I'm a newbie; while I've read some of the canonical texts, I'm new to actually *doing* permaculture. I've managed to acquire (with my partner who is a non-gardener) 5 acres, 1 acre cleared with decent SW exposure and a reliable well.
The climate here is mild for the latitude, but still pretty dark and cold in the winter. The soil we acquired is poor, thin, sandy and stony (our part of the island is a rockpile with the scanty soil of 2nd-growth forest), and I'm told it's quite acidic (conifer duff). We also have deer -- in a big way. Hungry, fat deer that seem to eat everything. Deer fencing is definitely in my future!
I'd like to start some edible annuals this spring, but for the long term want to start establishing edible perennials.
My immediate plan is to deer-fence a modest enclosure of existing near-flat lawn/meadow (30x30ft or so), get some cardboard down in the shape of beds, cover with rotten wood material from the forest and imported topsoil from the big island (lasagna style), maybe add some lime, mulch the heck out of it w/whatever I can get. The locals seem to amend soil with imported manure (from Vancouver Island) and local seaweed, so I'll imitate them! Then plan to try some northerly annuals this Spring in shallow raised beds just to get started. Should have a greenhouse soon which should help with starts and more southerly cultivars. I have some successful track record with annuals in containers and small beds (in a more southerly climate), and am pretty good at starting from seed, transplanting etc. -- but no history with perennials or larger gardens.
If there's anyone in a similar climate (Read, Quadra, Cortes, etc) on similar terrain (rocky slope, clearings in the 2nd growth conifer forest), I'd be very interested to know what you've done that has worked out well. We are not spring chickens (my SO just turned 60 and I'm over 50) and don't feel we have a lot of seasons to waste learning from our own stupidity
A couple of notes: it's expensive to bring in amendments (2 ferry rides); and the soil is hellish to dig (like I said, stony!). I'm not sure that trenching for traditional hugelkultur is practical (without hiring power digging equipment or husky young men); so I've been planning to build the soil upwards from the unpromising present surface. Is this a lazy approach doomed to fail, or can I hope to succeed with patience? Further note: we are often away from home during the summer for extended periods (cruising the local area) and need to take a very resilient approach! Hence I feel an extra attraction to a somewhat self-maintaining food forest. Recommends for edible perennials for this bioregion would be most welcome!
So ta in advance for any contacts, locally relevant books, sources for starts, etc. Right now my bibles are Sepp Holzer, Carol Deppe, and of course Hemenway.
If I were you, I would see about having a permaculture designer come a do a paid evaluation of your property, and get their recommendations. I don't live too terribly far from you (just on the other side of the border in Washington), but I don't have experience with areas like yours. If you ever come to Washington, come by and visit us here if you have time.
Wow, Cortez is lovely, you're lucky. We have a little spot on Mudge Island with similar challenges...poor access, thin stony soil under second growth canopy, etc...but a good sunny exposure. We managed to get some raised beds doing well there after hauling in some soil. Ended up going to Alberta just for access to reasonable amounts of land and deep, good soil...it's all so expensive on the coast but I miss it terribly and would love to go back..
Anyway, I'm far from an expert but I did make a mistake that cost a season so I'll share that with you...we really overestimated how much sun was peeking into our clearing, it looked like a sunny spot but it was more patchy sun and shadow. We ended up with lots of mushrooms in our beds and not much else. I did some judicious pruning and falling the next year, and it made a huge, huge difference. I'm generally not big on cutting trees but there's a lot of second growth monoculture around there, and cutting a decent garden patch out of it seems like a reasonable thing to do.
Also check out Salt Spring seeds for good locally adapted and heirloom seed varieties, he's online...
Probably you already know all this...
ps...we bought bulk soil, drove it to dock, filled bags, rowed it across by dinghy, hauled up beach, hauled to the top of the island by hand cart, and then carried it up the final stretch on the footpath...if you can do two ferries and a truck you're way ahead of the game
If you are going to do tomatoes, you have a 'neighbor' (Tatiana) in Anmore, BC. She has set up the most extensive tomato database, and has grown many in the region. She is a reliable source for seeds, especially for all of you north of the border.
I am considerably to the south of you but in the same general Pacific Northwest maritime area, also on an island. I have been to Cortes and I know exactly what you're up against. From what you have posted here, it appears that you have it exactly right. The first and most important thing is to build the soil, and to do it with as many amendments as you can generate locally -- on Cortes Island, or on your own place. Start at surface level and work your way up. Use leaves for mulch from whatever deciduous trees you can find. Plant comfrey and spread it everywhere. Find other dynamic accumulators and incorporate them into your mulch. Learn to love brassicas, haha, because you'll be eating a lot of them given your months of short photoperiods. Find a nitrogen source. Consider raising rabbits for meat and poop.
I am establishing hugelkultur beds from the ground up, with some minimal digging. You should have plenty of feedstock available. I throw soil and compost right on top of the wood, and plenty of rotting leaves. Even in our damp, rainy climate, building the soil's water retention capacity for those dry summer months is the key to success. In Geoff Lawton's videos, he harps on this ad infinitum -- adding biomass to the soil and increasing its water holding capacity.
It all follows from this IMO. No one does it all in the first year, or in the second, or in any single year thereafter. It's a cumulative, continuous process that transforms us in addition to transforming the earth. Oh, shit, that was woo-woo, wasn't it?
Hi! I've spent a lot of time looking at people's gardens on Quadra Island, where we have a place, and I like to ask people about what they do when I see a garden I particularly admire. My favorite garden was built up over the years by using cow manure and seaweed, and fenced from deer with old fishnet (the gardener was an old retired commercial fisherman).
Do you know Paul Stamets? He has a place on Cortes, or used to, and I'm guessing he does his soil building using mushrooms (eg chipping wood and inoculating it with appropriate species). Where are you on Cortes? I'd love to come visit some time when I'm in the area, and would be happy to talk permaculture any time.