All posts by Paul Hughes

Vegetable of the Week – Kale

For the first week of February, we decided that this week’s vegetable is going to be Kale! I know, I know. We can almost hear the groans coming from our computer. But don’t fret, we are here to change your opinion on the amazing superfood that kale is!

Kale is high in beta carotene, vitamin K and C, as well as its rich in calcium. Kale contains sulforaphane, which is a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties. It also is a source of indole-3-carbinol, which is a chemical that boosts DNA repair in the cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. Kale also contains elements that lower the cholesterol and decrease the absorption of dietary fats. Kale is also an important vegetable due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Fun Fact: Interestingly enough, kale, along with broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi are all derived from Brassica oleracea AKA wild cabbage! This includes the condensed shoot (=cabbage), flower cluster (=broccoli), lateral buds (=brussel sprouts) of wild cabbage. They have undergone hundreds of years of selection by humans picking the desired traits. These traits are selected based upon the genotype (what the plants “code” is) of the wild cabbage. That has therefore lead to the formation of different groups within the wild cabbage species that grow into the green vegetables we love to grow and eat!

Check out this healthy kale and quinoa salad recipe that is delicious and easy to make!

Quinoa Salad with Kale and Feta


1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

1/3 cup dried cranberries

olive oil, for cooking

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

1 small bunch of kale, thinly sliced (discard the tough ribs)

salt and pepper

1/2 cup crumbled feta

1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted

a squeeze of lemon


In a medium pot, bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil. Add the quinoa and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and cover for 15-20 minutes. When finished cooking, add the cranberries and cover with the lid and set aside to cool.

In a medium pan over medium heat, drizzle olive oil into the pan and saute the onion for a couple of minutes, until soft. Add the kale to the pan and cook for approximately 5 minutes until it has wilted. If desired, add a small splash of water to the pan to create steam and cover for a few minutes. Season with salt. If you added water, remove the lid and cook until the moisture has evaporated. Add the kale and onions to the quinoa, along with the feta and almonds. Drizzle with oil and lemon and season with salt and pepper. Toss and serve immediately. 



Vegetable of the Week – Spinach

Grow Calgary is excited to announce that we are going to have a vegetable of the week. These vegetables are ones we organically grow on the farm. We will be sharing nutritional information, benefits, as well as a recipe for you! This week’s vegetable is spinach.

We all know that Popeye reached for spinach to increase his strength, and it turns out he knew what he was doing. Although eating a whole bag of spinach won’t make you have super strength, it will however provide you with essential vitamins and nutrients. Spinach is one of the healthiest vegetables due to the fact that it is very nutrient rich. It is high in vitamins and minerals and concentrated in health-promoting antioxidants.

Spinach helps against anti inflammatory, oxidative stress, bone and cardiovascular problems, as well as cancer.Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, iron, copper, calcium, potassium, and vitamin C, to name a few. It also is a good source of dietary fiber and protein. Spinach is low in calories and carbohydrates, and has zero fat. In 1 cup of spinach, you have 987% of your daily vitamin K and 105% of your daily vitamin A!

You can incorporate spinach into your daily diet quite easily! You could add it to your smoothies (honestly, you can’t taste it!! I promise!), eggs, pasta, use it in a salad, put it in a wrap, on your sandwiches, make spinach dip (although not the healthiest option, it is one of the tastiest), among other things. Below is a recipe for a fresh spinach and berry salad, perfect for a summer lunch!

Strawberry Balsamic Spinach Salad


3 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 tsp sea salt, plus a punch or two more

1 cup fresh strawberries, washed and dried

5 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and dried

3 tbsp shallots, minced

1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

ground pepper to taste


In a small bowl whisk the balsamic, 1/4 tsp of sea salt, and olive oil until it is emulsified.

Place the spinach into a medium-sized bowl and drizzle half the dressing onto the leaves, and toss until fully covered. Add the strawberries, shallots, and feta; add more dressing. Taste the salad and add more dressing or salt as needed. Finish with freshly ground black pepper and serve!





Early Germination

As everyone knows, the weather in Calgary can be quite unpredictable! We are all familiar with the occasional snow and frost in April, May and sometimes June, which coincides with the start of our growing season. Due to the unpredictability of the weather, Grow Calgary tries ensure a top-notch growing season by germinating plants early in the greenhouses so that they are ready to plant once the weather starts to cooperate.


Weather isn’t the only determinate when deciding to germinate plants. The type of plant, availability of water and sunlight are also important, as well as soil temperature and number of frost days prior to seeding/planting.   

Some may be wondering what is early germination and how does it work? Well, germination is the process by which a plant grows from a seed. Germination starts when a seed is provided with water and the appropriate temperature. The uptake of water by a dry seed is call imbibition, and as the seeds imbibe the water, they expand and the dried enzymes and food supplies then become hydrated. Once the enzymes have been hydrated, they become active and the seed is able to increases its metabolic activities to produce the energy needed for the growing process. The most common example of germination is the sprouting of a seedling from a seed of an angiosperm (flowering plants that produce seeds within an enclosure AKA a fruiting plant – Example: a Rose) or gymnosperm (seeds develop on either the surface of scales or leaves, often in the form of cones – Example: conifers). 


For some dormant seeds, germination depends on a number of environmental factors, some of which include:

  • Water – Seeds are usually very dry and require a significant amount of water before cellular metabolism and growth can occur. Most seeds only need enough water to moisten them, but not enough to soak them.
  • Temperature – Affects the cellular metabolic and growth rates. Seeds germinate over a wide range of temperatures, most of which have a set temperature range that they will not germinate above or below this range. Annual vegetables have an optimal germination temperature of around 24 – 32 C, although some species (e.g. radishes or spinach) can grow at significantly colder temperatures.
  • Oxygen – Used in aerobic respiration, which is the main source of the seedling’s energy until it is able to grow leaves for photosynthesis. Oxygen is found in pore spaces. If the seed is buried too deep in the soil, or if the soil is waterlogged, the seed can become oxygen deprived. 
  • Sunlight – This can be an environmental factor, however most seeds are not affected by this.

Favourites like tomatoes, peppers, zucchini are just some of the vegetables that need to be germinated before planting due to their long and warm growing seasons. 


At Grow Calgary, we use mason jars filled with soil and water to early germinate the seeds. Once germinated they are transplanted into soil in the greenhouses until they are ready to be planted in the ground. 

Grow Calgary is looking forward to the upcoming growing season. Some of the vegetables that we will be growing will be:

  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini 
  • Cucumbers
  • Spinach
  • Radishes
  • Green onions
  • Parsnips
  • Garlic
  • Green Beans 
  • Peas

We are always looking for new volunteers around the farm. If you are interested in helping with the early germination of some of these vegetables, contact us through our website at and click on the volunteer tab!


Grow Calgary’s Organics/Compost Collection Program


Since composting is so easy and rich in nutrients, Grow Calgary has developed an accelerated composting program!

As you can recall from our previous blog post, compost is rich in nutrients and is beneficial to the soil. It acts as a fertilizer, soil conditioner, and can aid in the reduction of erosion. This addition of nutrients at Grow Calgary contributes to the overall health and fertility of the soils. This leads to an increase in yields, which directly benefits the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank Fresh and Local hamper program. 

To acquire the materials needed for a large scale composting program, Grow Calgary works with many local restaurants and food producers to access their commercially produced compostable materials. Some of the participating businesses are Cru Juice, Wild and Raw, and Red’s Diner.

  KFEkcCiR_400x400        rd_logox2 


We receive sod, leaves, grass, and chips from local landscapers and arborists around Calgary. In addition, we assist 20+ Calgary companies with the diversion of organic resources from the landfill for use in our accelerated composting program! This program is part of Grow Calgary’s commitment to sustainable agriculture.

We are looking to expand our collection program and have room for 6 businesses. If you interested in contributing to our accelerated composting program, or have any ideas for additional collections sites, give us a shout at or come by our website


Large Scale Composting

Grow Calgary Accelerated Composting Program

Market Gardening, Urban Farming, & Commercial Organics Collection for Composting at Grow Calgary contribute to the health of our soil resulting in increased yields for the Calgary Food Bank Fresh & Local hamper program. 

Grow Calgary works with many local companies to acquire the materials for our large scale compost program. We source from local restaurants and food producers to access their commercially produced compostable materials. We receive grass, leaves, sod and chips from local landscapers and arborists. We assist 20+ Calgary companies with diversion of organic resources from the landfill for use in Grow Calgary’s Accelerated Composting Program. This is part of Grow Calgary’s commitment to sustainable agriculture.

Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled many times over, and is used as fertilizer and as a soil amendment. Essentially composting requires a large amount of wet organic matter (known as green waste or raw materials), which include leaves, food wastes, grass clippings, etc., and waiting for it to decompose and break down into humus (the black soil found on top of an A horizon aka organic matter).

Decomposition can be sped up by shredding the plant matter, adding water, and ensuring proper aeration by turning the organic matter. Worms, fungi further break up the material, and aerobic bacteria converts the inputs into heat, ammonium, and carbon dioxide. 

Compost is rich in nutrients and can be beneficial to the soil. It acts as a fertilizer, soil conditioner, and can aid in the reduction of erosion, reduce landfill input, and save you money!

* Fun fact: over 60% of what we put into landfills each year is organic waste, and can be recycled through composting! 

Compost is composed of 4 ingredients: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and water. A combination of these ingredients makes the perfect conditions for breakdown of materials.

Composting on a small scale is quite manageable, however, on a large scale requires more thought and planning. There are two different methods for large scale composting: wind-row composting and in-vessel composting.

Wind-row composting has three different methods:

  • Turned wind-rows
  • Passively aerated wind-rows
  • Aerated static pile
Turned wind-rows

Turned wind-rows are essentially long narrow rows of compost that are turned or agitated on a regular basis. This turning/agitation mixes the organic matter and enhances passive aeration of the mixture.

Passively aerated wind-rows are a little more complicated. With this method, air is supplied to the decomposing material via perforated pipes that are embedded into each wind-row. This therefore eliminates the need for turning or agitation. The ends of the pipe are open to allow for air flow in and out. Since the materials are not turned, it is important that the materials are thoroughly mixed before the are placed on top of the pile. 

Aerated Static Pile

Aerated static piles take passively aerated wind rows to the next level by using a blower to supply air to the organic matter. This method provides control of the airflow and therefore allow for larger piles. Just like passively aerated wind-rows, no turning or agitation is needed. 

In-vessel composting refers to several methods that comprise of confining the organic matter within a vessel, building, or container. These methods consist of turning the material sometimes and forced aeration to speed up the composting process. Some of these methods include:

  • Bin composting
  • Rectangular agitated beds
  • Silos
  • Rotating drums

Bin composting is the simplest in-vessel method. The organic materials are confined by walls and a roof and allow for higher stacking of materials. This method also eliminate weather problems, odour issues, and provide better temperature control inside. Bin composting operates in similar fashion to aerated static pile method. There is some forced aeration and little to no turning of the materials, although occasional remixing and turning of materials can speed up the process.

Rectangular agitated beds is a combination of controlled aeration with periodic turning of the material. The composing is done in beds (long, narrow channels surrounded by walls). A channel or rail on top of the surrounding walls supports and guides a compost-turning machine. Raw material is loaded at the front of the bed. As that turning machine moves forwards, it mixes the compost in the bed and discharges the compost behind itself. With each turn, the turning machine moves the compost towards the end of the bed at a set distance.

Silos are another technique (which resembles a bottom-unloading silo), which involves an auger (large screw that functions as a conveyor belt) that removes the compost from the bottom of the silo, while a mixture of new raw materials is added to the top. There is an aeration system that blows air up into the silo from the base. A downfall of this method is the fact that stacking of the raw materials increases compaction, reduces temperature control, and increases air flow challenges. Since the materials in the silo do not experience significant mixing, raw materials must be thoroughly mixed before being loaded into the silo.

Rotating drums is another method that employs a horizontal rotary drum to mix, aerate, and move the raw materials through the system. The drum is mounted on large bearings and its rotated through a bull gear. Air is supplied via the discharge end and incorporates into the material as it is tumbling, and moves in the opposite direction of the material. 


Soil Amendments – How Do You Improve Soil for Maximum Growth?

A soil amendment is any material added to a soil to improve its physical properties, such as:
  • Water retention
  • Aeration
  • Drainage
  • Permeability
  • Water infiltration
  • Soil structure
For the amendment to do its job, it must be incorporated thoroughly into the soil. If it is buried, the effectiveness is reduced and will consequently interfere with the movement of water and air, as well as root growth and development.
Different Types of Mulch
Amending the soil is not the same as mulching! (Although mulch may be used as an amendment after it has decomposed to the point where it no longer serves its purposes).
Mulch is left on the surface of the soil to reduce evapotranspiration and runoff, inhibit growth of weeds, moderate soil temperature, and to be aesthetically pleasing.
There are two categories of amendments: Organic and Inorganic:
Organic amendments come from something that was alive, such as sphagnum peat, grass clippings, wood chips, compost, straw, manure, wood ash, and sawdust, whereas inorganic amendments are either mined, or man-made, such as vermiculite, tire chunks, pea gravel, and sand.

Just like how every human is different from one another, soils differ too! So it is important to choose soil amendments based on the specific soil characteristics and needs/deficits!
In addition to improving physical properties of soil, organic growers use soil amendments to improve the overall soil fertility, as well as create a healthy habitat for soil life. This over time increases water permeability, aeration, and water & nutrient holding capacity. A number of the minerals and nutrients in the amendments are insoluble and are slowly released. The gradual release is similar to natural nutrient cycles and leads to healthy crops with little or no nutrient leaching.

Using amendments is one method to increase soil productivity, but there are a number of other methods that can be used like:

  • Avoiding soil compaction
  • Reducing tillage (light tillage)
  • Growing cover crops
  • Crop rotation

Decreased soil disturbance allows for the biological activity and organic matter decomposition near the surface, and allows for rainfall to permeate through.

A problem occurring with adding amendments to the soil is the associated cost with large scale operations. Adding amendments to soils to increase productivity can rack up a hefty bill, so knowing how long the amendment will last in the soil and longevity of the amendment is important.

Living in Alberta, we have a slight advantage … MANURE! Ranching and cattle farms in Alberta, especially in Southern Alberta, is a big business, and you are never far away from a steady supply of manure, which is a great soil amendment.

Using manure, grass clippings, and straw are readily available for amendments, and are relatively cost efficient at a large scale, as well as reducing tillage, avoiding compaction of soil, crop rotations, and growing cover crops.

Here at Grow Calgary, we use grass, leaves, sod, and kitchen waste as compost to add to the soil!

Also, check out Grow Calgary’s Facebook and Twitter accounts:


An Introduction to Soil

“Soil is the mixture of minerals, organic matter, gases, liquids, and organisms that together, support plant life”

Soil is the unconsolidated material that lies at the earth’s surface that has been altered over time.

Soil is not dirt! We get rid of dirt, but preserve soil!

Soil is made up of minerals (from rocks), air (lets gasses in and out of the pores in soil), water (keeps reactions proceeding/allows plants and organisms to grow), and organic matter (dead/decaying plant and animal matter). It is also known as the “skin of the Earth”, providing interfaces between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.

Soil, in the end, is a product of the climate, relief (topography, aspect, elevation, and slope), biotic interactions (organisms), and organic material (parent material) interacting over a period of time.

Much of the Earth’s surface is covered by soil, and life on Earth is completely dependent on it, aided with air and moisture.

Soils are constantly undergoing change by physical, chemical, and biological processes. This constant change over time has developed vertically layered structures from the top down (oldest at the bottom, youngest at the top), these are called horizons.

Each horizon is differentiated on the basis of colour, structure, texture, chemistry, and organic matter, among other variables.


The O-Horizon is the organic (humus) layer; This layer is dominated by large amounts of plant and animal residues that are in various stages of decay. This horizon is mainly found in forested areas.

The A-Horizon is the organics mixed with minerals, often referred to as “topsoil”.

The B-Horizon is the sub-soil, which reflects the characteristics of its parent material.

The C-Horizon is the parent material in sedimentary rocks, which is composed of large chunks of rock.

The R-Horizon is the parent material bedrock.

Soil has 6 main roles:

  • Medium for plant growth
  • Regulate water supplies (storage, supply, and purification)
  • Recycles raw materials
  • Modifies the atmosphere (nitrogen/carbon cycles)
  • Engineering medium – We build on it! (Also provides stability for tree roots)

Grow Calgary is committed to our soil program.

Good Soil = Good Food!