Growing Food With Sharon Hanna:
Taking a trip out to West Creek Farms in search of good, high quality organic soil
Last spring I wanted to take my Gaia ‘Growing Food In the City’ program class somewhere to see how soil was “made.” There seemed to be a real problem finding a source of organic soil for people to grow food—even amongst all kinds of people involved in programs all over the Lower Mainland. It struck me as odd that you can buy 50 million different kinds of useless things every time you turn around, but sourcing good soil seemed a mystery, even for professionals.
Years back when I worked with Odessa Bromley at her nursery in Southlands, we used a beautiful, high-quality gritty potting mix to pot up the field-grown perennials. Turns out it had come from West Creek—that’s all I knew, so I gave the place a call.
West Creek Farms in Fort Langley
So I took my class out to Fort Langley to check out West Creek Farms, which involved a beautiful drive out in the country on a sunny Sunday in May. About 30 of us showed up for a tour, led by Frederick Munn, co-owner of the company.
Those of us in love with soil and soil amendments were led swooning around the huge area, smelling the mile-high piles of bark mulch being aerated with pipes—like aged tobacco or fine Cabernet—as well as big cargo containers of organic rice hulls and other stuff in various stages of mellowing.
The experiment: Which soil mix for what veggie
Frederick and I struck up a soil-based friendship and began a conversation about trialing various soil mixes to see which grew what veggie best. For example, I’ve always had a hard time growing beets at home—so we’re going to try beets in all the mixes to see which one yields the best.
Truck driver Rob King, a jack of all trades, whipped up six raised beds, 4 feet by 12 feet. We thought we’d try three “organic” and three “conventional” types of soil mixes, and garlic seed was planted in mid-October.
Operations manager Tommy Floyd got too way enthusiastic—carried away even—and arranged to do 18 more beds for 24 in total! So there’s lots of room for growing food this year. Looks like West Creek will have a demonstration garden ready for viewing sometime this summer… Right, Frederick?
The aisles between, I said to Frederick, were way too wide: “such a waste in all that full sun.” So “we” have decided to plant lots of pumpkins and squash in those wide swaths, allowing them to run all over the place and using the lasagna garden method of building up an instant garden. It will be no problem getting the organic material for all the layers.
Frederick attended the workshop I had the pleasure of leading for landscapers last Friday, put on by the BCLNA. Not having been a grower of food up until this point, Frederick has a steep learning curve ahead of him but I think he’s up to it.
“I am very excited to launch this project as it provides an opportunity to use our experiences, skills and creativity and at the same time gain additional knowledge about soils,” he says. “Working with Sharon has been a rewarding experience and I look forward to making a contribution to the further development of organics!”
‘Frederick’s Organic Concoction’ soil mix recipe
Here’s the recipe for “Frederick’s Organic Concoction,” one of the three being trialed:
“…A blend of mushroom, duck and other composts. Includes kelp, fish meal, worm castings, red wiggler worms (actual worms) and more.”
Stay tuned—I hope to do a few more postings about how this pans out…
For more from Sharon, check out her blog postings at HotBeds.