Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Workshops - Grow Your Own Food!

Another workshop, this past weekend, saw our tiny house packed to the gills with eager urban gardeners! How exciting to meet so many city folks who want to grow their own food, save seeds, and build greater sustainability, health, and food security into their lives. We managed to squeeze everyone in - there were nearly 30 of us packed into our dining room (we moved out all the furniture, and lined up every chair we could find - and the room was filled with gardeners sitting elbow to elbow! Nice and cozy on a cold February day, when we are all dreaming about our gardens.)

As part of this workshop we also thought we'd share seeds, as it happened to be Seedy Saturday across Canada. While we don't yet have enough of our own saved seeds to pass on to everyone who came, we purchased interesting heirloom seed varieties from our local Ontario Seed Company, and left one package on each seat. This way, workshop participants would take home one pack or trade with a neighbour and thus get a chance to chat and get to know each other. Seeds included all manner of vegetables, herbs and flowers - that are easy to grow from direct seed - lettuces, sunflowers, carrots, radishes, beets, beans, peas...

Workshop highlights:
Four stages of garden planning
1) dreaming (what are your hopes for your garden, every great project begins with vast dreams)
2) reality (bringing dreams down to reality, based on potential limitations - space, sunlight, soil conditions, water, time constraints, costs, etc)
3) remembering/observing/recording (microclimates, zones, light levels, rainfall, mapping out garden layout to enable crop rotation in subsequent years)
4) learning (learning each season, building on this knowledge to improve from one growing season to the next, incorporating new concepts like biointensive planting, permaculture - observing nature, polyculture, organic methods, biodynamic calendars, etc)

When planning garden layout consider:
- first and last frost dates for your zone
- deciding on whether to use containers, rows, raised beds, or permaculture style "keyhole" beds (which take the least amount of path per square foot of useable garden plot)
- spacing of plants, starting dates, days to harvest, crop cycling/succession planting, multi-story gardening/interplanting (e.g. corn, beans & squash)
- companion planting (to improve crops and deter insects), attracting beneficial insects
- building the soil (microorganisms and fungi)

We are excited about another permaculture technique called polyculture, and are hoping to plant a few of our beds in this manner this year. Polyculture gardening helps to extend the season and maintain healthy soil, by keeping soil completely covered and interplanted with mixed companionable varieties of vegetables, herbs, and greens that are broadcast over the bed. Any gaps that are left when seedlings first come up are filled with beans, peas or garlic. This is obviously a very simple summary of polyculture - more details in Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.


  1. You commented in a previous post about the debate between time spent blogging and sharing, and time spend DOING. I can certainly understand if you decide to give up the blog eventually, but I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your entries! You often point me in directions I hadn't known about, for instance your comment on permaculture and keyhole beds in this post. I'd never heard of it, so I immediately Googled the idea and now I've got new reading material and thoughts for the next week! It's not uncommon for that to happen when I read one of your posts, so I'm always grateful when you choose to share - even if it's just a paragraph or two about your latest focus. Thanks!

  2. Thank you - I really appreciate your comment on this! It's inspiring to me to know that readers are finding useful information in these posts. Goodluck with the permaculture research (and doing!).