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From her Southern Vancouver Island greenhouse, Skill Mentor and urban farmer Tracey Cook shares her hard-earned tips on starting and growing a thriving garden on a small plot of land.

Photo credit: Fiona Bramble

Your garden looks amazing! What words come to mind when you think about your garden? Self-sufficiency, resourcefulness, resilience, gratitude, nourishment. Oh, and patience! And harmony. I see a simple beauty in vegetables: the elegance of a bed of leeks; a smiling pumpkin to cheer you each morning; the steady generosity of a zucchini.

What is your one indispensable tool? Compost. Feed your garden as your garden feeds you. As often as you can, add compost, manure, leaf mulch and SEAWEED! We live on an island, people! The seaweed harvest is my favourite fall farming ritual and you can find me with my fork and a wheelbarrow on the beaches after storms, harvesting the washed-up kelp to add minerals to my soil.

Any other advice for budding growers? Keep a gardening journal to remind you from year to year what worked and what didn’t, where you planted stuff (crucial to know for crop rotation), when you started the seeds, and other useful information. Also: don’t rule out the ability to grow a certain vegetable before you try a bunch of different varieties. I never had much luck with cucumbers until last year when I finally found the variety that seems perfect for the conditions in my yard. It’s all a grand experiment—farmer as curious scientist.