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Garden Glory And Pyramid Power

The farmyard of Sylvie Francoeur and her husband Cliff Shockey near Vanscoy, Saskatchewan, is one of artistic impact and creative innovation.

Take the gateway to the houseyard, for instance. Entrance is through a gigantic old steam engine wheel that Cliff sank into the ground a couple of feet. After Sylvie’s attempts to grow hops over the seven-foot steel wheel failed (the metal got too hot in summer) Cliff built a trellis fence that curves over the top of the wheel and flares out attractively on either side. The hops showed their appreciation by trailing over everything.

Thanks to Sylvie’s artistic eye, the view through the round gate is dramatic — a Japanese-style pond garden with masses of spiky reeds, waving grasses and splashes of flower colour. A rustic garden shed adds interest, and a backdrop of mature trees finishes the picture. The view is beautiful even in winter.

One of the outstanding features in the garden is a wooden footbridge.

“Cliff built it from recycled lumber,” Sylvie says. “Nearly everything we do here is with recycled material.”

A very innovative feature on the Shockey/Francoeur farm is the stackwall construction of their farmhouse. Stackwall construction involves embedding cut lengths of weathered logs into concrete. The result is a very thick wall with wooden rounds visible on the inside and outside.

Perhaps the most unusual structure on the farm is the pyramid greenhouse.

“You’ve heard about the power of the pyramid?” asks Cliff. “Apparently, when you have a pyramid exactly facing magnetic north, there is a certain special energy that is generated. A friend of mine was interested in the idea and persuaded me to build a four-sided pyramid greenhouse with angles of precisely 51 degrees. We sank it into the ground two feet. One-third of the way up is supposed to be where all the special energy collects.”

The pyramid greenhouse has a wooden frame supported by one big post in the centre. There is no metal in its construction, only plastic, wood and aluminum. Cliff covered the frame on the outside with huge plastic sheets held together with Velcro.

Cliff and Sylvie have a regular greenhouse as well, and have made comparisons between the two. They notice that because the pyramid is sunk into the ground, it doesn’t collect as much heat in summer, however, it takes 10 more frost to freeze the plants inside it.

Sylvie grows a variety of crops in the pyramid greenhouse. Cucumbers, especially the big English cucumbers, like it, as do lettuce, spinach, celery and herbs which grow in raised platform beds. Tomatoes thrive in tire planters. Everything is watered by a modified drip system.

In the other greenhouse, the plants are all grown in rubber tire planters made from used tires collected from tire shops.

“We are often asked if there might not be some harmful residue from the rubber, but we haven’t seen anything to indicate that.”

The planters are mostly two tires high, which Sylvie says is a nice working height. The cylindrical centre hole is filled with ordinary garden soil, peat moss and sometimes, some well-rotted, homegrown manure.

Cliff built a trough down the middle of the traditional greenhouse for water. It acts like a heat sink and creates an ideal environment for the nurture of kiwis, watermelons (“Sugar Baby,” “Tiger Baby,” and the yellow “Queen” varieties are favourites), and “Early Dew” honeydew melons.

“Touchdown” cantaloupes, says Sylvie, grow to football size in the innovative greenhouse conditions, and are “to die for.”

Darlene Polachic writes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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