Beginning A Food Garden On Lasqueti

March 30, 2020

    Being a farmer the time of the corona virus has been strangely exciting so far. I find myself with experience and skills that many people are suddenly interested in and I want to share! Since I am also a writer, I thought I could combine the two, and offer occasional gardening notes and advice, mostly for beginners, to encourage growing your own food. There might be words and ideas for the seasoned as well but please know, I have no certification as a master gardener. I don’t have answers to everything (but I love questions). What I do have is a lifetime of loving plants and eating food that has known my hands from seed to frying pan.

    On the small subsistence farm in Alberta where I was raised, I learned many things but one lesson in particular sticks with me. It was probably the May long weekend, a traditional time to plant the entire garden. That day, my younger brother Kris and I were Ma’s helpers. We each held a plastic container filled with pea seeds. Ma had two stakes tied with a length of twine to define the row, a mallet for pounding them in and a measuring stick to precisely mark the beginning of the next row. Under the tightened twine she’d draw a furrow with her hoe and Kris and I would squat and sow seeds. Hundreds of them. (Shelled peas were a family favourite for the dinner table.The freezer was filled with precarious towers of peas in containers, each one of them labelled with the date and the German word for peas, Erbsen, in Ma’s neat hand writing.)

    The peas we laid in the ground were to be spaced one inch apart. For kids, we did our best to eye their placement perfectly. That day, at the end of the last row I still had some peas left in my container. It wasn’t enough for another whole row and I was tired of the repetitive job. When Ma wasn’t looking I threw the remaining handful off to the side of the garden by the caragana bush wind break and kicked some dirt over them. 

    I was amazed (and busted) when a cluster of crowded peas germinated there and showed their unmistakable leaves. I’d thought seeds only grew when they were planted in straight lines, spaced just right, covered over and tamped down with a hoe! Those wildish peas enlightened me. Seeds want to grow! They’ll go for it anywhere, even in conditions where they might not thrive. We picked from that cramped cluster of pea plants all summer. Split open the shells and used our tongues to chase the sweet green beads from the pods into our mouths. They were still delicious even for being untended. 

    The moral of the story is to plant seeds and see what happens.

    The first Lasqueti gardens I met were gloriously lush, productive, and dedicated to beauty as much as to food. They were more about permanent beds than long straight lines. I wanted one of my own! Given the chance, I quickly learned that gardening on the West Coast is REALLY different from gardening in Alberta. The ground is not fertile in the way of grasslands. Clay and sandy soil are more common than loam. Rocks abound. Hungry deer and feral sheep have to be considered long before planting can happen. Fences have to be tall and sturdy. Water, from ponds specifically dug for the purpose or collected from roof tops has to be directed via black pipe to the garden. The forest is tall and likely to shade a plot at some point during the day and it will send in salmonberries and blackberries to colonize any space you open. But seeds still want to grow. And when plants make it past the pests waiting to devour their roots and the slugs that come in abundance, the fresh food they offer tastes divine. 

     Here is starter list to get you going on the way to eating fresh, flavourful food, familiar to your hands and delightful to your senses. Enjoy the process, there is so much magic in tending to a garden. Growing plants connects you to all the creatures that live and visit the space you tend.

Establish your space in an area that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. The more light, the greater the harvest and the richer the taste. Don’t make it too big to begin with. If you’ve never gardened before you might be overwhelmed with the amount of work it takes!

Build a fence to keep out the sheep and deer (and be grateful the wild cows no longer roam Lasqueti, stories of their fence destruction are legendary). There are many ways to build a fence. Cedar posts, T-posts or rebar can be used to for all kinds of fencing, be it wire, reclaimed fish nets or plastic. 

Enrich the soil. You can buy amendments or horse poo on island or make your own compost to add to the ground. Seaweed and leaves are in abundance at different times of years. Collect them for use as mulch and in your compost bin. The ground loves organic matter!

Plant seeds at the right time. Now, in the beginning of April, you can sow peas, spinach, broad beans, potatoes, cilantro, brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, radishes), cilantro, mustard and arugula. Soon, onions and leeks, carrots and beets can go into the ground. (It’s still too cold for bush beans, corn, squash, tomatoes and peppers.)

Plant what you like to eat! 

Start a compost bin for your kitchen and garden waste. (More on compost another time). (Consider that rats will inhabit your compost bin if allowed.)

Watering deeply once a week is better than frequently watering lightly. If you only water the top bit of soil the feeder roots won’t go deep and your plants will be more likely to experience stress in hot dry conditions. If you are growing in pots you will need to water more often! Watering early in the morning, trying to avoid the plant leaves, is best. Mulch is awesome if you want to conserve water.

Weed, weed, weed. Pull out the plants you don’t want to eat, use for medicine or feed the pollinators. If you weed on a sunny day you can leave the plants on the beds and the sun will do the job of turning them back into organic matter.  If it’s wet and rainy, put the weeds (unless they are loaded with seed) in your compost.

Make a map of your garden and track what you’ve planted.  Keep it as reference. This is to help you rotate your crops. It is not a good practice to plant the same things year after year in the same spots, as this can increase disease and pestilence.

Don’t be afraid of doing something wrong! Gardening is an experiment and an experience. Be willing to try and fail. The plants are the best teachers if you pay attention to them, but your neighbours and their gardens are also awesome resources. Ask questions! 

 

More details on growing food to come. Please comment and offer up topics to explore. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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