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community gardens in Calgary: Southwood

Community Gardens Series 1.0:  Southwood

This is the first installment of a series of blog pots on community gardens around the city of Calgary. We’ll chat with gardeners around the city who are getting involved with their neighbourhoods and growing food within the city.

Our first garden story comes from the community of Southwood, where we’ve been in touch with Teresa, one of the organizers for the garden.  The Southwood Community Garden “was installed last year in 2011. We have a small but dedicated team. A few people on the committee were interested in permaculture techniques and so we did our best to integrate some permaculture ideas in the garden such as the swales, herb spiral and wicking beds”.

The herb spiral was one of our favourite parts of the Southwood garden’s charm.  The spiral is connected to the permaculture movement in that the shape itself mimics a natural pattern and makes and efficient use of space (a garden row has been condensed into the circular shape).  Making use of the vertical space allows for individual micro-climates to be created with drier, sunnier spaces on top and shadier spaces with more moisture lower down in the spiral.

One of the biggest successes that the Southwood garden has had over the past two years is its program to have students from Ethel M Johnson Elementary school participate in some of their gardening activities.  Last year, students participated in two gardening days: one for planting and a second one for harvesting. According to Teresa, a keen teacher in the neighbourhood responded to letters from the Southwood Community and was able to bring students from Grades 2 and 3 out for gardening activities such as painting plant markers, starting pea plants and creating a bean teepee.  Their “planting day with the students at Ethel M Johnson was very successful.

The kids really seem to enjoy working in the garden and [she thinks that] it’s so important they have the opportunity”. The students have been able to learn a little bit about permaculture techniques while tilling a cover crop of rye into the soil.  During their harvest day, the kids were able to make seed balls, pick squash, beans and potatoes and tie some of their learning into their studies of the book “Little House on the Prairie”.  A third of the produce was brought back to the school and a special squash even became the class mascot!

Embracing the best parts of community gardening, Teresa “likes feeling part of something. I think it is more fun to garden with others.  It’s a great way to get to know people in your community that share your interests. I have made a lot of great friends through the garden.” The response from the community has been very positive so far, though most of the current gardeners are those looking for extra space to what they currently have.  In addition to the herb spiral and communally maintained mounded beds, there are 14 raised beds – 10 of which are rented out and the others are used by youth groups. There is currently no wait-list for the gardens, but interested gardeners could get in touch with the Southwood Community Garden organizers to express their interest.

Not without challenges, the Southwood group does find that it can be tough to get enough hands out to planned work days.  They’ve been able to take advantage of the Community Service Work Crews for some of the labour, which had really helped to get a lot of the original construction work completed.

Are there any unusual features that the Southwood Community Garden has that your community is especially proud of?

“We are proud of our rainwater collection system and swale system. The overflow from the rain tanks go into a swale which brings the water into the garden area and close to the mounded beds. We were also one of the first gardens in Calgary to try out wicking beds. We have two wicking beds that hold water in a reservoir on the bottom of the bed where the soil wicks it up to slowly water the plants from below. We are working on planting trees and shrubs now.”

What are some of the practices that you require your gardeners to abide by (i.e. composting, water-use, organic, etc.)

“We need to work on our composting system, currently we just hold work days. Water generally comes from the rain tanks but if there is a lot of watering to be done then we have access to the Community halls water as well. We are organic. Gardeners are encouraged to use mulch and winter cover crops. Everyone is to weed the area around their bed and needs to commit to leading a couple workdays/summer and one garden duty (such as organizing a potluck). Although we haven’t been too strict about enforcing these rules.”

And last but not least, how do you keep the rabbits out of the lettuce?

“We always see the rabbits around in the fields but we haven’t seen too much evidence of rabbit damage. I don’t think they like the raised beds too much and they don’t seem to eat too much out of the herb spiral either. If we do have big problems with them we will put up little animal fences. Our compost system is also a bit of a challenge. I think we have wasps living in it now. I’m afraid to turn it.”

Thanks to Teresa at Southwood for sharing about her Community Garden!  Next time, we’ll hear from the folks at the brand-new Kensington Community Garden.

Leave a note about your community gardening experiences, or if you’d like innercityfarmers to feature your garden!


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