2011 Summer Interview Series

2011 Summer Interview Series | Susy @ Chiot’s Run

I have my brother to thank for getting me interested in Chiot’s Run. It was just a little link on the side bar of his blog and one click was all it took—I was hooked! Every day there is something new at Chiot’s Run, beautiful photos and how-to’s for gardening and plenty of gardening inspiration. Just reading about the life around Chiot’s Run will make you want to dig in the ground and live a bit more simply.

First off, give us an idea of who you are, why you blog and your geographic location.

I was born and grew up in Colombia, South America, and enjoyed living in a tropical setting for many years. I now live in NE Ohio and enjoy experiencing the seasons. I’d describe myself as a girl who should have been born many centuries earlier. I enjoy all the old school housewife things like cooking from scratch, sewing, baking, and gardening. My husband and I try to live simply and be content with what we have. We focus on local eating and living sustainably while running a successful home-based business doing videography & website design. We try to run our lives and businesses in a sustainable manner by consuming less and doing without because we know that consuming even “greenly” isn’t the best option.

I started blogging a few years ago as a way to keep track of what was going on in my NE Ohio garden, a garden journal of sorts. Since then it has grown into so much more. I now blog because it is a great outlet for my creativity, it has helped improve my photography, and I want to inspire my readers to grow their own, eat locally and learn to love the simple life.

When did you first begin gardening? How has your garden evolved over the years?

My parents were always avid gardeners. We had a large edible garden in which we grew most of our own food and a small ornamental garden area. When I was in high school my parents built a house with a nice large garden. They have huge gardens filled with all sorts of native plants like milkweed, joe-pye weed, and more.

I never particularly loved gardening growing up. My mom let me choose annuals at the greenhouse and a few interesting vegetables to grow, but I always disliked the weeding and work that came with gardening. The older I got the more I appreciated it. Perhaps it came from living in an apartment for six years. I learned the joy that cultivating a little plot of earth can bring.

What part of the garden has been the most challenging? Rewarding?

Mr Chiots and I bought our home nine years ago. When we arrived the gardens were in terrible shape. The previous two owners had never added any organic material and had only used chemicals and insecticides. The gardens were pretty much devoid of life, except for a few shrubs and some weeds. We spent the first four years adding chicken manure, good mulch, leaves, compost, and any organic matter we could get our hands on. We started small, working with the front foundation beds first, then slowly adding more and more garden space. After nine years the soil in the front foundation beds is finally looking better, dark and loamy instead of dry, rocky, and sandy.

The insects returned in force and we see all kinds of solitary bees, ladybugs, wasps, and all sorts of interesting things. The birds are also back, enjoying all the insects and spiders. We’ve also focused on building the biodiversity in our gardens, adding many kinds of native plants that produce pollen and nectar. We also added a small pond and allowed a few areas to naturalize.

Edibles are some of the best reasons to garden. What is your favorite edible?

This is a tough one. I’d have to go with a tomato. If you’ve ever tasted a ‘Brandywine’ tomato still warm from the sun you know exactly why this is my answer! That being said I love all the edibles I grow and I appreciate each one for what they bring during each season.

You eat a lot of local food and food grown in your own garden. How do you find local foods and how do you maintain the balance of eating mostly local or home grown with the prolific abundance of fast and ready made foods?

The easiest way to find local foods is to find a local farmer’s market. Once you delve into the local food culture you’ll find that just about anything you need can be grown locally. The best place to start is with eggs and meat. They’re very easy to find locally and the difference it taste will be amazing! Sure they’ll cost more, but usually when you make that kind of investment you’ll find that you never waste a thing so you won’t actually be spending any more money – you’ll just be wasting less food.

I would have to say that about 99% of our diet is local or made from scratch at home. We have a few local farm markets that are a great resource. It takes some time to search out and local sources for many items, but once you find them it’s actually easier than “normal” grocery shopping. I’m not a local purist, we enjoy eating coconut oil, olive oil, olives, pine nuts, balsamic vinegar and other wonderful foods. I try to focus on purchasing these products from small artisans that craft a quality product from organic or local ingredients. I have found Local Harvest to be a great resource for finding small producers.

Personally I the hardest thing about local/homegrown/homemade eating is learning to think differently. You have to learn to eat what’s in season and to get away from the weekly grocery list and menu planning. You’ll have to learn to deal with egg shortages when the chickens quit laying at the farm. You’ll learn to eat lots of potatoes in the winter and none in the late spring. You will learn to appreciate each item at it’s best and you won’t even be tempted to eat strawberries in December because you know what a real strawberry tastes like when they’re freshly picked in June.

I grew up eating mostly made from scratch items. Since we lived in South America there wasn’t the abundance of pre-made foods. Because of this, it comes kind of naturally to me. When you’re used to eat real food made from fresh ingredients pre-made, packaged, or fast food tastes weirdly “chemically”. Even store milk tastes weird to me. We drink raw milk from a local farm so pasteurized milk tasted boiled to me. I can’t remember the last time I was actually in a grocery store, and when I go in one I’m amazed at how nothing actually looks like food.

What is your favorite recipe to make with ingredients from your yard?

I’m answering this during the height of strawberry season – so I’m going to say strawberry shortcake. If you ask me in winter it would be a hearty stew with homegrown root vegetables and venison. In spring it would be a big salad with cleansing dandelion greens, and if you asked in summer it would a BLT with vine ripened tomatoes and some good local bacon!

Chiot’s Run is home to to many pets, including the namesake of the blog, Lucy aka: Chiots, and many cats. Do you have any problems with pets in the garden and how do you remedy any issues that might arise from cats trampling plants or dogs digging in things they shouldn’t?

I don’t really have any issues with the pets in and the garden. Lucy is a great dog and has never dug anything up. The cats are also great, their worst offense is sleeping in the catmint and flattening it. We provide a litterbox in the garage for the outdoor cats and they like to use it. It’s filled with vermiculite or sand that is then composted into the gardens. This is a bit unconventional and some might say terrible, but I believe in producing as little waste and composting as much as possible. This compost is not used on edible plants, but is used in the maple grove to supply good food for our maple sugaring trees.

Do you draw inspiration from any particular garden or gardener?

There are a few people that inspire me as far as gardening is concerned. Thomas Jefferson is one, I’ve read his gardening journals and visited his garden at Monticello and it’s truly inspiring. His attention to every detail is quite remarkable. I also admire Joe Eck and Wayne Winterroud, who’s book ‘Living Seasonally’ was the catalyst for my journey into the seasonal local life. Eliot Coleman is also a huge inspiration to me. His edible gardens are truly remarkable and his ability to experiment to harvest food during the cold winter months is something I hope to achieve here someday. Tasha Tudor is also of great inspiration not just for her bountiful gardens, but for her simple life as well.

Are there any tips or resources for beginning gardeners that you would like to share?

Focus on growing soil not plants. If you focus on growing the soil you’ll be reward with beautiful plants.

What are your goals for the next five years in your garden? Anything in particular you hope to grow or a design you want to implement?

We just purchased the lot next door and are working on clearing out all the saplings and turning it into a large garden. Within the next five years I hope to add a small orchard to our gardens as well as another large area to grow even more of the food that we eat.

And finally, tell us the five people you’d love to have over for dinner and why!

Thomas Jefferson – because he seems like a fascinating person
Rachel Carson – because she’s a brave person that was kind of the catalyst for the organic movement
Ina Garten – because I’d love for her to cook the meal we’re eating
Jamie Oliver – I’d love to chat with him about fresh food
Martha – one of the local farmers I buy things from, I’d love to hear more of how she arrived in the USA and started a farm.

Susy writes at Chiot’s Run, Ethel’s Gloves Your Day blog and the Simple, Green, Frugle Co-op blog


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