Spring has officially arrived, and the Cowichan Lake Community Garden is wasting no time tackling its spring cleaning.
On Saturday the group held its first official work party of the year, after being rained out the previous week. Members arrived and immediately set to cleaning garden beds, picking out rocks and mixing compost.
The summer of 2016 will mark the garden’s second season, after a lot of work was done last year to prepare the grounds and lay a solid foundation for future planting.
“The actual work on the garden started in the end of October, beginning of November 2014. We had work parties just about every Saturday from then until mid-summer last year because there was a lot that needed to be done to get it established,” said coordinator Cara Smith.
The garden has been designed as a “food forest,” which Smith explained is a gardening model that mimics a woodland ecosystem by using fruit and nut trees and berry shrubs in addition to ground-level vegetables. The garden has 14 trees including cherry, apple, pear and quince trees.
“Around each fruit tree we planted a ‘guild’ and the idea of a guild is you plant things that support the fruit tree,” said Smith. “Things that attract insects, things that provide a lot of foliage for mulch and compost, things that accumulate nutrients with deep-tap roots that bring nutrients up to the surface.”
The community garden also has garden boxes available for rent, which have been so popular there is now a wait list for gardeners interested in having their own individual space. Smith said the group hopes to build some more this year, but added that most of the garden is communal and is worked collectively, with the group sharing in the harvest.
“Last being our first year there wasn’t much of a harvest, but we got a surprising amount,” she said.
Goals for this coming year include maximizing use of the high fence that surrounds the garden to keep deer out.
“So I would like to see beds all around the perimeter where we could do vertical gardening,” said Smith.
“I’d like to have narrow boxes along the fence line because this soil is really tough to work.”
Improving the soil quality requires constantly adding to the garden’s large, worm-filled compost area, which volunteer Rennie Bateman is happy to show off.
“The whole idea was to use what was readily available, not what you buy and import,” he said.
“Three restaurants [Lakeside Sushi, The Shaker Mill and Jake’s at the Lake] give us their kitchen waste, I bring it here and compost it. We get about 150 pounds a week, and that’s just from three little restaurants.”
Bateman encouraged members of the community to contribute their food scraps to the garden’s compost, emphasizing that they do not want meat waste.
The community garden is located between Point Ideal Road and the lower baseball field near Centennial Hall. The initiative has been supported by Island Health, Cowichan Green Community and Tree Canada, plus contributions from countless local business and individuals.