Tag Archives: education

Growing Food Course in Maple Ridge (plus notes on crop rotation)


{Photo of Chris from last summer in our garlic, peas & bean bed. OMG, I can’t wait till it’s that warm again.)

This weekend, Chris M and I attended the February session of a new, year-long, food growing course in Maple Ridge. Taught by master organic gardener Gail Szostek (article of a course she taught last year here), the classes take place over an entire year so that gardeners can learn about food gardening from the preparing to the growing to the harvesting and eating. Every month features a new topic that will fit the season. 

February’s topic was Seeds & Scheduling. The class was great and I’m really glad I went. I learned new things, enjoyed the social atmosphere and got very motivated to start planning my garden beds carefully. Included in the session were lessons about vegetable plant types (legumes, greens, solanums, brassica, roots, cucurbits and alliums), a how-to on deciphering information in seed catalogues and a lot of discussion about crop rotation. We each drew up a map of our own garden spaces and started drawing in a planting plan and timeline according to crop rotation rules.

Crop rotation is the act of rotating annual plant varieties from one bed to another every year (instead of, for example, planting garlic in the same space year after year). This is very beneficial because it helps keep diseases and pests away that will make homes in spaces that remain unchanged year after year. It also helps return important nutrients to the soil. Monocrop farming (planting the same things in the same space year after year) leeches essential nutrients out of the land and never replaces them, whereas crop rotation allows those nutrients to be replaced. (A simple example: beans are great at putting nitrogen into soil. Therefore, including bean plants in a bed’s rotation schedule that also includes nitrogen-hungry plants like corn means that your soil’s nitrogen supply will continue to be replenished after the corn has gobbled it up). Practicing this is an important step to maintaining healthy soil year after year.

In class, we were taught the 4 rules of crop rotation:

  1. Root crops are not to follow potatoes
  2. Potatoes should not follow legumes
  3. Brassicas should follow legumes
  4. Root cropts should follow any crop with mulch

If you’re interested in incoporating crop rotation into your vegetable gardens, you should plan out what you want to plant where and also think about timing. Careful planning means that you can time your plantings so that you are getting multiple plant varieties out of one bed in a year (instead of just one variety a year). Here on the west coast, we have an opportunity to do spring plantings (for late spring/ early summer harvest), summer plantings (for late summer/ early fall harvest) and fall plantings for winter crops. That’s a lot of production from one bed if you plan well. And don’t forget about planting in cover crops during in-between stages. Cover crops (like crimson clover, fava beans and rye) help infuse important nutrients into the soil during gardening down time. Turn these crops right into your soil before they go to seed.

There’s a lot more information I could relay from my class notes, but for now I’ll just encourage you to do some internet searching if you want more info on crop rotation and recommend that you attend some of these Growing Food courses this year. If you can’t make it to all of them, you’re welcome to pay for classes individually and just attend the ones that fit your schedule and interest. 

The classes are held on the 2nd Saturday of every month (unless otherwise specified) from 12/12:30 – 4/4:30 at the CEED Centre in Maple Ridge. I’ve listed the upcoming months and topics below, but to register or for more information, contact Gail at greenspaceconsulting@live.com.

The Curriculum:

  • Jan – Sites and Soils
  • Feb – Seeds and Scheduling
  • Mar – Propagation and Spring Warmth
  • Apr – Garden Structures
  • May – Bed Prep and Planting
  • Jun – Compost and Fertilizer
  • Jul – Water, Teas, Brews
  • Aug – Winter Gardening
  • Sep – Harvesting and Seed Saving
  • Oct – Preserving
  • Nov – Winter Prep
  • Dec – Christmas Party and Wrap-up

GROW! (and other awesome looking food films)

[vimeo https://www.vimeo.com/27050341 w=600&h=339]

Ten days from now, Nova Scotia will be hosting the Slow Motion Food Film Festival. Too bad for me that Novia Scotia is at the complete opposite end of the country from where we live, but luckily for me, the films showing at the festival are listed on their website

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but since my own personal interest in food and the farming industry began 12 years ago, I’ve loved watching public interest in ‘food and where it comes from’ increase. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m pretty sure that topics like urban farming, organic gardening, growing your own, eating local and permaculture weren’t nearly as widespread (and still spreading!) 12 years ago as they are today. It seems that everywhere I look, there are new films, photo essays, editorials, blogs, academic classes and tourist destinations popping up to discuss, discover, study and explore the topic of food. THANK GOODNESS.

I thought it might be helpful to promote the Slow Motion Film Festival on this blog to give readers a good looking list of food-related films to consider putting on their ‘must watch’ film list. Of course, this festival film list is hardly exhaustive – there are oodles of great foodie films circulating on the internet and in theatres right now, but if you need a starting place, this is a good one.

Some films from the list that are going on my ‘must watch’ list:

GROW! (trailer included at the top of this blog post) A documentary film that captures the energy, passion and independence of a fresh crop of young farmers.

Dive! Dumpster diving to salvage thousands of dollars of good, edible food.

Land Awakening Exploring our relationship with the land.

Voices of Transition (trailer below) On farmers and community-led responses to food insecurity in a scenario of climate change and peak oil. 

PLANEAT A look at how our animal-based diets are the cause of our most challenging health and environmental problems. (trailer here)

[vimeo https://www.vimeo.com/29977725 w=600&h=339]

The Richmond Sharing Farm & Bokashi


The Richmond Sharing Farm (also known as the Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project) is a very cool food sharing project that occupies over three acres in the Terra Nova Rural Park in Richmond, B.C. The main purpose of the farm is to grow food to share with loca food banks and other outlets that help get the food to people who need it. In addition to this, the farm hosts community garden plots, university level research areas and permaculture educational experiments.

On the second Sunday of each month, the farm hosts a free permaculture meetup. My friend Chris and I have attended the last two and plan to attend more. The photos above are from the October meetup. It was a gorgeous, fall day and Chris and I had a chance to participate in a bokashi-making workshop as well as tag along on a guided permaculture tour of the property. 

Bokashi is a form of composting that is ideal for small, indoor spaces because it produces compost without creating bad o
dours. At the workshop, we were taught how to make our own bokashi mixture that is added to composted food to help break it down. The concept was totally new to me and since I didn’t take notes or video footage, I’m having to rely on wikipedia now for reminders about the details, but in short, bokashi is created by combining a mother bacteria with a starter mix (we used bran), then left to sit in a warm space for at least 3-4 weeks to allow the bacteria to start spreading through the mix. When it ready to use, you add a layer of mix over your compost scraps as you accumulate them. You keep it all in an airtight container so that the bacteria can do what it does best – ferment and break the food down. You can stack one container inside another and add a spout to the bottom one to catch and use the compost tea (liquid) that is created as the food breaks down. Compost tea is great for spraying on gardens and into soil. If you’re interested in learning more, this website looks really helpful and has some good visuals. We each got to take a bag of the bokashi mix home (fun!). Mine is currently sitting on a shelf above my fridge (the warmest spot in the trailer), awaiting it’s time to be used for my compostable food scraps.

As you’ll see from the photos above, our tour of the property included the community garden plots, examples of owl houses, swales in a wet areas, hugelkulture beds in process, the greenhouse, bee houses and a beautiful outdoor cob oven (which just got a new roof). 

The farm property is GORGEOUS and truly an inspiring place to spend an afternoon. It’s open to the public for visits so if you live in the area, I highly recommend it. And if you’re interested in attending some of the permaculture meetups, sign up to the Vancouver Permaculture Meetup Group for ongoing info.