Warm spring gives Edmonton's gardens an early start

Warm, sunny weather so far this spring means Edmonton’s in for a great early gardening season. So great, in fact, that one urban farmer says lettuce seeds planted this weekend could be next week’s salad.

An Edmonton urban farmer says salad greens grow well this time of year

Travis Kennedy, a grower at Northlands Urban Farm, has already harvested spinach and garlic this season. (CBC)

Warm, sunny weather so far this spring means Edmonton is in for a great early gardening season.

So great, in fact, that one urban farmer says lettuce seeds planted this weekend could be next week's salad.


"If you went to your garden this weekend, seeded, and watered, I wouldn't be surprised if you had lettuce growing by next week," said Travis Kennedy, a grower at Northlands Urban Farm.

"The night temperatures are amazing right now, so our crops are just leaping out of the ground. Last year, it would be dropping below zero at this time of year. So we're seeing huge growth, it's awesome."

Kennedy told Radio Active a warm, early spring is perfect for planting various salad greens — mustard greens, spinach and lettuce all grow well before the heat of mid-summer, when other crops, like tomatoes, typically do well.

For the urban farmer, salad greens offer a little more bang for their buck. Their cycle is typically from 21 to 28 days, Kennedy said, meaning growers can harvest multiple crops and plant numerous rotations throughout the growing season.

Our crops are just leaping out of the ground.- Travis Kennedy, urban farmer

He said the leafy greens produce a better yield and take up less space than, say, potatoes, which require a lot of space for a single harvest.

Kennedy, who's also a co-founder of Lactuca Urban Farm, knows a thing or two about the importance of a good crop yield to growing space ratio — he harvests a one-acre plot at Northlands Urban Farm, supplying his produce to local markets and restaurants. 

"So we really need to focus on intensive cropping and rotational harvests throughout the season. That's where the urban farm niche is, and it's really important to seize that niche," he said.

Cold frames key to extending growing season

Kennedy has a couple tricks for making the most out of our 90 to 120-day growing season. His biggest advice for urban gardeners? Invest in a cold frame.

"I think every home gardener in a northern climate should have a cold frame," Kennedy said. "That's just a little piece of glass or plastic that you put over your garden in early spring, March and April, and that will give you a six-week advantage over everybody else."

Kennedy said a cold frame acts as both insulation and amplification. It amplifies heat during the day, spreading it across a planter box's soil. At night, it protects plants by offering a bit of insulation, protecting your veggies from temperatures that could still dip below zero.

The technique has allowed him to harvest pungent garlic and leafy spinach already this year.

The only minor downside to the warm spring weather has been the dry soil, he said. Minimal snow cover throughout the winter left the ground parched, but, Kennedy said, on the plus side it does make it easier to get seeds in the ground without worrying about excess moisture.

For large-scale farmers in rural areas the outlook isn't so rosy, he said. This winter's low snowpack means many farmers will be relying on rainfall for bountiful crops this summer.

"They have to wait for it to rain and then hope the soil moisture sustains their crops. It could be a rough year," Kennedy said.

"Urban farmers, we just turn on the tap."


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