Tag Archives: soil

Community Crops

 

 

 

Chelsie Anderson, Garden Expert

In Calgary we have an abundance of space as we are a sprawly city.

We also have amazing soil, tons of sunshine and I happen to know of crops that will succeed with very little effort in this city of ours.

I made up a bed on my front lawn, my son painted a sign and came up with the alliteration “Calgary Community Crops” (can be found on Facebook), and we started to spread the word that these crops were intended for anyone to harvest.

Community Crops
www.GrowFoodCalgary.com

What I noticed?

People knew what to do with kale and lettuce, but they weren’t as certain about how to pick root crops; beets, radishes.

No one seemed to notice the beans or zucchini until I pointed them out.

Some people were too shy to harvest from my garden, so I started bagging up produce and delivering it to neighbours I thought would be grateful. This was always well received.

I have made up a laminated booklet which I will hang from my sign next year explaining when and how to harvest the crops.  I realize I need to help educate people on harvesting… people who access my crops don’t know how things grow.

Garden Kids
www.GrowFoodCalgary.com

The most special moments for me with these crops were when I’d hear kids laughing out front, only to find they were harvesting peas with friends and dogs while the parents chatted on the sidewalk.

My front lawn started to become a local activity/hand out spot for young families, and this made my heart swell!

I am hoping to inspire others to do the same next year and will provide signage for anyone interested in turning their front yard into a community crops site.

Contact me via Facebook or at this email address for more info.

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Turning Garbage into Garden Gold

 

Chelsie Anderson, Garden Expert

Chelsie Anderson

Compost piles require four things; a source of Nitrogen, a source of Carbon, water and air.

Nitrogen (aka “greens”)

Nitrogen is found in anything that is green and/or wet. Think kitchen scraps, fresh cut weeds, fresh cut grass clippings and even human urine. Nitrogen is akin to stepping on the gas, as it speeds up the rate at which your compost pile decomposes.

Carbon (aka “browns)

Carbon is found in dry compostable items. Cardboard, newspaper, dry leaves, dry grass clipping and straw. This is important to keep your compost pile from becoming too wet and turning anaerobic.

When a pile turns anaerobic it smells bad, but so long as you have enough Carbon, then your pile will smell earthy and like the floor of a forest. Add more carbon than you think is necessary and always have bagged leaves available next to your pile so that you are able to add a handful after every addition of Nitrogen.

Water

For a compost pile to decompose there must be a certain amount of moisture involved. Remember, food scraps are loaded with moisture so if you have a lot of food scraps you may not need to add any additional water.

Ideally, the contents of your pile should feel like a wrung out cloth; damp, but not soggy. You want to encourage the aerobic (oxygen dependant) microbes in your pile if you plan to use the end result on your food garden.

Air

Air is essential for keeping your pile at the right temperature as well as at the right moisture level. You can achieve an air-filled pile by having holes in the sides, top and bottom of your bin, by adding sticks to your pile to provide spaces, or bulky items such as wood chips or cardboard chunks. Sticks, in all honesty, will drive you crazy when you try to turn your pile, but it is a thought for those who aren’t interested in turning the pile.

The best way to add air is to turn your pile, and to do so as frequently as possible. Monthly at minimum. Having a second or third compost pile will help with this as you can novel out the contents from one bin and as you are adding it to the next bin over you are actively turning the pile and can adjust the Carbon/Nitrogen ratios as you go.

My Speedibin Composter
Top Tips from a Compost Lifer:

Put your pile somewhere close to your house so that you don’t have to make any grand efforts at getting to it in the back alley, or at the far end of your veggie patch. If it is accessible, you will use it and maintain it more often. You will also be more motivated not to let it go anaerobic (stinky) if it is closer to your living space.

Chop everything to help speed up the process. The more surface area that is available, the more access the microbes will have to your scraps and the faster the pile will heat up and biodegrade. Consider buying a machete to keep next to your pile along with a tree stump to use as a chopping board. This can be very therapeutic, or a great job for a child with lots of energy!

Add some garden soil, and more than you think is necessary. Your native garden soil will have all kinds of beneficial microbes that will help to speed up your pile. If your soil is more or less dead, therefore not adding any new microbes, add it anyway. In Calgary we have high clay content and this clay helps to hold onto valuable minerals making your finished product more mineralized.

The more different items you can add to your pile the better. Try all kinds of different ingredients, and don’t be scared to try new things; egg cartons, sand from your child’s sand box, egg shells, coffee grounds, or your neighbour’s lawn clippings

Have fun with it and feel the thrill as you turn your garbage turns into garden gold!

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From Oil to Soil

Guest Post by Donna Balzer

Boost your soil, save your back and protect the environment this spring with biochar

Al Chomica, formerly from Calgary, is explaining to me over the phone how biochar, a new garden product he is testing, holds both minerals and soil life firmly. He has been making biochar for years, but this spring he is excited to try a new commercial source.

Biochar, a natural long-lasting form of soil humus, is created from burning organic matter in a low-oxygen environment. It is not wood ash. It is the hard part left over after the fire. Chomica says it stockpiles food in the soil, saves your back and will improve the world.

Robert Lavoie, a petroleum engineer, agrees. In 2015 he received approval for his soil supplement, Airterra Soil Matrix Biochar, from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and has found his first major retail outlet, Golden Acres, where his product sells for about $19.95. Web site

“Soil Matrix Biochar is a charcoal made intentionally for soil amendment using very controlled conditions so you get a very consistent product,” he said.

Back in 2008, Lavoie was busy giving media interviews about a large carbon capture initiative in Alberta when somebody at his church gave him a note with a single word: biochar. And suddenly, after years spent working to capture carbon from the air, the savvy, carbon capture specialist entered the world of soil.

Lavoie, who is really proud of his garden and “can’t wait to get out there,” turned away from oil towards soil, developing the Soil Matrix product.

The book Terra Pretta by Ute Scheub (2016 Greystone Books) mentions all the same benefits Lavoie and I discussed. For every per cent of humus stored in a 100 square-meter plot of land, one ton of CO2 is sequestered. That’s a tonne of carbon stored every time soil organic matter, including biochar, is boosted a single percentage point.

Lavoie thinks gardeners and farmers will be happy to hear biochar holds the carbon it pulls from the air, but he thinks they will be more impressed by biochar’s soil amendment features. Improved water holding capacity, mineral storage, providing a home for beneficial microbes, stabilizing soil acidity levels and removing toxins from the soil matrix are just some of the listed benefits of biochar.

SOIL MATRIX BIOCHAR IS A CHARCOAL MADE INTENTIONALLY FOR SOIL AMENDMENT USING VERY CONTROLLED CONDITIONS SO YOU GET A VERY CONSISTENT PRODUCT.

Lavoie suggests Soil Matrix Biochar be infused with worm castings, grain flour and water and left to sit for two days. His inoculated biochar is then mixed with extra compost and applied in a two centimeter layer on mulch or soil. Inside it can be used as soil for African Violets or topdressing for houseplants.

The only disadvantage, it seems, is that biochar won’t improve already excellent soils. It is meant for bad soils. Unfortunately, we have plenty of those in Calgary.

So how will Chomica use his first batch of compost-prepped biochar? “I’ve had the dubious honour of digging (the soil) out of all my vegetable beds,” Chomica said. “I took 21 wheelbarrows of soil from the carrot bed alone. That’s a lot of soil to shovel. And all I did was enrich it: I mixed in compost and beefed it up as best I could.”

This year Chomica is going to save his back and skip the digging. Instead, he’ll add the prepped Biochar as a top dressing to create a forever soil. “I am not going to dig again.”

Retired and living in the mild climate of Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island, Chomica is looking forward to getting started right away. I imagine he’ll already be sitting in his hammock by the time the rest of us get started gardening and improving our soils this spring.

Donna Balzer is starting a new program for aspiring new gardeners. Check out www.growfoodcalgary.com for more information.

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How to Learn to Garden

Shelley Goldbeck

Much of my early garden education came from books, magazines and of course, trial and error in my own garden.

The internet exponentially increased our choices, almost overnight.

You can learn almost anything online, including garden techniques.

But how do you sort the wheat from the chaff? How do you know whose advice to take?

Some gardeners rely heavily on chemical solutions to disease and bug problems. These poisons cause great damage to soil.  They cause great damage to human health.

If you follow these gardeners’ practices, you may get their lush instant results, but the “drugs” sterilize and starve your soil. The food from it is nutritionally compromised, poisoned, the kind that kills slowly and stealthily.

Mimicking Mother Nature in the garden has always intuitively made sense to me. I tend to get my gardening information from people who garden the way I do: in cooperation with Mother Nature.

Chelsie Anderson, Natural Gardener

That’s why I joined forces with Chelsie Anderson, the Natural Gardener and her mom, Donna Balzer, Garden Guru to create Grow Food Calgary.

Donna Balzer, Garden Guru

 

We three believe that gardening skills are valuable and sorely lacking among our fellow Calgarians.

We felt that if we could provide Calgary gardeners with (Calgary specific) information and handholding throughout an entire growing season, we could successfully guide them into growing some of their own food, every year.

So we invited a bunch of garden experts to share their expertise with you. From April to October, we’ll cover soil, seeds, seedlings, bugs, pests, harvesting, storing, everything you need to get growing.

We know and enjoy the benefits of gardening.  We want you to enjoy these benefits too. They include:

  • reducing grocery bills,
  • eating tastier, healthier food,
  • improved mental and physical health,
  • building community
  • reducing our footprint on the earth.

Learn how to Grow Food in Calgary now! Register.

Our first session for our season-long program begins on April 22, Earth Day, at the Calgary Zoo.

See Donna’s latest blog.

 

 

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Crop Rotation

Rotating crops is an age-old farming practice that has been largely abandoned by commercial agriculture, which relies on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The goals of crop rotation are to manage organic soil fertility and  reduce problems with soil-borne diseases and some soil-dwelling insects.

Crop rotation helps the fertility of your soil. Some plants, like corn and tomatoes, are heavy feeders and will deplete nitrogen in the soil.

Avoid planting the same general category of crop (root, legume, and leafy/fruiting) successively in the same place.

Follow nitrogen-fixing legumes such as peas or beans with nitrogen-loving leaf or fruiting crops such as lettuce or tomatoes. Then, follow the heavy feeding crops with light-feeding root crops.

Crop rotation also discourages insects and disease. A good practise is to plan rotation based on plant families rather than on nutrient needs. Crops in the same botanical family tend to suffer from the same pest and disease problems.

www.DonnaBalzer.com

For example, tomatoes and potatoes are both members of the deadly nightshade family and are affected by similar diseases. Don’t plant them in succession in the same patch of the garden.

Cover crops can be included in a rotation plan to discourage specific types of pests and to improve soil.

In our Grow Food Calgary program, our expert gardeners will teach you the fundamentals of gardening, including how to rotate your crops.

Register today!

 

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