I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Bren Haas to discuss her life, website, garden, and recipes. I learned so much from her and I highly recommend all readers visit her site and give her a follow on her various social media channels. She is the real-deal when it comes to major gardening personalities. I am proud to share my interview with her with all of you. We talked for hours, but time flew by. Getting lost in conversation is always fun! If you enjoy this interview, be sure to stop by Twitter every Monday at 9pm to join in her weekly gardening discussion #gardenchat.
John Ehrling: Thank you for sitting down with me, for the readers that might not be familiar with you or your work, can you tell us more about you?
Bren Haas: Well, thanks for having me. First off, I’m excited to connect with you, I’m Bren Haas and I’ve been online sharing content, forever… I like connecting with people. I like learning from everybody. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years. I’ve been online sharing content focused on traveling, gardening, and food prior to Facebook and even Myspace! Although I didn’t start blogging about gardening until about 2004, when I moved out to the country side. About 15 years ago, a friend of mine came over, she knew I was blogging, and she suggested I blog about gardening!
Bren Haas: I mostly blogged about health, mom things, and DIY stuff. My friend then said “you really should show more about your garden because no one sees this and it’s beautiful back here.” And I was like, “wow, I never really thought about that. But, you know, the post man and UPS guy loves my garden, I guess you’re right. I should share it.” Anyhow, that’s how it all began. I started blogging more, about things I was growing, and all the different techniques I used.
John Ehrling: Has writing always been a hobby of yours or was it just something to pass the time?
Bren Haas: Well… no. Writing for me is a way to share content, but I really enjoy sharing a variety of content online. I like the idea of building a space. Back in the day I was learning HTML to get online. I’m more of a photographer and visual. My writing’s pretty rough. I’m getting better over the years. I was really using my blog as a form of “Twitter” before Twitter was really a thing. I’d share a photo and talk about it in little short sentences. I did start with a website first, but then I started blogging before people actually had blogs. But then I found blogger, which was free, so I was able to easily expand my blogging and photo content.
John Ehrling: Your photos are great! I definitely need to say, every time I scroll through your Instagram or Twitter, I can tell you have photography in your blood. I’m very jealous.
Bren Haas: Thank You. That’s kind of you. Photography is kind’ve how I got introduced into the garden world actually. I’m in Northwest Ohio, I live out in the middle of farmland, which was a shock for me when we moved here because I came from the city and I was used to seeing people every day. And then I moved down here and you don’t see people. It’s a whole different life. While living out here, I learned how popular gardening is. I had no idea there was a whole network out there of gardening people. There were these gardening bloggers and someone had hired me to come and do photography at a gardening blogger event. That’s how it all started!
John Ehrling: So is that how you started gardening? Were you not a gardener prior to shooting photography at this event?
Bren Haas: Oh no, I’ve had a garden forever. So, I was born in December and I think it was a nice warm Spring the first time I saw pictures of me in a garden because there’s pictures of me outside in March. I always was outside with my mom and dad, they were very passionate about being outside in nature. My dad was a boy scout and we always camped – tent campers – and then RV campers, and all those kinds of thing. My mom actually grew up on a farm in Michigan. So, I was always around a garden. My Uncles had huge barns and we’d go pick cucumbers or lots of tomatoes, things like that.
Bren Haas: And then, I will admit though, as I got older, there was a point I hated gardening because my dad always made me pick weeds in his garden. What’s funny is one day I accidentally pulled out an entire strawberry plant, because I had no idea what they looked like back then. I remember my dad was so upset and I felt horrible. I didn’t really like gardening anymore. I was scared I would always ruin the garden. Eventually I got past that and started my own!
Bren Haas: I never forced my kids into the garden or even to mow the grass, but I love mowing the grass, so I never forced them to get out and help weed or anything like that. I tend to just introduce them to it, and let them decide their own level of involvement. I had my kids join a local 4-H Group. They’ve got great lessons on growing a garden or growing edibles and other things like that.
John Ehrling: It’s funny that you just said that you enjoy moving the lawn because I don’t think those words have ever been put together in that order, in the history of humanity. That was the first unique sentence I ever spoken.
Bren Haas: *laughing* No, I love my mowing. I love mowing, We live on close to 18 acres. It’s a great piece of land. I have a 62 inch mower deck and it takes me about three hours, to three and a half hours to finish landscaping the area. So it’s pretty quick. I really love it because it’s my actual time where I can think.
John Ehrling: Do you put on a headset, listen to some music and just roll around?
Bren Haas: I used to put my headset on and sing, because no one could hear me. But not lately, actually. I just do deep thinking about different ways I can improve my gardens. I’m going through a phase now with my own property as I’m getting a little older myself. My children now are both college age and older and out doing their own things now. So I’m able to do more things with my husband. So, I’m just out redesigning, and rethinking my gardens. So it’s a good time as I’m mowing around them just thinking, “oh, what do I want to do with this space that’s easier and produces more.”
John Ehrling: You mentioned your children being in college. Millennial’s love their social media. Are your children jealous that you definitely have a bigger presence than they do online?
Bren Haas: That’s funny because I just had this conversation with my son who’s very close to graduating from college and I don’t think he realizes that I do have a large outreach, you’re right. I’ve been tweeting and sharing in the gardening industry for a long time. I can remember going to garden events with garden writers and whatnot. I always hung out with the product providers, PR people, and the people who are there with a company to work because I love picking their brains. I wanted to find out, what they were learning and then I’d share any new ideas and products.
John Ehrling: So I definitely wanted to ask you about your geodesic dome because that thing looks amazing. So I have a few questions. The first is how the hell did you build it? Second, what particulars are you growing in there versus outside of the Dome?
Bren Haas: The dome changed my life, it really did. And we built it from regular things you can find at any hardware store except for the covering
John Ehrling: When did you decide to create it though? Were you just one day mowing around the yard and you’re like, “Hey, I want to build a dome!”
Bren Haas: Oh No. Oh goodness. That’s a whole story itself. So I started growing year-round. I’m always like that. I like to push the growing zone. I would find something that isn’t supposed to be in our hardiness zone, I’m in Ohio, which is a five-six B roughly, I’d try and get it to see if I could grow it. I’d see if it could survive outside, or if I’d need to bring it inside the house or garage. So, I was following a couple of bloggers or a blogger specifically who was growing year-round up in Canada way up North and it’d be like a hardiness zone three.
Bren Haas: So I just started picking her brain and finding out a few things, about how she grew different things so far up North. So I took her tips and suggestions and my husband and I got a little greenhouse, a 10×12. This was back in 2009.
Bren Haas: I’ve always liked growing indoors or in the greenhouse space like that and these domes have been around for a while. In fact, they’re quite expensive if you buy the kits. They’re beautiful. They’re really cool. I used to click through them online and think, oh gosh, I can never afford that. That’s just too much. And I’m just an amateur. I never imagined I would be able to have such a thing. Oh my goodness, I think it’s been four years now. I met a couple of garden people. I met them through Facebook or Twitter. The guys business was building domes and he wanted to make an e-book. So we connected and they drove all the way here from the Northeast and we built this thing. My job during the building process was documentation. I took photographs and videos for his project he wanted to do. And I just talked about it and shared it with everybody!
John Ehrling: I want you to send me a link either to that book or whatever type of a recording you have and documentation of the building of it. I’d definitely like to give that a read.
Bren Haas: There are so many different documentation plans online to create these things. It’s just basic math. If you Google the measurements of the Dome, you can easily build a 20 foot dome or go hardcore and do a 40 or 48 foot dome. The best wrapping for the dome is from a German company, its called Solo Wrap. That’s what’s on mine and I swear by it. I love it.
John Ehrling: So I want to ask you about your actual website BrenHaas.com. When did you decide to start it and what was it like in the beginning?
Bren Haas: Oh goodness. Okay. So I kind of started out with a blog and then the leading blogs had a website with it. I just wanted to be different than everybody else and I wanted my own domain instead of being, wordpress.com or blogger.com whatever. It was just important to me to have that. So I went ahead and I started BG garden. Some people found that confusing because I remember going to a couple of garden events and people were like, BG?? Wait, your last name is Haas. So I had to tell them that “BG” is for where I live, which is near Bowling Green.
Bren Haas: So I thought, I’m BG and this was my BG garden. The others domains like town gardens, my country garden, or just country garden was taken. So I’ll do BG garden. I really should’ve put more thought into that but does anybody really know exactly what’s going to happen down the road in the future? I had no idea I would be confident enough to market myself, so I rebrand it and switched everything over to BrenHaas.com. I’m able to share more of other things that I’m passionate about. You know I do love gardening, that’s a huge part of me. But I also love, cooking, sharing recipes, social media, traveling, and things like that.
If you’re looking to plant great tasting vegetables like Bren, take a look at all the suppliers on Garden Savvy and order some new seeds!
John Ehrling: I think it’s time to address the elephant in the room that is #gardenchat. So when did you decide you wanted to create the number one weekly gardening conversation on Twitter and what was it like starting and getting to where you are today? Because it’s clear there are thousands of people that have definitely touched or interacted with it. What was it like in the beginning? Were you concerned like, “Hey, this is not picking up any steam” or did you find that it took off faster than you expected?
Bren Haas: You know, back in the day everything kept changing. When Twitter came along, I was one of the first ones on there, that I know of, in the garden industry. I had a hard time finding other people sharing about gardening. Then this hashtag thing came along. I found a hashtag focused on birds and horticulture for the big farms. I thought these guys are growing something and that was inspiring. I met a couple of people and we decided to do our own thing for gardening, and we chose #gardenchat. We agreed Monday nine o’clock EST would work, and it’s been that way since 2010.
Bren Haas: That’s where it kind of came about, and now that hashtag is everywhere, you know? Garden Chat is a great place for everybody. Gardening touches us all, whether you want to admit you’re gardener or not. We’ve had people pop in randomly and didn’t have any idea what the heck gardening really is. And next thing you know, they’re growing some succulents because they’ve fallen on garden chat. And that’s what it’s all about really.
John Ehrling: Just building off of #gardenchat, lets discuss social media as a whole, are there any type of trends that you’re finding that people are talking about gardening online?
Bren Haas: Its always changing. It’s so different than it was even five years ago. I’m seeing people grow eggplant and the pepper craze is huge. I tend a follow a lot of edibles. There are a lot of people growing edibles. People in coffee shops are sharing more houseplants or a micro greens set setup and things.
John Ehrling: Nice. Yeah. It’s funny you mentioned the micro green thing because I wasn’t too well versed in micro greens. And actually I would say maybe a month ago or so, someone actually left a review for a supplier that they had purchased micro greens from on Garden Savvy. And I was like, “what the hell is this?” And I actually had to go and do some more research.
John Ehrling: Do you find that it’s challenging to introduce gardening to a younger generation? Because I really don’t see too many millennials diving into gardening.
Bren Haas: I don’t think that’s true. I mean, well, maybe I’m lying. But, I know when I’m traveling, I like to talk to people, and a trend that I hear a lot about is the cactus and succulent, those are really hot right now!
Bren Haas: And I do notice with the college age kids that they’re really interested in edibles. Also, micro greens are very popular right now. I think every seed provider has a section focused on micro greens.
John Ehrling: I know that you consider yourself a foodie and you like to share a lot of your recipes. What are some of your like favorite things to eat? Is there anything really unique that you’ve tried?
Bren Haas: Oh my gosh, I am so behind with my blogging, with the recipes and things, because to be honest with you, I’ve been going through a whole lifestyle change. As I’m getting older it’s a little harder to get these pounds off, even with how active I am. So I’ve actually been experimenting more with vegetables. For instance, I’ve been experimenting with cauliflower.
Bren Haas: Everybody’s doing the cauliflower thing, right? Just add a little bit of garlic throw in some herbs and its delicious. For food I like to travel. I like doing reviews of local restaurants and markets and things like that and I recently was introduced to a meat market close to me. It sells delicious brat, Amish jellies and different unique local products. But the most unusual was this broccoli, cheddar, and Jalapeno bite. It sounds like a weird combo, right? But it had a good bite. It was so creamy with a kick from the Jalapeno, it was really good.
John Ehrling: I’m a big fan of cauliflower and broccoli, and I do love peppers especially! I’ve actually tried to eat some of the hottest peppers raw just to like challenge myself. I’ve tried the Carolina reaper raw, my father managed to grow some. It was just absolute agony for like 30 minutes after eating one. *laughing*
John Ehrling: Earlier you mentioned how your original site was BG Gardens before swapping over to BrenHaas.com. If you could go back in time and give yourself advice at the beginning of your blogging career, what would it be? Is there anything you would’ve done differently in hindsight?
Bren Haas: Oh boy, that’s a really good question. Let’s just take it back just 10 years ago; the technology and everything is so different now. I guess the advice to people I’d give is to be active on social media early and to keep track of anything you may end up making into a business. A lot of people do take their horticulture seriously and are trying make a business out of it. Whether it’s by doing reviews or teaching or writing a book or whatever. Also it’s important to collect emails early to stay in contact with your followers. It’s possible that Facebook might not be around forever, so keep track of your emails.
John Ehrling: I completely agree. So to wrap everything up, this is where you can let everybody know where to follow you, where to find you!
Bren Haas: Oh goodness. Alright. That’s easy. You can find me at a BrenHaas.com. There you can also find my social media links and Youtube. There’s also a section there so you can connect with me easily by sending me a message.