Tag Archives: Chelsie Anderson

Growing Gardeners

Chelsie Anderson

By Chelsie Anderson

Are you ready to join a supportive community of people growing their own food for the first time?



Grow Food Calgary is about teaching you how to grow food and how to harvest edible native foods sustainably. But it is so much more.

“You can grow a sprout in a day, a micro-green in a week, or a radish in a month,” says Horticulturist and program contributor, Donna Balzer, who learned to grow with the help of others. A lot of help. After gardening at home as a kid, she went on to University to study Agriculture and learned all about design and soils and pests and vegetables.

But it wasn’t just the professors Balzer found helpful. It was co-workers, experience, and time. She spent two internship summers working on the University of Alberta’s vegetable plots, learning the methods and techniques shared by senior staff.

And now it’s payback time for Balzer. Grow Food Calgary participants will be guided and helped by Balzer and a full team of keen growers for eight months this year and something magical will happen.

The three co-cofounders of Grow Food Calgary, Donna Balzer, Shelley Goldbeck and myself will be “raising” gardeners to a new level, providing a platform where attendees will have access to our knowledge for the duration of the eight month  course.

We will invite participants to email us questions. In April, when you are not sure what or when to seed, or in August, when you are deciding if your potatoes are ready to harvest, we are on your team. You are part of our growing family.

Each participant will be offered a 15 minute phone consultation with Donna Balzer, our program “Garden Guru”, as part of their Grow Food Calgary package; they will be provided with freebies carefully selected by the Grow Food Calgary team and they will they take home books, catalogues and extra personalized worksheets to get them growing.

This is a valuable resource, not available to other gardeners in the city.

Grow Food Calgary will have composting experts, soil experts, organic food farmers, entertaining bug experts, native wild crafting professionals and more, giving our program a broad pallet of learning experiences to “dig” into.  During this eight month program beginners will blossom  into confident gardeners who can grow their own food!

The cost is only $500.00 per person for the entire program.
Earlybird discounts apply until April 1, 2017.
Additional discounts apply if you register with a friend.

Everything you need to know is at growfoodcalgary.com


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:

Cabbage loves cool weather

Cabbage Family

Brussels Sprouts




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

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.


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.


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!


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.


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.