants like vegetables need more bacterial-dominated tea.
Dave: You could experiment for years to learn this stuff. It’s great having wisdom and teachers, isn’t it?
Shawn: It’s really is. I love teaching and I love organic gardening. And those are my two passions I get to combine.
Dave: You know Shawn, our half hour has just flown by. I’m going to send everybody over to your Twitter @BodyMindSoil and please go check our Shawn’s resorce website at BodyMindand Soil.com Shawn you’ve been an incredible guest. I want to let you have the last word to our listeners today. Can you leave them with either a pearl of wisdom or a note of encouragement on their gardening adventure?
Shawn: Your garden is a beautiful metaphor, if you’re willing to look at it. And all the great teachers, all the great teachings, the great writers have all used gardening as a metaphor. If you let gardening be a metaphor in your life, where you’re growing that and giving it life and stimulating it, you’re going to get the same results back for you and your body and your life. So it’s not just a physical growing thing, it’s a metaphor for your own life. When you’re pulling a weed, you’re pulling a weed seed of negative thoughts out of your mind. So use a garden as a metaphor.
Dave: Absolutely brilliant! I’m so grateful for your wisdom-sharing today Shawn. Thank you for being on the show.
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