What I learned on Galiano Island – Part 1

This series by Rick Ketcheson explores his experience at a recent workshop about Food Forestry on Galiano Island.  This is the first in a 3 part series.


In October 2015, I attended a five day workshop on Food Forestry on Galiano Island. I have an interest in food security, local food and permaculture, so I want to share what I learned. Not all of this is new to me, nor will it be to you but there is always more to learn and this event was definitely rich in learning.

A group of thirty-five of us gathered on Galiano Island at the Galiano Conservancy Learning Centre with two top-notch instructors to learn and to help install a pilot food forest on the lands held by the Conservancy. Some people also refer to these as perennial food gardens or woodland gardens.

To get to the island in time to attend the introductory public lecture on Friday evening, I had but one choice from BC Ferries which meant arriving in the morning. Auspicious, as I had time to enjoy lunch, set up my tent and take the wonderful two hour hike to pebble beach on the east side of the island from the Learning Centre.

I learned that several of the Gulf Islands have conservancy associations. The Galiano Conservancy has had the good fortune to have strong and visionary leadership by Ken Millard who worked tirelessly to bring people together, create the land base and build the organization. Sadly, I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting him as he passed away recently but it was clear from others that he was held in high regard. You can find more on the extensive work done by the Conservancy at their website and Facebook group.

The Learning Centre is a classroom and small commercial kitchen housed in a lovely off-grid repurposed building powered by solar panels and a battery bank. Staff and volunteers have also installed a small annual garden, a greenhouse and a small campsite at the Centre. The Conservancy’s vision is that the Learning Centre be self-sustaining and they’re well on their way.

The food forest project grew out of the staff’s desire to do something significant to impact food security on the island. The initial phase of the food forest project has now been realized in the past year with the help of significant grants from VanCity and other funding. The intent is to continue to expand in the coming years.

In developing the food forest concept and design, the Conservancy consulted with the community and experienced permaculture practitioners. Major earth work was required on the site as well as infrastructure such as a well and fencing.

The well-attended Friday evening public lecture on Food Forests was followed by two days of workshops and a three day practicum, planting the food forest with time for discussions and sharing ideas. The topics we covered included:

  • Introduction to Food Forestry – principles, benefits, architecture
  • Forest succession
  • Food forestry design for large sites as well as urban sites including recommended species and specific cultivars for our climate.
  • Soil biology, soil science, fungi.
  • Composting – Thermal, static, aerated, bokashi and use of cover crops. Preparation and application of compost extract and compost tea.
  • Grafting
  • Growing garlic on a commercial scale
  • Introduction to growing and extracting medicinal herbs.

Our last three days were mostly spent on the previously prepared food forest site. Here we followed the site design for the perennial plantings and a mushroom bed. We also planted a cash crop of garlic to help the Conservancy finance some of their activities. There are plans to hold more workshops on food forestry at the site. You can see these folks are serious about what they do.

The 700 m2 food forestry site was created in a previously logged but otherwise untouched area. It is fenced against the ubiquitous deer. The earth work consisted of building five hugelkultur beds, about 15 m long and waist high. These beds were built by digging a trench about a meter deep and a meter wide and filling it with wood, (some of it already decomposing), piling more wood on top and covering the whole thing with soil and mulch. The wood in the beds was inoculated with a variety of materials to add nitrogen and with forest duff for fungal and bacterial culture.

This type of bed can serve many functions – carbon sink, nutrient store, moisture reservoir. Think of fallen trees (what we call nurse logs) decomposing in the forest. Because they are raised beds, they modify the topography and provide wind shelter solar aspect to create micro-climates. I have constructed small versions of these woody beds in two locations in the last year.

Two regular soil planting beds were also created to observe the differences between the two types of beds.

To say this was a rich learning experience hardly does it justice. Our instructors, Javan K. Bernackovitch and Richard Walker have a wealth of experience and knowledge that they generously shared. I highly recommend anyone with an interest in Permaculture topics to keep an eye on the Permaculture BC website for more learning opportunities.

Galiano was well represented in our workshop with about fifteen participants. Another dozen were from the Lower Mainland Vancouver Island and a few from the Okanagan where Javan and Richard are based.

I’m going to relate the rest of this on a day-to-day basis as that’s how my notes and memory are structured. Some topics repeat but with new information.

Read “What I learned on Galiano Island – Part 2” here!

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