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Am I totally crazy to think I could start a permaculture garden/nursery on this coastal boreal land?

 
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Hello. Am I crazy to think I could start some sort of a permaculture garden/nursery on this plot of land very near the shoreline in a boreal climate area (borderline subarctic) on the north shore of the Gulf of the Saint-Lawrence?

The first attachment shows the lot, which is being sold along with the house/lot just above it (left side). The second shows the broader context of where it is. The village is on the shore north of the left end of Anticosti Island. I came very close to purchasing a house across the highway with a much larger lot but it fell through on inspection, although the cost was much, much cheaper. I'm going to have to decide if I want to go ahead with this property on the shoreline very shortly.

I see a bunch of potential problems:

1) I want to truck in topsoil to start but the truck would have to pass on the lot to the right (which does not have a house on it).

2) Obviously very sandy. I would be basically starting from scratch trying to build soil

3) Wind. I guess I would have to put some sort of fast-growing windbreak in but I don't know how feasible that is

4) Salinity. I am assuming that the wind would carry salinity and the groundwater would be saline as well. I realize I will be limited in what I can plant anywhere in this area, but I don't want to be too limited.

Any input from more experienced growers will be greatly appreciated, because I am going to have to make a purchase decision in early January. I am kind of in a hurry because I found a family to take over my lease in Montreal for March 1st. So obviously I would like to purchase before then, but I don't want to make a huge mistake, and I do have a friend that will let us stay with her for awhile.
Screen-Shot-2020-12-23-at-6.35.30-AM.png
Lot
Lot
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Broad view of location
Broad view of location
 
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Have you thought about growing in raised beds? You can even make some micro greenhouses by placing a windowed frame over your bed. You can do several raised beds, so you don't have to use a truck to deliver the topsoil all at once.

If you think your soil is too salty, don't use it. Just use potsoil, and learn about how to make more of this stuff yourself, if you find it too costly. If cold is an issue, I've read of some people doing something called hot beds, which is basically growing over a pile of ongoing compost, so the heat is warming beneath the roots of your crops.

About humid and salty wind, you are right. It might need a wall around your yard to protect it from the wind.

Optionally, build a greenhouse attached to your house?
 
Mary Antico
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Hi and thanks so much for your response. I have been learning a lot about no-till, regenerative growing practices and that is very appealing to me, but perhaps you are right that starting with raised beds would be a good idea. I have already located a source of topsoil in the area that can be trucked in. And the idea of a greenhouse in the back is awesome, especially given that there is a door from the basement to the back that could maybe be an entrance to the greenhouse from the indoors.
 
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Edible/useful garden plants that started out or are happy by the seaside: kale, beets, asparagus, samphire, sea buckthorn, fuchsia, Eryngium, Rosa rugosa, scurvy grass, mallow...  

I am hugely excited by this plot.  It reminds me of Celtic monks on seagirt islands.  I had a friend who had a house on an island in south west Ireland, OK so that would be somewhat warmer but the winds were something to experience.  She planted the hardiest little hedge she could find, and nurtured every little start she could persuade to grow, and then planted something slightly less hardy behind it until she had such a thicket that every vagrant bird that blew ashore made straight for it... which was why they'd bought the plot in the first place...  I'm also thinking of the wine makers in Orkney who use local fruit at 58.8 degrees north - I think rhubarb, raspberries, currants.  And crofters in the Hebrides, and St Kilda, and North Rona, growing barley and potatoes in lazy beds using seaweed for fertiliser.  I think they rinsed the salt out of it but even the air must have been salty.  

Trucking in soil would not be my first move.  I agree about the greenhouse though!
 
gardener
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I think it depends, if you want to start a commercially feasible operation, growing normal plants, it will be difficult. Permaculture growers inland do not have to invent the wheel and make a lot of costs.. If you follow Hesters advice, there are many plants that can be started because they like salinity, then it's you having the advantage over others.
Any way you will get more WWOOFER-volunteers than others, not many farms are at sea!
My father has a holiday home not far from the sea were i do reside many a times. I've seen hedges come lately of evergreen shrubs which have popped up in the dunes as well, birds seem to carry the fruits of. They're some sort of Eleagnus Umbellara family which doesn't mind salt. Some sort of  Autumn Olive. They grow really fast and dense and take kindly to clipping. I have cruised around the villages to see what plants do grow in peoples gardens, sometimes they escaped and managed to bring some to the garden. I believe i had found a nursery specialized in plants for people close to the sea. I never went, but they gave an idea of what's possible.
Edible sea weeds and sea fruit and fish are a nice extra at the coast!
So i don't think it's crazy at all, just different. There are people high up in mountains, in deserts and cold climates, that's a lot crazier, but all do-able applying permaculture principles.
 
pollinator
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If you are going to try to make money, a simple word No. I am around 14miles from the coast on an old island so my soil is sandy but not pure sand. I have some friends who also grow commercial who are only 4 miles form the coast on the old sand dunes (sand dunes here can run 20miles inland) they have many many more issues than I do, they cannot plant straight into the soil without improving it. Of course it is possible with huge compost additions and constantly battling the wind. But you will be setting yourself back 5-10 years over a garden in a better place.
It worries me that there doesn't appear to be anything other than maram grass growing there? The other concern is how far above sealevel are you? how long do you have before that tiny bit of land erodes and you are in the sea?

If you are not worried about losing your place to the sea and you don't want to sell then you can probably do something with it the area looking at google street view is not windy (compared to me) the climate's not to bad and soil can be worked on.
 
pollinator
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I think Skandi has raised a valud concern about sea level rise and erosion. Expect a sea level rise of about 50 cm in that area over the next few decades and storm surges about 1 m higher than present. In other words look at the worst flooding the area has experienced during storms and add 1.5 m elevation.

 
Andrea Locke
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Sorry, 'valid'. Typing with thumbs!

Another consideration for potential commercial nursery, is there a market there? The population is quite small. Maybe you could become a niche mail order supplier of plants for northern coastal zone in Canada, but is there enough demand to support such a business?
 
Mary Antico
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Thanks so much for all these awesome replies. My primary goal is not to make money. The truth is that I had been gardening for a number of years in a rented first-floor apartment when I was displaced by a new owner. I had completely transformed the back courtyard (with the original landlord's permission) into a shared garden (for the occupants of the triplex). It practically destroyed me because I had become so rooted to that spot, and I spent a ton of time in the garden designing new beds, planting all kinds of different things. I just fell in love with cultivating. I am also an oil painter and I felt that the garden was my canvas in the summer. Now I am in an apartment in Montreal with no access to outdoors, not even a balcony. That is why I have decided to move to the only area of Quebec where I can afford to buy a good house on a decent piece of land. My priority is to be able to cultivate something in the soil. I don't feel that I can live without doing that.

Someone above mentioned that their first move wouldn't be to truck in soil. I'm wondering why not? The soil would be coming from a local source that I have already found. It's not recycled soil. It's likely sourced in the boreal forest close to the coast.

I really like the idea of a fast-growing hedge I could grow as a windbreak. I have started a data-base for potential plants and I will research Eleagnus Umbellara and add it.

Another idea is to start plants from seed (starting indoors and then transferring out, like to a greenhouse) that I could sell to people in the region who want to garden with perennial plants that are suited to the area. The closest garden centre is about 1.5 hours away to the west of my village. About an hour away to the east is a very small town which I don't think has any garden centre. The population in the area is very small even though it's a very large area. Like only a few thousand. So certainly I am not thinking that I could make a living selling plants, but it would be a great hobby and I figure I could recoup my costs at least. And it would be a wonderful way to connect with other people from the area!

There are a few edible vegetables that grow wild along the coast in the area. Honkenya peploides (sea chickweed), Lathyrus japonicus (sea pea) and Ligusticum scoticum (sea lovage, also called Scot's lovage). So I think I will be able to cultivate those. And of course lots of different berries can be grown in the area. I love the idea of growing for the birds. There is a series of islands close by that serve as a bird sanctuary. It would be so awesome to see how many birds I could attract!

And yes lots of seaweed for fertilizer. And there is a type of very small fish called capelin that rolls in by the millions at the end of May, early June. You can go to the shore and just scoop them up in nets. I know people use them for garden fertilizer, although I'm not sure exactly what the best way would be to harvest a large quantity to build good soil. I thought if I trucked in topsoil I could start some sort of a compost bed with the soil and capelin and cuttings from whatever is growing around there. I will also be able to easily haul stuff out of the boreal forest because most of the surrounding area is all public land.

And yes, WHOOFER volunteers is an awesome idea!

 
Andrea Locke
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This might be a good group to make contact with, if you haven't already.

Grenierboreal.coop

From their website, it appears that it is an agroforestry cooperative operating in or close to the area where you are interested in relocating, and their mission is to promote permaculture-based farming and wildcrafting. They show a variety of garden vegetables in their photos and mention growing strawberries and gathering berries etc from the woods.



 
Andrea Locke
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I found a facebook page for the co-op.

https://m.facebook.com/Coop-de-solidarité-agroforestière-de-Minganie-Le-Grenier-boréal-284164781938073/
 
Mary Antico
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Thanks Andrea. I am well-aware of this coop because my friend who moved up there from Montreal a year ago volunteered with them over the summer. She will definitely be involved with my project, and I may be able to source some of my plants from them. However they are not right on the shore, so my site (if I go ahead with the purchase) will have it's own challenges. I found two plants that I could use as hedge windbreaks, Rosa rugosa and Hippophae rhamnoides. Once I am there I will also try to source some native plants that I can use. There is a site that shows land use/ownership in Quebec so I will be able to easily identify public land. There is so much of it along the shoreline, I really don't think anyone will mind if I take a few plants. And of course I will be able to collect seeds galore, and also forage for wild food of course. I can't wait!
 
Hester Winterbourne
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Mary Antico wrote:
Someone above mentioned that their first move wouldn't be to truck in soil. I'm wondering why not? The soil would be coming from a local source that I have already found. It's not recycled soil. It's likely sourced in the boreal forest close to the coast.



I wouldn't be dead set against it. It just wouldn't be the FIRST thing I'd be thinking of.  Feels like I'd want to get to know the site first and see what the art of the possible is.  To me, permaculture is about working with what the land naturally wants to be. Maybe it naturally wants to be boreal forest and you'd just be speeding things up a little.
 
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If the area is right for you for other reasons then, as has been outlined above, then there are plants that thrive in these conditions.  I don't know what the rainfall is like there, but the temperature in summer seems fairly similar to us on Skye, although much cooler in winter.  You will find the salt winds challenging, and the location does look pretty exposed to the sea.  Is soil likely to be swept away or deposited by storms?  What are the rainfall patterns/water supply like?
I find a surprising amount of plants haven't read the gardening books and will try valiently to grow in my conditions (wet, strong salt winds, cool).  See what grows well with your neighbours there.  I would agree with the suggestions that shelter and organic material in the soil, will increase the range of plants that will survive well there.  I recommend Rosa Steppanova's book on her garden in the Shetland Islands, and (although possibly to be taken with a pinch of reality) they have achieved good results on sandy soils at Findhorn in Eastern Scotland.
We find soft fruit does very well here (raspberries, strawberries, currants), you may find more arctic berries like lingonberries and cloudberries do well, and sea buckthorne might make a good berry bearing windbreak, if suitable for the area.  If the ground is sandy, it should be well drained, so plants will survive colder conditions than you may expect.
I have heard stories about bought in soil (bringing slugs or soil borne diseases) so wouldn't rush into that, unless it was a free deal that you would otherwise miss out on perhaps.
Good luck.
 
Abraham Palma
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Nancy Reading wrote:I recommend Rosa Steppanova's book on her garden in the Shetland Islands, and (although possibly to be taken with a pinch of reality) they have achieved good results on sandy soils at Findhorn in Eastern Scotland.



What a coincidence. I've just watched a Morag Gamble's video interviewing a Findhorn resident about her permaculture practices. It's an edible jungle there, with feral chikens running wild. It's hard to believe the climate is anything alike what OP is facing. Her recipe is this:

1. Apply compost several times a year.
2. Add diversity.
3. Mostly self-seeding plants.
4. Grow in patches, not rows.
5. Let Nature take care of the hard work.
6. Have fun.
 
Nancy Reading
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Abraham Palmer wrote

 It's hard to believe the climate is anything alike what OP is facing  

 
Findhorn is probably more like what Mary is likely to have: Rosa is windier and much more Northern in lattitude than Findhorn, with peaty soil.  But Findhorn started with very sandy soil, and maybe colder in Winter, which I assume is more like what Mary has.  Neither is the same, but both have similarities, which may enable her to take lessons from them.  I admit I know more about coastal Scotland, than Canada, so am not sure whether either is like enough to be useful.  
I have a windswept holding on Skye, yet am always trying new things.  As the shelter and soil improves so does the growing conditions.  I may not yet have achieved apricots, but I'd rather fail with Mashua than carrots....Making a living from it, rather than a hobby, is a slightly different equation for Mary though.
 
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That's a really good book for references, and the advice here is sound!
I'm cultivating a permaculture food forest in the Laurentides, and my land is mostly clay and sand atop solid Canadian shield. As a result, we've mostly opted for raised beds and hugelkultur, since we can't dig down into the soil.
We've also had the most success with growing indigenous species, as well as heirloom varieties that have been grown here for centuries. Definitely growing in patches rather than rows, as mentioned, and everything we cultivate is companion planted/intercropped.



Abraham Palma wrote:

Nancy Reading wrote:I recommend Rosa Steppanova's book on her garden in the Shetland Islands, and (although possibly to be taken with a pinch of reality) they have achieved good results on sandy soils at Findhorn in Eastern Scotland.



What a coincidence. I've just watched a Morag Gamble's video interviewing a Findhorn resident about her permaculture practices. It's an edible jungle there, with feral chikens running wild. It's hard to believe the climate is anything alike what OP is facing. Her recipe is this:

1. Apply compost several times a year.
2. Add diversity.
3. Mostly self-seeding plants.
4. Grow in patches, not rows.
5. Let Nature take care of the hard work.
6. Have fun.

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