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The Soil

When is the last time you connected with the soil? I don’t mean a heart on IG for a farmer in Kentucky who grows amazing straw mulched garlic, or brushing the dust off a carrot at the farmer’s market while you discuss the complexity of an industrial food system alongside the craft movement and associated escalating prices.

I mean when was the last time you plunged your hand into the ground and gripped a soft silky mit of the good stuff, the life giving cocoa we tread across on a daily basis. Let’s dig. Have you pushed soil through your thumb and forefinger? Was it gritty or silky or did it just smear against your knuckle? Do you, right now, remember the smell of humus? A rich glob of ripe invading your nose. And on the tongue? Flint or mineral or maybe decomposing leaf litter? Let’s keep our mug out of the wine glass. Have you tasted soil? The grit between your teeth, the clay mouthfeel across your tongue, around your gums.

Soil, dirt, mud, clay, sand or the silt. Soil underpins us, it feeds us, it surrounds the foundations of our dwellings, it filters the water we drink, it grows our food, it cycles pollutants. But my experience sadly is that nobody knows much about it, and very few care.

I can’t change the mind of too many folks on the importance of soil, I’ve mostly decided not to any longer. I could wax to you about glacio lacustrine deposits, or the sand dune development across alberta and watch as you stifle a yawn, but why bother. What we have been able to do over the last six seasons in Edmonton, is to demonstrate that even if you don’t care about our soil, Lactuca Urban Farm cares about about you and your soil.

As odd as it is, we fertilize our fields and provide organic matter back to our plants using compost made right here in the City of Edmonton, by you, at a nominal cost to us. Your inputs are amazing and rich and sultry. By the time they arrive at our farm, the sweet rich smell is intoxicating, the surest sign that spring has arrived on the farm. The plants growing at Lactuca absolutely rocket out of the ground with a vigour that can only be the result of imperfectly nourished Edmontonians sending their night soil to us via a highly complex process of tubes, settling tanks and balanced composting practices that are regulated through federal testing facilities.

A quick salvo on the ethics of fertilizer. Most modern fertilizers are mined. Mined hard. Some are hand harvested gently from the bottoms of groggy bats as they return in the morning full of sweet wildcrafted cactus nectar and then shipped across several continents before they land in your pro mix organic petunia planter. Now back to the Humanu. Flush the toilet and you’ve made a deposit. A local state of the art facility takes that deposit combines it with your garbage and turns it back into perfect humus. It comes with caveats: It isn’t certified organic, because we Edmontonians aren’t and it does carry some levels of the City life within it. But it is managed extremely well and it is tested regularly. Best part about it for us is that we can haul it in each spring and spread it across our entire acre without even having to think about managing an on site compost operation.

I’m almost always asked where our compost is on site. I almost always answer the same way: We don’t have one. At Lactuca, the intensity of our production pushes us to use cultivation methods that would make my University profs have a meltdown. 5 rotations per season on the same square metre of land is insanity, unless you have an ace up the sleeve. We do, we have a million of them, each depositing their love to us on a daily basis to keep us going in a locavore’s delirium.

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A Global Climate Change Kinda Spring.

Unheated cold frames in Edmonton. Germination March 18th.

Unheated cold frames in Edmonton. Germination March 18th.

I guess it's time to plant folks. I was out at the farm with Donna Balzer this morning. She's in town speaking at the home and garden show this Saturday. We were talking over wintering and shoulder season gardening among other things while looking across bare soil and live spinach plants...

Mustard Greens germinating. 

Mustard Greens germinating. 

When I got home I took a peak at my open unheated cold frames and yes. Things are growing. Seeds are germinating...

 

If I use Seedy Sunday as a guide I seem to remember about half a foot of snow last year still on the ground. I'll be there tomorrow talking about shoulder season gardening. But this shoulder is something else.

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It doesn't look good for natural systems this year, but for those of us with water access, this will be one of the earliest starts #yeg has seen in the last 10 years at least...

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