We recently took an extended weekend to explore Saltspring Island. It is the largest of the Gulf Islands, a group of islands just across the US-Canadian border. Like the neighboring San Juan islands in US waters, it combines natural beauty, quaint little towns, and an eclectic mix of inhabitants. A particular claim to fame is the local currency, designed to support the local economy and community project.
We left our car on the mainland and took our bikes across on the ferry. The island is just 9 by 17 miles, so bikes are a great way to get around, even though the hilly terrain can make it challenging at times.
Here’s a selection of photos from our visit.
The garden continues to amaze, even this early in the growing season. Right now, the most striking plants are the huge fava beans in our front yard. We planted them last fall and they came through winter in great shape; they didn’t miss a beat in spring, shooting up to their current height of about 4 1/2’. The variety is Windsor, notable for their winter-hardiness; and they certainly performed as advertised.
It’s always gratifying to spot a new inhabitant of our little urban ecosystem. I think it’s indicative of a healthy garden, that allows a lot of plant and insect species to co-exist and keep the system in equilibrium.
Today we spotted a particularly colorful new-comer: the almond-scented millipede.
Its native habitat are the West Coast’s moist forests and its range extends from California to Alaska. As a decomposer it chews up needles and other dead plant material and recycles it into soil. It looks like we’ve made good progress in building up the soil organic matter content in our garden.
The northwest climate is not exactly ideal for warm weather plants like tomatoes. Spring is long, cold, and wet. Yes, there are warm days here and there, tempting winter-weary gardeners into planting out their tender starts, but only to see them cruelly blighted and destroyed by the inevitable cold rains that follow. You can tell, I have some sore memories in that regard. Savvy Seattleites wait until Memorial Day before planting their tomatoes.
The warm weather season effectively only lasts from June through late August. We could just accept it and limit ourselves to those crops that do really well: brassicas, potatos, and greens. But we do so love our garden fresh tomatoes. Season extension is the key. This begins with indoor seed starting.
Our first few years were frustrating. Natural light levels in spring are simply not sufficient to develop strong starts. We ended up with leggy, weak starts that barely survived transplanting and performed poorly in the garden. We finally got serious and built a seed starting shelf in the basement.
It’s really quite simple: a fold-away wooden frame with plywood shelves, an array of cheap fluorescent tubes, a small fan, and a couple of timers. The difference is dramatic. Our starts are now as good or better than those that come from professional nurseries. And we have enough space to satisfy all of our own needs, and grow a bunch of extra starts to delight our neighbors.
It seems like we start a new garden patch every year. Last year it was the View Patch. This year we are helping our neighbors tackle the jungle of blackberries that has taken over their backyard. It’s a win-win: they get rid of the blackberries that were just about to engulf the whole place, house and all; and we get to plant vegetables in the cleared space.
Again, the kama sickle was the perfect tool for the clearing job. Followed by the pick-axe to dig up the blackberry crowns. And a final pass with the garden fork to remove the smaller roots and loosen the soil. The reward for our labor: a beautiful planting bed for our 2013 potato crop.