The Zero-Mile Diet

Meet Dave, our local ring-necked pheasant.  He are his partner, Betti-Ann, roam the areas around Transition Garden looking for bugs and seeds.  Their diet is 100% local and provided to them courtesy of their local habitat.  You can say that they have a ‘zero-mile diet.’

In 2007, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon published the book called “The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating,” describing their journey of one year eating only from food produced within 100 miles of their Vancouver home.

We are coming into a time when we need to get serious about where are food comes from – how far away.  Most big box stores provide little or no information on the source of food.  At best, you can ascertain the country of origin by the labels on some of the produce.  We have lost track of who grows our food.

When you produce food from your own garden, you not only know who grew it (you and your family), but also how it was grown and under what conditions.  You can have confidence in eating it and in knowing what it takes to grow more.  It’s also good to know your area farmers and buy products from them, whether through a CSA weekly box subscription or visits to them during harvest season to stock up on storage items for colder seasons.

At Transition Garden, we plan for production so that not only is there always something coming fresh out of the garden for salads and many recipes, but also for larger quantities of produce that can be frozen, canned, fermented or cold-stored.

Minimizing Non-local Inputs for Gardening Resilience

I read an article recently about how farmers with large tractors and machinery are having trouble due the global shortage of computer chips.  Farm equipment manufacturers have halted shipments to dealers because they don’t have the chips to put in the equipment.  Almost every piece of farm equipment, like most everything else in our lives, needs a computer chips to operate.  The shortage could last for two years.

This is an example of the Achilles heel of the big-ag model practiced mostly in developed countries. The big-ag model is designed to require high levels of inputs – everything from hybrid or GMO seed, fertilizer, pesticides and of course diesel fuel to keep the machines running.  One kink in the supply chain for any one input and the whole system starts to fail – even something as simple as a computer chip.  The big-ad model, like many complex systems, is an inherently fragile system; but quite profitable for the companies controlling and selling the inputs to the farmers.  It was designed that way.

By contrast, local food production methods require few non-local inputs.  Even Prince Charles, in a recent Guardian article describes small scale family farms as the way to a sustainable regenerative future.  Local compost, green or animal manures, seed saving, organic pest control all require few inputs from outside commercial sources.  It was how agriculture got started in the early history of humanity and practiced for millennia.

There has been a lot of activity in the Transition Garden this week transplanting tomatoes and peppers into the greenhouses.  We build a poly-tunnel dedicated to the low determinate tomato variety Scotia, which is a time honoured heirloom.  Straw mulch will keep the tomatoes off the soil as they ripen to improve quality.

Lots of cherry tomatoes – the varieties Sweet Million and Golden Cherry – were planted out into one of the domes.  And, we put several types of sweet peppers (Ace and Fat ‘n Sassy) into the big lower greenhouse, where the red onions are coming along very well.

The orchard is in full bloom, making the bees very happy.  They have 3 apples, 2 pear and 1 cherry to chose from.

Finally, we are now harvesting chard, lettuce, arugula, radish, collards and rhubarb.

 

 

 

 

 

Organic Growing Means Insect Diversity

Last week Health Canada quietly announced its intent to cancel all remaining registrations of the neuro-toxic insecticide chlorpyrifos.  It is a broad spectrum insecticide in the organophosphate class. It is one of the most widely used insecticides in the world, and has been shown to cause brain damage to insects (the ‘target’), to birds, to mammals and is suspected to in humans.

It is our hope at Transition Garden that imidacloprid, a neonicotanoid, will be next on the banned list for Health Canada.  This is also one of the most widely used insecticides in the world and more toxic than chlorpyrifos.  Because of their known toxicity to bees, most pollinators, and pretty well all insects, birds and mammals, the ‘neonics’ has been banned in the EU since 2018.  The ‘neonics’ have been accused of causing the Silent Spring of our age (referring back to Rachel Carson’s famous book published in 1962 about DDT).

We added a second bee hive to our apiary last week, purchased from a local beekeeping and queen breeder.  They quickly got down to business in their new location after scouting the terrain for everything in bloom.  They caught the last of the peach blossoms and many other flowers, and are now starting in on the pear blossoms, which just bloomed yesterday.  We have two pear trees, an Anjou and a Bosc, which cross pollinate.  They are just starting to produce a serious harvest after taking 15 years to fully mature.

In addition, we are noticing lots of activity from bumble bees and several kinds of solitary bees. Each seems to prefer certain kinds of flowers depending on the length of their tongues and the depth of the nectar within the flower – pointing out to us how different species of flowers and pollinators co-evolved specific relationships with each other.

Organic growing creates a need for close observation of insect and plant interactions, and a need to add in book-learning about certain insect life cycles.  This helps us stay ahead of some of the insect and other kinds of pests.

For example, we planted bok choy in the wrong place this year, as the flea beetles quickly found it and ate holes in all the leaves.  They will be laying their eggs under the plants.  We will be moving plants that they love well away from the area of infestation for this year.

The same thing can happen with potatoes and the potato beetle, which lay bright orange eggs on the underside of potato leaves.  If they show up on potatoes one year, we move the location of the potatoes for the next year.  We have the advantage of two gardens (the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ gardens) which are separated by 60 feet of forest.  Moving potatoes from one garden to the other usually evades those beetles.

We transplanted out three kinds of spring kale – Red Russian, Borecole (curly leaf) and Italian – next to the lower greenhouse.  We will need to keep an eye out for slugs!!  One of our favorite sayings is that “something wants everything,” and in Transition Garden we work to understand these relationships and work in ways that keep plants healthy and one step ahead of most of the predators.

 

 

Our Grocery Store: How do we feed ourselves?

When we started Transition Garden some 19 years ago, we asked the question:  what does it take to produce more than 50% of the food required to feed one or more families for the whole year?  What does it take experientially, not just estimating it on paper?  What is the work effort required?  What does it feel like in your bones?

Over those years, we’ve answered the question.  We built the garden one bed at a time, and slowly added things.  Once you have proper infrastructure in place, like a few small greenhouses, good soil in garden beds, a small orchard, vineyard, beehives, berry patches and compost bins, the work load is not as much as you would think.  It takes 15-20 hours per week – but it has to be consistent each week from March until October – with perhaps a bit more in the Spring and a bit more in the Fall to preserve the harvests.  That work can feed quite a number of people.

Consider your garden to be one of your grocery stores.  That’s an important thing to keep in mind.  After all – it’s YOUR grocery store, and you control what goes through your check out counter by deciding what to grow.  You can even add up the dollar value each time you come into the house with a basket of harvested goodies – it will be worth more than you realize!

Feeding ourselves works even better when we expand it into a community effort.  That’s the work in recent years with Transition Garden, as we broaden the gardens into a cooperative community effort.  Andre here is building a poly tunnel for tomatoes.  The tomato plants were started in the greenhouse back in early March, and will be set out into the poly tunnel in late May, providing them with continuous extra heat for good growth.  We hope to get at least 100 pounds of tomatoes out of this bed alone.

Eleanor and Justin have been busy cleaning and prepping other beds, and transplanting starters into those beds – onions, leeks, chard, kale, bok choy and radicchio – all cold hardy crops. We are also direct seeding radish, arugula, dill and cilantro at this time.

 

 

Longer Days – Early Fast Growth

Early May – we are past the equinox and heading quickly to June 21st summer solstice.  the days are getting longer, with first daylight beginning at 5:30am.  The plants know it – transplants still in the greenhouse, transplants recently planted into the garden, newly emerging seedings, fruit trees, berry bushes and others.  It is time to get on with the business of growing!  Even though its still cool at night, with a risk of frost, the gathering day length and warmth signals an urgency of the season.

At Transition Garden, we are putting out cold hardy transplants, like peas, lettuce, chard, radicchio, spring turnips, onions, collards, kale, bok choy and others.  We are seeding radish, cilantro, dill, arugula, beets, parsnips and carrots into freshly prepared beds.  Potatoes went in almost 3 weeks ago, with more to follow.  Some of the earliest lettuce transplants, cold hardy leaf lettuces, will be ready to pick in another 1-2 weeks.  Our first radishes are only 2 weeks away as well.

The garlic is going gang-busters after pushing through the straw when there was still snow on the ground.  We will be foliar feeding it with a spray of sea weed emulsion for an extra boost, which will pay off with larger bulbs at harvest time.

And we are keeping an eye on the peach tree, trusting that the blossoms will make it through any late threats of frost.  I think the bees may be concerned as well, since they are all over them for the nectar and pollen.

An important aspect of gardening and farming is the need to stay intimately tuned to the cycles of nature.  As our society returns to this connection, and nurtures it as a teacher, the more we will learn the true meaning of sustainability.  And, not just sustainability, but of regeneration and renewal of all the forms of life around us.

 

Gardening Is An Essential Life Skill

At Transition Garden, we are hosting Eleanor, a Workaway.info worker for 12 days.  While taking a year off between her undergraduate degree and a Masters degree, she has decided that learning about food production is important for the future, and the career work she may be doing in architectural planning.  Like Eleanor, countless others are feeling the same way – knowing somewhere deep in their bones that getting your hands into the soil is an essential skill to know.  People are seeking out this learning, finding and listening to skilled teachers, and knowing they will in turn have to pass it on to others.

One of my favorite examples begins with Helen and Scott Nearing, who I consider some of the original back-to-the-landers when they left New York City in the 1930’s and went to farmstead in Vermont, and eventually in Maine.  One of their more popular books Living the Good Life: How to Live Simply and Sanely in a Troubled World describes their ability to live a simple yet productive lifestyle.  One of their students was Elliott Coleman, who learned deeply from their gardening techniques and went on to publish many books on his own.  One in particular, The New Organic Grower, turned many heads about the power of four season gardening.  Again, in turn, one of Elliott’s students, Jean-Martin Fortier, learned deeply and proved the small scale business viability of market farming in Quebec.  He published the best seller The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming.

Learn deeply from the best teachers you can find, and know you will be passing these skills on into the future.  The future will need your advice.  Small scale community food production is an essential like skill, now and for the future of humanity.

Cooperative Gardening

At Transition Garden, we are working towards creating a cooperative gardening community, all co-managing the effort, learning together and all sharing in the harvests.  The goal is that these gardens will become owned and operated by a cooperative group.

In this way, more people are able to learn and share their insights – not just about gardening but also their related lifestyle values for self-sufficiency and personal agency in our increasingly fragile times.  The future will be build by tight knit communities like these, who are actively supporting each other, and learning new valuable skills.

One of our favorite sayings is that “gardening is a life skill.”  Our other favorite saying is “the future is rural,” which means that there is more ability outside of urban density to reconnect with natural processes, gardening and farming.

On most Fridays we gather, work together in the gardens, share a hearty farm lunch from garden harvests and enjoy stories.  Things are picking up quickly now.  We have started seeding beds with radishes, arugula, cilantro, spring turnip, potatoes and other early crops.  The number of seedling trays are quickly expanding in the greenhouse, and we are just beginning to transplant out into beds.  Fruit tree pruning is also underway.

It’s still the first half of April, and we need to be careful.  Its an early spring this year, with many tree and perennial buds swelling and breaking dormancy.  A hard freeze (3-6C below) could cause significant damage.  It seems like things are more out of kilter compared to previous seasons. There’s more unpredictability and potential crop damage.  Is this the new reality with climate change?

“The Spring Quickening”

I love that phrase – “the spring quickening.”  Its that time of year when winter has lost the battle to spring, which is quickly gaining momentum.  Everything starts to come to life, out of its winter dormancy, and quickens with almost a pace of urgency.

Two crows are guarding their nest in the tall white pine outside my window, kicking up a big commotion one afternoon when a hawk came by looking for an easy meal.  The early bloomers like the crocuses and coltsfoot are up, and the bees are bringing in the first n

ectar and pollen.  Spinach in the greenhouse, long dormant over the winter, now seems on a tear for growth, providing many salads and spinach pies.  The garlic has jumped out of the ground, beginning it growth just as the frost left and there was the first sign of warmth.

This week we will start doing more intensive work in the garden beds, doing spring cleanup, spreading compost and adding some soil amendments.  We will start some direct seeding of cold hardy plants like arugula, cilantro and radish.

 

Our seedlings are growing well in the transplant production greenhouse, as they put on new sets of leaves and begin to fill out the plug trays.  We will be upgrading the ultra-hot chilies from 2″ pots to 4″ pots.  These were started back in mid-February and are coming along well.

Greenhouse Activity Is Picking Up Quickly

Activities are picking up quickly in the greenhouses at Transition Garden.

The three dormant fig trees were moved out of cold storage.  They were in our workshop, which we keep at 3C during the winter to act as a root cellar and cold storage area).  They will leave out quickly and we will move them into the lower greenhouse in May, where we plant the pots into the ground and let the roots grow out through the holes in the pot during the summer.  In the fall, when they go dormant again, we pull out the pots and prune off the roots.  This year, we may get 3-4 new figs trees by rooting shoots that came up from the bases of two tree.  We planting these shoots in small pots after dusting the ends with rooting powder.  Exciting!

Over the past few days, we thinned cabbage and Swiss chard seed trays that had germinated and had more that one seedling per cell.  We took many of these ‘extras’ and transplanted them into another tray, leaving a few seedlings doubled up in some cells.  You always want to have a few extra seedlings in case there was poor germination or other problems, but over-seeding can give you too many and is a waste of seeds.  Last year, a mouse was happily munching seedling right down to the stub until we finally caught it in a live trap and took it for a relocation drive.

Our onions, seeded about 4 weeks ago, are well on there way.

We are seeding more varieties of crops into seed trays. Today it was the eggplant (2 types), ground cherry and radicchio.  Last week we did tomatoes (8 varieties) and peppers (4 varieties).  Our ultra-hot chilies which we started in mid-February are now growing well in 2″ pots and we moved them from under the grow lights into the ‘hot box’ in the greenhouse.

Seeding Time !!

Mid-March is the best time to begin seeding for transplants which will go into the garden in early May or grown further in a greenhouse of planting out in June.

At Transition Garden, we plant seeds, let them germinate inside the house, and then put them out into our ‘workshop’ greenhouse the moment that they start to emerge from the soil.  The greenhouse is mostly unheated.  The tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, being heat loving plants, would go into our insulated ‘hot box’ in the greenhouse that has a heating pad on the bottom.  The other early seedlings are fairly cold tolerant and can withstand the cold nights in the unheated portion of the greenhouse.

Assess your own situation carefully.  Unless your have good grow lights, a greenhouse or at least a cold frame, the common error is to start seeding too early and not be able accommodate the plants properly as they get bigger. Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are particularly sensitive – it is good to start them early, but they will need lots of light and warmth.

Here is what we would plant during the middle of March:  Onions, Leeks, Chives, Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage, Celery, Kale, Chard, Bokchoy, Leaf lettuces and Parsley.

Lettuce seedlings just emerging from the potting mix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onions germinated 3 weeks ago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our beehive on a warm March day.  We checked them for honey stores and they have plenty to get through to first nectar flow.