CSL Interviews | Calgary Horticultural Society’s Stephanie Pollock

By Shivana Maharaj
March 31, 2010

Director of Communications and Marketing, Stephanie Pollock talks to CSL about community gardens, Calgary’s growing season and what to plant in your own backyard.

CSL: When did CalHort’s community gardens start, and how has the reception been?

Pollock: Community gardens are organized and run by Calgarians who get together in their neighbourhoods.  The Calgary Horticultural Society does not run the gardens. The Community Garden Resource Network (CGRN) is a long-term program of the Calgary Horticultural Society that has been funded in part through a grant from The Calgary Foundation.  The CGRN aims to strengthen and promote community gardening projects within the City of Calgary.  The program creates a network of resources, expertise and collaborative connections to assist with the start-up of new community gardens and ongoing support for established gardens.

The Community Garden Resource Network was managed by a small group of volunteers for 8 years and then in 2008 funding from The Calgary Foundation made it possible to have a 3 year part time program position to work with the gardens and garden teams coming together to start community gardens.

CSL: What is the best success story you can give us regarding a community garden?

Pollock: We had great success with our newly established community garden at the Calgary Horticultural Society office. We planted it late July and we were eating veggies in August and September!

CSL: We in Calgary have a difficult climate to grow certain plants, how to you accommodate for this?

Pollock: Food gardeners in Calgary plant the varieties of seeds and seedlings that mature in under 65 days.  (These are different varieties than you would plant in Ontario, Quebec or British Columbia).  Calgary’s soil is alkaline and has a lot of clay.  Gardeners like to use raised garden beds so they can add improved soil that has lots of compost and humus but is lighter so air and water can circulate easily and plant roots can move through it.

In Calgary there are crops that are fine to start from seed like leaf lettuce because the growing season is long enough to get a whole series of leafy salad green crops.  Other food crops such as cabbage, peppers, or broccoli need to be started indoors from seeds six to eight weeks before the last outdoor frost and then planted as seedlings in the first two weeks of June. You can also buy seedlings at garden centres if you don’t start seeds indoors.

Once you know these tips about soil, plant varieties and using versus seedling plants you will have lots of success growing food in Calgary!

CSL: How can someone join a community garden?

Pollock: There are garden profiles at the Community Garden Resource Network’s web pages on the Calgary Horticultural Society’s web site at http://www.calhort.org (choose the “Community Gardens” button) and gardens have their own email address or phone number.  Send an email and one of the garden leaders will respond.

If a garden does not have an email address yet, contact Gael at
communitygardens@calhort.org and she will connect you with that garden’s leaders.

CSL: Do you offer classes on how to grow a garden?

Pollock: Yes.  We have one coming up on Sunday March 7, 2010 called “Growing Food for the First Time: Raising Vegetables in Calgary” with master gardener and market gardener Elaine Rude.

We will also be conducting a workshop on panning and planting your Vegetable Garden, on April 24, society office, register on line www.calhort.org.

CSL: Any tips for those who would like to participate?

Pollock: Get ready to:
–  have fun
–  meet great people
–  be surprised at what you can grow!

Attend the Calgary Horticultural Society’s 2010 Garden Show, April 10 & 11th at Spruce Meadows. We will have food garden
demos, how-to-clinics and keynote speakers, along with great information on Community Gardening. Tickets available soon. Visit www.calhort.org to learn more.

CSL: Can you give a a top 5 list of easy plants to grow?

Pollock:
– salad greens of all kinds
– cherry tomatoes
– culinary herbs (such as sage, thyme, dill, marjoram, mint, rosemary,

winter and summer savory)
– sugar peas (edible pod)
– potatoes
– strawberries
– kale (and make kale chips!)
– raspberries

CSL: What are the plans to expand the community garden program in the next while?

Pollock:Calgarians are gathering in over 40 neighbourhoods exploring t

Courtesy CalHort.

 

The possibility of starting a community gardening project in their neighbourhood. Waiting lists are beginning to grow for the 21 public community gardens. Many other Calgarians are quietly sharing their backyard with other gardeners who want to grow food crops. And this is only January!

CSL: What is the most popular plant to grow?

Pollock: Calgary food gardeners are a pretty amazing group growing everything from artichokes to zebra zucchini!  My guess would be tomatoes. Whether you grow cherry, beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes the taste is truly extraordinary!   Just remember to plant hardy seedling varieties in large containers that thrive in a high altitude climate, park them in a very sunny spot, feed them tomato food dissolved in their daily drink of water and you’ll have a wonderful crop!

For more of Calhort, see the Spring 2010 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.