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Farmer to Gardener Tips for the Intermountain West

When we interviewed a few co-op seed growers for the State of the Seedshed early this year we gained such a wealth of wisdom it became multiple installments! This is the last in that series. We asked what advice they would offer new gardeners, and this is what we learned.

 Farmer to Gardener Tips

James Loomis, Green Phoenix Farm

James Loomis, Green Phoenix Farm
Salt Lake City, Utah

  1. First first and foremost, get seeds from people you know who’ve been saving their own stuff. Buy from local seed companies because they’re doing awesome work. Plants just wanna grow, if you start with something that already has an advantage, you’re that much closer to success.

  2. Spend time in your garden every day. You don’t have to be gardening every day. You can just sit there and enjoy a cocktail, and you’ll benefit so much from just looking at them. When something starts to go sideways plants will communicate with us. That requires us sitting and kind of moving at their speed, and being open to how they want to communicate. The greatest success from working with the planet comes with little nudges, kind of like steering a boat. Rather than overcorrecting. Overcorrecting is the #1 mistake gardeners make. 

  3. Plant a whole bunch of different shit, some of it’s going to do awesome. Some of it won’t. Nature loves diversity.

  4. Read the freaking seed packet! I considered myself a successful gardener for 5-6 years and then I started to read the seed packets and I got way better when I started to do that.


Katie Painter, City Gardens
Garden City, Idaho

Katie Painter, City Gardens
  1. Sometimes there’s a lot of guilt with new growers, don’t garden with guilt! If you’re an all-summer camper go for a CSA. Weeding a lot, you just have to weed your garden. Raised beds can reduce the amount of time spent weeding. If time is more of a limitation than money, that might be a good option. We tried a hügelkulture* method to cut down on the amount of soil needed, filling a large raised bed 1/3 with branches. You’ll wind up adding more soil to the bed each season to make up for the amount it will settle, but it’s a way to start.

  2. For DIY Gardeners, expect it to look like a giant mess! A garden isn’t supposed to look like a landscaper is managing it! 

  3. Think about your goals a little bit. A goal for us is tomatoes, our kids are finicky eaters. Lots of pasta and marinara. You don’t want to grow more than you can eat or don’t have a plan for. 

  4. Types of Seed. The plant varieties that you choose are important. You can get information from all kinds of sources online, or get from one reputable source. SRSC is a great resource because someone has vetted that variety and going to the trouble to grow it for the co-op, farmer vetted. Hybrids aren’t something SRSC does, but if you’re trying to grow higher yields, you might look for hybrids. 

  5. We try something new every year. We have our tried and true varieties we always grow. Every year we try something new. To determine if we should save seed we’ll grow plants every year to find out how much seed a single plant can produce. Or if it’s a plant that needs acreage to grow. We tried a tomato last year that we really liked and we’ll probably do again. We have a paste tomato that we always liked. You want to experiment but not bet the proverbial farm on it.

  6. We have a pretty good set up, we’re familiar with how many plants we can start in our plant frames and give away a lot of starts to friends we know will grow them. 

  7. We keep the seeds we don’t use. Marty had a CSA for years and bought in bigger quantities. We’d save whatever we had leftover depending on how much room we have left in the row. If there’s a half packet we’ll save them. We have a couple bins labeled for early season or direct seed. Saved seed goes in glass jars with labels. What we grow for the coop we save a little of to grow for ourselves. Some stuff is easy to collect that I either want for my own garden or to give to people. There are seed swaps where you can get some seeds for free.  

    City Gardens Seed Library

  8. Gardening is an excellent form of self-care when actionable steps seem to be in short supply.  Another dire climate report came out [International Panel on Climate Change]. I'm increasingly concerned about the future of our water sources for irrigation.  I sit on the board of directors for the irrigation ditches in my GC neighborhood.  It's a pain in the ass job, but I feel like doing it does help protect the longevity of one local resource that we have.  That's another thing people could look into if they're inclined. 


Purple Sage Farms
Middleton, Idaho

Purple Sage Farm Photo by Arlie Somer
  1. Plant more native flowers and shrubs in your yards and gardens! Our pollinators really need our support to thrive and it has a ripple effect that helps our entire community, our region, our nation, our planet. There are lots of local organizations that can help you identify which plants are best to plant in your growing conditions. 

  2. Don't be afraid to take risks and experiment. It's okay to have crop failures... even experienced, professional growers make mistakes and lose crops! 

  3. Using mulch and drip-lines is really helpful for saving resources and helping minimize detrimental impacts from heat. 

  4. Our community is so helpful and supportive! Reach out to your neighbors, local farmers, nurseries, and local agencies to hear about tips, lessons, classes, and more. 

 *Hügelkulture Raised Bed example from Epic Gardening

Farmers Mike and Jackie Sommer pose in front of blooming valerian at Purple Sage Farms. Photo by Arlie Sommer