Without my mentor, Margot, I would not be where I’m at now in terms of my garden and orchard. At the beginning of 2015 when we originally had the idea to grow plants, it was for profit and we thought of doing a mono-culture orchard of haskaps, with a small home vegetable garden on the side, just for fun. With Margot’s introduction to permaculture in the spring of 2015 our focus changed from a for-profit orchard to being self-sustainable, growing our own food and selling our extras. I needed a good education in growing vegetables and this is where Margot was able to step in to help me. My education as a child and teen consisted of weeding 50 foot rows of potatoes and carrots that my parents had planted to help meet their grocery budget with 8 children. It was messy, tedious work that I didn’t want to repeat. Margot introduced me to Emilie Hazelip’s methodology which made a lot more sense to me. The heavily mulched, raised beds looked much easier to care for then the flat, muddy, weed-infested garden plots that I had been used to.
I decided to give this form of gardening a try. Ivan and I dug out a good garden spot with spades in an afternoon and then I started shaping my beds. I did a key-hole design with a center aisle and 2 keyholes into each side, except that I only did one side of the center aisle before I ran out of planting time and just planted beans, zucchini and potatoes on the second side. In spite of my inexperience in gardening, I had a bountiful harvest and really enjoyed this years efforts in working towards producing a good portion of our own food. Here are some step by step pictures of our garden:
Our hand-dug garden, which wasn’t the brightest idea. We may have saved in cash output but trying to plant into heavy clumps of earth wasn’t fun and I ended up throwing a lot of the clumps out of the garden, adding a large portion of time to our already big project. We also decided to put up a fence so the chickens could free-range. It was a good chicken fence as long as we remembered to close the gate, but the baby goat destroyed it. Hopefully for our next garden, the goat will remain penned in his pasture.
A closer look at the terracing of the garden beds. The bottom terrace is where I grew spinach and lettuce, the middle terrace had onions and garlic and the level top is where I planted everything else, in little bunches here and there for the sake of bio-diversity.
Here are the mulched and ready sections. I quickly ran out of straw and used mowed and chicken scratched old grass instead. The main thing wrong with my mulch is that I didn’t anchor it in anyway so there was nothing to hold it in place and my raised garden beds were quite steep. A few rain storms and the mulch had all slid down to the bottom of the beds to lie in the pathway. I would recommend doing some kind of criss-cross strapping over the beds to keep the mulch in place.
I was so pleased with the results of my garden! I have never had a garden turn out so nicely. It was the perfect first-time results. In spite of my mistakes and poor timing for planting, I still got such a bountiful harvest and my garden was beautiful.
For our orchard, we decided that instead of planting a large mono-culture orchard, we would instead plant a small food forest style of orchard. This year we started with the centres of some of our guilds: cherry trees and saskatoon bushes, (Apple trees will be added later) and also filled in some of our next level of bushes with Haskaps. If anyone is unfamiliar with the idea of a food forest tree guild, check out this link or this one. There is a lot of other information available for tree guilds online.
Here we are breaking ground for our small food forest. Yes, again, we did it by hand but we really enjoyed it. It was great to just work together and get into working our land. There’s something satisfying about digging holes and planting trees.
We planted Cherry trees from the Romance series of sour cherries. These are hardy to our area and while they won’t be the big sweet cherries from sunnier climates, we chose the ones with the highest rating for sweetness: Romeo, Juliet and Crimson Passion.
Everyone had a job to do to help out and by the time we were finished planting the 8 trees/bushes that we started with we all had the feeling that this was our orchard. The children continue taking ownership for it into the second year, checking to see if the trees still have snow around them or if they’re budding yet.
This simple sheet mulch was amazing. It was quite a dry summer in our area but the baby trees did really well and the dirt under the mulch stayed wet for far longer than the grass around the area. we even found a frog at one point hiding out under the cardboard.