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Lush green garden and greenhouse
CategoriesLifestyle

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
CategoriesDevelopment

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

Aerial view of a rural field with earthworks
CategoriesDevelopment

Project Update (Year-end 2021)

2021 wasn’t an easy year in which to build a project like Big Calm. Slow bureaucrats, busy contractors, wildfire evacuation (just as crews mobilized), supply chain hold-ups (from septic field sand and insulation to doors and appliances), and, oh yeah, that persistent pandemic thing.

Despite all that, we’ve made good progress on the project. Here are some photos of the work done to date.

Power, water, and tech lines were trenched out to the Shangri-loft (which will eventually serve as the shared community space). This includes stubs for a well and future solar array.

A snowy open trench with conduits

Septic tanks were placed at the Shangri-loft and the Type 2 community septic field was excavated and, with the long awaited delivery of sand, partially activated. This is the biggest component of the whole project.

Aerial view of septic field excavation in field Construction of a rural septic field

Earthworks were also completed on two fully serviced tiny house pads – one by the old homesteader cabin and one by the Shangri-loft. The former is now home to The Pocket Getaway and the latter is reserved for the arrival of our first long-term renter this spring.

Aerial view of mini excavator grading a pad

Much of our focus this fall has been on the Shangri-loft itself; renovating a beautiful, unfinished post-and-bean barn-loft that will be Big Calm‘s centrepiece common area (laundry, bike/ski storage, social space). Work included shoring up its foundation, framing in a bathroom and kitchen upstairs and a laundry room downstairs, and, currently, implementing various electrical and mechanical systems.

Framing inside a barn-loft areaInsulation and drywalling in-progressFramed in mechanical room in barn

We’ve been part of Starlink’s beta rollout since March and have been very pleased with internet connectivity on-site.

The fiery summer stunted some of our permaculture plans – at least those in the garden. Nonetheless, we enjoyed a tasty harvest of potatoes, carrots, and Jerusalem artichokes. And we had time to observe – where the water flows, the wind blows, the plants grow, and the animals roam.

So what’s next? In 2022, we plan to grade the access road, extend earthworks out to the community pad sites, install the well, and finish the remaining phases of the septic system. We are working on investment financing to accelerate the buildout to meet the very high level of renter interest.

We’re optimistic for the new year and are looking forward to the community starting to take shape. Be sure to sign up to our newsletter and follow us online for continued updates.

A blue tiny house sits in a peaceful verdant meadow
CategoriesDevelopment,  Lifestyle,  Tiny Homes

The Bigger Picture on Tiny Homesteads

When we first contemplated building a tiny home community in the Slocan Valley, we thought a lot about how it would impact, and ideally, benefit both the land and the larger community.

Environmental Impact

Earlier this year, I was working on a project to support the region’s licensed cannabis producers, and had the honour and privilege to participate in cultural sensitivity training by members of the Sinixt First Nation, on whose land we work and reside. I learned of Whuplak’n, a Sinixt law that guides us to take care of the land, water, air and all living things. If we take care of the land, it takes care of us: all decisions should be informed through this process of what is in the best interest of all living things. 

Big Calm is aligned with this law. We want to take care of the land so it takes care of us.

Minimal Development, Modest Community

We purchased the property we call Big Calm because it was already ideal for a pocket neighbourhood, with no clearing or major earthworks required. The only development work needed involves smoothing the driveway, drilling a groundwater well, servicing each (gravel) tiny home pad, and installing a septic system. Despite the significant cost, we opted for a Type 2 septic system, which has half the footprint of a Type 1 system and generates much cleaner effluent. In this case, as in many others, eco-minded choices come at a higher cost, but to us, it’s worth it. 

The community will be situated on roughly three of our 30+ acres. Guidelines for RV park developments recommend 10 units per acre, which translates to 30 units for our community space. We decided on only 10. Water is our most precious resource, and after consulting with a civil engineer, we determined that 10 tiny homes is both conservative as well as sustainable. Of course, the other benefit of having only 10 pads is that we can truly offer tiny homesteads, with plenty of space and privacy, with the comfort of a community not too far away.

Tiny Home Living

It’s intuitive that tiny homes take up a smaller footprint than conventional homes and generally use less electricity and water, of which the average Canadian uses 330 litres per day. Tiny house dweller and blogger Joshua Engberg determined that his daily water use was just over 66 litres, about 20% of the average Canadian’s use. In terms of electricity, the average Canadian uses 13,891 kWh per year, while a tiny home uses only 1,515 kWh per year, or about 11% the national per capita average. Based on these statistics, 10 tiny homes would use roughly the same amount of water as two conventional homes and about the same amount of electricity as one conventional home.

And, that doesn’t take into account the electricity- and water-saving measures we, and future tiny homesteaders, plan to employ. Not surprisingly, the majority of individuals interested in living at Big Calm also plan to install solar panels on their tiny homes, which will complement the large solar array we plan to install in the mid-term. Even though tiny homes have a small water catchment area, prospective tiny homesteaders still want to harvest as much water as they can. We’ve also heard from folks planning to have compost toilets in their tiny home, which can save more than 25,000 litres of water per person per year!

Maria Saxton, a doctor of environmental design and planning, conducted a study to measure how downsizing to a tiny home influences downstream environmental impacts. She found that the average ecological footprint required to support a tiny home dweller for one year was about 9.5 acres, compared with 17.3 acres for an individual living in a conventional home, a decrease of 45%. She adds that the impacts are even further-reaching:

“On average, every major component of downsizers’ lifestyles, including food, transportation, and consumption of goods and services, was positively influenced.

 

As a whole, I found that after downsizing, people were more likely to eat less energy-intensive food products and adopt more environmentally conscious eating habits, such as eating more locally and growing more of their own food. Participants traveled less by car, motorcycle, bus, train, and airplane, and drove more fuel-efficient cars than they did before downsizing.

 

They also purchased substantially fewer items, recycled more plastic and paper, and generated less trash. In sum, I found that downsizing was an important step toward reducing ecological footprints and encouraging pro-environmental behaviors.”

Permaculture-Guided

Climate change is an overwhelming issue for everybody. What I love about permaculture is that it is a way for individuals to do their part to care for the earth. Permaculture doesn’t aim to be merely sustainable, it aims to be regenerative. It builds soil, captures carbon, promotes biodiversity and produces food in a way that isn’t destructive. 

We have grand permaculture-related plans for Big Calm. We envision pollinator gardens, a food forest and a greenhouse to extend the growing season. Permaculture is a means by which we can give back to the land, become more self reliant and create community bonds. We are thrilled that everyone we’ve spoken to can’t wait to get their hands dirty!

Community Impact

When we first conceived the concept of Big Calm, we wanted to ensure that it would have a positive impact on the larger community. Affordable housing in this part of BC is a complex issue that will require institutional support and substantial funding to address, and is not an affordable undertaking by us regular folks, unfortunately. 

In an article on the investment needed for dedicated affordable housing Marc Lee, Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says:

“A housing commitment to build 11,400 units a year for a decade translates into an annual public investment of about $3 billion ($250,000 per unit construction and related cost), assuming public land owned by local governments or the provincial government is contributed.”

Despite not having the substantial capital required to take on the issue of affordable housing, Big Calm can still have a positive impact. In an article in The Tyee, Guy Dauncey, author of Journey to the Future: A Better World is Possible, posed eight solutions to Canada’s housing crisis. One of them was the development of new villages. He says:

“Many younger people want more than an affordable home. They also want to live sustainably with a strong sense of community. They want to build a sharing economy, with a lighter footprint on the Earth. They want to build their own eco-villages and tiny home villages.

 

An eco-village places more emphasis on sociable, pedestrian-friendly designs, habitat protection and solar energy and passive homes than a conventional development. We should train people how to become their own developers, forming eco-village development co-operatives, raising the money needed and navigating the complex world of zoning and development approval.”

My only gripe with this is that it’s not just younger people, it’s people of all ages, including families, independents, and a large proportion of individuals who are retired or planning to retire soon and want to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Because Big Calm is attracting remote workers–who will bring their jobs with them–to new residential units, we will not exacerbate the issue of lack of affordable housing. We believe we can have a positive economic impact on the community: we hope our modest project–which is being developed by local contractors; tradespeople; and civil, structural and geotechnical engineers–will potentially relieve some pressure on the middle-market. Not to mention that the Big Calm community will volunteer at local events and support businesses by shopping locally.

“More people are now wanting to relocate to the valley, recognizing it for the gem that it is.” 
– Slocan Valley Economic Development coordinator (Valley Voice, October 8, 2020)

We are thrilled with the calibre and diversity of individuals interested in Big Calm, as well as their desire to contribute not just to the Big Calm community, but to the larger community as well. We’ve heard from individuals who want to share their knowledge of / expertise in laughter yoga, leadership, mindfulness, movement, art, group building, positive therapy, meditation/guided visualization, permaculture, gardening, photography/videography, presentation development, detoxing, raw vegan cuisine, mental wellness, and close community living. We’ve had the pleasure to meet a semi-retired midwife, financial analyst, insurance underwriter, soil scientist, leadership coach and yoga instructor, among others. A desire to live sustainably, care for the land and be part of a supportive community is the common thread that unites them.  

Do you have any other ideas that would help us positively impact the environment, the community and the larger Slocan Valley Community? Please share them with us at hello@bigcalm.ca.

Photo by Arwin Basdew on Unsplash

Woman in an unplanted garden at springtime
CategoriesDevelopment

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

hummingbird flying towards water drops
CategoriesLifestyle,  Tiny Homes

Do What You Can

Earlier today we presented to hundreds at the Global Tiny House Conference. Our talk, “Macro Forces, Market Trends, and #WorkFromHomestead”, offered an overview of the factors motivating us to start and build Big Calm Tiny Homesteads and the importance of attracting likeminded people to its vision.

We looked at how negative macro forces like climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and widespread mental health woes are changing people’s behaviours. And we also looked at how positive market trends like the tiny house movement, the shift to remote work, a rural renaissance, and the rise of regenerative are emerging opportunities. These are all summarized in more detail here.

circular chart of macro forces and market trends for Big Calm investors

As the grandfather of permaculture, Bill Mollison, once said, “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

One of permaculture’s other wise mantras: “Start where you are, do what you can, use what you have.” Which recalls the Story of the Hummingbird…

One day a devastating fire broke out in a forest – a huge woodlands area was suddenly engulfed by a raging wildfire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the forest. As they came to the edge of a stream, they turned to watch the fire. They felt discouraged and powerless.

 

They bemoaned the destruction of their homes. Every one of them thought there was nothing they could do about the fire–except for one little hummingbird.

 

The littlest of creatures decided it would do something. It swooped into the stream and picked up a few drops of water and went directly into the forest and sprinkled them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again and again.

 

All the other animals watched in disbelief. Some even tried to discourage the hummingbird with comments like, “Don’t bother,it is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too tiny, it’s only a drop, you can’t put out this fire.”

 

And as the animals stood around disparaging the little bird’s efforts, the bird noticed how hopeless and forlorn they looked. Then one of the animals shouted out and challenged the hummingbird in a mocking voice, “What do you think you are doing?”

 

And the hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said, “I am doing what I can.”

And that’s what we’re doing; we’re doing what we can. To acknowledge the forces we can’t control and recognize the trends we can harness – to create something special by supporting people who are eco-minded, improving self-reliance and food security, building a collaborative/supportive local community, and have fun doing it!

Photo by Levi Jones on Unsplash

white neon sign that says Do Something Great
CategoriesLifestyle

The Space Between

Surrounded by boxes of what we’re taking to B.C., it doesn’t feel like we’re really “living” in Calgary anymore. There’s still a month until we move, and it’s as though we’re somewhere in between.

It’s given us a lot of time to think about what we want to do with Big Calm. The first objective is to finish the Shangri-loft, so we can move in. I want our plans for both Big Calm and the Shangri-loft to be guided by the principles and ethics of permaculture, so we are thinking about ways to efficiently capture and store energy (solar panels, solar thermal, batteries, electric generators, etc.) while ensuring there are redundancies in place. 

Here in Calgary, we are in a condo building with 47 units, but we hardly know anyone – I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable reaching out to a neighbour if we needed anything. We’re surrounded by people, but there is no community. We decided that we want to build one at Big Calm, and have established our vision: 

To create an ecologically sustainable, self-reliant tiny home community, guided by the ethics of permaculture, and strengthened by collaboration, mutual support and the diversity and skills of its members.

We will call the Shangri-loft home while we establish the first phase of Big Calm, after which the Shangri-loft will serve as a shared community space. We plan to incorporate other elements, including other community gathering spaces, food garden beds, a greenhouse and eventually, a food forest. 

There is a lot to consider, and we want to be thoughtful in approach. We can’t wait to share more (per Geoff Lawton: 100 hours of thinking for 1 hour of work). 

Have ideas for us? Drop us a line!

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

sunny morning view of a homestead driveway and paddock
CategoriesLifestyle

We Found It!

Last summer, my husband and I went on our second road trip across B.C. to look at properties. We knew we wanted to get closer to nature and become more self-reliant, but didn’t have many plans beyond that. The goal of the trip was to decide where in B.C. we wanted to move.

We fell in love with the Slocan Valley. It’s perfectly situated between our beloved Nelson and the up-and-coming Nakusp we just discovered, with beautiful views and the most down-to-earth people (though we found those throughout our travels).

One of the properties we saw, near Winlaw, really stood out to my husband. He saw its potential immediately: it’s unzoned, has two water sources, and a cleared area that could be used for a variety of purposes. I was skeptical as the main residence, a cabin, needed some work, but he couldn’t shake the desire to pursue it. Fortunately, it was still on the market when we decided to act.

The pandemic had a major impact on my outlook: it eliminated all of my doubts. It wasn’t until I witnessed the faltering supply chains that I realized how vulnerable we were. It was then that I saw the property, and it’s potential to make us more self-reliant, as a lifeline. The pandemic made me see the need and permaculture made me see the way.

We are set to close at the end of the month. I know there is a ton of work to do to get the property to where we want it to be. I also know it will be harder than I think. But, for us, it’s the only option.

drawing a permaculture design blueprint
CategoriesLifestyle

Start Where You Are, Do What You Can, Use What You Have

I have been interested in permaculture for some time, recognizing its nature-guided, systemic approach to sustainable living as a set of principles I’d like to adopt.

Last month, I was thrilled to start Verge Permaculture’s online design course, where I first heard the maxim that serves as the title of this post (which, I should note, is unsolicited).

I am loving this course so far. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information, but I appreciate the simplicity, obviousness even, of the permaculture approach: let nature guide the design and development of a resilient, and ideally, regenerative system.

As one Verge instructor said: nature has been “designing itself” for more than four billion years. Who are we to assume to know better? We are fortunate that nature is antifragile, but it can only tolerate so much devastation.

It has become clear to me that humankind, generally speaking, has lost its respect for nature, to its own detriment. We have been focused on extracting from the earth as much as we can to sustain our unsustainable lifestyles, and we haven’t been giving back. And, it’s not just an error of omission – our extravagances have increasingly been wreaking havoc on the planet.

Climate change, pandemics, and politics aside, surely everyone knows that you can’t grow food in dirt. You need soil, a living ecosystem all its own, which the earth is losing at alarming rates. Take care of the earth, or count your numbered days.

This post was not intended to be doom and gloom, rather, hopeful in nature (pun intended). The Verge team, as well as its 300+ students, have given me hope. Permaculture can easily be practiced by anyone who is patient enough to observe and design based on natural ecosystems. When we take care of nature, we take care of ourselves.

When I get overwhelmed by how to design the perfect permaculture guild or rainwater harvesting system, I remember that permaculture is an iterative process, and to just start where I am, do what I can and use what I have.