We are very blessed with a moderate climate in this part of British Columbia. In spite of our very rainy spring, stuff grows. Sometimes it grows so much it obliterates anything in its path, including great gardening areas. Today on Food Matters, I told a story of beating back the growth, with delicious results.
Behind the Harbour House Hotelon Salt Spring Island lies a farm, about three and a half acres. But over the years it had fallen into disuse. The current owners decided it was time to put it back into production, but it was a slow process. Rob Scheres is the farm manager. He took me for a tour of the property about a month ago, and looking at the wonderful plots of fruits and veggies already growing in mid-May, it was hard to imagine what it used to be like, but Rob filled me in. “It was an old farm that hadn’t been taken care of since the 1950’s. It was completely overgrown with blackberry and alder, but when we started to clear it we found old irrigation systems and other stuff showing the old farm. It took us about 3 or 4 years to get it all cleared and the soil ready, and then we started.”
Rob and his crew are now into their third full growing season, so this has been a seven year project in total so far, and they growing almost everything that a restaurant needs. The farms operates as a separate entity from the hotel, so it ‘sells’ most of its crops to the hotel restaurant. But they have lots of berry bushes, tayberries, boysenberries, raspberries, strawberries, which have staggered harvest times so there is always something for the restaurant desserts, including rhubarb…beets, peas, herbs, jalapeno peppers, Jerusalem artichokes , tomatoes and even quinoa! Then there are the beehives producing honey and on other parts of the property they tap big leaf maple trees for maple syrup. So they do a pretty good job of being the main supplier to the Harbour House restaurant, and it’s all organic, and it’s always in season, according to Rob: “We keep the restaurant going all year round. We can’t supply them with things like potatoes and tomatoes all year, but we do give them tomatoes about five to six months of the year, and things like greens, those are sent to the restaurant all year round, so they don’t have to go to an outside source to buy any of that.”
Like any garden, though, there are pests. In one of the greenhouses the soil they brought in had too much wood fibre in it which attracted wood bugs. They like to chew around the stems of the tomato plants there, so Rob started putting little piles of horse manure and some trimmings from greens on top and the wood bugs prefer that, and then they can just go and scoop up the manure and tons of wood bugs along with it. Then I was admiring some of the beautiful peas that were growing, and Rob told me the secret of their success: “We started them off inside in pot, to get the roots nice and strong. Otherwise we had mice that were coming in and chewing off everything below the dirt and killing them. Sure, it’s labour intensive, but we get a much fuller crop and it pays off in the long run.”
The other thing about Rob is that he is very ingenious about re-purposing things to cut down on costs. An old canopy from the hotel entrance got turned into a greenhouse, he’s using old eaves troughs to create lighting fixtures, and hand-built an under-bed heating system using one of those smaller on-demand water heaters in his propagation shed which probably saved thousands of dollars alone.
In the restaurant, every main course is served with seasonal vegetables from the farm…in the morning at breakfast you’re eating preserves made from the fruits brought in, or how about this for brunch, a West Coast breakfast bun with Candied Salmon and fried egg, served with Tomato Relish, SSI Goat’s Cheese, Arugula and Basil Aioli, with the tomatoes, arugula and basil all coming from the farm.
I did feed Jo-Ann something today, not from the Harbour House menu but an idea I got from a food truck in Portland that specializes in biscuits. Would you believe rosemary buttermilk biscuits with fresh strawberries and vanilla whipped cream?
Here is the lowdown on the biscuits from Blues City Biscuits in Portland and the recipe I used to make them, from the eatmakeread blog.To listen to my chat with Jo-Ann Roberts on All Points West, click here.