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3680 Otter Point Road
Sooke British Columbia V9Z 1H8

250.642.3671 or 250.642.2131

ALM Organic Farm is a 15 acre organic farm located in Sooke on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Certified organic since 1994 (IOPA#401), we believe that by growing organically we contribute to the health of the environment and of the people who eat our food.


ALM & Full Circle Seeds Farm Blog

ALM & Full Circle Seeds Farm Blog. Information about how to grow food & seed organically

A Sure Sign

Mary Alice

We did it- we've seen winter through to spring.

It's here in all it's flowering, mucky, sunny, hopeful glory. We're busy and happy and only getting busier. We had excellent Seedy Saturdays this year and was happy to see familiar faces, meet new growers and talk about our seed collection. Our workshops are underway, box program holding steady and first Moss Street half market this weekend.

Welcome spring to our little farm.






Not Quite Spring

Mary Alice

We had a little weather throwback recently. After retiring for the evening we all awoke to the brightness that filled our rooms from the reflection of fresh snow. Such a beautiful blanket covered the farm, hushed the world a bit and gently reminded us it's not quite spring yet. It was a good chance to finish inside jobs, and be very thankful for the wonderful greenhouses we have. Here's to daylight savings and spring just around the corner.[gallery]

A New Season

Mary Alice

Spring is sneaking up on us, day by day we're getting busier as the days are getting longer. It's a great time to ready for the season cleaning tools, amending rhubarb, pruning, starting seeds and spending our weekends at Seedy Saturdays. Some of my favorite tasks have been collecting seaweed and cleaning up areas that we usually don't have time for- it's a great sense of accomplishment and good way for my body to warm up to more and more physical work after a winter of seed work inside.[gallery]

Building the Oven

Mary Alice

Build your own earth oven' by Kiko Denzer andrm. For more information on Here are some pictures of the oven workshop at ALM faelent books on the subject:'ovens there are two exc 'The bread builders' by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott

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Oven base

Mary Alice

The sketch shows details of the oven base foundation.

This photo shows the retaining wall complete with posts for the roof supports and rubble fill.

The reason for pouring the slab is to keep the oven from settling unevenly.  Since the rubble may still move as it settles, the slab makes sure the oven doesn't crack as this happens.

Wine bottles are set in clay slip perlite mix to insulate oven so that heat doesn't escape into the rubble below.

Starting the center line of the bricks on the leveled sand before completing the fire brick floor.

Setting up a farmer's stand at a market

Mary Alice

Thinking about good displays at our local Sooke Farmers' Market and the Victoria Moss Street Market.  Letting the customers see clearly what's available is important.  Here is the difference Lindsey Snelling made by changing the position of her beets.

Ian King has a great farmer's table at Moss Street Market.

Teresa Wilman from Silver Cloud Farm puts together a great display.  She bought herself a laminator which makes her signs look great.

Effective micro-organisms

Mary Alice

Today Kit Warren sprayed our beds, chicken houses, and seedlings with EM, Effective Micro-organisms.  To learn more  you can check out  more here.  In return, I'll spend some time with Kit at his farm. Here are some photos of Kit and his sprayer:

Planning for our Cob or Earth Oven

Mary Alice

Holger was out today  planning two workshops to build an earth oven at the farm. We chose a site and drew up plans.  We need to get a small excavator in to prep the site and move some rocks.  I'll try to update this blog as the work progresses. Here are descriptions of the workshops: Earth Oven Building Workshop We are building a wood fired oven using local building materials including cob. Join us in community, learn by doing, and help build an oven. Holger will share various oven designs, materials, and techniques to inspire you to build your own. Bring your own lunch or enjoy an organic farm lunch for $14. Taught by Holger Laerad at ALM farm Saturday July 31. 10am-5pm Fee: $55

Earth Oven Finishing and Baking Time to put the finishing touches on the oven and test it out! This course will cover plasters, finishing and sculpting the oven, firing the oven and baking in it. Please bring your favorite pizza toppings to create your own edible masterpiece as this course includes making and baking pizzas. Sunday Aug 22. 10:00 – 2:00pm Fee $45

Here are some photos of earth ovens

Flaming a Carrot Bed

Mary Alice

Carrots take a long time to germinate and can't take a heavy weed load.  Therefore, we prepare a carrot bed about 1 or 2 weeks ahead of planting and then flame the bed with a tiger torch. Here is a video of Marika flaming a carrot bed to reduce weed load.flaming 2

After flaming carrot beds we plant radishes in between the rows. The radishes will be up and harvested before the carrots get too big.

Summer squash and tracking first and last frost for my farm

Mary Alice

We had a frost two days ago.  I think it is the last so I put out my summer squash under floating row cover.  I have been tracking first and last frost for my farm pretty methodically for the past 10 years.  I keep a journal by my bedside and while I drink my morning coffee I write down the weather and main activities from the previous day.  I try to zero in on first and last frost because they affect when to plant and harvest so dramatically.  For my farm I can get a frost as late as May 7th, but the last frost can be as early as April 18th.  The most often date or mean is May 1st.  I can expect a first frost as early as September 22 or as late as November 8th but most likely around October 12th. Jess took these beautiful photos of the frost:




Transplanting alliums and starting cucurbits

Mary Alice

Yesterday we transplanted shallots, onions, and leeks into a 100' bed.  We trimmed their roots and tops before transplanting and watered them in well.

Also I transplanted into pots summer squash that I got started in damp paper towels in plastic bags kept in a warm place in my house - on top of my stereo.  I like to start them this way because it helps me plant only the strongest seeds that I know have already germinated.  Also it's faster and takes less space.  Our heat tables are soooo full right now with tomatoes and peppers waiting to get into the ground in the greenhouses.

Spring In The Garden


Spring in the Garden   Green is the color of spring.  At ALM we keep our box program going year-round, our customers get a good sense of the movement of the seasons by the food that shows up in their box each week.  Right now the salad and braising greens are growing strong (still mostly over-wintered greens), the brassicacea’s (kale, cabbage, br.sprouts, purple sprouting brocolli, etc) are making florets, which are highly nutritious and can be cooked like broccoli.  The root vegetables are on their way out, they will be starting to raise up flower stalks to make seed, which compromises their flavour.  If you still have over-wintered carrots, parsnips, leeks, etc in the garden it is time to eat them up.  We have been harvesting rhubarb for the last 3 weeks, the first dessert crop of spring. 

It is a busy time at the farm right now.  We have countless tomatoes that we have been babying along since Feb, they are starting to get big and are becoming more demanding in terms of water and nutrition.  We have planted our first tomatoes into whatever ground we had ready in our greenhouses.  This will continue into May as space becomes available.  We also have lots of lettuce, kale, and other seedlings that want transplanting into the ground.  This wet weather has made it difficult to get onto the soil to till and so we are ready and waiting for our window to till and get beds prepped to seed and transplant. 

Now is the time to start thinking about the heat loving crops.  We are choosing and prepping beds for corn, beans, cukes and squash right now.  We will plant them out by early May to get a jump on the season.  Often we get beds prepped and then cover them with old greenhouse plastic to help warm the soil before we plant the crop.  Both beans and corn will not germinate in the soil if it is too cold, but instead rot. 

Seed into trays/pots to transplant: lettuces, chard, kales, brocolli, cauliflower, cabbage, basil, green onions.

Direct seed outside: potatoes, peas, spinach, radish, carrots, beets, runner beans, parsnips.

Transplanting parsnips for seed

Mary Alice

Today we transplanted 44 good looking parsnips to grow out for seed.  Parsnips are crossers, meaning they are pollinated by insects or wind, and we want to keep as much genetic diversity in the seeds as long as they are true to type.  A selection of 44 good plants should provide that genetic diversity.

I'm really enjoying an organic gardening book I got from the library - The Organic Gardeners' Handbook by Frank Tozer.  It is clear, well written, easy to read and comprehensive, especially good for a new gardener.  I will add it to my list of favourites.

Movable greenhouse and planting strawberries

Mary Alice

We moved our 20'x50' greenhouse today.  It took about 45 minutes.  We had to get a brace for the front and tie the back together with a rope, take off the bags of rocks we use to weigh it down so the wind won't blow it away, hook chains to the two side runners (3" angle iron), and the pull with the front end loader of the 21 horse power tractor.  I wish I had video taped it.  We'll do that this fall when we move it again for winter crops.

It was dry enough I could till the bed for onions and another for beets.  I also Moved 55 yards of Sea Soil on the new property so we can transplant parsnips for seed and plant sweet corn later in early May.

The crew got ready to transplant in strawberries on Wednesday.  They tilled in lots of compost, alfalfa, kelp, rock phosphate, gypsum and then top dressed with Sea Soil.  We use a heavy 3' landscape fabric to cover the rows for weed control.  We'll plant the 2' paths with white clover and keep it mowed with a small lawn mower.

Everything in blossom

Mary Alice

Today we got the movable ready for tomatoes, tilling in aged compost, ashes, lime, alfalfa, phosphate, kelp and potassium.

Marika transplanted beets into the hot house and Jordan direct seeded maxigolt peas.  At the end of the day I took a quick walk around the farm with the camera to try to catch how much is in bloom.

The oriental pear, maples, and sweet cherry trees are beautiful.

Seedling Care: March 18, 2010 Marika's column in Sooke Mirror


Once seeds have germinated, their needs start to change.  Once you have 80-100% germination, take the lids and/or row cover off to allow in more light.  Giving the seedlings good access to light is the biggest challenge in the early spring.  If your seedlings start to look “leggy” (tall and spindly) that is an indication that they need more light, as they are literally stretching up to get closer to the light source.  If you are using natural light from a window and you notice they start to grow sideways towards the window, they would prefer more light.  Supplementing the light in the early spring or giving them access to full & even daylight is preferable to produce strong, healthy transplants.  Leggy plants have a weak stem and they are more susceptible to dampening off.

You don’t have to buy expensive bulbs to supplement the light, we use fluorescent lights (½ warm bulbs and ½cool bulbs) to help us get a good jump on the season.  Getting the seedlings as close to the lights as possible is crucial, it’s amazing how much difference a couple centimetres seem to make.  As the days grow longer supplementing the light becomes unnecessary, a plants tend to prefer real sunlight (and rain for that matter).

Once the seeds have all germinated, we start bottom watering as opposed to top watering.  This helps us avoid dampening off and other problems associated with top watering.  It also does a more thorough job of watering so you will have to water less often.  Find containers big enough to hold the trays or pots that you are starting your seedlings in.  Fill with enough water so that when you set the tray/pot inside, displacement will bring the water line up about ½ to ¾ up the side of the tray/pot.  Make sure the water doesn’t come above the soil line or you are defeating the whole purpose.  It takes about 10-30 minutes for the capillary action to suck the water up to the top (depending on the soil, size of pot, etc).  Throughout the day at the farm we are continually taking trays in and out of the bottom watering containers.  There is almost always something being bottom watered during the day, and every time I walk by the seedling area I put something new in to bottom water.  Try not to leave plants in longer than an hour and don’t leave them bottom watering over night.  The key is to stay ahead with your bottom-watering schedule.  If it gets desperate and you have too many dry things in line to be bottom watered, you may need to top water to keep your plants alive.

Germination Basics: March 18, 2010 Marika's column in the Sooke Mirror

Mary Alice

Germination is an art.  It is the most crucial step in the garden.  A seed farm has the advantage of having many “volunteers” (self seeders) naturally show us when they choose to germinate, they mark the season and give clues to earliest planting possibilities for many different crops, in the cold frames and out in the field. At ALM farm, teaching our apprentices about germination is a crucial part of their education.  It is a simple, basic skill that requires dedication, observation and daily nurturing.  It is repetitive.

The first key to success is to give the seed constant moisture while it is germinating.  Mist daily as necessary, creating a daily observation routine that works well for you and the seeds.  I like to check in the morning before the heat of the day, and then again in the afternoon when it’s hot and dry conditions (germination in the summer is challenging).  Use clear lids or row cover to help keep in moisture during germination.  You don’t want it sopping swampy wet either; remember to keep the balance.  Use a light mix to start your transplants; too rich of a mix will make the seed more susceptible to rot and fungal problems.

The second key is to know the temperature the seed requires to germinate.  Most are happy at about 17 C.  A heat mat is helpful to create the right conditions for optimum germination, especially early in the season.  Seeds will not germinate if they are too cold or too hot.  The earliest spring crops are vegetables that germinate in cooler soils; crops such as broad beans, peas, spinach and potatoes are the first crops to be planted outside.  Early spring is a busy time for the heat table, things coming and going, some crops like lettuce spending 3-7 days there, just for germination then they are off the heat tables and being gradually hardened of until they are transplanted outside 3-6 weeks later and others like peppers who are babied all the way along, spending up to 4 months lounging about soaking up the heat off the heat tables to the last moment.  Wait to plant beans and corn until the soil has warmed up (May-June) or they will not germinate and instead rot in the cool soil.  In the summer, use a shady area to get summer lettuces to germinate, as they don’t germinate well out in the full heat of the day and it is difficult to keep them moist.

There are other specific requirements that seeds can have.  Some require darkness to germinate (fennel, cilantro, nasturtium, calendula).  Bury the seed well (but not too deep) to ensure darkness.  We often cover these crops with black plastic until germination occurs, then remove as soon as the first seedlings emerge.  Some need light to germinate (lettuce, dill) sow these on the surface and tamp in with a rake or mister, taking extra care in keeping the seed moist as it is more susceptible to drying out.  The rest don’t seem to mind either way, constant moisture is all they require to germinate well and develop into healthy seedlings (our next topic).

Cultivating Community - Feb. 19, 2010 - Marika's column in the Sooke Mirror


The main goal of this column is to help get our community in touch with the movement of the seasons by observing nature (wild and in the garden), sharing seeding dates, information and experience as well as exploring the diverse 12 month harvest potential of our temperate climate.  I hope to help you maximize your garden space and inspire you to play in the dirt, nurture plants, share and taste real food. It is time to plan your garden by calendaring your planting dates (dedicate a wall calendar to be your planting calendar) and mapping out your beds.  Also, take inventory of your seeds and create a seed wish list.  Sooke’s 1st Annual Seedy Saturday takes place at SEAPARC from 10-2 on Feb 27th.  This will be a great place to get ready for the gardening season; there will be a seed swap, local seed vendors, gardening information and a lot of excited gardener folk buzzing around!  Mary Alice Johnson will be teaching a basic Seed Propagation workshop at the event at 11:30-12:30 (register with SEAPARC) to help people get started.

Right now is also the time to divide perennials, prune and plant fruit trees, and side dress your garlic and raspberries.  We are constantly watching the weather forecast and checking the fields at this time of year waiting for the beds to dry out enough to get on the tractor and spade without damaging the soil structure, so that we can prepare the soil for the earliest direct seeded and transplanted crops.

We can direct seed broad beans, peas and early potatoes as soon as we can work the soil.

Inside a cold frame we can direct seed spinach, kale, mustards, bok choi, radish, Japanese turnips, early carrots, chervil and cilantro (herbs), and many salad greens, such as: arugula, cresses, mizuna, claytonia, mache, and orach.

In trays on bottom heat (15 C) we can start lettuces to transplant.

Important seeding windows not to miss:  Tomatoes and peppers should be started Feb-March on bottom heat.  Celery and celeriac should be started Feb-March on bottom heat.

Leeks and onions should be started in trays Feb-March.