Tag Archives: organic

Climate Farming

Chelsie Anderson

By Chelsie Anderson

“Climate Farming” is a term I read about in Terra Preta, a book written by Ute Scheub. It means to grow food in a way that benefits our planet. We no longer need to think of agriculture as something that damages the environment through harmful practices involving chemicals and tractors. Instead “climate farming” means you will be growing good soil that will give back to the world endlessly. Your garden has the ability to make the world a better place.

Soil is made from sand, silt and clay. Your garden will have more or less of each of these 3 ingredients. Heavier soils mean more clay is present. Clay soils are stickier, and hold onto minerals in an abundant way. Sandy soils are lighter, more crumbly and hold on to fewer minerals. All soils can be amended by another ingredient; humus.

Humus is what is made in a compost pile, or right in your garden by worms and microbes. It is organic material that has been biodegraded until it looks dark and rich, it feels light and spongy and it smells fresh and earthy. Humus stimulates all of our senses in a delightful way, and with good reason, as we tend to be drawn to what is good for us. Humus helps retain moisture as well as soil structure in a garden, meaning that your plants also love it. Humus is full of microbes, since it is the microbes themselves that break down the organic matter to begin with, and microbes help feed your plants the nutrition that is stored in the soil. Without microbes, your plants could not survive.

Having high levels of humus in your garden, defined as greater than 2%, possibly even in the 10% arena, means that your garden has been turned into a carbon sink. What does this mean? It means that humus sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, eliminating greenhouse gasses from our environment. It turns out mother nature has a way around our careless polluting, and humus is her right hand man!

So what can you do to change your own yard into a carbon sink? Start making humus! Or, should I say, start allowing nature to make humus for you. This will benefit you, your garden and it turns out the whole world.

If you leave organic matter in your garden and let it biodegrade on the spot naturally, then humus will be made.

Humus-free soil .

At the moment soil is disappearing 10 to 100 times faster than it is being made, as we are waging war on our soils. We kill the soil, reducing it to dirt and dust by applying chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. We then employ ploughs and tractors to rip up what’s left, destroying microbial habitat. By reducing soil (living and breathing matter) into dirt, we are killing off a quarter of the world’s species, which call soil their home, and we are rendering our fields useless. Dead dirt cannot support life, so food crops will not grow.

Let’s learn to employ those tiny farms hands, also known as microbes, and encourage them to leave rich moisture-retaining humus behind. The microbes will thrive, our plants will thrive, our bodies will thrive (from eating mineral-rich foods) and our environment will thrive.

As Raoul Heinrich France said “Humus is made from life, by life, for life” so treat fallen leaves and grass clippings like a treasure bestowed upon us by the gods. Use them with good purpose, to nourish the Earth, and by default, our bodies.

Chelsie Anderson is a co-founder of Grow Food Calgary, a Vegetable Gardening Immersion Program, for beginners. Learn how to nurture your own crew of “farm hands” from Chelsie, Donna Balzer, the Garden Guru, and other garden experts at GrowFoodCalgary. 

Indoor Composting Lessons

Chelsie Anderson, Garden Expert

By Chelsie Anderson

Sorting my vermiculture worms just now, a few thoughts ran through my head. My first thought? I love that I can compost year round in Calgary by using the indoor worms, especially since my outdoor compost piles are frozen solid and piling higher by the minute, it seems.

My second thought was that I’ve learnt so much about vermiculture over the years, mostly as a result of making mistakes. Some of which have been pretty major. My intention is not to scare anyone off from vermiculture. In fact my goal is to do just the opposite, to show you that all learning comes through trial and error,  that this is part of the game of life, and that learning is fun! Today I can possibly accelerate your own learning curve through divulging two of my latest vermiculture mistakes.

Mistake #1: Moisture in the bins. Worms need to be kept moist, but not too moist. I always suggest maintaining a bin that feels like a wrung out cloth. With the plastic bins I have, I find the worms stay quite damp, since most of the kitchen scraps I add are full of natural moisture, and nothing evaporates due to the plastic. My mantra has become: add more bedding and less kitchen scraps for a more desirable outcome. Bedding is the dry stuff you add to a worm bin; peat moss, straw, leaves, cardboard, egg cartons and newspapers. I have been adding these dry parts extensively, and this has helped to dry out my bins, making the moisture levels more ideal.

So then I went and told a teacher not to add any moisture to her Grade 4 worm bin. When I returned 6 weeks later to collect the bin, she was feeling shameful and thought her worms had died. Upon closer inspection I found them in the very bottom tray all huddled together. The top two levels of her bin were dry like dust. I re-moistened the bin using melted snow, and now the worm population has come back to life and grown again, seemingly with no major harm done.

Mistake#2: Bedding. I became disgruntled with adding human made bedding products as I noticed one day after throwing in a whole newspaper that this freaked my worms out and they started running away. I decided that newspaper was too full of chemicals and dyes for worms, so ever since then I have suggested using “natural” bedding materials such as leaves. By adding leaves to a worm bin, slugs are sometimes imported, but they are easy to spot and pick out and have never caused major troubles, so I still recommend the leaves. Straw and peat moss are other alternatives. I wouldn’t suggest buying peat moss, as it is non-renewable, but if you already have it in your flower pots, then re-use it by adding it to your worm bin. Come spring the worm castings can be added back into your flower pot as a natural fertilizer. Perfect!

Petunias thriving in the worm bin

While this idea may have seemed logical enough, upon trial and error, I found it was full of error! Here’s where I went wrong: I started taking the contents of my client’s pots home with me, since they wanted their pots emptied and I couldn’t stand the thought of dumping the potting mix in the garbage. I added the contents to my worm bins and was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I never add chemicals to plants/soils, since I use organic practices, but my 83 year old client Sheila just wants her petunias to look the best, so she chemically fertilizes them on her own accord weekly. I added her end-of-season petunias, soil and all, to my worm bin and was amazed by what happened. The petunias seemed to come back to life and bloomed better than I’d seen them bloom all summer, even in the darkness of my basement. I didn’t fully understand the power of chemical fertilizers until I saw what happened next, however.

Red Wrigglers

About two weeks later when I went to “harvest” some worms to bring to a classroom presentation I struggled to find any in the bin. I was used to having gobs of worms that were easy to scoop out by the handful, but suddenly they had become scarce. I realized it must have been due to the chemical fertilizers I had added to my bins by default. It has taken all winter for my bins and worm populations to recover from this shock. Today as I was harvesting some castings from the lowest level of my bin, I think I managed to remove the last of the contaminated materials much to my relief.

Chemicals are soil sterilizers I have been told, but I didn’t understand the power of chemicals until I witnessed it for myself over the course of this winter. A good reminder for many reasons. A good lesson, yet a tragic display of death.

For more information on vermiculture and how to have your own indoor compost bins register for Grow Food Calgary at growfoodcalgary.com today!

Grow Food Calgary Gives You a Place to Grow: Freebies Flow In

By Donna Balzer www.donnabalzer.com

Root Pouches add room to your garden

Do you wonder where you will plant everything you really want to grow this summer? Are you making choices and leaving a favourite food off your list?

It’s official. Freebies are flowing in for the registrants of Grow Food Calgary and this week we received a really big donation, and it weighs in at four packages and 77 lbs. The boxes received contain a total of 150 grow bags – enough for the entire class!

Maybe you really want to grow lettuce, but the only shady area you have is under a tree and with roots threatening to take over your soil you know lettuce can’t compete. Or you want to plant potatoes but they just take up too much space in your too tiny garden; it’s tough to decide what to grow and what to leave out.

But this week, thanks to Root Pouch of Oregon, you will have more room to grow than ever before. The donated fabric root pouch bags have a retail value of $15.00 each and are a perfect example of upcycling because they are made from recycled water bottles. The bags will be given away to Grow Food Calgary participants and, unlike other brands of “fabric” bags, these ones last forever and they are food safe.

Thanks to Root Pouch all of our participants will receive a 10-gallon bag to expand their garden. The ten gallon bags are perfect to plant lettuce under trees where the roots are kept out. And they are also ideal for potatoes.

“The best size of Root Pouch for growing potatoes,” says Root Pouch rep Ashely Fromm from Oregon, “is the 10 gallon pot because it gives you lots of room to grow. Just plant one or more potato in the bag and watch them fill up the bag over the season.”

So now you are wondering what the best potato is to plant in your root pouch? Well don’t get ahead of yourself. We have a commitment for organic potatoes for every participant. But that great news has to wait for later. Because right now, I am trying to figure out where we are going to store all this great stuff before we give it away to Grow Food Calgary registrants. Are you in yet?

Thank you, Root Pouch!