What better way to serve up a truly local meal than to grow the ingredients yourself? In our Garden Party series, we’re chatting with Feast On chefs to bring you the ins and outs of starting a kitchen garden. You’ll also get a sneak peek of what they’re growing…coming soon to a restaurant near you!
Chef, Owner and Farmer
Ridge Berry Farm
Find their Feast On profile here!
Tell us about your garden!
The whole concept is under Ridge Berry Farm. We’re located between Fonthill and Fenwick. We have 27 acres – only about 10 acres of which we are currently farming. When we first came here, we had to clear a lot of the land because it had become feral. So it takes a couple of years to get the land back from that.
What are you planting this year?
We always try to grow something new each year. This year it might be water spinach. We’ve also planted some heritage apple trees and have been experimenting with different berry wines. We’ve also planted paw paw trees which we’ve been hoping to maybe start a project with in partnership with Slow Food Niagara (we’re members).
We grow most of our herbs, everything from chives to chervil, sage, rosemary, dill, thyme. We have a large amount of lavender that we use in our cooking as well. We have a couple of plants that we use for produce and for decoration on our plate – borage and scarlet runners. We have all of our berries too, which we transform into pies, jams and syrups. The berries are primarily four different kinds of raspberries, black berries, gooseberries, red currants, white currants, Saskatoon berries (also known as June berries), haskap berries and we have tons of Northern kiwis on our property.
How do you manage all of that?
We bring in students as necessary. It’s really a family business so we only have one permanent staff member.
Is this your first year running the garden?
This will be our fourth year having the farm. The only thing we don’t have yet are animals. We want to bring bees over and chickens but we haven’t started that transition yet. If something doesn’t work out, we tend to rip it out and start fresh. Some things take years to develop – the haskap in particular have been very slow to get going. We do everything without chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides so it’s process of trial and error here.
What has been the best part about starting a garden (or really, a farm)?
It’s all a learning experience. You learn something new every week. For example, wild turkeys are big fans of black raspberries!
How do you showcase what you grow on your menu?
We make our own lavender shortbread, almond lavender cake, lavender syrup in our iced teas. Lavender goes such a long way – and we’re going to planting even more. We use our herbs in our daily soups. Chervil is an amazing addition to any stock! We dry our sage and sell smudge sticks since we had so much last year.
We grow our own tomatoes for our tomato relish. We grow asparagus and rhubarb too. We try to gather as many black walnuts from our property as we can, to dress with salads and we’ve also experimented with black walnut syrup.
We also collect elderberries from the forest. From the forest, we make our own maple syrup and birch syrup and gather ramps. Birch syrup is excellent for grilling any kind of meat – we call it the barbecuing syrup! We have our own barbecue sauce that is based on our tomato relish.
Any tips for a first time gardener?
Don’t worry about failing. Sometimes it will grow, sometimes it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t grow, maybe it wasn’t meant to be. That, and the internet is a wonderful resource!