Next to people cooperating to maintain the garden, soil
development is the most important ingredient for a sustainable
garden. Focus on soil health first and food crops
The first step to healthy soil is ensuring there are no toxic
contaminants. Your City of Calgary Parks Community
Strategist staff member can check to see if Phase I environmental
assessments have been done in the vicinity of the garden. If
the assessments do not indicate contamination concerns, approval
will be granted to build garden beds without a sealed, leak-proof
bed liner. This means that roots could reach into the soil
below the raised bed in order to grow.
Use a reputable soil provider and have a conversation with them
about how they assure that the soil they sell is not contaminated
by pesticides, heavy metals or petrocarbons. Before you
purchase soil for gardens ask the soil provider for the composition
of the soil they are selling. Good soil will have as much as 25
percent compost and will hold together loosely if you clasp it once
in your hand. Avoid soil that is powdery because it probably
has less than 10 percent of organic matter. Ideal growing
conditions for vegetables in a raised garden bed include about 50%
compost proportion in the soil.
"At all times during the garden site development, any signs of
soil contamination such as odours, discolouration, foreign objects
etc. should be reported immediately to the Parks Community
Strategist and the contamination will be investigated.
Us only potable water to irrigate plants intended for human
consumption. Loam or soil amendments brought on site to
supplement in-ground planting beds must come from a clean
source. Use loan from a clean source to fill above-ground
beds. Above-ground beds should have adequate drainage, and be
deep enough to fully accommodate the root zone of edible
plants. In-ground planting is restricted to fruit bearing
trees and woody fruit-bearing shrubs. All vegetables, herbs
and soft fruit must be confined to above-ground beds."
Source: City of Calgary Parks
Tips for Ensuring Healthy Soil
Most leafy crops will grow in six inches of compost-enriched
soil, while most root crops require around 18 inches of soil.
New and established community gardens have access to a limited
amount of municipal compost on a first-come first-serve
basis. Contact City of Calgary Parks http://www.calgary.ca/CSPS/Parks/Pages/Contact-Parks.aspx
and ask for the Program Advisor for Parks, Environmental and
How it happens: The Parks representative will get in touch with
the Superintendent of the East Calgary Compost Facility and Waste
Management Facility Disposal and Processing Services of Waste and
Community garden requests for City of Calgary compost are
handled on a first come first served basis. Community
gardeners are required to pick up the compost themselves earlier in
the workday before the landfuill closes at 5 pm.
So, how do you ensure all of that healthy soil? We've compiled a
Get to know your soil. Most soil in Calgary is alkaline with a
pH 7.5 - 8. Home testing kits for soil pH can be purchased from
most garden centers.
- Avoid tilling the soil in order to leave microscopic soil
- Use crop rotation and change the layout of gardens to balance
out the nutrients removed and replaced by plants.
- Sow field peas early in spring to add nitrogen to the
soil. Then turn them under into the soil or plant around
- Sow cover crops in shared garden beds during the fall in order
to add nutrients for next year's growing season. Cover crops
add soil nitrogen, lessen soil erosion, improve soil quality and
reduce opportunities for weeds to grow.
- Add compost to garden beds in the fall for maximum fertility
the following spring.
- Educate as many of the garden members as possible in how to
cook up a great batch of compost.
- You can warm up soil in the spring in order to give plants a
good start. Clear away mulch so that the soil is exposed. Lay
black plastic over the soil and secure the edges of the plastic to
hold it in place. After a few weeks remove the plastic
sheeting and place seedlings into the warmed up soil.
- If you are going to use animal manures in the soil,
make absolutely sure they are more than 2 years
old and are from herbivores (such as chicken, horse,
sheep, cow) and not from carnivores because of the health risks
when growing food crops with children active in the garden.
- Wear gardening gloves and shoes at all times when handling
soil. The tetanus bacteria lives in soil naturally and if you
have a cut anywhere on your skin it can enter the cut and make you
ill. Symptoms of tetanus infection include feeling unwell,
difficulty swallowing, and muscle stiffness. Keep your
tetanus vaccinations up to date and seek medical help if you get a
deep cut while gardening.
More soil tips
from community gardeners...
Make Some Earth!
1. Mix 1 part shredded fruit / vegetable
peelings + 4 parts dried brown leaves.
2. Add water & stir twice a
3. Serves up soil in 12 weeks.
Occasionally a garden will have a high water table or
contaminated land. In these instances, the raised garden beds
must be very effectively sealed to ensure plant roots only grow in
soil that is brought into the garden and never touch the materials
below. In a sense, this is a form of container
gardening. Every container must have a way of draining
out moisture but not taking in water or nutrients from the