Lush green garden and greenhouse

The community garden at Big Calm was once a certified organic operation. Untended for a few years, grasses and weeds encroached on increasingly packed ground. 

Garden with creeping buttercup

Despite rich, black soil with mammoth earthworms, last year’s harvest was underwhelming, so this spring we set out to restore the garden to glory. Here’s a chronicle of the steps we took to what’s shaping up to be a great bounty of homegrown veggies.

As soon as the snow melted and the ground thawed in early April, we rented a rototiller and tilled the garden. Now, permaculture purists can be religiously no-till – and for good reason: it can damage precious, vibrant soil.

Tilled garden with dark, rich, wet soil

But our clay-heavy soil was becoming too packed to plant in, so we made a one-time exception and broke it up. It was a muddy job.

Man rototilling a muddy garden

We then immediately covered it up with black plastic sheets to choke out the grasses and weeds (like creeping buttercup) before they took hold. These sheets stayed on for seven weeks.

Garden space covered with black plastic

In the meantime, we bought cement planter blocks and 8′ 2″x6″ untreated cedar boards to construct as the frame for raised beds. (We considered buying planter kits and metal brackets but found the blocks+boards approach both more economical and more flexible to future adjustments.) We mapped out various layouts using Smart Gardener to visualize pathways and optimize planting space. Foregoing rows, we went with an attractive courtyard plan.

Cedar boards outline future raised garden beds

We marked off where the beds would go and then scraped the topsoil into the future aisles, being mindful to maintain a slight slope towards the gully running along the west side of the garden. We met countless beautiful earthworms during this labour.

Scraped topsoil next to future raised garden beds

The raised beds themselves were built in layers. The base was tape- and ink-free cardboard we had collected over the winter. On top of that was some compost (well-aged horse manure from the property’s previous owner), soil, more compost, more soil, and finally a straw mulch. We worked quickly to ensure that the soil didn’t dry out in the sun.

Raised garden beds with newly added soil

One of the biggest efforts was removing or burying a couple boulders found along the way. Now you see it…

Large boulder partially protruding into a garden path

Now you don’t…

Smooth path next to raised garden beds

We completed the build in one long weekend in early June (a bit later than we’d normally plant the garden). Next, it was time to plant. Abby had collected seeds, identified companion plants, and planted a mix of lettuce, kale, radishes, carrots, peas, potatoes, beans, squash, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, green onions, beets and a variety of pollinator-friendly flowers. We laid down some wood chips (made on site from the branch piles left from last year’s fire mitigation work) in the walkways and added some trellises for the beans and peas.

A woman plants in raised garden beds covered in straw

Two gardeners smile in a garden they built

Across the property, we planted a couple dozen trees and bushes gifted by the West Kootenay Permaculture Coop: white mulberry, hazelnut, chestnut, black walnut, honey locust, bur oak, weeping willow, aronia berry, blueberry, raspberry and honeysuckle.

Woman plants a Bur Oak tree in a meadow

We also, finally, found a greenhouse cover to put on an old car shelter frame that came with the property. This will help us extend the growing season.

Greenhouse frame with geotextile floor

Greenhouse with white cover

With Abby’s diligent weeding, watering, and TLC, the garden is thriving and the community is enjoying daily salads and smoothies made of fresh-picked greens, delicious tomatoes, and earthy potatoes. There are few things more satisfying in life than growing your own food!

bright red tomatoes on the vine peas on the pod

Lavender, echinacea and daylily

green rural garden

Our next project, which we’re starting on now, is to build out and integrate rainwater harvesting, storage, and drip irrigation systems to passively feed the garden next year. (The IBC totes pictured below are wrapped in the black plastic that covered the garden in the spring.) More on that later.

Two wrapped IBC totes under an awning