Minimize Inputs With Ecological Soil and Habitat Building Systems: Guest Helen Atthowe

On Today’s Podcast Episode Harold Has A Conversation With Helen Atthowe about Systems Thinking To Balance Profitable Yields With Minimum Soil Disturbance, Soil-Building For Microbial Abundance and Diversity, and Habitat Building For Natural Enemies and Enhanced Biological Control.

The Modern Homesteading Podcast, Episode 208 – June 19, 2023

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Helen has worked for 35 years to connect farming, food systems, land stewardship, and conservation. She currently farms and does soil- and natural enemies’ habitat- building research on her new 5-acre farm in Western Montana. Helen and her late husband farmed a 211 acre organic farm in Eastern Oregon doing mainly orchard and vegetable production, created educational videos, and did video presentations about their ecological farming methods.

Helen has an M.S. in Horticulture from Rutgers University and has worked in education and research at Rutgers, the University of Arkansas, and Montana and Oregon State Universities. She was a Horticulture Extension Agent in Montana for 17 and also owned/operated a 30 acre certified organic vegetable/fruit farm in Montana.

She co-owned with her late husband a 26 acre certified organic orchard in California. Helen was a board member for the Organic Farming Research Foundation 2000-2005 and advisor for Wild Farm Alliance in 2018 & 2019. She is also the author of “The Ecological Farm: A Minimalist No-Till, No-Spray, Selective-Weeding, Grow-Your-Own-Fertilizer System for Organic Agriculture”.

Embracing Ecological Farming: Insights from Helen Atthowe on the Modern Homesteading Podcast


In a recent episode of the Modern Homesteading Podcast, host Harold Thornbro had the privilege of speaking with Helen Atthowe, an experienced educator in organic agriculture and the author of “The Ecological Farmer”. The conversation delved into Helen’s journey, her innovative farming techniques, and the valuable insights she offers through her book and the Garden Master course.

Helen Atal’s Path to Ecological Farming

  • Background: Raised in a ranching community in Montana, Helen pursued academic studies in biology, ecology, and horticulture.
  • Global Learning: Her experience extends across various countries, including learning from Masanobu Fukuoka in Japan and studying at Findhorn in Scotland.
  • Practical Application: Helen’s journey led her back to Montana, where she experimented with organic farming techniques, eventually writing an organic Master Gardener manual and developing the Garden Master course.

Principles of Ecological Farming

  • Living Mulches: The core of Helen’s farming approach involves maintaining a living root in the soil year-round, reducing tillage, and relying on nature’s processes.
  • No-Till, No Spray, Selective Weeding: Her farm in Oregon operates without synthetic inputs, instead focusing on growing its own fertilizer through living mulches and minimal intervention.
  • Nutrient Cycling and Biological Control: The system emphasizes a continuous nutrient supply, similar to a forest ecosystem, and fosters habitats for beneficial insects and other organisms.

The Ecological Farmer Book

  • Helen’s new book, “The Ecological Farmer”, expands on the principles taught in her course, offering a comprehensive guide to organic farming. It is structured in two parts: advocating an ecological approach and providing detailed problem-solving guides for various crops.

Key Takeaways from Helen’s Approach

  • Reduced Labor and Inputs: By embracing a system that works with nature, Helen has minimized the need for manual labor and external inputs, leading to a more sustainable farming practice.
  • Nutrient-Dense Crops: Her techniques yield crops rich in vitamins and minerals, contributing to healthier food production.
  • Adaptability and Resilience: The system’s flexibility allows it to adapt to environmental changes, ensuring consistent productivity.

The Journey of Learning and Adaptation

  • Continuous Growth: Helen emphasizes the importance of being open to learning and adapting farming practices as new insights emerge.
  • Ecological Awareness: Understanding the complexities of ecological relationships is crucial in managing a successful organic farm.
  • Humble Beginnings: The approach is suitable for beginners, as it allows for learning and growth in organic farming practices.


Helen Atthowe’s discussion with Harold Thornbro highlights the transformative power of ecological farming. Her journey, teachings, and book provide valuable insights for anyone interested in pursuing a more sustainable and productive approach to agriculture. Whether you’re a seasoned farmer or just starting, Helen’s principles offer a roadmap for growing healthier food in harmony with nature.


Helen’s Book

  • The Ecological Farm: A Minimalist No-Till, No-Spray, Selective-Weeding, Grow-Your-Own-Fertilizer System for Organic Agriculture – Get it at Amazon or Chelsea Green Publishing 


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