Avalon Gardens History
In early 1985 I moved to Toronto to work with a company that made stained glass windows for churches across North America and to be with my son Ben in a joint custody arrangement with his mom who lived in Toronto. While working overtime hours at the stained glass company I also attended the Canadian College of Kinesiography and became a certified Kinesiographer (Graphologist). It was an intensely busy year for me, and my son spent too many hours at a daycare for my liking. So, I resigned from my job and we decided to take the summer off and go back to Nova Scotia and be on the land with Nistal and Kaissa. Then we would return to Toronto in September in time for me to start my new job teaching at the college I had attended. In Toronto I was amazed at how far I had to go out of the city to be in Nature where there was lots of woods and you could see the stars at nite and feel some silence. I was eager to return to home territory for awhile.
It was an unusually rainy summer in Nova Scotia in 1986 and after a month of tenting in a wet field I looked for an alternative. My son suggested I build a treehouse. I didn't want to do that as we were only going to be there another month ...but I thought it would be fun to build a platform in the trees to put the tent on. I chose 3 old spruce trees ( that had matured as much as they could given that bedrock was 2-3 ft.down ) that were dying. When I climbed one of them I discovered a wonderful view of the Bay of Fundy ! (We can only see a small part of the bay from the road at the top of our driveway.) So I built a platform at the 26 ft. level and then built a treehouse on top of that ... and we never did go back to Toronto ! Cheendana ( whom I had met in Toronto) joined us in September and we've all been here since. After a couple years the spruce trees sprouted new branches along their trunks, rising up to the challenge of hosting a treehouse surprisingly well ... it felt like magic.
In 1987 we started a very small garden (16'x16' ) beside our house that we built in the woods on the ridge overlooking the ravine. Altho we did have some salad greens for our efforts the garden was too shaded and we were inexperienced. It did spark our interest however and we were determined to grow most of our own food and do it using organic methods in an ecologically sustainable manner. In 1988 we cleared some trees that were shading our small garden and started again. We got better results but it was minimal and the bulk of our food came from elsewhere and we were not storing any food for winter. We used the same space again in 1989 but by now it was frustrating and unsatisfactory.
Our lives at that time were very busy (still are ! ) with Cheendana working fulltime establishing her career as a Massage Therapist and I was building our housing and trying to drum up business as a Graphologist ( Handwriting Analylist ). After the treehouse, we built and moved into our 2x4 A-framed and covered with plastic house with a dirt floor covered with plastic and cardboard. We carried our cold water from a spring for the first few years. We were "roughing" it ! In the fall of 1989 we decided to move our gardening efforts to another spot. We knew at this point that the garden would play a much bigger role in our lives and we chose the spot for it carefully. This was in an old field that was densely overgrown with 15 to 20 ft. high - 18 year old spruce trees interlaced with alders. We hired a neighbor and his tractor and he and I spent a day pulling out the trees by wrapping a chain around each tree and then pulling it with the tractor. After each tree was out of the ground I would lift it ( if I could ) and shake out the soil trapped in the root mass and then drag it to the edge of the field and run back to do the next one ( We were paying for the tractor by the hour ! ) I was exhausted by the end of the day and exhilarated at the same time. That was the hardest day I've ever worked in my life ! Here we had a large open space and our "real" garden was born ! We had it ploughed and we removed an enormous amount of rocks.
Early next spring I realized the space still wasn't big enough so a clearing we went again. This time we hired a small dozer operator who was good at dipping the corner of his dozer blade to uplift each tree. He then managed to shake most of the soil out with the dozer and I would do the finishing touches with a shovel and then he would push the soil-less trees to the edge of the field. This was it ! It felt perfect and I proceeded to find the center of the garden from which we created our 100 ft. diameter round garden. Standing in that center spot for the first time felt really good and somehow I intuitively knew that this was a turning point for me in my life. Not long after that I discovered the book "Secrets of the Soil" by Tompkins and Bird and a chapter in it about Machaelle Wright Small who has a 100 ft. diameter garden as well, near Philadelphia. One of her statements really caught my attention ... "... man and nature together hold the promise of many times their individual power. A potential of this union is the creation of the earth's own healing energy grid through it's gardening system around the planet. And the healing power which will radiate from the gardens and ultimately from the grid formed by the link-up of the gardens will be equally available and usable to both humans and to nature, because it was created by humans and nature united."
I was already familiar with power spots in the wilderness having had profound life changing experiences during vision quests in some great wilderness places here in Nova Scotia. Also at that time good friends of ours passed on a seed catalogue to us from Seeds of Change, a dynamic group of people in Santa Fe', New Mexico, who were doing what they called co-evolutionary gardening. They emphasized the importance of biodiversity, seed saving and the reality of how plants cooperated in their growth together on the planet. In fact they use the term plant kindom instead of kingdom. All of this was very appealing to me and the garden became my passion.
We intended to create a power spot with the garden, one that would attract attention and act as a demonstration model to others as well as provide a means for us to bring in an income. I bought and read as many books as I could and all that I learned became integrated into the garden in some way or another. I joined the Nova Scotia chapter of O.C.I.A. (Organic Crop Improvement Association) in order to meet other growers and learn and share as much as I could. After a few months, my enthusiasm and ambition landed me in the position of co-ordinater of the O.C.I.A. - N.S. chapter. Being in that position for more than 2 years I learned a lot and met many experienced growers.
That spring (1990) we created the main structure of our 100 ft. diameter garden. The soil looked good altho it was very rocky. ( 5 years later we still pick out rocks ( fist size and larger ) and it's not such a chore now.) There was a high organic content in it ( 23% according to a soil test done a year later) and altho the alders we cleared probably fixed some nitrogen in the soil we decided to add composted sheep manure, at least 12-14 half ton truckloads, which we loaded on and off by hand with shovels. Then a neighbor tilled it in for us with his tractor tiller. ( For the next 3 years we did everything by hand and for 2 years I hauled water by the bucket uphill from a pond a hundred yards away to water the garden during dry spells.) We made raised beds thruout as it was always wet there in the Spring and we wanted an early start. At the very center I took some of our favourite rocks and built a cone about two and a half ft. in diameter. Later we added a small statue of a buddha. This cone is in the center of a perennial herb and flower bed 12 ft. in diameter. There are 40 more beds that form concentric circles around the garden center. Four slightly arced main paths 4 ft. wide come in from four gates toward the garden center from the directions southeast, northeast, northwest and southwest. They meet a 4 ft. wide ring of beach stones that surround the center herb and flower bed. We brought the rounded stones, charged by the highest tides in the world, up from the beach 3/4 mile away. Some summer nites we sleep out under the stars on our garden beach. The four outside beds are about 6 ft. wide and are for perennial fruits ... raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries and strawberries ( this year we plan to companion plant asparagus with the strawberries).
The other 36 beds (3 and 1/2 ft. wide) are in four sections divided by the four main arced paths coming in to the garden. There's a root vegetable section, leaf vegetable section, flower section and a fruit vegetable section. The main paths arc in a way that the garden is a mandala spinning clockwise (charging up), one section's distance each year, so that we have a crop rotation from root to leaf/stem to flower to fruit. Exceptions to this are some companion plantings that we do (ie.: summer savory with onions and carrots ... undersowing our brassicas with New Zealand white clover ... nasturtiums, marigolds, nicotina itermingled here and there ... and we're always experimenting with something. We also plant white clover in the paths. We plant and tend 6,000 square ft. of of raised bed growing space in the round garden. We grow a large variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers too numerous for me to want to mention here and in the coming years we hope to focus more on growing out and preserving Heritage seed varieties as well as medicinal plants.
We focus on crop rotations and aim to have 1/3 of our growing areas planted in legumes ... mostly clover. We want our soil to get better every year and use as few imported soil amendments as possible. We are using some fishbone fertilizer, kelp powder, rock and colloidal phosphate and bloodmeal. We also get composted sheep manure from a neighbor. We use a soil blocking technique as developed by Elliot Coleman. We do succession croping using transplants so that the soil is covered as much as possible ... we aim to never have bare soil. We do a lot of composting using kitchen wastes, garden wastes, leaves, sawdust and sheep manure. We are moving toward making compost without animal manure and have started growing lots of comfrey and specific herbs for this purpose. I think about this alot as Nova Scotia has an excess of animal manure that in a lot of cases is not being handled properly. We eat vegetarian food and mostly avoid dairy products ... there are issues here that I feel very strongly about and I also feel that this isn't the place to elaborate upon them.
Living in the woods here, there are lots of animals that love our garden as well ... deer, rabbits,skunks, porcupines, stray cats and dogs, squirrels, moles, mice, etc. Lots of birds including woodpeckers and humming birds. We have no domesticated animals here as we love to see the wild ones around almost all the time. The rabbits and deer allow us to get quite close. We've actually designated an area, where we never go into, as a place for these animals only.
We fenced the round garden to keep the larger critters out. The porcupines actually chew right thru the chicken wire fencing ( thin Chinese variety - not suitable for our needs ). I've repaired the fence holes at least 30 times and chased out porcupines with shovels, rocks and sticks ... they keep coming back and I don't want to hurt them.They're a problem in this area as their natural predator the cougar is very scarce. One of these days I'll get around to replacing that fence.
In the early spring of 1991 we built a 16' x 29' greenhouse and covered it with a special polyweave greenhouse plastic that is still holding up well after 4 winters. Inside we get an early start growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and herbs which remain there until November. We also start our transplants in the greenhouse, however, our flowers and herbs that we start earlier, in February and March, we start indoors under lites. We use soil blocks for all of them. I find it amazing how many hundreds of 3/4 inch soil blocks will fit under a couple 4 ft. flourescent fixtures. For the first 5 or 6 weeks of growth I find cool white tubes to be much better and cheaper than the gro-lites.
What seemed like a large garden began to look small to me and so in 1991 in June we cleared another overgrown field on the South side of our driveway ( the round garden being on the North side ), and had it ploughed and tilled for us. I designed it to contain 12 sections, each 1,000 sq. ft. in size ( 20' x 50' ). The upper garden as we call it, as it is uphill from the round one, is in the shape of a rectangle 146 ft from front to back and 120 ft. from side to side. The size and design changed a bit to accomadate our new Troybuilt tiller that we bought in the fall of 1993. There are 2 entrances, one on the North side, close to our greenhouse, which is where we enter the garden and the other directly opposite on the South side. A main path 6 ft. wide stretches straight between these 2 entrances. On either side of this main path are 4 - 1500 sq. ft. ( 50' x 30' ) sections to make 8, which gives us 12,000 sq. ft. of growing space (includes small paths). ( We went from 12 sections to 8 as it worked better for turning the tiller !) A 3 ft. bed of echinacea encloses the rectangle just inside the perimeter line. Inside that is a 4 ft. wide path and then the 8 - 50' x 30' sections separated by 4 ft. paths. Here we have been cover cropping and growing the cucurbitaceae family, beans, garlic, onions and 2 sections in strawberries. Surrounding the outside of the upper garden we have about 7 to 8,000 sq. ft. planted in oats, various clovers. red russian kale, buckwheat and rye to feed the deer, rabbits, birds and bees and who knows what else. In 1990 we joined the Heritage Seed Program and have been members ever since. Altho we haven't offered or grew out many Heritage seeds yet we have learned much which has helped and inspired us to save a lot of our own seeds. Each year we add more to the save list. We still grow out Black Jet soybeans which we received from the program in 1990. Last year a friend brought Tiny Tim tomatoes to us from Heather Apple. They are great and we're saving those. My father gave me seeds in 1991 of a golden large nonacid tomato that he got from a friend who had been growing it out for many years. It's my favourite by far and if anyone wants to try a few seeds, send me a note. Now that the upper garden has been "tamed" I plan to increase our seed saving efforts .
In January 1993, Cheendana and I travelled to Mexico to attend a weeklong course in Ethnobotany in the jungle bordering Lake Catemaco, 3 hours by bus from Veracruz. This was sponsored by the Botanical Preservation Corps who not only make an effort to save important plant species from extinction but also gather, preserve and share information about these plants which is being lost at an even faster rate than the plants themselves ! This course left me with the desire to create an Ethnobotanical garden here, one that would demonstrate the links between local native plants and our culture. At the course we also met a couple folks who grew medicinal mushrooms. This I was attracted to immediately and as soon as we were back home I ordered a couple mushroom cultivation books and some equipment and supplies . I ordered some cultures... Agaricus brunescens "neff"(similar to white button but tan in colour ), Pleurotus ostreatus "camelot" ( oyster ), Ganoderma lucidum ( reishi ) and Lintinus edodes ( shitake ). That year (1993), I learned how to do culture work and even managed to grow some oysters ( mushrooms that is ), shitakes and reishis in trays and on sawdust blocks inside one of our storage buildings. I bought several more books and gobbled up as much info as I could.
The following Spring, in March, I attended two workshops at the Farm in Tennessee ... one on how to grow shitake mushrooms put on by Mushroompeople, a fine company run by Farm residents ... and one on growing gourmet and medicinal mushrooms by Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti in Washington State. At this point I was off and running ! As soon as I got home I got started innoculating logs with mushroom spawn. I am presently tending a trial run of 100 logs ( 42" long, 4" to 8" in diameter ) ... oak, maple, beech, birch and poplar, each species innoculated with shitake, reishi and oyster mushroom spawn. I expect some of the smaller diameter logs to start fruiting this Spring. In March I'll innoculate more logs and add another species ... maitake to the group. Presently (1994-95) this mushroom ( Grifola frondosa ) fetches about $1200 U.S. per dried pound and has a growing number of medical people quite excited about its potential in the treatment of AIDS. Mushrooms are the best recyclers on this planet. Their fine mycelial network is able to weave between and through the cell walls of plants ... secreting enzymes and acids that degrade large, molecular complexes into simpler compounds ... returning carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and minerals back into the ecosystem in forms usuable to plants and many other organisms. All ecosystems depend upon this amazing recycling role of the Fungi ! The biodiversity in our ever decreasing forests is being lost at an alarming rate. This of course is effecting the mushroom gene pool and mushroom cultivators have much work to do to preserve it. I hope to have as many as 30 to 50 species growing in our mycological landscape within 2 years and have backup cultures and spore prints for each of them. More seed saving to do you might say ! In Paul Stamets' book ... GROWING GOURMET & MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS ( a must for anyone considering growing mushrooms) he says "Working with mushroom mycelium en masse will empower every country, farm, recycling center and individual with direct economic, ecological and medical benefits." I emphatically agree with him !
Mushrooms are a tremendously important resource that we are only beginning to tap into. The potential is mindbogling ! As a food mushrooms are a great addition to our diet. Not only do the many different mushrooms offer a vast variety of delicious and exotic flavours, they are also quite nutritious. Shitakes, for instance, offer 11-12% complete protein. They contain all of the essential amino acids ... however, being low in the sulfer containing amino acids it works very well to eat them with legumes ( ...are you reading this Dan Jason ?!) The main fat in shitake is linoleic acid which is the only essential fatty acid that we require in our diet. Mushrooms have a good variety of minerals, some vitamins and they're a good source of dietary fibre. As a medicine, Shitake have cholesterol-lowering properties as well as antiviral and immunity-boosting properties. Reishis, known as the "herb of immortality" for thousands of years in the East, especially China, are known for a long list of important health benefits related to cancers, heart disease, allergies, lowered immune system response, viruses, liver protection and more !
As bioremediators, mushrooms can be used for toxic waste clean-up as they are able to break down hydrocarbon-based pollutants. They are presently being experimented with for the detoxification of PCBs, oil spills and pesticide/herbicide residues. And the possibilities with radioactive wastes are being explored. As a mycofilter, the weave-like structure of the mushroom mycelium is perfectly designed as a filtration membrane and "clean-up facilities" for the removal of biological contaminants from surface water passing directly into sensitive watersheds. Paul Stamets is studying this and in his book says ... "By placing sawdust implanted with mushroom mycelium in drainage basins downstream from farms raising livestock, the mycelium acts as a sieve which traps fecal bacteria and ameliorates the impact of a farm's nitrogen-rich outflow into aquatic ecosystems."
I am gathering cultures, equipment, supplies and books and will be in business this Spring selling these things thru mailorder as well as teaching workshops and giving support to new growers. In June I hope to attend Paul Stamets' Masters' course at his place in Washington State.
In the longterm we also want to have people come here on retreat for healing, meditation and self-reflection. We are presently purchasing another 5 acres just across the stream adjacent to our property and with that we have several secluded "woodsy" sites for small live-in retreat "temples". As you've probably figured out by now we're quite busy here with never a dull moment! We are also looking at how to open up the possibility to provide employment for people and offer work exchange to people who want to come here to learn. It's been a busy and adventurous journey so far and our best teacher has been our own experience. For me working with the earth has been very "grounding" and a great vehicle for expressing creativity. I'm 45 now, and up until 5 years ago, I remember each year I would think about what I would be doing a year down the road ... and a year down the road would always be very different than what I had thought it would be. Now I have a better sense of what's coming and there's been a very satisfying settling inside of me, an at home feeling. I am not so dependent on the outside world and am now able to participate with the outside world in a more meaningful and contributive way.
Contemplating the world's problems, I put them in three categories ..1]... human beings separate themselves from Nature ... 2] ... human beings separate themselves from others and ... 3] ... human beings separate themselves from themselves. Here we want to address all three by participating in co-creative gardening with Nature and sustainable community development and by providing space for self-reflection, retreat, therapy, consciousness-waking workshops, and meditation. We hope that Avalon Gardens and Osho Arun Meditation Center will serve as a good demonstration of how people can live in touch with Nature, be able to eat well and grow their own medicine.
This brings us up to fall, 1994. It's now September 30th, 1998. We've expanded our housing and started selling some medicinal products. We've built a lab with a greenhouse on the front. We've been to Costa Rica and have joined Samasati Retreat Center there. I plan to go there this winter for 3 months to start the preliminary stages of an agricultural project for them so that they will be self-sustainable for their own organic food and medicine. Maybe I'll get back to catching up with this story someday!
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