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Lactuca Urban Farm Spring Update

06.11.13

Lactuca - Spring Lolla Rossa

Sadly, our really early spring shoot got kiboshed by the site location – the one we’ve been working on in Inglewood all winter – getting tied up in politics. We had a cool shoot with snow around, cold frames doing their spring thing, and alas, it wasn’t in the cards to become our first vid of 2013.

The story with the site in Inglewood is that we got approval at every level required, and when it hit the final board of companies that own the 11+ acres of land smack in the middle of the city, one board member was adamantly opposed to the situation. This makes for an unhappy Inglewood Community League board, unhappy local residents who don’t like the present field of dandelions rather than an urban veg farm, unhappy us, and unhappy mayor who thinks the situation’s ridiculous. Perhaps it will iron out. I hope so. But in the meantime, we’re eager for a couple sites to expand asap. So here’s the deal: if you know of anybody or are a person with a big back yard that gets lots of sun within close proximity [5-10min biking distance] of the 124 St Grand Market say, we want to hear about it. Tell your friends. Demand is crazy, and we’ll be happy to supply. Direct interest to me here, or to urbanfarmer@lactuca.ca.

Serious props go out to the local restaurants supporting hyper-local, and unpredictably seasonal produce – they’re making our gig work. Harvest this week will go to Three Boars, Canteen, Tirimisu, Elm Café, Kelly’s Pub, and our loyal fans at 124 St. Grand Market. We’ve also had loads of support from RGE RD, Nomad Mobile, and Drift. There are a few other new restaurants coming online soon that we hope to supply as well. You guys all rock.

Lactuca – Spring 2013 from Kevin Kossowan on Vimeo.

November Garden Greens

11.15.11

The snow is falling, it’s -3C, with -20C in the forecast later this week. And yes, still harvesting garden veg. Was last year too. Not because I have a greenhouse, hoop houses, or even stuff under cold frames [well.. I do, but not for this stuff]. Just planted cold hardy veg in August and let them tough out the elements. Even if the bounty is very limited, it makes the winter without element-protected garden veg short when December through February are the only months that don’t see fresh produce coming into the house from the garden. That’s 3 months that I’m forced to cook exclusively from the cellar without fresh yard supplementation. I can happily live with that.  I think the rule of thumb around here for many folks [which used to apply to me too] is to seed May long weekend, and then harvest in September. That means garden produce is available fresh from the yard June through September, or 4 months of the year. Instead of 9. I don’t like that math.

I used to think Kale was a trooper, and it is, but I have collards next to red russian kale, and the collards are winning hands down for cold hardiness. They look fantastic. Who knew. Guess I’m planting them again next year. You’ll notice in the photo below a broccoli side shoot. I love brassicas. They’re tough as nails, good for you, and tasty.

So I’ll polish off what’s left of the greens, check out the cold frame to see how late I can harvest from that for fun, then get ready to start seeding flats in January. Which really leaves December as the only month I get a full-on garden break. I’ll take it.

Already Late for Next Year’s Seeding, Dang.

10.18.11

This is a first for me. Normally this is a March/April job – prepping soil for the coming year’s planting. My recent adventure at my local organic veg grower reminded me I was a bit behind the ball, as they already had onions, spinach, etc coming up for wintering over. Their little cold-hardy plants will have roots prepped to send out new leaves when the weather breaks in the coming early spring, having a good jump on the days or weeks of germinating time seeds can take. So there I was, in October, realizing I was already late on getting my spring garden moving.

This fall I planted for a winter crop – I have a sparse group of carrots, some peas, and healthy crops of red russian kale and arugula ready to brave the first heavy snow fall tucked under a cold frame. You’re likely to hear about the harvests well into November, if all goes well, December. What I couldn’t anticipate was the ridiculously long fall. It was 17C today. We had our first kill-frost that toasted my tomatoes and beans on the 16th – a full month later than last year. I was wishing them a frosty death by the end, and happily ripping them out within hours of their doom. Apparently I was ready to move on.

So next up is seeding the cold frame – only partly. I’m going to seed some now, maybe half, and seed the rest in the spring as early as possible, and see which seeds win the race. R&D. A note on design tweak visible below. I lifted the frame up onto bricks on flat, just to get a couple more inches of height for the plants to have more room in there. They’re gonna need it.

Brussel Sprout plant – learned this year to top them to promote size. Looks like it didn’t work.

Permaculture, Meet High School

07.15.11

I’ve long looked at vast school grounds, wondering how much food could be produced if there was will. I’ve had friends try to climb that hill to no avail, primarily falling apart on concern for maintenance and who’s going to do the work. Like many things in the food world, perhaps it just took some scale – Jasper Place High School being one of, if not the biggest in western Canada at 2400 students. Maybe it’s just time.

I first noticed Dustin on Twitter, tweeting about permaculture projects at a local high school. After a few months, I figured I should get over there with a camera and see  what he’s up to. So I did.

Turns out they’ve built themselves a food forest in a courtyard along with various setups of self watering raised beds, muck about with aquaponics, and have a greenhouse built a half century ago that may now be put to some good use [again?]. They’re producing food for students, engaging youth in food related issues and providing hands-on experience with plants. They’re sheet mulching and rainwater capturing their way to a more environmentally and socially responsible future generation. Permaculture in high school. I grew up in the wrong decade.

Direct Sown Seedlings

04.11.11

Germination. Although the snow has taken a serious beating as of late, my north garage bed that in the past has provided for copious greens is still under about 2′ of snow. But in the cold frames, life has begun. Arugula [seen left], radish [bottom], spinach, and the mesclun and ‘greens’ mixes are showing their faces. Not a great accomplishment in most climates, I reckon, but it is here. My dad was by today and figures his rural garden will have snow on it until well into May.

Now normally, I’m a spreadsheet geek, and pre-children would have had daily data on my cold frame temps, etc. Yeah, not going to happen right now [for those that don't know, I have a baby boy as of last Thursday!]. But what I can offer is that the evidence below shows the cold frame at 16.4C under cloud when the ambient outdoor temp is 8C. An 8C difference is pretty important when the inevitable nasty cold and snow returns for a late spring reminder of winter nastiness. My little plants will be protected, both from the cold, and more importantly [I've read], from the wind and snow and ice that really does the damage. I took a quick look at it under direct sun 11C outdoor temp, and had to look twice: 42C. Clearly, I have to mind my manners in sunny weather, or cook my plants.

I’ve been asked if I’ll insulate or heat these things. At this time, the answer’s no. The varieties I’ve committed to them are all very cold hardy. I’m not trying to or interested in pushing my luck with stuff marginal to our growing zone – I just want to eat the cold hardy stuff [of which there are many] way earlier and later in the shoulder seasons than I’ve grown up thinking was possible.

Last note: my seedlings sown in March have been transplanted into the cold frames, and are faring easily through the overnight outdoor freezes. More on those little guys soon.

This is a Cold Frame

03.16.11

I’ve been talking about cold frames a lot over the past months, and invariably get ‘what’s a cold frame‘. This is a cold frame. It’s a piece of Dutch geniusness. And I find it slightly embarrassing that we, living up here in Edmonton, are not friends with it, nevermind masters of its use. Its purpose is to prolong growing seasons – something you think we’d value. It’s a mini-greenhouse, of sorts, that is easily built, portable, and reasonably accessible to all.

The temperatures in a cold frame will get vastly hotter than the ambient outdoor temperature. For actual research and good building ideas, read Elliot Coleman’s books – worth the time anyway if you have the slightest interest in gardening. This, my friends, is my ticket to extending garden harvest into late Nov, early Dec – and even more importantly, to bridging ‘the spring gap’. These awkward coming months where the root cellar veg is dwindling in quantity and quality, but the garden isn’t yet producing.

So now that you’ve met my cold frames, I welcome you to check in through the year to see what I can get away with via their use. Last year, last garden harvest before heavy snow was mid-Nov. I intend on an early Dec harvest this year. And normally the first spring greens are at an edible size May long weekend. I intend on that first harvest to now be the first or second week of April. Can it really be done?!!?

The econ: greenhouse plexi to do about 4-5 cold frames, 2 layers of plexi per ‘light’ thick = $25. Thanks Kijiji. Old storm windows are also a cheap and easy route. Dimensional lumber for 2 coldframes 8′ long = ~$35. Eating garden veg year-round = priceless. Time investment = 1 afternoon.

2011 Seedlings: Arugula

03.15.11

I remember years [15-20 years ago, mind you] when evidence of the winter’s snow lingered until early July. I think it will be one of those years. I’ve cleared snow off some south-wall-beds and the resulting heap of remaining snow is about 7 feet tall.

No matter. The face of the 2011 garden is showing itself in the first seedlings. These little guys are arugula – not your grocery store variety, mind you, but a broader, more tender, more richly flavored variety.  I harvested bout a half-cup of seed from last year’s plants, so will have LOTS of arugula around the yard this year.  I’d like it to take up permanent residence in my ‘forest garden’ beds. I only use quotation marks because it doesn’t look much like forest – yet. It’s only 3  years old. But it’s coming.

I’ll be growing a minimum of 3 varieties of arugula this year – this kind, the common variety, and a wild cultivar. They are quick to germinate, quick to grow, easy to harvest, tasty, easy to collect seed from, and are insanely hardy – the wild kinds could take hard freezes well into November/December. It’s about as hardy as kale. I intend on sheltering some with cold frames this fall and seeing how far I can take them into winter.

On that…next post: cold frames.  Was able to build yesterday now that the weather’s broken. Need to start more seeds.

The January Garden

01.11.11

This serious snowfall has really made me think about year-round provisioning of food from our yard. Information from growing zones a few warmer than ours feels irrelevant, a ‘year-round-harvest’ unattainable. My body aches from shoveling. The additional snow will likely make for later than normal access to soil for planting. Roads were impassible. Doom.

But the mountains of snow too, will pass. We’re still eating garden veg from the cellar, and I’m still firm in my resolve to attach the two ends of the season – the end of the root cellar veg blending into the arrival of spring greens. It’s going to mean cold frames, and getting our usual mid-May greens pushed into mid-April. Once achieved, we will be eating fresh [uncanned, unfrozen, undried] food from our yard year-round, despite the inevitable -30 temperatures and 3 feet of snow. Enormous piles of snow will not prevent cold frame construction – it can be shoveled – and early seeding should proceed as planned.  The cold and snow is irrelevant to the stash of garden produce in our root cellar.

2011 will be an adventurous gardening season here as we near the maximum amount of area planted in gardens – the vast majority of lawn having met its fate. A lot of beds that were in transition under sheet mulch or green manure in 2010 will now be ready to produce food. The seedling flats start over the next few weeks. In a couple months, I’ll have my hands in the first of the exposed soil against heat-reflecting walls. The days get too long, the sun too strong. This snow certainly won this battle, but it will most certainly lose the war.

The Year of the Insect

07.21.10

I spent a lot of time this past winter with my nose in books, one of the topics being permaculture. It’s a pretty dense topic, and I certainly am no poster-child for it, but I did make a lot of changes in my urban yard this year guided by its principles. One broad concept that intuitively makes sense is that as you abandon a monculture of lawn and the amount and types of life it can provide habitat for, and move towards a polycuture of plants with diverse functions, life thrives. It’s so true. And what’s astonished me the most by far, is the response of insects. I’ve lived here for a few years now, and this year has seen a remarkable explosion of insect numbers and diversity. What’s more, although we have had a myriad of wasps of various types, we’ve had no problems with them bothering us. They’re far too in love with lovage blossom. And bees? They are hardcore into wild thyme blossoms. There’s some type of fly that literally swarms around the wild thyme as well, as they move through my herb bed.  My aphid problem on my grapes? Long gone. [thanks predatory whatever-you-are!] There are types of caterpillars, spiders, ants, wasps, flies, moths, and other funky winged insects we’ve never seen before here. And all, seemingly, because of biodiversity.

My crusade against my lawn will have been long fought, and not without its deprecating looks and comments from those who don’t like ‘different’. But life around our little urban yard has evolved quickly, and as I walk around, eating strawberries and the first of the season’s saskatoons and raspberries – from what used to be our front lawn – I’m happy.

A Quickie Garden Tour

07.04.10

Valerie reminded me today that I need to post more about gardening. I’ve also been meaning to post some photos for my gardening buddy who recently moved away [who's on dial-up, and will hate me for this post, then love me]. I have a decidedly unconventional garden with streaks of conventionality running about. I just got in from taking a bunch of photos, so here’s a photo-essay for your perusal:

Oats breaking new ground. In the city.

Apricot - Capilano, year 2

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French Fingerling Potato - my fav

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Wild Strawberries - ground cover extraodinaire

Nodding Onion in bloom. Tough to acquire, and damn tasty.

Red Sparkle Apples - my wine apple that I care about deeply

Mustard - my fav + saved seed (cost=0) = wicked QPR

Lavender - I have an affection for this plant, and grow lots.

Jerusalem Artichokes, along the front sidewalk, heh.

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Garlic, doing heck knows what - C, help me out here...

Black Currant & Red Currant. I'm starting to have a thing for shrubs.

Lovage. 8-9' tall lovage.

Peas, lincoln. Conventional, see? My first crop ever, I'm proud.

Bloody Dock - from Gwen, year 2.