This post is the first of a series of interview with local gardeners. As a gardener, I love talking to other gardeners about what works for them. I’ve found so much knowledge and inspiration in these conversations. This interview is with Tiare Street of Shepherd’s Hill Farm.
I first met Tiare about ten years ago. She and her family had just moved to a new piece of acreage, and were getting their grass-based farm set up. Our own farm was just a twinkle in our eye, and for a long time we bought farm-fresh meat, eggs and yoghurt from them because everything they grow is organic, pasture-raised, and delicious. As a fellow farmer, I’m always inspired by Tiare’s strong commitment to high-quality, completely natural farming methods that make her farm products some of the best obtainable in our area.
As a gardener, Tiare is one of those amazing gardeners that can plant beautiful flower beds, make soap, milk cows AND still get the carrots thinned! Inspired by English cottage gardens, her year-round her garden is bursting with diverse fruits, herbs, vegetables and flowers in a graceful balance between beauty and function:
“Our garden is divided into two sections. One is made up of raised beds that cover a quarter of an acre. The raised beds are in three groups, with a quilt-style pattern. It is more geared to a cottage garden, with a slight English style. In it we grow perennial vegetables like asparagus, turmeric, ginger, and mustard greens. We also have a variety of fruit, such as strawberries, blueberries, pears, figs, elderberries and peaches. The center of the raised bed garden is a fire pit, encircled with benches.”
“Herbs grow in the garden beds that encompass the center fire pit. When the winds blow you can smell the Mexican tarragon when it is in bloom, and you can always tell when someone is weeding the rosemary or the oregano beds. The garlic chives are some of the chickens favorite food, and I am always amazed at how fast they grow back after I cut them down to the ground. They say you can watch corn grow, but I really believe that garlic chives can truly be watched – if you had the patience.
The most enjoyable part about giving someone a tour of the garden is going through the herb section and introducing them to the smells of lemon balm, lemon grass, sage, pineapple sage, oregano, peppermint, chocolate mint, spearmint, apple mint, and the licorice smell of the tarragon. You cannot leave out touch when you come to the mullein’s soft fuzzy leaves. Once you feel them, you can understand how the plant got the nickname “toilet paper plant”. They feel like an all natural Charmin.
The rest of the beds are devoted to flowers – perennial and annuals. In the spring you can see the cheery yellow daffodils, and smell the sweet fragrance of the Florida Narcissus. Then there are the fancy ladies called “Pansy” and their courter “Johnny-Jump up”. Throughout most of the year you can find the roses blooming in shades of pink, white, red, and peach. Around Mother’s Day the gladiolas are in full bloom, helping to create a beautiful bouquet for Mom.
Summer and fall find the lilies, marigolds, zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers putting on a very colorful show of oranges, pinks, purples, whites, reds, and yellows. In the winter the camellias bloom–a dainty pink one, and a fancy, frilly, peppermint colored one. Some beds in the garden have trellis in them where we grow sugar snap peas in the winter and spring, and luffa sponges and morning glories in the summer and fall.”
“The second section of the garden covers about a quarter acre also. It is where we grow large beds of blueberries and sugar cane. The other large beds are devoted to growing our spring and fall gardens. Here you will find rows of collards, kale, onions (multiplying, yellow, and sweet Vidalia), carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, Brussels sprouts, green beans, okra, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Whole beds are usually devoted to sweet potatoes and white potatoes. Pumpkins consume a whole bed themselves.
There are actually two other parts to the garden besides the long rows, and the raised beds. There is the orchard (apples and plums) where the garden shed resides, then there is the Poultry Barn and barnyard that houses my Heritage White Holland Turkeys, and an assortment of chickens that are fed organic feed and all the weeds and garden scraps. The turkeys have free range of the whole garden, but the chickens are banished forever. They scratch through the mulch turning our pretty beds into works of ‘art’, and our black rubber walkways, into messy mulched walkways.”
“I have literally gardened all my life – or should I say that I lived in a family that had a garden. As a young girl I can remember doing nothing in the garden but picking and eating the raw green beans and tomatoes. As I got into my later teens, and I was being homeschooled, I became more involved in the planning, planting, harvesting, and preserving of the garden.
I remember one year in my twenties, Mom had a lot of tractor work to do, and had no time to plant a garden. I realized that if we were to have a garden that year, it would be up to me. At that time we just had a quarter acre large, flat garden. The kind you can run your tractor through when you are done with it. So, I gathered my seeds, designed the garden (we have never done any gardening in a ‘Plain Jane’ style), prepared the rows, and planted.
Things grew very well. As time went by, and harvest time approached, Mom began to ask me if the green beans were ready to harvest yet. I always told her that I had not seen any beans on the plants yet. When Memorial Day came around, we had company over for the day, and of course we took a tour through the garden. Mom walked over to the green beans and pulled open the vines, and what to our wondering eyes did we behold, but giant, pithy over-grown green beans.
I thought that green beans grew like peas – they stuck out on top of the plant. Not realizing that green beans grow inside the bush, hanging down by the stalks, covered with leaves, I would stand off about five to ten feet to check the readiness of the green beans. Since I couldn’t see any from a distance, I thought there was none. That was the year I learned how to harvest green beans.”
“About nine years ago, Mom and I were very sick. To occupy our time and to entertain us while we laid around, we checked out videos and books from the library on Cottage gardens. As we began to heal, Dad told us that he wanted us to have a really nice garden that year. His timing couldn’t have been better for us, and worse for him. With all those pretty pictures and ideas before us, we built our dream garden.
We spent one year building the raised beds – and going crazy as Mom insisted that the whole garden must be level. Our idea was to have an ornamental, square-foot garden. For years it was the only garden we had, but we soon learned that we just couldn’t grow enough green beans and corn to can for the year, so we put in a quarter acre of long dirt beds. There are six of them, but now that one houses blueberries, and one houses the sugar cane, space is getting limited.”
“I am absolutely in love with growing pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and white potatoes. I love to plant them , watch them grow, harvest them, and can them for winter and next summer’s use. Usually I grow Florida Seminole pumpkins, but have had great success with a Long Island Cheese pumpkin also.
Last year I got seeds for a variety that grows in St. Croix. I planted them in June, but they were just starting to set pumpkins in November when the first freeze hit. I am so used to short season pumpkins – the Seminole with produce two crops if planted in April. I found out the hard way that some pumpkins take over 100 days to mature – you start them in March!”
“We mostly grow from seeds. We never have much success with starts – unless they are store bought. Last year I started a variety of tomatoes from seeds. Only three rows came up, they didn’t grow very strong, and the night that I transplanted them to the garden, something ate them.
My favorite catalogs to order seeds from is Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Select Seeds . I also buy seeds, potatoes, and onions from local farm supply stores. My favorite places to buy herbs are Ward’s Supermarket in Gainesville, FL, and O’Tooles Herb Farm in Madison, FL.”
“Most items we grow just for ourselves, but some items we grow more than we can eat, so I sell the extra. Items like collards, kale, and green onions are usually grown in abundance, so I have some to spare. I would like to have a bigger availability of vegetables, but we are still learning.
Our biggest challenge has been invasive weeds. Nut grass and Florida Betony (rattlesnake weed) are doing their level best to claim the garden as ‘theirs’. To Mom’s dismay, I planted an Elderberry tree in one of the raised beds, and now it is doing its best to take over about five more. I have to stay on top of the little shoots that come up everywhere!”
“The best thing about my garden is being in it, and sharing it with others. I especially enjoy my morning walks through the garden when I go out to let out the birds, and turn on the water sprinklers. To be sitting down weeding and getting a chance to watch some bluebirds take baths in the bird bath, seeing the flowers open, new plants sprout, and to eat the first sugar snap pea, blueberry, strawberry, or green bean.
My advice for a gardener just starting out would be – start small! Once you have conquered a small bed, then expand. We have a quarter acre of raised beds. They are not all tame, and the summer weeds can grow eight feet tall and make a jungle – a little boy’s “secret garden”. Slowly we are taming down the beds. Ask fellow farmers for advice.
Just because something didn’t grow well this year, don’t give up, it may do better next year. Spinach, beets, carrots, and tomatoes are not the easiest to grow. Some years are better than others, and some methods work better than others. Three years ago we had three lush green rows of Bloomsdale Spinach. We were begging people to pick some and take it home. Some people were amazed at how well we could grow spinach. The last two years I have planted and planted, but cannot get more than about five plants to grow – not very encouraging.”
“The other day as Mom and I were weeding in the garden – something that is never ending, Mom asked “why” do we have a garden. Is it just to give us something to do, or is it to grow our own food. I would have to say that we have a garden to Enjoy!
We live on a working small dairy farm, and when people come and see what all we do, they ask what we do in our spare time, or what do we do for fun? We always reply that the garden is our playground, and that is where we spend all our ‘down’ time. Whether we are planting, weeding, or harvesting – we are Enjoying Life!”
Tiare’s Preserved Fig Recipe
-Wash and dry on towel
-Put in pot
-To every two cups of figs, add one cup of sugar
-Add a sliced lemon
-Place the lid on and let sit over night
-Next day, turn the pot on low, let cook until the figs come to a roaring boil.
-Cover for whole figs, uncover for preserves
-Ladle into hot pint jars, wipe clean the mouths, place on hot lids and seal.
Thank you, Tiare! If you are interested in learning more about Tiare and her amazing farm and garden, check out her website.
If you are also a gardener, and would be interested in having your garden featured, let’s be in touch!