Tag Archives: garden planning

Soil Workshop

Last Wednesday, we had an amazing soil workshop led by the lovely Jill Dalton. She works with LifeCycles, has worked on organic farms and went to UBC for agriculture, so she had plenty of knowledge to share with us. Now is the perfect time to learn about soil because it is time to prepare for the coming seasons. There are leaves everywhere to collect!

I have to apologize for not bringing a camera to the workshop. I did find some helpful images to help explain the information on the internet though. I also want to share the credit for this summary with Life Cycles, because I used some of the notes that Jill gave us to write this post.

Jill began by explaining the two ways to approach soil fertility. The chemical route feeds the plant directly with soluble fertilizers. The biological, or organic way, feeds the soil to let the soil organisms provide for the plant. Before you can begin to work with soil, you’ve gotta know what you are working with. There are three categories of soil type and structure:

Sand: fairly large particles that keep the soil open for air and water to pass through; they get warmer and drier earlier in the spring than other soil types.

Silt: medium sized particles, in between the characteristics of sand and clay.

Clay: very fine particles that hold water and provide a rich store of nutrients.

Right: Clay mixed with organic matter. Middle: Dream soil mix of sand, clay, silt and organic matter. Left: Sand and organic matter.Image from : http://georgiarox.com/plantproject/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Soil-types.jpg

Knowing your soil type is important because it determines drainage and the ability to take up nutrients. If you think about it, the more surface area, the more nutrients and water it can hold. With so many smaller particles, clay has a larger gross surface area. Sand on the other hand, doesn’t hold much water or nutrients and often results in desert like conditions. Soil type is also important in choosing which plants to grow, as some plants grow better in certain soils than others. Dream soil is made up of all three types of soil mixed with a fourth component: organic matter! Ideally, organic matter should not make up more than 10% of soil. Although compost feeds the good micro-organisms that help plants to grow, it also feeds the bad ones that can cause disease.

Preparing for the next growing season is important because it replenishes the nutrients and re-establishes soil structure. One way to do this is through planting cover crops. Bare soil gets compacted and loses nutrients from rain, plus cover crops add organic matter and nutrients when done right. Some of the many fantastic cover crops include clover (a natural mulch and nitrogen fixer) and rye (you can use the stalks as a cheaper alternative to straw).

If you already have a crop, mulching the soil helps to keep moisture in and acts as a cover to avoid compaction and nutrient wash-out. However, there are potential problems to mulching. It can become too wet and the decaying matter can become a breeding ground for slugs and other pests. Weeds can also be imported with mulching materials, especially in straw or grass clippings.

An idea of what lasagna gardening layers looks like. Image from: http://pinterest.com/pin/126452702008193235/

If you do not have good soil to work with, you can create it through lasagna gardening (otherwise known as sheet mulching). It is good not to dig into your soil unless you need to; disturbing the soil causes compaction and nutrient loss when it gets wet. It is called lasagna gardening because it is made up of many layers. The bottom layer, or your existing surface, is covered in cardboard. Make sure that you overlap the pieces of carboard to ensure that the weeds cannot get through. For the next four layers, alternate between a straw/leaves and compost/manure. The greens (nitrogen from your compost) and browns (carbon from the leaves, straw and cardboard) will mix together over time to create a nutrient rich, fluffy soil that is ideal for growing plants. The cardboard takes longer to decompose, keeping the weeds out during the competitive stage of plant growth.

It is also good to know a bit about the chemical make-up of soil, so that you can diagnose problems. The three main nutrients include:

N- Nitrogen facilitates plant growth, especially in the leaves. If there is a nitrogen deficiency, some signs might include stunted growth or yellowing leaves. To fix this, you can add manure, alfalfa pellets or blood meal.

P- Phosphorus helps with plant maturation. If leaves seem more reddish-purple than normal, you can add rock phosphate or bone meal to re-establish the right level of nutrients.

K- Potassium is in charge of cell division, the processing of sugars and root development. Potassium deficiency is difficult to identify, but bronze or brown spots can be a good hint. Add Sulphate of potash or Sulpo-mag to help make the soil healthy again.

The last thing Jill told us about was pH. Unless there is a mystery reason why your garden is dying, it is not necessary to know much about pH. 6.2 to 6.8 is the optimal level for most plants, soil microbial life and bacteria that work with legumes to fix nitrogen, but it is nearly impossible to identify the pH of your garden without a soil test.


Urban Homesteading Book Reviews

I tend to spend a lot of time reading about urban agriculture projects (both because I have a rad job that allows me to do so and because I am a nerd who would do so anyway) and recommending resources to folks looking to get started on an apartment balcony garden or amp up their sustainable urban ways.  I’ve put together reviews of four urban homesteading books I’ve read recently (all of which are available at the Victoria Public Library), and would love to hear about what books or online resources you’ve read and enjoyed as well. Continue reading

Native Plants

Thanks to all those who attended our native plants workshop last Wednesday.  Marika Smith, our lovely facilitator (as well as our wonderful office and volunteer manager), gave us lots of information and fun facts about the plants we were studying, as well as a chance to get hands on and explore the native plant garden here at the Compost Education Centre.  There was a wealth of knowledge among the workshop participants as well, so good discussions and skill-sharing abounded, which is always a bonus.

Yerba buena

For those of you who missed the workshop, I wanted to pass along some facts and resources so you can start your own native plant explorations.  A great place to start is right here in the garden of the Compost Education Centre.  We have a rain garden right out front of the office that also serves as a native plant garden.  You can find cool plants such as ninebark (whose bark helps an upset stomach), ocean spray (whose wood is so strong it can be used to make harpoons), oregon grape (whose bark yields yellow dye), yerba buena (which makes amazing tea), and many more delicious, useful and beautiful native species.

Indian plum: beloved by hummingbirds everywhere

Marika also recommended some great books and websites.  Naturescape BC has a brochure about native plants for the home garden that is available on their website.  It’s an amazing guide for the home gardener, and includes a sample layout for a native plant garden, as well as a comprehensive chart of plants organised by level of sun they prefer, the type of plant (tree, shrub, etc) and their wildlife values.  The wildlife value is a particularly cool organising principle, as you so rarely see anyone suggesting that you choose plants based on their ability to provide forage for mammals, berries for wildlife to eat, or as an attractor of butterflies and bees.  In terms of books, Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Andrew MacKinnon, Paul Alaback and Jim Pojar is great (and available at the library), as is  Native Plants in the Coastal Garden: A Guide for Gardeners in B.C. and the Pacific Northwestby April Pettinger and Brenda Costanzo.  As well, there is a well-maintained database of all plants of B.C. available online.

To give you a taste of the great information Marika gave us, here is a sampling of some native plants and their traditional uses, as well as a picture of each one. 
Mock Orange :  Saanich used wood for bows and arrows and knitting needles,; rubbed leaves and flowers foam into lather used for cleansing skin.


Nootka Rose:  Makah used rose petals to flavour food and dried for tea, branches and bark used as an eyewash for cataracts, chewed leaves were applied to bee stings and rose hips were steeped and given for diarrhea in infants.

Saskatoon berry: Haida and Salish dried berries into cakes for winter storage, wood was used to make digging sticks and drying racks.




Salal:  Most plentiful and important fruit for FN communities, eaten fresh and dried into cakes, young leaves were chewed as a hunger suppressant and used to make temporary cups.

If you’re feeling inspired and intrigued by this post and would like to learn more about native plants, Marika has kindly made a copy of her presentation available in PDF format.  Drop me an email at slugs.coordinator@gmail.com if you’d like to have a copy sent your way.

The Haultain Common: What We’ve Been Up To

I just wanted to give everyone a bit of an update about our work at the Haultain Common this year.  As you may know, SLUGS is partnering with the Haultain Common for 2012 and holding monthly workshops/work parties at the Common.  We’re stoked to have the chance to work with the Commoners because it gives us a chance to put all our gardening learning into practice while helping to build an amazing community food resource.

In case you haven’t heard about the Haultain Common, here’s a bit of background:  It’s a boulevard garden located at the intersection of Haultain and Asquith in Fernwood.  The Common was started by Rainey Hopewell and Margot Johnson, and has always been a collaborative community effort.  There are always neighbourhood folks stopping by to help work or harvest, and lots of curious passers by who stop to ask questions and often stay to help out.  The Common is on public land and is a public food resource.  All are welcome to get their hands dirty working in the garden or to stop and harvest some berries or vegetables to eat.

In the early months of the year, SLUGS and Commoners met to create a plan of action for this year’s food production.  The Common is moving from a more conventional garden to a permaculture food forest model of growing, and we wanted to sit down and hash out how that was going to work.  Not only did we need to figure out how to construct a food forest, but we needed to figure out how to make this method of growing accessible to folks who might not be familiar with permaculture gardening techniques.  The Common is a community food garden, and we wanted to make sure that anyone passing by would be able to recognize what we were growing and feel comfortable harvesting it.  You can check out this older blog post for more details on the planning process and background information about permaculture food forests. 

Once we had the plans in place for this year’s iteration of the Common, we started working on putting them into action.  We’ve been transplanting, planting and weeding like crazy to get the Common ready for the growing season.  We transplanted some gojis, goumis and blueberries, added lots of new blueberries (they work well as part of a permaculture food forest as well as being extremely popular with all the kids in the neighbourhood), and rearranged the epic strawberry patch.

In April we built a pea trellis from willow branches (see photo at left) and planted peas, built four keyhole paths to allow better access for harvesting plants and did a ton of weeding.  There was an overwhelming amount of borage and calendula taking over the garden, and we sadly had to take most of them out.  It’s always a shame to lose plants that are so beautiful and useful (bees absolutely love them!), but we have to maintain balance in the garden as well as hewing to boulevard garden guidelines that stipulate that plants must be fairly low to the ground and clear pathways through the garden must be maintained.

We’re really happy about all the work we’ve gotten done on the Common so far.  The bones of a beautiful and functional garden are in place, and it will be great to watch it fill in and develop as the season progresses.  Thanks to all the folks who’ve helped out so far this year (and thanks also to Mike Large for the use of his photos for this post!).  We can always use more people at the work parties, so if you’re interested in hanging out in the sun, getting rad with fellow gardeners, learning about food gardens or permaculture food forests, or just stopping by to see what it’s all about, please keep an eye on this space for upcoming events!


-Info on gojis and goumis if you’d like to learn more about them
A great blog post by Maarten who attended some of our planning meetings
-Here’s a good starting point if you’re interested in learning more about permaculture food forests
A cool article and video about the Haultain Common
Instructions on how to make a trellis from branches like the one we constructed

Year Round Veggie Gardening, Saturday April 21st, 2-4 pm

ImageLiving on the mild west coast means we are some of the few folks in the country who can grow food all year round! Join us for this workshop to learn about crop rotations, season extension, and how to plan your veggie garden so you have a delicious twelve-month harvest.  We’ll be seeding trays of veggies for you to take home and get your garden started.

Location:  The straw bale building at the Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St, Victoria, BC

Suggested donation, $5

PLEASE EMAIL slugs.coordinator@gmail.com TO REGISTER!

Embracing Gardening in Small Spaces

Thanks to everyone who attended last Saturday’s Portable Permaculture workshop.  The image to the left shows participants braving the cold evening to mix up a batch of potting soil for our container gardens.  It was really inspiring to hear about all the creative small space gardening and permaculture projects everyone had on the go, and exciting to share ideas about our epic future plans (home greywater systems!  tool share collectives! backyard ducks!).

I also wanted to share this great book I found at the Victoria Public Library:  it’s called Fresh Foods From Small Spaces:  The Square Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting and Sprouting, and it is an amazing resource for those of us measuring our garden space in feet rather than acres.   It has great tips for maximizing your food production while minimizing the amount of space you need and amount of stuff you need to buy.  There are DIY projects like an improvised self-watering container, info on sprouting and delicious recipes to use the finished sprouts, instructions on cultivating oyster mushrooms indoors, and even ideas for survival during resource shortages.  In short, you will be a far better nourished and informed person for having read this book and I highly recommend snagging it at the library!

Haultain Common: Planning a Permaculture Food Forest

Last week’s work party at the Haultain Common saw us learning to repair irrigation systems, checking out the bones of the garden before spring growth explodes, and escaping the cold weather by sitting inside drinking mint tea and starting to work on our garden plan for the year.

The Common is in a transitional stage between what most folks think of as a traditional vegetable garden and a permaculture food forest model of growing.   If you’re new to the food forest model, it can be explained as a garden that “mimics the architecture and beneficial relationships of a natural forest. Food forests are not ‘natural’, but are designed and managed ecosystems that are very rich in biodiversity and productivity.”

It’s exciting to be working on an urban community garden with such a natural structure.  The Common already has a fair number of plants in place that can be fit into such a system (artichokes, goumis, gojis, blackcurrants, blueberries, walking onions, oregano, borage, calendula), so our major challenge is to figure out how to arrange them all in the most mutually beneficial structure.  As well, there are a lot of shady areas in the Common, and we’re trying to figure out what would do best in those conditions.  If you’re interested in helping out, our next planning meeting will be Sunday March 11 at 2:30 pm (see our Upcoming Events page for more details).  We welcome folks with any level of gardening and permaculture experience — we’re all figuring it out as we go, so don’t feel you need to be a pro-star to come contribute!

As I start to do my research for this project, I pulled out my trusty copy of Gaia’s Garden:  A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway.  Hemenway does an amazing job of introducing ecological gardening principles in a way that is thorough but not overwhelming, and his plentiful ideas of how to institute permaculture on a backyard scale are both extremely practical and extremely inspiring.  I recommend giving this book a read if you haven’t already!