I recently visited Christine Boxall on her acreage just west of Legal where she grows vegetables to sell along with some baked items at a couple of local farmers markets. Christine and her husband have approx. 5.5 acres but it was a garden that was 5 feet in diameter and 4 feet tall that had me intrigued and the reason I came for the visit.
Last summer Christine built a herb spiral, and this year she was reaping the rewards of her creative endeavor. A herb spiral is a vertical garden based on permaculture ideas of working less in the garden but reaping more produce. Herb spirals are a great first permaculture project to get your feet wet with, these beautiful and practical gardens are perfect for any homeowner even if your yard is only the size of a postage stamp.
I asked Christine what inspired her to create a herb spiral. “I attended a course hosted by Kenton Zerbin ** on permaculture, and thought this was one part of the course that I could manage to build myself. I like the idea of water conservation and ease of care.” So she did just that, in two days with little to no cost she created her herb spiral, and here are some additional reasons why it was a good idea.
Benefits of the herb spiral:
- Grow more food in less space
- Get the benefits of several microclimates in one spot
- Convenient, easy access for maintenance and harvesting
- Simple to irrigate
- Low cost to build
- Healthy herbs for your enjoyment
Herb spirals can be made from just about any type of material from bricks, stones, willow, pipes and even gabion cages filled with rocks. Any material that will allow you to form a spiral shape and will hold soil in place will work. Christine’s spiral was constructed from 4x4 posts, which she had lying around her property, so the cost to build this was minimal. If you search Google or Pinterest for herb spiral images you will see all the different concepts and designs people have created.
The design for the spiral is not without purpose, by having the spiral raised in the center, spiraling down to ground level, lots of microclimates are created that support different plants. Plants at the top of the spiral will have to be ones that like dryer and hotter conditions. Plants on the north side will enjoy shade and more moisture while plants at the bottom will receive the greatest abundance of moisture so plants that thrive with moisture consistency will do well here. Christine grows several types of herbs such as lavender, basil, mint, chamomile and borage in her spiral, all of which she uses for personal use or for her baking that she takes to the farmer’s markets.
The advantages of having such diversity in a small footprint of space extends beyond convenience to the chef. The nature of the herb spiral with the close planting of different species creates beneficial relationships between the herbs (companion planting) and can create an environment that benefits the garden as a whole. Some plants are great pest deterrents such as marigold and basil, and others such as lemon balm, and marjoram attract insects like ladybugs and bees that are beneficial to surrounding gardens and feed on the pests. Borage and Chamomile are good for improving the taste of neighbouring plants as well as being visually appealing.
Here are some of the herbs that are in Christine’s spiral and what she uses them for:
Borage: This herb has cucumber flavoured leaves that she uses dried for tea or fresh in other drinks, and the blue starry flowers are used fresh in salads or frozen into ice cubes as a drink garnish. Bees love this plant and so it aids in attracting beneficial bugs and pollinators to the garden.
Chamomile: She makes a tea using the dried flowers infused in boiling water, it helps boost the immune system, it aids in sleep and calms upset stomachs. Make sure that the yellow and white flowers are not the scentless chamomile noxious weed variety.
Basil: She makes a pesto using 3 cups of fresh basil leaves, 1 ½ cups of pine nuts, chopped walnuts or almonds, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 cup olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Add all ingredients to a food processor adding the oil in last. Store in the fridge.
Lavender: Add 6 flower spikes of fresh or dried lavender to 2 cups of sugar, seal for a week, then use in the baking of cupcakes or custard dishes for an extra little flavor surprise.
Christine loves her hassle free herb spiral, she is letting the plants get established and is finding out which herbs do well and which ones she needs to find a better location for. It’s easy to water and takes nothing to control the weeds. It’s a beautiful focal point as you drive onto their acreage, it adds interest to what is normally a horizontal garden view and it’s a great conversation piece. Her only wish is that she had built it just a bit bigger so that she could fit more strawberry plants in it.
Herb spirals are only one of the many garden designs that were created based on permaculture principals. Here is a website that you could go to with good info about herb spirals and a video from Bill Mollison and his take on it.
** If you are interested in taking some local permaculture courses and learning about herb spirals and other permaculture design concepts I encourage you to check out Kenton Zerbin’s website http://kzpermaculture.ca . Kenton grew up in Sturgeon County and is now doing amazing things as a permaculture designer and instructor. He often hosts an Introduction to Permaculture workshop in Morninville and surrounding areas, so visit his website, subscribe to his newsletter and be inspired by the permaculture way of gardening.
You can find me on Facebook and Instagram as The Wheelbarrow Gardener or check out my website at www.thewheelbarrowgardener.com
If you know of someone who has a farm, garden or anything special that is agricultural based that I could highlight in a blog please contact me.
Today's blog is brought to you by Sturgeon County local Valerie Loseth, The Wheelbarrow Gardener. Valerie makes the world a more beautiful place, from backyards to weddings to planters, to workshops and more!
Potiuk's Paradise : Out and About with The Wheelbarrow Gardener
In the year and a half since moving to their acreage, Darren and Tasha Potiuk along with their four daughters have turned their 3 acres into a very productive small-scale farm that produces meat, fruit, vegetables and even honey for the family.
I visited them on a gorgeous morning as they were out and about feeding and tending to the several types of animals they have chosen to raise on their farm. I asked Tasha, why is it important that the family raise and grow their own food?
“People are far too disconnected to their food supply these days. It started very simply by growing a garden, and getting a few hens for eggs, then you start to look into where your food comes from. How it’s grown, processed, stored, shipped and handled. I know where our food comes from, I know how and where it was grown, how our meat was raised, what goes into everything. I know how our animals are treated, how my daughter plays tag with the pigs or that the chickens can run loose and love to take dirt baths and hunt bugs in the garden. I know our fruit and veggies aren’t sprayed with who knows what, and our bees dine on dandelions and fruit and flower blossoms. The amazing sense of peace we have when we are home. There’s a reason we call it Potiuk’s Paradise! Now that we have come this far, I can’t imagine ever going back.”
Sustainable farming means that whatever is farmed, raised and grown on the farm is consumed by the farm dwellers themselves. They are living off the land and providing the food they need for their own consumption.
What started out as a garden and a few hens has expanded to pigs, ducks, geese, rabbits and bees. All of the animals other than the family dogs, some farm cats and one particular bunny are all raised to either produce food or to be food. Everything around the farm has multiple purposes, and a food chain is created between the animals and the plants. Weeds become food for the rabbits and pigs, the hens scratch up the soil, eat the bugs and fertilize the garden, rabbit pelts become mitts and hats, nothing goes to waste. They live as sustainable as possible, butchering their own animals, canning and preserving fruits and vegetables and even processing their own meat. Always finding ways to live with the smallest footprint on the environment Tasha even makes her own hand soap and has graciously agreed to share her recipe for it (see below).
With both Darren and Tasha working full time shift work, time is a challenge. On average it takes an hour in the morning and then again at night to do all the animal chores. “We can get it done in twenty minutes if we really rush, but I prefer to take my time and interact with the animals, everyone helps including our five year old. Our greatest success is how close we have become as a family. The day we put a meal on the table that was all homegrown, that was a pretty big success” said Tasha proudly.
I was interested in how much research she must have done before she started, but she shared that she often acts before she knows all the facts and that animals often find their way to the farm before Darren knows they are there. They explained that they are constantly learning and gaining knowledge through friendships with like minded people, mentors and groups on Facebook that share common problems and goals. When asked what is next for them and the farm Tasha said after a quick smile and glance at Darren, “Looking at adding a heifer calf next spring. She would be a 4H project for one of our daughters. A few more fruit and nut trees and a wood burning stove.”
Not all of us are blessed with owning an acreage, living within town or city limits there are some constraints, but urban homesteading is on the rise, people want control over their food. Growing their own vegetables and raising small livestock (where permits allow) can be accomplished on a small parcel of land if people are willing to make some changes. Dig up the lawn and grow your lunch. Plants trees and perennials that are food based. Raise rabbits, chickens or bees to feed your family. Shop local, visit your Farmer’s Market, or better yet visit the farm. If you are interested in any of these things there are plenty of support groups and people like Tasha and Darren who are willing to take you under their wing and show you the ropes, you just need to be willing to take that first step to food freedom.
One cup filtered water
3 tbsp. liquid Castile soap
1tsp veg glycerin.
Drops essential oil or tea tree oil (optional)
Mix and pour into foaming pump bottle
One cup filtered water
3 tbsp. liquid Castile soap
1tsp veg glycerin.
Drops essential oil or tea tree oil (optional)
Mix and pour into foaming pump bottle
Judy Schafers and her husband Shane own a farm just west of Villeneuve, and even though she is extremely busy wearing the many hats of a mother, business owner and farmer’s wife, Judy has a passion for painting and gardening. A self-taught artist, Judy has been painting for over 38 years, her paintings are reflective of growing up in a rural setting and having uninterrupted time to explore the outdoors, examining and thinking about the world around her.
As with most artists, inspiration for their craft comes from a multitude of different sources. For Judy, her inspiration comes from childhood experiences, living her whole life on a farm and her gardens. “Mother Nature is my greatest influence. It is a fun learning experience to get down on the ground and see what's there, just as much as it is to stare off into the distance, to really look at the shapes and colors that make up the sky and the land. I love it when the light does its magic on seemingly mundane objects such as rocks and leaves and the ever- changing vista of the Alberta landscape. I could go on and on about inspiration! It is everywhere, actually, you just have to pay attention and be open to different ways of seeing things.” explained Judy.
Designing and growing a flowerbed as a youngster, having a mother and grandmother who were flower lovers and a visit to Buchard Gardens over 27 years ago were catalysts in Judy’s desire to create some gardens on the farm. “I loved the idea of manifesting a dream/vision and the nurturing part of it. Loved the idea of creating a place all my own, a separate world that I could get lost in and to find gorgeousness every time I turned around”. She stated that, “The biggest challenge is in learning to let the garden have a say in how it evolves, letting go of the idea that I need to control it all. Therefore, many things have planted themselves where they want, or died prematurely, and I just let much of it be. The worst mistakes I made were planting some things too close together... and bringing home that horribly invasive creeping belleflower that looked so cute and purple in an abandoned farm site.... they are just as difficult to manage as quack grass and thistle”.
Having spent some time helping Judy maintain her gardens, I was curious if she had a favorite spot. “I don't really have a favorite spot, I like most of it, and each section has a different flavor/ feeling attached to it. Some of it is more formal, some more whimsical, some nostalgic. There are items that I have collected that have been or will be used in my paintings. I try to group items together that make sense so that the yard flows and doesn't cause a feeling of confusion. This will be an ongoing tweaking process, but that is the goal. I don't favor some of the spots behind the veggie garden. My new thing is that I am learning/working to build a food forest in the back yard, and the garden has been no-till for 3 years now. I am planting fruit trees, shrubs and perennial veggies among other things. That's a whole other story, lol!”
Judy noticed how so many of her paintings were inspired by the gardens in general and the flowers and plants that grow there. She began to see how they fed/influenced one another and because of that, it seemed natural to have an art show that combined her two biggest passions. Judy realized that these forms of creative expression should be shared with a greater audience, and with a suggestion from a friend who hosted something similar then moved away, Art and the Country Garden came to fruition.
I asked Judy what a successful Art and a Country Garden would look like? “It will be successful if lots of people attend, that each person feels welcomed, and leaves feeling inspired and blessed that they took the time to come out. (Of course selling lots of art will help me to be able to keep doing this, and I hope to feel supported by the community as well)
*all photos courtesy of Judy Schafers
If you know of someone who has a farm, garden or something special that is agricultural based that I could highlight in a blog please contact me.
Emma Cawthorne-Kozlowski and Sara Kluthe are Urban Agriculture students at Morinville Community High School. This article is part of a series written by students enrolled in the Urban Agriculture course.
Ice cream, cheese, whipped cream, yogurt and butter are foods that most people don’t think a lot about. We buy them at the grocery store in the refrigerator section and never bother to think about where they came from. Many people work hard raising cows and collecting milk from them just so we can enjoy an ice cream every now and then. On March 6th the MCHS Urban Agriculture class visited the Lakeside dairy farm just outside of Legal to learn more about dairy farming and where our milk comes from.
Next, we went to see the automatic milking system they have, which is run by a computer and a robotic arm. The cows at the Lakeside farm as well as many other dairy farms are trained to go to these automatic milking stations as they receive a treat when they do as an incentive to go get milked. When the cow decides to enter the milking unit, a cow ID sensor reads an identification tag on the cow and passes the cow ID to the control system, this sensor can also tell if the cow has any infections. If the cow has been milked too recently, the automatic gate system sends the cow out of the unit. If the cow may be milked, automatic teat cleaning, milking cup application, milking, and teat spraying takes place. The robotic arm hooks up the cups to the teats and in about 10 minutes, 30L of milk are collected from one cow.
The arm takes off the cups from each teat when they are finished and it pushes the cow out and allows the next one to enter. Each cow gets milked a different number of times each day and they are free to go to the milking unit whenever they want. These milking systems are helpful because they allow the cows to be milked 24/7 and it can tell whether or not the cow has a disease or when it was last milked. As well, most of the system is automatic like the waste removal, and the milking so they do not have to spend so much time with the cows. These machines may cost a lot to buy but they are economically sustainable in the long run because they do not need to hire anyone to milk the cows and it is much more efficient as it can track the cows, scan them and milk them in a matter of minutes.
Next, he took us to go see the cows who just gave birth. The cows who are injured or who just gave birth have special treament.They get to relax on hay, and they still get milked everyday. Then Mr.Nonay took us to go see the calves, to see their habitat and their way of life and how they grow up in their environment. The calves live in a very important environment. This determinds whether or not their going to be a strong cow or not.The calves were a lot more curious with us than the cows. They were a lot more friendly and not shy. They licked our hands and were biting our clothes. All of us enjoyed playing with the calves. It's about $8.00 a day to feed one cow. They’re very expensive; but so worth it in the end if you love to do it.
We learned many things at the Lakeside farm such as how we get our milk and the process that goes into it. But one very important thing we learned about is sustainability. Lakeside farm is very sustainable and well run. For example, Jeff makes his own compost by using drywall, which he picks up from the city and combines it with chicken manure from a neighboring farm and cow manure from his own farm.This compost contains gypsum which has positive long lasting effects in soil. The sulphate in the drywall lowers the pH of the manure, reducing ammonia and greenhouse gases. When this mixture is spread on the land, it adds sulphate and calcium, and retains nitrogen, all of which are nutrients plants need to grow. Also, by using drywall in their compost, they get rid of much of the drywall that goes to landfills.
The Nonays even grow their own crops to feed their cows. That is why it was important for the MCHS urban Agriculture class to go to the Lakeside Dairy Farm, to learn about where our milk comes from and sustainable practices.
Click here to learn more about dairy farming in Canada
Natasha Kryger is an Urban Agriculture student at Morinville Community High School. This article is part of a series written by students enrolled in the Urban Agriculture course.
Pigs, we all know what they are bred for: ham, bacon, ribs…Yum! We love to eat pigs but we seldom stop and ask, “Where was this animal raised?” “How was it treated?”
On October 20, the students in Morinville Community High School’s Urban Agriculture class visited Belle Valley Berkshires, owned by Ron and Karen Sobeys. Belle Valley Berkshires is a small pig farm operated five minutes west of Morinville. Ron and Karen raise Berkshire pigs, a heritage breed that is raised mainly for the quality of their ham.
The pigs are fed a complete feed from Champion Feeds. The feed consists of barley, wheat, and oats. A nutritionist also helps determine what supplements are needed within the pigs’ diet. The Sobeys also feed their pigs vegetable scraps, and because the pigs are raised outdoors, they are free to graze on whatever is in their pen. I was fascinated to learn that the pigs aren’t fed an all-wheat diet, as this would create too much fat in the pigs. You may think that the pigs would freeze during the winter, but the pigs are given straw to burrow in. The straw acts as an insulator and keeps the pigs warm in the frigid temperatures.
Ron and Karen have three sows and a boar. The sows usually produce two litters per year; this is a fair amount as a Berkshire’s gestation period is about 114 days. Each sow can produce about 10 litters in their lifetime and usually grow to a weight of about 400-450 pounds.
I learned that sometimes a piglet is born with a ridgeling. This is a birth defect in males where one teste remains inside the pig. The procedure to fix this is very expensive so these pigs are often destroyed. Piglets born with defects are ended with a process known as thumping. Thumping is when the piglet’s head is slammed with great force against a hard object. The pig doesn’t suffer because the farmer makes sure to do it right the first time.
Males born without defects are castrated at 2 days or no older than 6 weeks. They are castrated because when they mature, the testosterone would taint the meat and leave a strong odour. At 6-8 weeks, the pigs are weaned off their mothers and begin to eat the feed. I learned that the pigs were raised for about 180-190 days or about 6 months. At that time, the pigs generally weigh 260 pounds and produce a 90-95 kilogram carcass. The pigs were sent to Country Quality Meat Cutting, in Bon Accord for slaughter. I was astounded to learn that not all facilities slaughter pigs with the same process. Quality Meat Cutting uses a bolt that hits the brain of the animal whereas Sturgeon Valley Pork, another facility near Morinville, now out of business, used to use nitrogen to asphyxiate the pigs.
The students in Urban Agriculture bought three of these pigs, creating six half carcasses to butcher. Kyle of Darcy’s Meats, brought the carcasses to the school. On the trip to Belle Valley Berkshires, I learned the important process in going from piglet, to pig, to plate.
Seeing businesses collaborate and work together is a personal favorite of mine. I get excited to see people who are passionate about what they do, and recognize that passion in others. Tuesday night's event was an outstanding display of collaboration and celebration.
I had the pleasure of attending one of the finest evenings in Edmonton on Tuesday. My invite was to a Holiday Mixer at the new Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen located downtown Edmonton on Jasper Avenue, to sample some delicious (and I mean DEEEE-LICIOUS) treats and check out the space. Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen has opened recently and is in a gorgeous location right downtown (previously Tavern 1903) with a beautiful food menu and interesting drink menu. Chef Spencer Thompson and Mixologist Brandon Baker put a lot of thought and attention into their creations and source ingredients locally and seasonally. They are open for lunch for and dinner, make sure you go visit!
The first thing I saw was the passion - from the first person that greeted me at the door, to the bartenders attentively mixing up beautiful cocktails, to the servers explaining what was on their tray that we just HAD to try, they were all happy to be there and excited to share details about the event with us.
We were treated to countless delectable treats - gin rummy gingerbread macaroons, "Eau Eclair" cocktails infused with cocoa, bratwurst sliders and butternut squash soup, just to name a few. Chef Thompson and his team did an exceptional job pulling out all of the stops for us and their attention to detail was second to none. Each bite was delicious and a reminder to make a dinner reservation in the near future!
The collaboration of the evening came in many forms, there were so many partnerships that it was practically seamless. Impossible to see where one brand started and another finished. Each business and product that was part of the evening fit beautifully with the next.
The bartenders were whipping up (quite literally, with egg whites!) some amazing beverages that featured Eau Claire Distillery's premium spirits. Eau Claire Distillery is located in Turner Valley, near Calgary and is Alberta's first craft distillery. Eau Claire sources the grains and ingredients for their vodka and gins locally, working with farmers to grow what they need, exhibiting a complete farm to glass approach. I am definitely making plans to go for a distillery tour! Visit their website for product and tour information.
The collaboration did not stop there. On our way out the door we received a little surprise, which is always exciting! My gift was a pretty Pura Botanicals bag with... get this... an all-natural handcrafted perfume oil, featuring frankincense and myrrh - ingredients featured in Eau Claire Distillery's limited edition Christmas gin that we sampled that very evening!
Pura Botanicals is a green beauty apothecary and natural perfumery right here in Edmonton. Their collection of non-toxic, vegan, and eco-friendly skincare and wellness potions centre around the ancient art of the beauty ritual. Pura can actually create a perfume specifically for you with their fine all-natural and traditional perfuming ingredients. Check out their website to find out more. Also included was a gift certificate for Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen, which I can't wait to use!
It is such a fantastic sight, to see businesses pulling together to make their products and events even better. If you own a business, get out and find another company that has products or services that complement what you do! Discuss the potential to collaborate, you never know what will come out of it, but most likely a great experience for both of you.
Thank you to Immedia PR for inviting us and all of their hard work to bring everyone together for this fabulous evening!
"Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."
- Henry Ford
Sarah Chevalier is a grade 12 student at Morinville
Community High School. This article is
part of a series written by students enrolled in the Urban Agriculture course.
The word of the century. It is a noun that comes to mind when we think of our
planet, at least now it is within our day and age. Someone who happens to have
proven that it is completely possible to live off the land in a total
eco-friendly and green way, is John Schneider and his family at Gold Forest Grains. He works hard to be completely
self reliant and self sustainable. He has also financially sustained himself
and has not taken out a single bank loan in years. Before he figured out a way
to live this unique, and earth healthy sort of life, he and his family used to
live in big houses with gas-guzzling vehicles, nothing extraordinary or
different like the life he has built for himself now. John moved out of his old
typically suburban large home, and created himself a straw bale house just a
few minutes South West of Morinville. No wolf can come blow this house down
though, because the straw is in between thick layers of cement to act as a
natural form of insulation. This house is 1200 square feet with no framing,
wood or natural gas anywhere in the home. The house is heated with a wood
stove, as well as passive solar energy because of how heat absorbent the straw
happens to be when the sun hits it. Heating bills are basically reduced to
nothing because of these changes.
raises certified organic grain, if the name of his farm did not give that away
already. His ‘Golden Grains” bring in most of the income for the farm. John
sells directly to the consumers unlike many of the larger more conventional
farms in the area. The Schneiders only have 3 small stone mills in order to
make flour. They sell their flour in small batches, usually 1kg at a time, but
with their direct-to-consumer approach they garner approximately $113 per
bushel rather than the $6-$7 for every day non-organic wheat. The small farm
only has 3 hired employeess because that happens to be all they need. They have
stock for sale in Morinville Sobeys, Old
Strathcona farmers market on Whyte ave, and at the St.
Albert farmers market.
Schneider works more to farm the earth rather to farm for food. He works to replenish the soil that surrounds his house in
order for the ground to be perfect, healthy and prosperous condition for his
children to take over one day. He uses compost and other naturally available
sources like wood chips to give the ground the nitrogen it needs. As well he
rotates crops like buckwheat to help release phosphorous in the soil. No one
but organic farmers use buckwheat anymore. There is just no need with the
non-natural chemicals that are so much easier to use, and so much more readily
available. Schneider also uses a technique called 'intercropping' where he
plants lentils amongst his wheat. The
lentils provide the wheat with nitrogen and the wheat helps protect the
lentils. In addition to using organic or natural means of fertilizing,
Schneider also refrains from using any pesticides. He explains that sprays leave residue behind,
which is one of the reasons that farmers don't spray malt barley or wheat that
they'll be using for seed the following year.
Aside from being pesticide free, John also explains that many of
his gluten intolerant customers have reported being able to consume his
heritage or ancient grains without any adverse side effects. Interesting I
know. What else is interesting is the fact that if everyone bought organic, all
farms would slowly convert, leaving everyone forced to buy this whole and more
healthy option, and everyone would soon be living in a that much cleaner and
healthier world. The people would be healthier, the animals would be healthier
and so would the planet.
Sturgeon County Bounty is a Sturgeon County Economic Development initiative, aimed at providing local producers, chefs and processors with an opportunity to promote and expand value-added agriculture in the region. more
Economic Development more
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9613 - 100 Street
Morinville, AB, T8R 1L9