A Journey of Soils
By Peg Kingery
Elizabeth Taylor’s mission in life is “to make sure everyone is happy: plants, people, dogs, cats . . . everyone!”
If you’ve visited her booth at the Moscow Farmer’s Market, both her demeanor and her gorgeous produce and dried flowers will certainly make you happy!
Elizabeth and her former husband purchased the abandoned campground in Santa, Idaho that is now home to her cabin, chicken coop, and meticulously-kept garden, 25 years ago. The cozy cabin is “off the grid”, powered by solar panels. A “sky box” on the property (a small guest room on stilts) is used when guests or Elizabeth’s grandchildren come to visit. Originally from Illinois, Elizabeth lived in California and New Orleans before discovering the property during a road trip.
It was in California that she learned farming skills. After 37 years of caring for the soil and plants, Elizabeth feels she is still learning. “With gardening you can have a plan – but don’t become attached to it!” she says.
Elizabeth’s garden is one acre in size and grows approximately 40 different plants. She prepared the seed bed completely by hand, using a metal rake, pitch fork and hoe. The garden is fertilized using composted goat manure and watered from nearby Santa Creek and her well. Black plastic covers the soil between the rows of plants to help with weed control. The most persistent weed is purslane.
John, one of Elizabeth’s four assistants, shared that this “weed” is actually a nutritious source of antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin A. Aphids and flea beetles cause some damage to the plants, but the biggest garden pest they deal with is worms. The property is protected from damage from four-legged grazers by an 8 foot fence.
John believes Elizabeth’s garden is “made with love” and that she “feeds her soil so well”. This is evident in the bountiful, colorful rows of plants. Vegetables, grains and flowers are intermingled in the rows, and periodically rotated to new areas in the garden to take advantage of differences in soil nutrition. Elizabeth doesn’t have a greenhouse and instead uses hoop houses and row cover to protect plants from frost and pests as necessary.
While vegetables are Elizabeth’s main focus, she creates exquisite dried arrangements with the grains (amaranth, barley and millet) and flowers she grows. She starts her seeds in February in hoop houses, and begins planting in March – weather permitting. She harvests plants late into the fall. “A plant wants to express as much as it can as long as it can,” Elizabeth says. Her careful tending of them assures that they remain healthy and productive throughout the growing season.
Elizabeth has been selling her produce and flowers at the Moscow Farmer’s Market since 1993. She spends Saturday afternoon after the Market delivering produce to our Co-op and to area restaurants. The Market has been profitable for her this year so far. She notes that it’s gotten so much bigger since she first began selling there. She is very proud of being able to grow and sell the quantity of produce she does on her one acre of land, with no “mechanical” help.
Elizabeth calls herself a “pro-local advocate”. She believes in the value of buying directly from the farmer because the shopper can ask questions about how the plants were grown to the person who actually grew them.
When harvest is done in October, Elizabeth spends the winter months canning, making baskets, tanning hides, reading, and playing Parcheesi with her neighbors. Sometimes she’ll sell cellared carrots or cabbage if she has them. Her garden rests; the chickens have free access to any of the vegetation remaining there.
Elizabeth lives simply, frugally, and exudes an amazing appreciation and reverence for plants. “(We) and plants are all souls on a journey together,” she says. The Moscow community is certainly fortunate to have her sharing her journey with us.
- Peg Kingery