Dave Carlton is a member of Leaf Ninjas, a group that specializes in edible and native plant installations, urban farming and ecological restoration in Calgary. He gave us his tips for on gardening in this city.
What should we know about garden placement in Calgary?
You want to be realistic about what you can grow in your yard. Some people are going to have a north-facing backyard, which doesn’t give you a lot of light, so you need to be specific on your plant selections there. You’re not going to have tomatoes on the north side of your house. For tomatoes, you want southern exposure somewhere really hot and sunny.
The most important thing for your foundation, and it’s usually not on people’s radar, is soil. It’s super important to have the right kind of consistency of soil.
What kind of soil do we have?
Calgary is typically heavy, clay based soil. Not right now, but around summer, you can take a handful of soil and squeeze it. More likely than not, it’s going to clump up and be a really heavy clay base. There are little things you can do, like add sand or perlite. That helps your roots grow in the soil easier, allows air and water to travel through it and makes it an easier foundation for your plants to grow.”
How do we grow in this soil?
A lot of people don’t realize is the importance of biology. There are so many microbes in your soil that are essential to plant growth. You can go totally in the deep end [learning about soil biology] or it can be as easy as buying compost, buying soil from your local nursery and doing what we call “pocket planting,” [digging out pockets of earth and refilling them with better soil]. You don’t have to take out all the soil in your yard and bring in new stuff or a dump truck of sand, you can just amend around the tree you’re planting or your vegetables. It’s way easier and cost effective. Still, some things work and some things don’t, even if you have the perfect soil.
What’s easy to grow in Calgary?
Leafy greens are incredibly easy and hardy. Different lettuce mixes, like kale or spinach in the spring or fall are almost foolproof. Carrots, potatoes, beets and radishes do well. Next level up is your squashes, winter squashes and tomatoes. You can experiment with a green house for things like hot peppers or eggplant and things that are different hardiness zones than our zone three climate here in Calgary.
It totally depends on what your yard is like as well. Maybe you’ve got a really cold yard on the edge of town that doesn’t have much sun exposure, or you live in Bridgeland on the hill. That’s known as one of Calgary’s hotspots. People have amazing growing conditions there, because it’s a heat trap.
What’s harder to grow here?
Things that are harder to grow, like peppers, just require a little pruning or feeding at certain times of year. We started our hot peppers a couple of months ago, they just require a long time to produce and hot conditions.
People think we can’t really grow any fruit in Alberta, but we’ve seen amazing plum trees, apricot trees, different sour cherries, cold hearted kiwi, a lot of stuff off the grape vine. There are lots of amazing old heritage trees that produce delicious fruit that aren’t just your inedible crab apples.
For more information, or to get the Leaf Ninjas to tackle your garden, visit leafninjas.ca