Category Archives: Blog

Confessions of a Lazy Gardener

Or

More Reasons to Grow Your Own Food

Shelley Goldbeck

Growing food is a skill I think every human being should have.

Many people know nothing about growing food and don’t want to know because they perceive that it’s hard.

They’re wrong.

Growing food is easy. Case in point:

At the end of May 2013, when I should have been planting my garden, I was travelling. Upon my return we had a solid month of rain. I finally planted potatoes July 10, six weeks later than tradition dictates (last week of May in Calgary).

I hand watered my potatoes a couple times, basically tossing a few gallons of rainwater at them when it was really hot and dry. I handpicked a few weeds twice, spending a total of maybe 20 minutes on the entire patch all summer. I didn’t even get around to hilling* them. In essence I could not have done less to propagate potatoes. Plain lazy!

Our first killing frost arrived October 13. (A killing frost sets the potato skins so they’ll keep longer). A few days later I dug my potatoes. From one kilo of seed potatoes I harvested all the potatoes in this picture, about 12 kilos.

12 kilos from one kilo planted!
www.GrowFoodCalgary.com

There were dozens of marble-sized potatoes under each plant indicating that if the season were longer, they would have produced more. (They made perfect, melt-in-your-mouth roasted potatoes).

My potatoes were crisp and flavourful, despite a summer of neglect. They grew without the “benefit” of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and other noxious substances.

A friend of mine grew potatoes in PEI for a major food processing company. Following the company spray schedule was a condition of supplying them with potatoes. The farmer sprayed her potato crop for something every other day!

Potatoes routinely appear on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty DozenTM list of the foods most likely contaminated with chemicals.

Why are those potatoes so heavily sprayed when potatoes grow almost wild, without care at all, as my humble potato patch proved?

Michael Pollan, in his book, Botany of Desire tells us it’s because of our demand for the perfect long French fry. At least that’s what Big Food attributes to us.

Monocultures contribute to the problem. Huge tracts of one-species are like a TV commercial for a free buffet, attracting every bug and blight to which that plant is vulnerable. The modern solution is spraying.

Eventually the land is addicted to its drugs. Just like pharmaceuticals, once you take one agricultural chemical, then you need another to combat the effects of the first chemical.

Chemicals wipe out all life around the intended crop including beneficial organisms like soil bacteria, earthworms, insects (good and bad), bees, birds, bats and other natural predators, not to mention, contaminating groundwater, lakes and streams.

There is no proof any of these chemicals is safe for human consumption, never mind the combined, cumulative toxic effect they have on the body. Then add the chemical assaults from our homes, our cars, our clothes, our cosmetics; the list goes on. No wonder rates of cancer continue to skyrocket!

Food that is grown in living soil, rife with minerals and beneficial bacteria, food that isn’t sprayed with toxins, (sometimes called Organic Food) benefits our health in many ways:

  1. It contains more nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. Recent research shows plants produce antioxidants and other beneficial chemicals to repel insects and other marauders unless they’re doped up on agri-chemicals. This partially explains the nutritional differences between plants grown with chemicals versus organic growing practices.
  2. Fewer toxins mean lower toxic load for the body to process, resulting in less “dis-ease”.
  3. We benefit from exercise and sunshine we get from growing food. Gardening is the only exercise besides weightlifting recommended for the prevention of osteoporosis in women. Mental health is also improved in the garden.
  4. Growing our own food helps heal the earth. Less fuel is used in production and transport, reducing pollution and other costs. Grass gobbles up a huge portion of synthetic fertilizers and fresh water in North America. Growing food instead is a better use of our resources.
  5. Growing our own food reconnects us to food and each other. Food made with human hands is often made with love. Factory food doesn’t contain love; usually you can’t pronounce what IS in it. Digging around in our own gardens spawns interest in others’ gardens. Soon you have a community sharing resources.

I urge you to grow even a small portion of your own food.  It doesn’t require much space or a great deal of knowledge or effort , as I have confessed. Usually, all you need to know appears on the seed packet.

Potatoes aren’t the only easy to grow food plant. Lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, squash, and onions require little care and attention. Start a strawberry or raspberry patch with donated plants and eat fruit from them almost forever. Rhubarb and asparagus are perennial too. Perfect for lazy gardeners like me.

Learn how you can grow your own food and enjoy these benefits.

*Hilling potatoes is a “best practice” when it comes to growing potatoes. Soil is scraped into little mounds or hills at the base of the plants when the potato tops are six to twelve inches tall. Hilling prevents the tubers from peeking out of the ground and turning green, which renders them toxic. It also helps maintain moisture and coolness.

Starved for Nature

Starved for Nature
www.GrowFoodCalgary.com

By Chelsie Anderson

In the 1950’s children were able to identify on average 25 native plant species. Today, kids can identify 0 plant species, but up to 50 different corporate logos.

I happen to believe that this is not only true about our children, but of adults as well. Calgarians are starved for nature. We spend more time indoors in front of screens than ever and it is time to return to our roots, both figuratively and metaphorically speaking.

Learn to grow your own food and start today; “You can grow a sprout in a day, a micro green in a week, or a radish in a month” says Donna Balzer of Grow Food Calgary “and we are excited to give you the tools and knowledge to do this”.

We are not only starved for nature in this digital era, but also for healthy foods. Our bodies are depleted after years of eating not only processed foods, but also fresh foods that are minerally deficient.

“You know that hollow stemmed Broccoli that you find at grocery stores? It has a hollow stem because it is short on boron”. With farmer’s fields being striped of all minerals, our food is more and more deficient.

In the 1950’s we got the same amount of nutrition from one peach as we do from 9 peaches today. We need to eat more, to gain the same amount of minerals; its no wonder obesity is becoming an epidemic.

Learn to grow your own food in the amazing soil that exists in Calgary backyards. When glaciers receded, Calgary was left with rich mineral deposits. When we grow food using this amazing soil, our food absorbs these minerals and passes them back to us.

Grow Food Calgary is a six session program that teaches new gardeners the skills and techniques needed to ensure Calgarians have success with their edible gardens this year. Grow Food Calgary will have the top local experts, including Donna Balzer, Mike Dorian and Lyndon Penner. The will teach the how to’s of edible gardening, and do live demonstrations for participants to soak in, growing their knowledge, and also this community of engaged, health conscious Calgarians.

Come alive and get your hands dirty with Donna Balzer and Chelsie Anderson, of Chelsie’s Garden Soil-utions this year, starting in April! Tickets are now available on growfoodcalgary.com

Cheating

by Chelsie Anderson

Kale in Snow www.GrowFoodCalgary.com

Over the past few years, I have developed a reputation for cheating. This causes some disgruntle among observant neighbours. They feel like I am getting away with something I shouldn’t be getting away with, and the truth is, maybe I am.

My confession? I don’t wait until the May long weekend to plant my crops. No. I pay careful attention to the weather, and I plant my crops as soon as the soil is workable. I then leave some of my crops in the ground until the end of October on occasion. This is my cheat.

As Calgarians, we are told to wait for that magical date in late May before planting and seeding our crops ensuring they don’t freeze. But I just happen to be well versed in cold crops; a gardener’s dream come true if you live above the 49th parallel, so I’ve decided to take advantage! We only have between 90 and 110 consecutive frost free days per year, so we don’t have time to wait for these frost free days, instead we must take advantage of our cooler days.

There are some crops that, in fact, need cooler temperatures to thrive. I will highlight these so that us Calgarians can feel proud of our amazing growing season; not for the tomatoes we can squeeze in before it gets below 5 degrees Celsius, but for the mineral rich leafy greens and e family delights, some of which can handle as cold as -8 degrees Celsius and grow beautifully here.

I am going to break these cold crops down into 4 categories: Leafy greens, cabbage family, root crops and peas, to simplify the memorization aspect.

Leafy Greens

Apart from basil, almost all leafy green vegetables are considered cold crops:
Lettuces
Spinach
Arugula
Collards
Chard
Kale
Beet

Cabbage loves cool weather
www.GrowFoodCalgary.com

Cabbage Family

Kale
Cabbage
Broccoli
Collards
Cauliflower
Brussels Sprouts

Roots

Potatoes
Radishes
Carrots
Onions
Garlic
Beets

Peas

Only some varieties are frost tolerant, so check the package!

These crops can be direct seeded into your garden as soon as the ground is soft enough to dig. They can then stay put until they freeze solid, so try not to harvest them too soon. Leafy greens for example, can be harvested by simply plucking off a few leaves from each plant as needed, which means come September and October, you will likely still have leaves that are still available for harvest. You can also harvest peas quite late into the season, although I have noticed their production rate starts to slow down as the light gets lower and air temperatures get cooler.

Root crops are some of my favourite cold crops, as the soil essentially preserves them. My friend Patrick Sweet dug out his carrots just days before christmas after covering the rows with straw and tarps for protection. Just because the green tops have died back doesn’t mean the roots are gone too. I have occasionally dug up a carrot the following spring that somehow got missed the previous fall, and it is still as sweet as any home grown tuber you might harvest during the summer or fall.

Patrick says he waits to cover his roots crops until the weather is cool, between 0 and 5 degrees C, and dry outside. The key is to keep both the moisture and the mice out, and he shared with me a system that he has found worked for him this year. He says that putting an old blanket down first (as it’s breathable) then a large load of dry leaves on top works well to create air pockets, which is what insulates the carrots. He then puts a tarp on top to keep moisture out, and “hems” the edges of the tarp down by shovelling a small amount of soil around the perimeter. He suspects this might even deter a wandering mouse, or keep them from smelling the carrots. He suspects his success this year was also due to a layer of snow that blanketed the works, sealing things, and most importantly providing a little more insulation.

Extend that vegetable season and enjoy the cold crops to make the most of them in this frosty winter land we live in!

Learn how you can have carrots at Christmas by joining GrowFoodCalgary seminars.

Five Benefits to Gardening in Calgary

Kale in Snow
www.GrowFoodCalgary.com

by Chelsie Anderson

Out of habit, people sometimes complain about conditions that they cannot change. Gardening is often one of those things that Calgarians like to complain about, as gardeners here feel hard done by. I tend towards optimism, however, and instead of seeing lemons, I can’t help but see lemonade.

Here are five reasons why we are fortunate to be gardening in Calgary:

Cold Crops

We can grow cold crops with ease. If nothing else, focus on the crops that love these conditions which include roots, leafy greens, peas and the entire cabbage family. All of these do really well in cooler climates and can stay in your garden much longer than any other crops. These vegetables can handle -8 degrees Celsius and sometimes even cooler.

Minerals

In autumn when leaves start to change from green to brown, red or yellow, then fall to the ground, they add minerals to the soil. In Calgary, because we have only about a week of true “fall”, the minerals get trapped in the leaves more-so than they do in other places where this transition takes longer. With this mineral capture in effect, our gardens (if the leaves are left in place for the gardens to use) are fed a wider and more dense variety of minerals to help grow mineralized crops the following year.

Clay

Some might find it hard to imagine that this is a benefit as it tends to be the #1 complaint I hear from Calgarians about gardening, but clay is our friend. Soils that lack clay, also lack CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity) that hold on to minerals in the soil. Sandy soils are always depleted, and this is why things like cactus and alpine plants grow well in sand, they don’t need minerals. Vegetables on the other hand, are heavy feeders and need minerals to thrive. The more mineralized they are, the more minerals we humans also get to enjoy, and we all know there are benefits to that!

Space

Calgary is a sprawling city, which could be criticized for the need of more resources to make it run well. Because I live here, however, I am going to make the most of this available land and grow as much food as will fit in my generous sized inner city plot. We have these amazingly huge properties that could feed many people locally if we converted it all into vegetable production. Not only that, but this land that we have access to also sits right where glaciers used to live. These glaciers left amazing mineral deposits that, again, our vegetables as well as ourselves, benefit from in a great way.

Support

There are more self-defined gardeners per capita in Calgary than anywhere else in North America. The Calgary Horticulture Society boasts a higher subscription rate than any other of its kind. As a result, we have access to a wealth of opportunities, from chatting over the fence to our neighbours while fishing for tips and tricks, to having access to professionals on the radio (Donna Balzer on CBC), in person through workshops and through articles. With all of this available knowledge, there is no reason not to grow your own food!
If you are new to gardening, experiment with converting your existing weed patch, lawn or perennial bedinto simple root crops; potatoes or carrots always impress!

Learn how to garden in Calgary!

Put these principles into practise by joining Chelsie and Donna as they teach beginners how to garden at our GrowFood Calgary event.

Homegrown Taste

Why does homegrown food taste better than commercial produce?

Broccoli from Donna’s Garden
www.GrowFoodCalgary.com

 

Answer: minerals, vitamins, antioxidants. They come from soil.

Much of our farmland is sick after years of synthetic fertilizers that kill the natural organisms that convert soil components into nutrition.

For decades all we’ve put back is N-P-K, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium only. Not selenium, or zinc, for example, nor do we add organic matter which help make these micronutrients available.

It’s like humans, eating protein, fat, and carbs, without any fibre, vitamins, minerals or other nutrients. We’d soon be dead!

Much of the food grown in these dead conditions tastes like nothing.

How do I learn how to grow my own food?

Gardening is not rocket science. But it IS science. At GrowFoodCalgary, we’re assembling gardening experts to teach you how to grow your own food. Now! We will guide you step by step so you can grow food in 2017. Join Us!

Beds and Composter
www.GrwoFoodCalgary.com