ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot
I spent a full year searching for a property where I could grow as much of my own food as possible. From the moment I stepped foot on the land we bought, I started visualizing my new garden 10 years down the road. Amazingly, it only took five years to achieve year-round self-sufficiency in fruits and vegetables. Now I know that urban gardeners on Vancouver Island could achieve food security with their own five-year plan. It could look something like this:
Year one: edible landscaping. Year two: fruit and vegetable gardening. Year three: winter food gardening. Year four: seed saving for future harvests. Year five: four-season production using local seed banks.
We are beginning the ninth year on our property so I thought I’d share what we did on The Garden Path with you:
Amending the soil: With 15 feet of clay fill to work with, this was a no-brainer! How to change a cracked substrate with no earthworms into a fertile organic loam in a few months? First, Maverick Excavating came to break up the clay and then we mulched like mad, with what I refer to as “The Four Secrets of Successful Soil Building” – compost, manure, leaves and seaweed. By adding six-inch layers of these organic amendments in the fall, we were able to turn compacted clay into friable soil, with good tilth and teaming with earthworms by April the following year.
The best part is these organic soil amendments are free and freely available and are often regarded as waste. If urban gardeners linked with rural farmers and used their manure, we could easily solve a big waste disposal problem. If gardeners kept their leaves and fed them back to the soil, we would save a lot of money by the city not having to pick them up and we wouldn’t have to drive to the works yard to buy the leaves back as mulch. There’s a good joke here.
Building a greenhouse: I chose a glass and metal frame model, but there are other options. Due to erratic weather, I now grow seedlings for transplanting whenever possible. If you don’t have the luxury of a greenhouse, you can improvise with cold frames and cloches.
Designing the garden: Maverick Excavating dug up a 50 sq. ft. area, which was divided into four quadrants with a circular bed in the middle. This layout works well for crop rotations, which break the lifecycle of pests and diseases.
We grow food year round in the main garden because in our temperate climate there’s no need to leave beds empty from October to April; there are 50 varieties of different vegetables that can be harvested throughout winter.
The “Berry Walk”: I planted a 50-foot-long border with raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and Josta berries, all of which were under-planted with “Totem” June-bearing strawberries. They thrive in the same conditions.
The fruit orchard: A small orchard of 10 trees was planted in the second year. Dwarf and semi-dwarf saplings of apple, pear, cherry and plum trees were planted 15-feet apart in two rows of five because I visualized an avenue of trees with a canopy of fruit, providing shade for summer banquets.
The arbour: In year three, we scoured the forest to build a 50-foot-long arbour for kiwis, grapes, climbing berries and thornless blackberries. The berries are very ornamental as they ripen from red to black.
Seed saving: Over the years, more garden beds were added for seed saving. Plants adapt to the conditions in which they grow, which is why using organic seed is best when you are an organic gardener. Local seeds also have an edge in that they become adapted to the local climate conditions.
Willows and bamboos: These are useful, renewable resources for the garden. In future years, the bamboos and willows I have been planting will provide material for obelisks, arbours, trellises, screens, fences and teepees.
The native edible plant walk: next on the list – I’ll keep you posted.
Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.