I had a farm in Abbotsford. In the shadow of Mount Baker, in the fertile Fraser Valley, where summer berries grow into autumn wine and jellies and winter brings the mighty eagles.
OK, I am no Karen Blixen and it was an urban garden. But we did create an edible landscape that gave us food for over 2 years.
When we bought our house in Abbotsford the garden started out like most front yards, as grass. In a few years though we had converted the front yard and most of the back yard to either perennials that were mostly native, or annuals that we grew for food. The neighbours were very supportive and though they did not adopt our tactics, they did enjoy talking with us and sampling the things we grew. The most interesting plant to them was stevia and, as some of them were actually real farmers, we got them thinking about growing new things that they might be able to sell commercially.
Abbotsford may seem an unlikely place for an urban garden like this, but the climate is so amenable that anyone who does not take advantage of the growing seasons misses out on the best part of living there. We grew food all year and like the local farmers even planted winter brassicas. They planted Brussel’s sprouts and Broccoli while we planted cabbage varieties that matured in winter. We also had a year round supply of herbs that we loved to just walk outside and pick fresh anytime we wanted them. One year we had a huge supply of garlic scapes and donated them to a local restaurant (Restaurant 62) that served fresh local ingredients.
Since moving away from Abbotsford we miss the growing seasons and abundance, but we are adapting to a hotter drier climate in the Okanagan valley. We have had some trials. The natural soil in our area is heavy clay so we had to bring in a lot of manure and top soil. There are also many more pests here that love to devour fresh growing foods. We were so happy to have a cherry tree and an apple tree, only to learn they had been neglected several years and insects allowed to infest the area. The life cycle is complex, but they can stay dormant in soil for at least two years and are spread when fruit is left to fall on the ground to rot.
We have learned of some organic methods to help, after taking a trip to Washington and saw acres and acres of white trees. There is a natural clay called kaolinite that has been experimented with for crop enhancement that was successful in controlling cherry maggots and other pests. We managed to get some at a local orchard supply centre and tried it. Year one an improvement, but year two proved to be a bumper year for us as we were able to harvest almost the entire tree. That was also accompanied by 4 years of scrupulously removing all fruit before it fell the ground, and taking it to the local landfill compost facility. So we outlived the pupae in the ground and we discourage the adults from laying eggs.
This year I am harvesting a nice batch of prune plums, as well as an excellent quantity of grapes. We grow figs as well and this will be a huge year for them as the bush has grown way out of control. They don’t keep well, so must eat while we can.
We process a lot of food for winter. I will be drying prunes for mixing in my morning oatmeal all winter. We make litres and litres of cherry and grape juice to remind us of summer sun in the dreary winter here.
We grow all our vegetables in raised beds here and have employed permaculture techniques like wicking beds and heavy mulching to reduce watering. We have found that garlics love the wicking bed while big onions and celeriac love the mulch. We cover our cabbage with a white cloth that lets in sunlight and water, but fends off cabbage moths pretty well. Tomatoes need calcium here and lots of water.
We are not atypical people here in the north Okanagan and there are some wonderful places to explore, and people growing the most amazing foods. Most of the really good places are not tourist attractions, so it’s good to have a local to introduce you.