Lush green garden and greenhouse

Raised Garden

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

mini excavator on new driveway

Project Update (Year-end 2022)

2022 ended much as it began – with a big dump of snow and a deep freeze. Tough reminders that homesteading and tiny house winterization aren’t easy.

But in between the extremes this year, we enjoyed a quiet, steadily productive year at Big Calm. We ticked through a lot of core to-do’s – including:

Selective Logging – We worked with Acreshakerr, the best of the best, to carefully cull the property’s woods of dangerous leaners, open up some grown-in trails, and generally clean up fuels for wildfire mitigation.

forest trail

Driveway – We also rebuilt much of the kilometre-long driveway leading up to Big Calm. Straightened, widened, ditched, and smoothed with 96 loads of gravel, it is a big improvement on access. (It’s still strange to see the FedEx truck come around now.)

roller packer on long rural roadlandscaping feature

Campaign – One of the bummers of the year was launching an equity crowdfunding campaign on Equivesto just as the world was starting to talk inflation and recession. Investors stayed sidelined, slowing our community buildout plans.

Shangri-loft – After a series of supply-chain delays and more than a few painting/flooring/trimming all-nighters, the property’s centrepiece, the Shangri-loft, was finally completed.

partially finished room with wood stovewoman painting by window

Garden – It was a cool, wet spring this year. Despite the slow start, we made positive inroads with the garden – learning a little bit more about what grows where. The winners: tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins, apples, and some very happy sunflowers.

yellow tomatoessunflower on sunny day

Getaway Guests – We opened up bookings for The Pocket Getaway in mid-April and, aside from an odd lull in June, we were pretty much booked solid until fall. And so many heart-warming notes left in the guestbook!

compliments on guest signtiny house in winter wonderland

Tow-ins – And of course in 2022 we welcomed our first long-term residents and their two beautiful new pro-built tiny houses – Petrichor and Marillian – to Big Calm!

tiny house in distance tiny house at night

Be sure to sign up to our newsletter and follow us online for continued updates. Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2023!

laptop in hammock

Woman in an unplanted garden at springtime

Power to the Permies!

Permie-paralysis – it’s deep and it’s real. It’s the state of having acquired from your permaculture design course (PDC) so much useful information, with so many applications and possibilities, that you are completely overwhelmed.

I felt that way for a long time after finishing my PDC (with Verge Permaculture) until, recently, I decided on a plan. It’s not the grand permaculture garden plan I envisaged, but it’s a plan.

What was the grand permaculture garden plan I had in mind, you ask? Well, I’d convert our entire 56 by 32 foot vegetable garden into a food forest containing all seven plant layers, from ground cover to canopy. 

The problem is, I don’t feel as though I have had enough time to observe the garden and surrounding areas. We moved to BC in September and haven’t experienced a spring yet at Big Calm. How am I supposed to confidently plant a permaculture garden/food forest?

And, despite my plans to have complete permaculture garden design ready-to-go for spring, life got in the way. We’ve simply been too busy developing Big Calm and the Shangri-loft to also plan a permaculture garden.

And so arose the revised, more reasonable plan: plant only annuals this year, saving any permanent decisions until next year, when I have observed the garden through the growing season and have had time to think about what I want to include in my permaculture garden/food forest. 

But, that doesn’t mean I can’t still incorporate permaculture design. This year will be an experiment with annual cover crops (crimson clover) and pest control species (alyssum) grown among vegetables. I highly recommend the West Coast Seeds catalog, which has all of the information one needs to decide on which cultivars to choose.

This approach does take some pressure off, because in this case, I think it’s the right one. Plus, it will give me time to work on other things for Big Calm, like (warning: shameless plug) these awesome permaculture-inspired Big Calm t-shirts available to purchase.  

Blue t-shirt that says Save the Swales on a clothes hanger Blue t-shirt that says Chop and Drop It Like It's Hot on a clothes hanger Blue t-shirt that says But First Compost on a clothes hanger

Power to the permies!

White t-shirt that says Power to the Permies on a clothes hanger