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Days Until First Frost

Silvana Castillo

Interviewed by Elizabeth Spence

Guatemala.  The tropics.  Luxuriant, vigorous plant growth threatening to take over the house. These are Silvana Castillo’s first memories of her family’s small city garden in the land where she was born.

Switch to Nova Scotia.  Challenging climate for horticulture, to say the least. We are sitting here with a cup of coffee, looking out over the gloomy, snowy landscape talking about the latest storm, and harking back to hurricane Fiona.  Nova Scotia is where Silvana lives nowadays, and she’s certainly making the most of it.

Gloomy Winter Day View from Elizabeth's House, Tatamagouche

 A fascinating route brought her here.  After university studies in animal sciences and aquaculture (she calls herself a “fish-head”), she joined the American NGO aid program, CARE and used her knowledge and training to better the lot of people all over the world.  She worked for many years as a freelance consultant in international community development.

This fascinating time in her life was not only about sharing and teaching.  It was also about learning.

In Bangladesh, for example, she saw how the farmers developed innovative irrigation systems as the changing climate dictated.  In Sierra Leone, she saw seed sowing techniques that made her gasp with admiration.

It was in Costa Rica that she met her Nova Scotian partner, Heather.  They decided to make Nova Scotia their home, and so she landed here in the mid1990s.  They live on 108 acres in North Wallace and call their property La Finquita, the Spanish for “little farm.”

Inside the Greenhouse

The overriding sense of who Silvana is reveals itself in her great commitment to the well-being of the environment.  She also has a fierce determination to use and adapt whatever nature can offer, but absolutely on nature’s terms.  Everything she does on her land is an expression of this.  

FIRST there’s the solar greenhouse. 

Silvana's Greenhouse in the Summer and Winter

After consulting the Centre for Applied Technology at McGill University in Montreal and drawing on her knowledge acquired over the years, she and Heather built the 20’ x 40’ greenhouse to their own plan.

It allows her to grow greens here all through our Nova Scotia winters.  So many people thought she couldn’t do it.  Boy, were they wrong!   

SECOND, there is Silvana’s passion for plants with a purpose. 

In addition to the cold-hardy greens in the greenhouse, there are the culinary plants, medicinal plants and wild edible plants – bet some of you didn’t know that sheep sorrel, chickweed and plantain are wonderful to eat, so don’t just burn them or throw them away next time you are weeding, put them in your salad!

Sheep Sorrel

THIRD, comes Silvana’s devotion to seeds and seed saving.  

There is a flourishing seed saving community in Nova Scotia where members collect seeds, talk about seeds, exchange seeds. Silvana is a highly-respected and important member.

The aim is to collect seed from plants that are open-pollinated, untreated and selected to be hardy in this part of the world.   The effort is also being made to maintain as many rare varieties as possible.  Silvana sells her own seeds.

One recent feather in Silvana’s cap is that she has had a tomato named after her: Silvana’s Gold Cherry Tomato.

She received the original seeds from an old lady about 30 years ago and has been growing it ever since.  She sells her tomato seed through Annapolis Seeds, and you can order them here

Annapolis Seeds describe the fruit as “sweet and intensely flavourful” and suggest that it is even better than “Sungold,” one of the top-rated tomatoes in recent years.

“Silvana’s Gold" Cherry Tomato

As I was mulling over our conversation after Silvana left, one thing she had said remained with me more than anything else.  In her slight Spanish accent, her eyes sparkling and with enormous passion, she said:

“I know how long it takes a tree to grow.”

It occurred to me then that the very name “Silvana” is derived from the Latin, “goddess of the woods or forests.”

There’s more in a name than you think, isn’t there?

If you want any more information, to buy seeds, or just say hello, contact Silvana here .

For more information on how the greenhouse works, check out an article Silvana wrote in 2011 here

Copyright © Elizabeth Spence. 2024. 

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