We Have a New Research and Education Farm Site on Vancouver Island

Posted on Tuesday, 6 June 2023 under Stories

We have been off to the races in the past two weeks in North Saanich at our newest Research and Education Seed Farm site. This new quarter-acre site is located at the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture (Sandown). The area used to be a horse racetrack and has only recently shifted into a community site for local food production, education, stewardship and restoration. Because of its history, the quality and compaction of the soil and land present many challenges but also provide learning opportunities for using marginal lands for agriculture.

Our plot has two old roads that bisect the site that will not be used for growing areas this year but we hope to begin the process of reclaiming these areas to agricultural lands. The growing beds in the plot will cover approximately ΒΌ acre and we have been hard at work shaping, preparing, and planting them. The area had been planted with a hearty overwintering cover crop so we used a tractor to disc and till the beds. Because of the amount of rocks in the soil, we had to be selective with the machinery we used. Rock picking will be a steady activity for years to come. At Sandown, there are shared tools and a walk-behind tractor. The rotary plow and power harrow have been great for helping us prep the beds.

In setting up a new site, we wanted to do our best to reduce the amount of plastic we purchased. We did this by re-using unneeded irrigation supplies, and by using kraft paper instead of plastic landscape fabric for weed suppression. In future years we will work to reduce the amount of tilling to preserve the biological activity going on in the soil. For now, we have loaded up the beds with compost and amendments to help out crops we planted. We are now crossing our fingers for low weeds and strong resilience of the plants in the rocky clay soils.

In addition to the pea, radish and salad turnips in our Citizen Seed Trial, we will be growing beans, carrots, lettuces, squash, watermelon, fennel, kale and potatoes. We are also excited to be trialling and experimenting with amaranth, chickpeas, cow peas, and a few flowers. Working at Sandown has been a great way to meet other farmers and a new challenging opportunity to learn from the soil and the land.