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Dustin the Fruit Tree

Dustin Bajer planting a current in MacKinnon Ravien.
McCauley gardener Dustin Bajer holding a current at the Edmonton River Valley Food Forest.

McCauley Gardener Dustin Bajer

What is your name, and how did you get into gardening?

My name is Dustin Bajer, and I got into gardening as a kid. Gardening was something I hated – something I had to do. I grew up on an acreage so weeding, tilling, planting, picking rocks – they were all chores that I had to do. I don’t think that I started gardening for fun until I left home, but it’s been a passion ever since.

In 2009, I took a Master Gardening Certificate at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden and a Permaculture Design Certificate through Verge and Pacific Permaculture. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for getting me started.

What’s your favourite thing about gardening?

I find gardening to be a very creative act – it’s painting across time – with living things as your medium. It’s a partnership with nature and is inherently optimistic. I love being able to interact with the world around me -especially if I can partner with nature in mutually beneficial ways. Plus nature grows food and food tastes great.

What makes McCauley a great gardening neighbourhood?

McCauley is one of Edmonton’s oldest neighbourhoods – I can find my yard on a map from 1882. I can imagine that if you’re living in 1882 Edmonton, there’s probably some motivation to grow some of your food. McCauley’s also incredibly diverse. I’m sandwiched between Chinatown and Little Italy, so there’s a wide variety of gardens, plants, and techniques.

I remember touring the McCauley Community Garden on 107a and seeing some vegetables I’d never seen before. I could tell it was related to tomato but wasn’t one. I love running into new things! That plant might be the most delicious thing I’ve never eaten – and it grows here. How cool is that? This neighbourhood is filled with little discoveries like that.

How would you describe your garden?

I’d describe my approach to gardening as a partnership with nature. Nature is a system of interlocking connections. As a gardener, it’s my role to create an opportunity for nature to thrive. I create the conditions conducive to creating more life. In practical terms, my garden might look wilder than most – I’m not going for manicured – I let function drive form. But if it all turns out as planned, I’ll have a garden that harvests its water and process a good portion of my waste (compost), creating an urban oasis for nature and myself… oh, and did I mention that it produces food?

What’s the best gardening advice you’ve received?

A few things come to mind. Calgary permaculture designer Rob Avis once said, “Plant your water before you plant your garden.” I’ve taken that to heart. Now, before tackling any project, I first determine how to bring water to the site. I’ve written about some of the strategies I use on my website.

Permaculture designer Ron Berezan once said, “Don’t treat soil like dirt.” For this reason, I try my best not to disturb, dig, overturn, or step on the soil. The earth is alive – it breathes, needs water, air, and food. If I’m doing my job, the soil in my garden should be getting better each year.

What your favourite thing to grow?

That’s a hard question. I enjoy woody perennials like trees and shrubs – especially if they’re food-producing. Lately, I’ve gotten interested in plant propagation and have hundreds of Capilano apricot seedlings growing in my yard. I’m toying with the idea of creating an urban nursery and offering unusual small varieties of fruit trees that grow well in Alberta.

I’m also a sucker for trying new and unusual varieties for our climate. I got a little ambitious this spring and planted some pawpaw, persimmon, and magnolias in my garden. Time will tell, but I have them in protected spaces in my yard.

If you were a plant, what plant would you be, and why?

Another tricky question! I’m not sure that I could narrow it down to a particular plant, but as mentioned above, I like fruit trees. I don’t do many things quickly – I tend to take the long view. I also like to eat. I suppose that makes me like a fruit tree.

Where can people find out more about you and your projects?

I run a personal website so you can find out more about me and my projects at dustinbajer.com.

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