Monday, 5 July 2010

Aphids everywhere and a few things growing nicely

According to the Vancouver Sun, the cool grey weather is largely responsible for the aphid infestation in my garden (and the rust.. and the apple scab). Never had them so bad, but then have never grown fava beans before. Which they love, apparently.

Also squash

and honeysuckle

and artichoke

My little heroes are trying to cope.

I deliberately left the honesuckle alone hoping it would attract some aphid eaters. I saw a wasp on there yesterday so perhaps they've nibbled on a few, but I've been obliged to get out and blast with my soap spray to try to save what I can. And I had a nice feed of fava beans last night.

And managed to harvest my garlic yesterday despite the rust that hit it a couple of weeks ago. Going to hang it in the shed to cure today, if it ever brightens up.

Guerilla gardening? I used to think so, but it turns out we have vegetable advocates among the municipal gardeners in Saanich Parks. Each year they plant squash among the flowers, which is furtively harvested by passersby. Bless 'em!

Some experiments in propagation working out. I stuck some wisteria trimmings in a pot last fall and here's one of its children.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Forest gardening

I attended a mind-blowing seminar last weekend, by BC based forest gardener Richard Walker.

He's been an organic farmer his whole life, and that has led him into medicinal plants and the development of methods of growing edible and medicinal plants in layers, using principles of permaculture and sustainability.

He started off by talking about the value of nutrient-dense foods (such as those you raise yourself by organic growing methods) - you need less land to grow smaller quantities of high quality food. One way to measure the value is to use the Brix meter

to measure the sugar content, which will be at its highest, normally, for fruits and vegetables picked when fully ripe and eaten very soon thereafter. Many fresh foods lose a dramatic amount of nutritional value when stored for long periods of time, or transported over long distances; it is believed as well that foods grown in healthy, well nourished ecosystems will be richer in nutrients. Wine growers use Brix meters to measure the sugar content (and ultimately the alcohol which will result) of their grapes, but they can be used on any food that can be juiced - Walker has a customized pair of pliers

for the purpose. He measured three strawberries the first day, and the findings were very interesting: a conventionally raised strawberry (about 10), a home-grown, fresh-picked strawberry (12) and an organic strawberry (about 8). Of course many things can affect the sweetness of strawberries, including sunshine, water and ripeness when picked as well as length of time since picking and nutrient levels (e.g. calcium) in the growing medium.But the bottom line is, the sweeter the strawberry the higher the nutritional value and the fewer you need to eat to feel sated.

We also looked at - and practiced -


and budding techniques.

He is a man who knows his trees, and talked as well about pruning and tree management, and observed that the maple tree

that had been donated to celebrate the opening of the community garden

where the course took place was not long for this world. It had been badly supported

in ways that had stunted and damaged it, and weakened its branches permanently, so that they are bound to shear off if they get big enough to be blown about while carrying the weight of their leaves.

The heart of the weekend was spent talking about his ideas about growing food in vertical layers. Ideally, for those with the space to accommodate all of the layers, you'd start with a tall canopy tree - a tall nut tree, like a walnut or edible chestnut - that provides food and/or leaves to nourish the soil; and then work downwards: a smaller tree like a fruit tree; next a tall food bush like a saskatoon or small tree like hazelnut; then perhaps a berry bush like a blueberry or raspberries; then a herbacious layer: nettles, borage, asparagus maybe; and weaving through all of this, some vines like kiwi or passion flower. He adds legumes in tree (alder, Caragana frutex/Russian peashrub, wolf willow) and herbaceous (alfalfa, clover, fava/broad beans) forms. Tailoring this to an urban setting means scaling the size and span down, and knowing what will thrive in shade, and how to arrange for appropriate watering and nourishments.

He spent a good deal of time talking about compost, and the distinctions between fungal (forest ecosystems) and bacterial (more vegetable-based agricultural ecosystems) soil requirements, which was a new but immediately obvious line of thought. He offered variations on compost teas that would suit the two different plant groupings.

All in all it was enriching and spectacularly informative and we all staggered out of there on both afternoons, minds full to bursting.