The temperate climate of the upper Sunshine Coast makes the area ideal for growing a vast number of overlooked plants, according to permaculture expert Ron Berezan.
“We have the great fortune of being in what’s called zone eight in Powell River,” said Berezan, referring to the Plant Hardiness Zones Index, a ratings guide designed to aid gardeners and landscapers on what plants can survive in specific geographic regions.
“This means we can grow more species here than almost anywhere else in Canada,” he added. “We’re really in Canada's hotspot.”
Wild forager Alexander McNaughton agrees.
“We have it good in Powell River because we’re in this crazy microclimate; things ripen here,” said McNaughton. “If you crossed over to Vancouver Island and were at a northern latitude comparable to us, you wouldn’t be able to grow some of these things.”
Some plants non-native to the region that have thrived include several species of mulberry and apriums, a plum apricot hybrid. Many plants were brought to the area by immigrant communities.
“There were a lot of Maltese immigrants and that community planted figs,” said McNaughton. “The Italian community planted chestnuts, hazelnuts and there are a number of sour cherry trees in town that are coveted. We are definitely pushing the boundaries of how far north you can plant some of these things.”
Berezan will be teaching a two-day course later this month on creating food forests, an ancient technique that has largely been forgotten and overlooked in the west but is recently beginning to make a comeback.
“The idea is that we’re creating a forest-like system that produces food,” said Berezan.
One of the benefits is the volume of produce that can be grown in a compact urban area.
“We can end up getting a tremendous amount of yield in a relatively small space with less work than an intensively managed vegetable garden,” he added. “It’s a multi-use garden that looks like a forest except that it’s planned, maintained and lived in by human beings.”
The concept is well suited to the region and more in line with what nature intended, according to Berezan.
“If you think about it, we’re not a prairie; we’re a temperate rainforest,” he said. “We can make big vegetable gardens but our climate, soils and rainfall patterns are suited more to forest-like systems.”
During the course, participants will put their theoretical learning into practice and create a food forest in a small yard in the Cranberry area.
“It’s all lawn right now but by the end of the day we’ll have a very early stage food forest established,” said Berezan.
Students will receive information of the many species that can successfully be grown in the region based on Berezan’s research. Many plants on the list are not readily known to thrive here. The mulberry tree is one Berezan would like to see more of.
“The mulberries right now are amazingly delicious and I don’t know if I’ve seen more than two or three in Powell River,” he said. “It’s another overlooked option for us.”
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