By Tom Read
Farmer, author and teacher Robin Wheeler came to Texada Island last Saturday to lead us in a six-hour “Micro-Farm Workshop,” sponsored by the Texada Garden Club. Linda and I found the experience quite rewarding, and so did many others from what I observed. Here are a few highlights of the workshop, from big picture stuff to fascinating (to me) details.
By my count, 47 people came to the workshop on a mild, sunny morning, with 31 from Texada and 16 from Powell River (who arrived 30 minutes late due to an ambulance run that delayed the ferry). The Garden Club, of which I’m a member, had estimated a maximum of 50 participants would attend. So we were a little tense as people kept streaming into the Community Hall — would we run out of food at lunchtime? As it happened, there was more than enough food for everyone, and many of us felt pleased to see such a strong turnout.
Why so much interest in learning about growing food year-round, and building more capacity in our community to provide for a reliable local food supply? The term “food security” is not exactly a media buzz-word these days, but I think the concept is on folks’ minds in this community even if not in those exact words. In conversations I’ve had with fellow islanders over the last few months, many seem to sense that there’s a certain economic, environmental and energy-related volatility afoot in the world, where food prices and even availability might become a concern quite suddenly.
Robin briefly mentioned better food security as a key reason for the workshop, then she moved into specific ways we can do more to create a local food supply for our individual households and as a community. Here are some samples:
We learned how to understand our land better, including mapping of wind and water flows, soil types and most important, sun exposure.
We learned that seaweed is great for soil conditioning, but that we should collect it only in the fall, not in spring. That’s because spring seaweed contains fish eggs and provides both shelter and food to young marine organisms. If we take seaweed at that time of year, we could disrupt marine life-cycles. Besides, there’s lots more seaweed on local beaches in the fall, and it contains less woody debris, too.
We learned how to start a garden on heavy clay soil: use “sacrificial” deep-rooted plants first for a few years to break up the clay chunks, plus add more organic matter to the soil. Then plant vegetables.
We learned about the “spiral cut” on trees adjacent to a garden. This technique lets in some sun without killing the trees, as occurs with cutting off tree tops. The spiral cut removes selected branches in an upward spiral all around the tree, leaving the tree in balance and growing normally. This preserves the trees while letting in filtered sun, changing a fully shaded area where nothing will grow into a partially shaded garden that can grow some types of food plants.
We learned the critical necessity of planning at planting time how to preserve and store a crop so that you’re ready with adequate space and tools when the moment arrives for harvest.
We learned about the simple, affordable deer-fence building technique of using scrap wood, such as fence posts made from cedar tree tops left over after logging, and slabs from a local sawmill to fill the space between posts. Yes, this requires some annual maintenance, but it’s a really quick and cheap way to build a fence that otherwise might cost thousands of dollars.
There was so much more to this workshop — these few samples simply don’t do it justice. As I review my notes from that day I can see many more ideas and suggestions that I’d like to put into practice here at Slow Farm. Seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day.