Making your own soil
Many gardeners from Northern communities use some form of composting or vermiculture; living in the North only means modifying the usual procedures
by Emma Levez
NNSL (Apr 20/98) - Considering that quality soil is difficult to come by in the Northwest Territories, composting and vermiculture, two ways in which gardeners can enrich their soil, would seem to be an obvious answer.
On the other hand, because of the frigid temperatures that dominate the better part of the year, is the use of these methods practical?
Many gardeners from Northern communities use some form of composting or vermiculture; living in the North only means modifying the usual procedures.
Composting supplies soil with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, three of the most important nutrients needed for plant growth.
The usual method of composting is done in a bin outdoors, starting with a layer of coarse material (such as branches or grass cuttings), a layer of something that will decompose quickly (like old compost, rotted manure or seaweed), and then layers of garbage (including green wastes, eggshells, peels, coffee grounds, etc.), some with soil and others with coarse material.
The speed of composition depends on the amount of moisture and air that is getting to the compost.
This process works best in mild climates, but there are still people in the North who make use of the enriching benefits of composting to their soil.
Stan Hutyra, a seasoned northern gardener in Yellowknife says "One of the most important fertilizers is a natural one. I shred banana, potato and orange peels and mix them into the soil, and this provides nitrogen for the plants."
Sister Isabelle, who helps in the greenhouse located at the Home for the Handicapped in Chesterfield Inlet, also uses a form of composting in her soil fertilization: "I do a bit of composting, but find it too slow, so I squish up eggshells and use them."
Vermicomposting is perhaps a more realistic form of composting for Northern gardeners because it is done indoors.
Burt and Joanne Rose, who live in Iqaluit, started practising vermiculture after they saw an article about it in a gardening magazine.
Burt carried the start-up worm kit (in his jacket!), all the way from Toronto, not without coming across a few escapees once he had arrived and taken off his jacket. The container the Rose's keep the worms in is two feet in diameter and 18 inches high; they feed them mostly vegetable matter.
The size of the container and the number of worms you need depends on the amount of waste your household produces; start out with fewer worms -- if food is plentiful, they will reproduce.
Burt says, "You start off with a mash of wet, shredded newspaper, and once they get through that you feed them peelings from vegetables, and any kind of vegetable table scraps."
The castings the Rose's get from the worms, they blend with the soil they buy or find locally; they use the enriched soil in their garden and for their house plants.
Many people would not find keeping a box full of worms in their home very appealing, but this is necessary since the worms are very temperature sensitive.
Burt remarks, "The worms have to be kept at a temperature above 75 degrees Fahrenheit so we keep them in a closet off the kitchen...it's out of the way and it doesn't smell. They don't bother us and we don't bother them."