By Stephen Wilson
Since opening in 1983, we have been fortunate to have access to many wonderful small farms from Nanoose to Ladysmith. In the mid-90s, it occurred to Maureen Loucks that, sitting on an acre of land, the restaurant was uniquely poised to grow some of its own produce. Thus, the Mahle House Restaurant Garden was born.
Over the next 20 years, we tried many crops and configurations, fiddled with irrigation systems, and had many successes and also many failures. One constant, however, was our heavy wet clay soil. We could not start planting until the soil dried out. It was rare to get much produce before the end of July, and come fall, heavy rains meant few, if any, fall crops.
Early in 2016, we made the decision to move the garden. The entire infrastructure was removed and taken to our home. We trucked in 25 yards of soil, installed fencing and built a new irrigation system.
While the first two seasons were a marked improvement in the new location (carrots harvested through early December), 2018 was truly a metamorphosis. At the end of 2017, we invested in row covers, caterpillar tunnels and higher tunnels built with agricultural poly. This allowed us to warm the soil and sow crops much earlier than usual. We managed to produce crops of radishes, kale, mizuna and turnips in early May, and by the beginning of June, we were harvesting carrots and romaine … a full month or more sooner than previous years. Once full production hit, we also had tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, beans, kohlrabi, cherries, strawberries, rhubarb, apples and blueberries. The hardest part now is keeping up with harvesting, weeding and replanting. Our children have been more or less willing participants in the occasional garden shift.
Last year, we also added pigs to our program. We have a boar and two sows. This spring, they successfully littered ten piglets that we sold to hobby farmers. Talk about a steep learning curve! The day the piglets were born, the boar broke free and was racing around the yard in a frenzy. It was very exciting to have a 400-pound panicking pig running around the property. Fortunately, a friend, and more seasoned veteran of the business, came over and helped us coax him back home. Even more exciting was the day the piglets all got out. It is amazing how fast six-week old piglets can be. One even got into the boar pen and kept zapping its nose on the electrical fence; it took some doing getting him back with his mom. Our next litter should be arriving in the fall. Stay tuned for exciting news regarding our house-made charcuterie program.
Our bee hives are the newest addition to the farm. Two hives were placed on the property from Fredrich’s Honey Farm on Cedar road. They produce the honey from those two hives exclusively for us to use at the restaurant. What a sweet treat that is, and it sure is nice to have pollinators on the property.
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