Sharon Slack's Home Food Garden
Sharon Slack is City Farmer's head gardener at Vancouver's Compost Demonstration Garden, 2150 Maple Street. On this page she shares with us a little bit about herself and her garden.
When I was 2 years old (1944), we moved to the "Blenheim Flats" (Southlands) which was still a farming community,. The land was dyked, as it is 3 feet below sea-level, (reclaimed river land), clay, but great for gardening. At various times we had chickens, geese, and turkeys. We grew about 1/3 of an acre of potatoes, (some for sale), and all our own vegetables.
In 1965, Terry (my husband) and I bought our house in Dunbar. I planted my first garden, but not knowing much about gardening, it grew, got covered in bugs, and died! I decided to start a subscription to Organic Gardening magazine.
The soil in Dunbar is sand and rocks and desperately needed compost. I became a composter, and things started to improve! Other than the magazine, there wasn't any printed material available at that time about organic gardening, and no organic fertilizers were being produced for sale, so I had to make do with just compost and manure.
At the 1st Seedy Saturday, I met Mike McCarten, and joined the "Good Earth Organic Gardening Society". Wes Barrett was also a member and at that time City Farmer's head gardener. I sometines visited him the City Farmer Garden, not knowing it would one day play a big part in my life. In the meantime, more books and magazines dealing with organic gardening were becoming available, and I was able to learn more about this topic.
My Garden: (1965 - present)
Terry and I have a 33' lot at 33rd and Camosun in Dunbar. It is near the top of the hill, facing south. The soil is sand and rocks. We have completely rebuilt the house, and over the years, the garden has gone through many changes. After we finished rebuilding, we took the lawn out of the front yard, and put in shrubs and a couple of small trees. Some have stayed but many have been replaced with plants that were more suitable. These days I am using more native plants and their cultivars, and have blueberries and a small crabapple tree. Eight years ago, I decided to remove the lawn from our boulevard, the city planted a "Persian Ironwood" tree, and I put in a garden next to the street.
We removed the last little lawn we had behind the house and put in a brick patio (built on sand so it is permeable), and our dog no longer has fleas! We also have a small concrete patio. Seven years ago, after rehabilitating a leaking oil tank, we built a clay-lined pond and bog garden.
We built 2 raised beds for veggies, and have a few other places for veggies among the ornamentals.
I have 5 apple trees on dwarfing root-stock, 3 growing on fences as espaliers, and 2 as dwarf bush trees. I also have over a dozen blueberries (including a couple of native varieties), 2 evergreen huckleberries, 2 Saskatoon berry bushes, and 1 Saskatoon berry tree. About 15 years ago, my mother died, we sold her property and moved that garden up to our house in Dunbar.
Greenhouse and Roof Garden
We rebuilt the carport, put a greenhouse on the front, and stairs up to the roof. I now have a roof-garden. I use a few small wooden planters, and the rest are plastic pots, about 18" in diameter. These are much lighter than the wooden ones, which will be replaced in time. In these pots, I grow my year's supply of garlic, and most of my cooking onions. The garlic is planted at the end of October, and harvested in July. I then plant salad greens or bush beans, which are harvested in October, and next year's garlic is planted.
My greenhouse is 6' by 11'. I start flats of seedlings there in the spring, grow my tomatoes there to avoid the blight in the summer, and keep geraniums there in the winter. I have a small fan but no supplemental lighting, so I can't grow plants in the winter. Tomatoes, peppers and squash are started in the house under lights, before being moved out to the greenhouse. I get my seeds (and those for City Farmer) from West Coast Seeds (Delta), and from Salt Spring Seeds (mail order). I also get my garlic from Salt Spring Seeds.
Tour and Education
For the last 7 years, Dunbar has had a month-long event in May called 'Salmonberry Days'; walks, talks, etc. A big part of this event are the 'Dunbar-in-Bloom' self-guided garden tours on 2 days in May. My garden has been open each year for that event. We get from 70-100 people visiting our gardens.
This is a good opportunity for me to show visitors how organic gardening works, and how easy it is to mix ornamentals, herbs, fruit and native plants with food plants on a small city lot. I also have two composters and use soaker hoses and leaf-mulch in the garden to conserve water. The pond attracts birds, insects -- and sometimes racoons. I also put feeders out for the birds, and mesh bags of dog hair for them to use in their nests.
Terry has built many Mason bee boxes for the front and back yards. The birds, bees and other insects are my allies in keeping pests down to a manageable level.
Three years ago, we "adopted" the bulge street garden at 33rd and Wallace, next to the Dunbar (West Memorial) Park. There is no water access, and we live 2 blocks away, so we have not watered this garden, however it had been quite successful. I planted native plants and their cultivars, which are more adaptable to our climate and rainfall.
My 5 years at City farmer have been a great opportunity to share my gardening knowledge and experience with a diverse group of people, those new to gardening as well as those who have gardened for a lifetime.
Growing up with Chickens, Geese, Turkeys and Rabbits
"Geese can be quite aggressive, especially if they have goslings. However, one day we found our dog Sandy, (Shepherd/Collie cross) lying in the pen with about a dozen goslings crawling all over her and Alice (the sweet) was not upset about it!" Posted October 15, 2005
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