So, two and a half years ago we bought 27 acres on Cortes Island. It is a stunning piece of property, and pretty well set up for gardening. There are a LOT of trees on Cortes, and most peoples’ homes are surrounded by very tall trees, making gardening difficult. We are also blessed to have the Cortes Natural Food Co-op about 10 minutes drive from our place, and they buy produce from us. There is also another store on the island that will be happy to buy fresh produce from us. And the Cortesians are generally very health conscious and inclined to buy fresh, naturally grown produce. So, we really have a built in market here.
We have quite a bit of open space on our land. Well, after the man cut down the old growth broom forest. About 2-3 acres of good open space is the result. We chose the spot for the garden, dug a couple of beds, fenced it in, and last year I planted my first beds. The fence didn’t get finished until the first of June, so all the transplants were late getting in. We only got two beds built, each about 4 feet x 40 feet. But I grew a lot of produce in those two beds. I fed us all summer and fall - well into November! - and sold $1,200 dollars worth of produce to the Natural Food Co-op. It was a very exciting and productive first summer!
If you click on the link in my signature, you can read about the property and how things went in more detail (Lot of photos!). The biggest problem that we encountered was a serious lack of actual soil. We do have a lot of sand, though. A LOT of sand. Which is why we decided to go with buried wood beds. The two garden beds that we built are 4-5 feet deep, and filled with old logs and branches from our clean up of the property, plus chips from the broom, and lots of grass, weeds and leaves. They grew excellent vegetables.
We have two more beds built for this year, and we’re hoping to get 4 more done in the next month or so. (After all the snow from our freak snow storm melts!!) With this many beds, I can grow a LOT of food. I will share some of my calculations for yields and income in a later post.
I’ve also been working on the crop rotations I’ll use. I grow things kind of mixed together in small blocks - not quite a pure polyculture, but close - so the crop rotations are a little trickier to work out. But it has been a fun puzzle to play with, and I think I’m close! Of course, it will all evolve and change as the season progresses - but that’s half the fun!
Here are the garden rotations I’ve worked out so far. There will be herbs and flowers planted willy-nilly in amongst the veggies, and there are beneficial insect attracting flowers growing all along the fence.
Here are some photos of the building of the garden beds.
And here are some lovely photos of my garden growing last year. I’m very proud.
And that’s how my garden grows! I’m very excited for the new season to begin, and can finally envision getting away from the computer work I do, and spending more time growing food, working on the land, and painting. I am hoping to have a greenhouse next year, to extend the season and keep growing some things during the winter. I’ll also be putting hoops over the beds, to serve as trellises in the summer and for covering in the fall, winter and spring to keep growing greens, and generally extend the season on both ends.
And next year I hope to be set up for chickens! An integral part of the garden plan.
Oh, and! I’ll be starting a small food forest at the back of the garden this year. It will have a few fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, perennial vegetables, and chicken food. It will also have a small pond. This area will be used for the chickens when it’s big enough to withstand their incessant scratching - at the beginning, they will only make short visits.
And that’s it for now! I’ll post more as I get things done. First will be seed starting! My favorite. I hope you enjoyed the tour. Questions, observations, and suggestions are welcome.
Thanks Gilbert and Bryna. Yes, I believe they were very happy plants. At least, they tasted very happy.
Thanks, David! Yes, I'm very glad we have a tractor. I surely couldn't do it with just a shovel. We've got some mighty big rocks in the sand here. But it's working out beautifully, and I hope to have even more gardeny goodness to show this year!
It won't stop snowing on my SPRING! Wow, the weather has been uncommonly crappy. Snow, snow, rain, snow, su . . . nope, snow, rain . . . and on it goes.
But I'm not daunted. I will have a beautiful garden this year! But it has really gotten me thinking even more seriously about the whole diversity issue, and making sure I have a variety of plants so that at least some of them will do well in these days of erratic weather. If summer doesn't come - and I've been told that it may not - I need to be prepared. But there are lots of things that grow well in cooler weather, so I'll be stocking up on seeds for those - lettuces, kale, broccoli, parsley, cilantro, peas, potatoes, carrots, mustards. Yep, I'll be just fine.
Last week was the grower's meeting at the Cortes Natural Food Co-op. I really enjoy those meetings. It's great to meet the other local growers, and always heartening to hear about their difficulties and successes, and learn what they're doing. Everyone is very open and happy to share their knowledge. I really am grateful to live where I do.
I'll attach the information that they give us at the meeting. They are so awesome to put this information together for the growers. It shows us what is already being grown, what they have to order off-island for, and so we can plan our gardens around what is needed at the co-op. They are very open with their information. And they're all just so . . . nice.
I am going to concentrate on broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes and sweet peppers this year. Next year, when I hopefully have a bigger greenhouse, I'll be concentrating on getting earlier produce, and really go for the peppers and and cucumbers in summer, and lettuces and greens in the winter, along with early and late tomatoes and zucchini. I'll also be growing everything else, and all of our own veggies will come from the garden, so there will be a great diversity of things growing. And I can never have enough broccoli.
I didn't get many seeds saved last year, as I didn't really grow a wide variety of things, but I have some tomato seeds from two varieties, some radish and lettuce seeds, many herb seeds, and I'll let some of the overwintered kale go to seed this year, so I'll have that for next year. This year I'll concentrate more on seed saving, as I would eventually like to not have to order seeds every spring. Unless I see something that I simply MUST try. (Any orange and yellow open-pollinated tomato seeds are always on my list!)
So! Most of the seeds on my list this year are from Salt Spring Seeds, some from Linnaea Farm (local permaculture farm of awesomeness), and some from West Coast Seeds.
List of seeds
Amish Snap Peas - Linnaea Farm
Carouby de Mausanne Snow Pea SSS
Ruckle - white kidney bean SSS
Gramma Walter Dry Pole Bean Linnaea Farm
Bunyard’s Matchless (SSS)
Craquerelle du Midi (SSS)
Linnaea Leeks (winter)
Bleu de Solaise Leek (winter) SSS
Kind Richard Leeks (summer) SSS
He Shi Ko Bunching Onion SSS
Kincho Scallions SSS
Golden Treasure Sweet Pepper (yellow) SSS
Italian Sweet (red) SSS
Joe’s Long Cayenne SSS
Some of these seeds will be grown out and harvested just for seed. Most are to test out different varieties to see how they grow here the way I garden. I'm looking for specific traits, so some of these may or may not make into next year's garden. For instance, I'm looking for lettuces that are both heat tolerant, as well as good at growing in the winter here. And I'm looking for broccoli varieties that I can grow spring, summer and late fall. I'm sure I'll find some more seeds that I just have to have. I'll find somewhere to put them . . .
And that's it for now. I think I'm going to put some peas in the ground, even if we're likely to get more snow. It's not supposed to get very cold again, so maybe they'll be fine. I just have to get something in the ground. You know how it is.
Oh, and here is the information they give us at the grower's meeting. Take a look if you're interested. The first part is what is grown locally, the second part is what they order off-island. So, I can look at this and see what sells the most, what is already being grown, and where there is room for more. Pretty cool, hey?
Thanks, Joel. Yes, Linnaea Farm is a wonderful place. The people are warm and knowledgeable, and very much into sharing that knowledge. My guy plays disc golf, and many of the people who live and work at Linnaea play disc golf, so we've become good friends. I took my PDC there in the fall, and it was great to see all of their working systems. Apparently the first PDC offered in BC was at Linnaea Farm, about 30 years ago. So our friends, Brent and Liz, have lived and work there for over 30 years, creating an amazing permaculture paradise. Very cool place, and an inspiration for me. It can be done!
If anyone is interested in visiting a real, working permaculture farm, Cortes Island is the place to come! We also have Blue Jay Lake Farm on the island. And, although Henry doesn't call it 'permaculture' it is definitely permaculture. Some really amazing and beautiful things going on there. It's worth taking tour of. We did the tour during the PDC. Lots of great permaculture and natural stuff goes on on our little island.
And I hope to get our place on the list of lovely permaculture places to visit on Cortes Island in the next few years.
Okay, that's my plug for Cortes Island and it's permaculture-esque qualities! I LOVE it here.