Shantree Kacera, D.N., Ph.D. opened Spirit of the Earth, ‘The Living Centre’ in 1983 to fulfill a dream of being in the country and learning how to live in accordance with the laws of Nature. This he did wholeheartedly, creating a beautiful and sacred space for healing and learning. He was joined by Lorenna Bousquet-Kacera in 1997. Over the years the Centre has offered life-inspiring programs and services to thousands of people on their evolutionary journey. The purpose of The Living Centre is to promote a renaissance in human thought, values and conscience based on healing, eco-sustainability and openness. Our wish is to grow together as global citizens; to contribute towards the creation of a culture based in peace; as we look to life and common humanism as the core values for a sustainable society.
Spirit of the Earth, The Living Centre
Permaculture Education &
In 1975 Shantree Kacera began dreaming of an organic piece of land, to live off the land and live the good life. In 1982 the vision was about to unfold, a small tree nursery had recently been planted in his parents backyard garden. The following year the land was found and the dream began to come to life.
The site was formerly a run down organic homestead with very few trees on the property, except for a 25-acre mature forest, a neglected pear orchard and a recently planted windbreak of evergreen trees around the house and another one around the barn. The land was organic since the beginning of time. Shantree has met all three previous owners, even the children whose parents built the house and barn during 1912 to 1914 and who grew up on this land. The house and barn were built from the lumber harvested from the forest that covered the whole 50 acres.
Over the decades the property was deforested except for 25-acres, which is now classified as a heritage forest. The 25-acres that was cleared and farmed organically, for almost 100 years now. The pear orchard consisting of a few acres was planted in the late 1970’s with Bosc and Bartlett.
Spirit of the Earth, The Living Centre and Living Arts Institute home of ‘Earth Wisdom Permaculture’ operated and co-directed by Shantree Kacera since 1983 as an eco-educational centre. Over three decades, Shantree has developed a productive forest garden that has been an ongoing experiment and evolving into a fertile mature forest garden.
These 30-year old forest gardens were mostly created and planted for educational research, design and propagation, allowing observation and providing plant material for teaching purposes and foraging for medicinal plants for the ‘Apothecary Clinic in the Garden’.
Our forest garden site is located in fertile countryside in southwestern part of Ontario, Canada called ‘Carolinian Canada’ the banana belt. It is the most diverse and warmest region of the country. It is located about 20 kilometers north of Lake Erie, which is the mildest and is of the fourth largest fresh water lake (by surface area) of the five Great Lakes in North America, and the thirteenth largest globally.
Latitude: 42°47'58"N; Longitude: 81°12'52"W; and the elevation altitude about 200 meters above sea level.
One of the unique aspects of this property is the diversity of soil. From hard clay soil, sandy to rich fertile black muck. The property has a pond, stream, wetland and even a swamp. This diversity of land has the greatest potential for a wide range of vegetation and wild life.
The rainiest months are April through June and the second rainiest season is from September through November. The rainiest months being June and September with average yearly rainfall being around 100 mm.
The main monthly snowfall is between the months of December to March.
The growing seasons begins after the spring equinox of March 21st when temperatures begin to go above 0 (°C) and the temperatures usually stay above 0 (°C) till around the winter solstice or the holiday season. The main growing months are from April 13, temperatures being around 7.5 (°C) to November 15 temperatures being around 4.5 (°C). The hottest months being June to July with temperature reach up to the mid to high 30’s.
Spirit of the Earth, The Living Centre
Forest Garden Bird’s Eye View in 2002
There is a pond on the southwest section of the site that varies from 4 to 5 meters deep depending on rainfall and 45 meters in diameter. The terrain slopes gently up from the pond to the north, leaving much of the grassy area high and dry. The soil is primarily clay. However, around the south slope of the pond is rich black muck. We have been reforesting this area with edible fruit, nut and native trees, such as apples, plums, mulberries, cherries, peaches and apricots. Also we have planted filberts, north pecan and heart nuts surrounding the pond.
The hardiness zone is 6A with an average last killing frost is around May, 1st and first killing frost October 15th. We have been able to establish pockets of hardiness zone of 7, these are microclimates located under or near existing sheltered forest canopies.
There are about 275 above 18 °C (cooling Degree days) in the summer.
Soils are loamy sand and some of the property has hard clay and there are a few special spots with rich loamy black muck with a sprinkling of sand which goes down to one meter deep. The organic matter is between 5% to 10% on average. Soil tests indicated low potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper and zinc with a pH of 5.9 to 7.3. Soil compaction was noted in the deforested areas.
Due to the sandy nature of the soil and high rainfall during the spring and fall months, nutrient leaching is common. Rainfall averages 50 to 80 mm during the rainy months.
Yearly average rainfall is 900mm. The area is subject to high winds from the northwest. Windbreaks exist on the north and west sides. Summer months of July and August bring drought conditions with temperatures reaching into the mid to high 30s, often accompanied by hot dry winds. The area is home to a fairly large population of wildlife, mice, rabbits and deer with a taste for young tender leaves, requiring tree protection
Spirit of the Earth, The Living Centre
Native Plant Medicine Trail, 2002
Research and Planning
The initial plan for the site when it was acquired was to plant a mixed fruit and nut orchards and grow annual vegetables and medicinal herbs. One of our main crops was growing organic garlic. When planting began, we were not fully aware of forest gardening techniques or had the experience, even though there were some aspects of permaculture that were practiced in the early 1980’s. In the interests of diversity, a few trees high on the wish list that were marginally hardy in the climate were selected on an experimental basis with knowledge that workload would be increased and success not assured. The demanding conditions on the site indicated drought tolerant, hardy stock and these were sought out for the majority of plantings. Research was done and many unusual species of interest were put on the list and were tried. From the fruit category were persimmons, kiwi, quince, various species of apricots, peaches, nectarines, paw paw and figs. Berries and vines included josta berries, pink currants, jumbo gooseberries, grapes, kiwi, and goji berries. The nut category we experimenting with were English walnut, pecan, heartnuts, almonds and various types of filberts.
Our primary focus has been on growing a very wide variety of medicinal, culinary and edible herbs. At one point in time we reached over 500 species. Around the perimeter of part of property is an ongoing project of establishing a native edible- medicine hedgerow trail.
Windbreaks already existed on the north and west sides of the house and barn where the cold windy storms usually blow from. A suitable windbreak has now been planted to the remaining eastside. The property has numerous microclimates from very windy dry south areas to somewhat wet swampy fertile forest. As more trees were planted various microclimates began to emerge and become evident.
Site Preparation and Fertility
In order to establish trees quicker, it was decided to plant into the grassy area with little site preparation. Fertility was created in the form of mulch, compost, and other non-animal-product amendments.
Repeated sheet mulching, extensive use of chop-and-drop nitrogen fixers and other mulch plants and of course more trees has created more biomass resulting in remarkable fertile soil.
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