In This Issue

Compost-Powered Hot Tub, Backyard Pepper Plantation, Building Community with Tomatoes, Figs and Citrus in PA, Litchi Tomato

Welcome. I’m Steven Biggs, a farm, food, and garden writer and speaker. I share stories about the food chain. I look at how food is grown, harvested, and processed—and how it makes its way to our plates through the retail chain. This is my newsletter. Thank you for your interest in what I do.


Microbe-Powered Hot Tub

Tom Bartel is a big proponent of firing up the soil using compost. Tom gardens in the high desert of Colorado, at an elevation of 6,500’ (1,980 m). His growing season is only about 130 days, but from his 1300-square-foot garden (120 square metres), he harvests over 1,000 pounds (454 kg) of produce every year.

I learned about Tom’s work when I stumbled on his video about using microbes to heat a hot tub. Tom explains that he started the hot tub a proof-of-concept project, having read about using decomposing wood-chips to heat houses and greenhouses.

As the wood chips decompose, the inside of the pile heats up to 140-150°F (60-65°C). Tom says that with a batch of wood chips, a hot tub can be kept at 104-108°F (40-42°C) for 18 months—through 2 Colorado winters. After a couple of years, the wood chips have decomposed and feed his garden. Not bad for wood chips diverted from the waste stream! Click here to hear our interview with Tom on the August episode of The Garage Gardeners Show.

Click here to visit Tom’s website, Grow Food Well.


Summer Garden Visits

Claus Nader grows potted peppers on his balcony, deck, and in his backyard

This summer my daughter Emma and I visited a few of the gardeners we have chatted with on The Garage Gardeners Radio Show.

In August we dropped in to visit Claus Nader in Toronto. Claus is the owner of East York Chile Peppers.

His specialty is growing peppers in containers. He grows specialty peppers, saves seeds, and makes hot sauces, pickled peppers, jams, salsas, and dehydrated peppers. Despite the space and shade limitations of a fairly small urban yard, Claus manages to fit in about 130 pepper plants…all in containers, all hand watered! Of course…we came home with a few seeds to try in our own garden next year. If you want pepper inspiration, listen to Claus’ tips on the June episode of The Garage Gardeners Show.

Emma met our driveway-tomato-garden mentor Craig LeHoullier

We took a family road trip to North Carolina, which was the opportunity to meet more guests from the show. First we dropped in to visit tomato expert Craig LeHoullier in Raleigh, North Carolina. Craig is the author of a book we love, Epic Tomatoes. His driveway tomato garden and his passion for growing and breeding tomatoes is really inspiring. Craig has been an amazing mentor to Emma as she fills our own driveway here in Toronto with tomato plants. Click here to tune into our chat with Craig LeHoullier about straw-bale gardening and tomatoes on The Garage Gardeners Show.

Hanging out at Brie’s inspiring tomato-tasting

After meeting Craig, we went to see Brie Arthur, author of the book Foodscape Revolution. Brie has a tomato-tasting event every August…which was actually what inspired our road trip. It was fantastic: people mingling, live music in the background, and people strolling the pathways and exploring her gardens. As for the tomato tasting, first, guests line up for sandwich fixings (bacon, tomato, mayo, etc.) and then head to a big table with baskets of labelled tomatoes, cutting boards, and knives to cut off juicy slabs of tomato to complete the sandwiches. Brie’s use of edible plants in a landscape is inspiring…and a tomato tasting was a wonderful way to share that with so many people. Food is a great way to bring people together—and Brie is building community one tomato at a time! Click here to tune into our chat with Brie about growing edibles and foodscaping on The Garage Gardeners Show.


Lemons on Down the Garden Path

I was delighted to join hosts Joanne Shaw and Matthew Dressing on their radio show Down the Garden Path to talk about growing lemons in cold climates. I was even more delighted when I found out that Gary, their producer, was listening in…and got himself a lemon tree after the show! Click here to tune into the lemon episode.

Speaking of lemons, I’m excited to announce that my book Grow Lemons Where You Think You Can’t is now available as an e-book.

Want to look inside? Click here.

The paperback version is available on my website and on Amazon.

Looking for a fun gift for a gardener? What about a signed book with a message inside. Order through my website and send me a note to let me know what message you would like me to write inside.



From Bedding Plants to Figs in PA

John Biberich from Wolfcreek Farms in Grove City Pennsylvania used to grow bedding plants. But as the market for bedding plants changed, he decided it was time to change too. John and his wife, Sue, now grow figs and citrus in their greenhouses. Click here to tune into the June episode of The Garage Gardeners Show and hear my chat with John.



Litchi tomato. Photo by Emma Biggs

From Harrowsmith Jr.: Litchi Tomato has Amazing Flavour (and Lots of Prickles!)

By Emma Biggs

Here is a tomato relative to try out on friends who don’t like tomatoes. Just don’t tell them that it has “tomato” in its name. I have friends who don’t like fresh tomatoes, but love this fantastic fruit!

I love litchi tomato for its flavour. But it is prickly. Don’t grow it too close to the pathway, because its prickles will grab you.

Prickly and Mean

When I first saw this tomato relative, also known as Morelle de Balbis (or Solanum sisymbriifolium if you’re into Latin names) my tour guide at the trial garden I was visiting described it as “thorny and mean.” I agree, it can be mean, so I make sure to leave lots of space when I’m working nearby! (At a distance, though, they are really quite beautiful.)

Walk too close and it will snag your clothes! The stems, leaves, even the underside, and the husks on the dark-red fruits, all have sharp, pointy prickles on them. When I cleaned up the garden last fall, I wore gloves and a long-sleeve shirt when I removed my litchi tomato plants. Click here to read the rest of Emma’s blog post about litchi tomatoes for Harrowsmith magazine.


Kids Gardening Videos

Emma and her friend Ty in Pennsylvania have been busy sharing their love of gardening and cooking in another season of videos for kids on their channel From Dirt to Dishes. Here are some of Emma’s gardening videos. Please share, subscribe, and help inspire more kids to garden!



Grow Lemons Where You Think You Can’t

Hurray! My book Grow Lemons Where You Think You Can’t is now available as an e-book. Want to look inside? Click here.

Or click the picture of it to find out about getting a paperback copy.

Gardening with Emma

We have been getting a lot of great feedback about Gardening with Emma. Emma just received this heartwarming note:

“We have been inspired to plan our own gardens for next summer by your Gardening With Emma book, which was given to us by our Grandma. (She has a huge garden with both flowers and vegetables). We just looked up where to buy some cucamelon seeds, and are looking forward to planting them next spring.”



Garage Gardeners Show

Our guests share tips on how to push garden boundaries. Live on Reality Radio 101, 2 pm ET, the first Wednesday of every month. Previous episodes are on the web page and Apple Podcasts. We cover subjects ranging from veg in the Yukon, edible flowers, container gardening, backyard chickens, year-round herbs, northern nuts, figs in the north, passive solar greenhouses, fruit on the prairies, straw-bale gardening, and year-round veg gardening.