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Growing food … not lawns

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I have been teaching horticulture for nearly thirty years and by now have racked up almost fifty years of practical experience in growing things. My mom Rita, was a great gardener, and always had the first beautiful ripe tomato on the block. Some of my fondest memories as a child include grinding home grown onions, tomatoes, and peppers with a hand grinder attached to a wooden bench in the kitchen to make salsa. We always knew grinding onions would make us cry, and that made us laugh. Many years and many gardens later, I still grow tomatoes, onions, and peppers, and I am still making salsa, but my horticultural experiences have gone far beyond a few tomatoes and peppers.

I was the kind of kid who read non-fiction. I was taking tree identification books out of the library at an early age, and got all the nature badges as a girl scout. I attended the University of Massachusetts on the recommendation of my high school Biology teacher, and studied Botany. It was frustrating to do so much academic work, and not be involved in actually handling plants. Perhaps I should have taken Agriculture instead; however, looking back at the training I might have received at that time in chemical warfare in the agricultural fields, perhaps it was best that I did not.

I moved to Boston in the late sixties, and soon after I followed the wave of flower children westward. While in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I heard about a job selling flowers on the street corners. It was a perfect for a flower child, and it became the first of my many horticultural endeavours.

After emigrating to Canada, I continued to garden. I went back to school at Kwantlen College and received a Certificate in Floral Design. I got a job in a tropical plant greenhouse in Vancouver, and later ran a small tropical plant business in Ucluelet. I started to grow salad greens for local West Coast restaurants before mixed greens were available in clamshell packs in stores. At one point, I had seven acres, 100 chickens and a huge garden. I froze fifty pounds of peas one year, amongst other things, and sold eggs, peas and greens to the ladies at the fish cleaning factory where I was working.

In 1985, after a few years on a commercial fishing boat, I returned to school. I moved to Nanaimo, and in a couple of years had completed the Horticulture Technician Diploma Program at Malaspina College. With so much previous horticultural experience, I was a shoo-in for work study position at the college greenhouses and the summer student position. When the technician position came up, I got hired on as faculty. I worked at Malaspina, now Vancouver Island University, for just over 20 years as an instructor and technician. The horticulture curriculum had significant hands-on components and extensive greenhouse space and grounds where students could learn the skills of the trade. Part of my job as technician was to coordinate the students’ hands-on activities, managing and training them to become part of the industry. Many former students will remember the displays that were planned and done as part of the local garden show, with duty rosters that told them when they needed to show up to water, weed or transplant.

Although I was working full time, the larger range of experiences in horticulture kept drawing me in. I worked after hours as an Interior Landscape Technician and started to give talks and workshops, as well as write a series of articles for the magazine “Coastal Grower”, which is no longer in print. One year, I worked with special needs adults in a Horticulture Program that was a cooperative effort between the Horticulture Department and the Adult Special Education Department. Another year, I did a contract with the Nanaimo First Nations to train a group of young adults for jobs in horticulture.

As I neared retirement age, I continued to welcome new horticultural opportunities. I took a job with North Island College that trained special needs adults for entry level positions in the horticultural industry. I started running a small gardening business, and I started teaching for Gaia College. A local Island initiative, this college has no campus, but instead rents facilities for its class space. Gaia offers an Organic Land Care Diploma, comprised of four separate courses: the Organic Master Gardener Course, the Food Growing Course, Plant Knowledge and Ecological Landscape Design. The nice thing about the Gaia College courses is that they can be taken one at a time, and completed without giving up your day job. I had always been organic, and these courses turned out to be just what I was looking for. I began teaching the Gaia College Courses throughout the Central Vancouver Island area on a regular basis and continue to offer consulting, garden services, pruning, and garden talks and workshops. I truly believe we should be growing food and not lawns, and that the climate on this Island is the perfect place to do that. I love being an Island Woman and an Island Gardener!

Connie Kuramoto
Gardens On The Go


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  1. Hi! I am thinking of getting a greenhouse. Is it possible to grow vegetables year round in a greenhouse? ( I live in Courtenay). I haven’t grown a garden since I left the farm in Saskatchewan 40 years ago, can you recommend a book, or perhaps an available course, for me to learn how to grow vegetables in a greenhouse in the Vancouver island climate? Also, where can I get the shelves for the greenhouse?
    Thank you very much,

  2. Hi Connie, could you tell me when is the best time to plant out onion seedlings on the Island. thanks

    • Hello Alisor,
      You can put out onion seedlings in April if your ground is ready. If soil sticks to the shovel it is too wet. Another way to have onions is to plant Aug 1, and winter them over. It is amazing, and it works. Onion sets can be planted out as soon as they are available in the stores, as long as your ground is ready, as above. Also, have you tried growing leeks, and shallotsÉ Have fun growing! Connie

  3. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this article plus the rest of the site is also really good.

    • Hi Donette, Thank you for your kind words about Island Woman. Best regards, Trish Summerhayes.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! I love this site as well. It is great to have women from all walks of life on Vancouver Island writing about their lives and their interests! Thanks for reading us!

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