Organic Gardening on the Kitchen Table

In 2008 on a drive to Gilbert’s Cove on St. Mary’s Bay, Larry and I dropped into the Wild Rose Organic Farm and met owner Gilberte Doelle. I wrote about it in this blog and all winter we wondered how her non-heated greenhouse was faring. When she recently held an organic gardening workshop at her farmhouse, Larry and I jumped at the chance to learn more. The workshop participants sat around a gigantic kitchen table in the farmhouse Gilberte shares with her veterinarian husband and several sons, cats and dogs.  The llamas and cattle and chickens are out in the barn. In a naming coincidence, Gilberte lives right across the road from the lighthouse at Gilbert’s Cove in St. Mary’s Bay.

Lighthouse at Gilberts Cove last July.

If you attend the Belliveau or the Annapolis Royal farmers’ markets in the summer you might have seen Gilberte Doelle selling her organic vegetables and herbs.

Gilberte is totally passionate about every aspect of organic gardening such as seed saving, preserving the earth, vermiculture (worms), crop rotation, companion planting, and growing nutritious food year-round….even in the winter in her unheated greenhouse.  She really “knows her onions” as my mother would have said, and her workshop was jam packed full of information, with lots of gardening tip handouts, many organic seed catalogs, and the offer to help each of us plan out a garden.
Gilbert is big on companion planting (planting two species together that help each other in a symbiotic way.), compost,  green compost,  compost tea, rotation planting, and French intensive gardening beds.
The Greenhouse is hot and humid and smells like Spring!
There was so much information I couldn’t begin to cover it all in a blog post, but I experienced more than a few “ah-ha!”moments that I would like to share with you.
  • raw zucchini can be grated and frozen on a wax paper covered cookie sheet and then bagged in the freezer for future soups and sauces
  • cheese can be grated and frozen for future use in cooking. (Ok, that’s not really about organic gardening….but really useful anyway!)
  • a 12′ x 12′ plot can feed a family of four
  • sprinkled wheat bran on wet potato leaves will deter potato bugs.  The bugs will eat the bran, bloat, and die
  • creating a new garden plot without digging is possible by placing directly on sod 6 inches of straw, hay or shredded newspaper.  Add 6 inches of finished compost and plant transplants.
  • planting sweet alysum in your vegetable patch will  attract wasps that eat aphids.
  • determinate Tomatoes are bush and don’t require staking
  • indeterminate Tomatoes are vines and need to be staked
  • clover is wonderful to plant as green manure because it can be easily tilled
  • never plant buckwheat as green manure because it needs a very strong plough/disc/harrow to turn under as it’s roots are thick and deep
  • soil with a lot of shale (like everywhere around Bear River) is acidic, so just lime the soil every other year
  • keep it simple and prop up floating row covers (fabric that is IDENTICAL to interfacing) with tomato cages. These covers will warm the soil by 5 degrees and can extend the season in both directions. Put in place 2 weeks before you plant anything to pre-warm the soil
  • in May, during the declining moon, take a Willow branch and put in in a pond to get it to sprout roots.
Gilberte (second from left) shows us how the floating row covers (the white fabric) warmed the soil.

Gilberte gave us some seed catalogues of companies that are partially or completely organic and that grow their seeds in a climate similar to ours. Here are some links for you:

Greta’s Organic Gardens (Ottawa, Ontario)
No GMO’s, organically grown, heritage seed

Annapolis Valley Heritage Seeds (run by Owen Bridge.)
Open-pollinated, no GMO’s, organically grown near Middleton, Nova Scotia

Terra Edibles (Foxboro, Ontario)
Open-pollinated, heritage vegetable, herb and flower seeds

Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Winslow, Maine)
No GMOs, some organic seed, cover crops, tools and supplies

Hope Seeds (Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia)
Rare and heritage seed, locally-grown seed, some organic seed

West Coast Seeds (Delta, British Columbia)
Certified Organic seed, no GMOs, no treated seeds.

The water containers warm up in the daytime and slowly release their heat throughout the night.


Here are some more organic gardening sources:

The Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network site has all kinds of information about how to farm organically and has directories about where to buy organic produce. Their database displays weed and insect information.

Seeds of Diversity is a Canadian organization that encourages seed saving and exchanges across Canada. Their database is loaded with descriptions, stories, history, cultivation details, and real gardeners’ comments on 19,000 cultivars of Canadian garden vegetables, fruit, grains and ornamentals. When you sign up, they’ll send you seeds!

Gilberte is a generous teacher. Imagine this. She even shared with us her own market garden crop rotation notes and diagrams of the last 5 years! It was interesting to hear her rationale about why she planted what she did and what she learned from it. I couldn’t help but wonder if it had occurred to her that a participant could steal the ideas and systems that she has spent years of trial and error developing. Not only had it occurred to her, she downright encourages it!! “Feel free to use my garden layout in your garden this year”. For me this is further evidence of the generosity of spirit that Larry and I continue to encounter in rural Nova Scotia. We see it with the artists and we see it with the musicians. We see it with neighbours and we’ve seen it with the skilled trades people who have worked on our house. People are keen to share their knowledge with others and that negative thinking that says that sharing knowledge means giving up the power you might have over another; well all that rarely surfaces here.

These beds were developed on-top of the sod and are planted in a French intensive way.
These beds were developed on-top of the sod and are planted in a French intensive way.

Our last piece of the workshop was to tour Gilberte’s greenhouses. They are all home made, each a design improvement over the previous one. We were there in mid-March with snow on the ground, but in Gilbert’s unheated greenhouse (!!) the plants were bravely showing. She had harvested a few bags of Chinese stir-fry greens and I snapped up a bag. Let me tell you ….these were soooo delicious.

Delicious greens in March.

Gilbert has drawn inspiration from Eliot Coleman who has written a book about growing vegetables in a homemade greenhouse in the winter.

Gilberte was able to feed her family cool-loving, organic salad greens all winter long and she might be persuaded to have a winter greenhouse workshop next fall. I hope so! If you are interested too, please give her a call at (902) 837-4181.