Aeroponics in Victoria

Tomato and basil plants growing aeroponically

Basil and tiny tomato plants

For the first time in a long while I went on a farm tour of sorts last Thursday. This one was a tour of an aeroponics project run by Harvest and Share Food Relief Society. It’s housed on the grounds of Victoria’s Government House, next to its vegetable garden and Victory Over COVID Garden.

While I am not generally a big fan of artificial growing media (more on that shortly) this one was set up with the worthwhile goal to provide fresh greens to local food banks and community kitchens during the summer growing season. Currently they’re growing basil, baby romaine and tiny grape tomatoes.

The setup involves aluminum pyramids with planting holes spaced 6 inches apart; each of the 25 planters can hold 136 plants. The plants are started in peat plugs, set into small plastic baskets that fit the planting holes. Foam (styrofoam) is often used in such systems, but can’t be cleaned or easily recycled. The system is lightweight and planters can be tipped up or moved to allow maintenance of the spray nutrient system that feeds them.

Aeroponics pyramid planter growing lettuce

Baby romaine lettuce

Aeroponics planters, man showing plant pot

Planters & pots

Aeroponics pyramid planter

Plants seen from below

The plant roots extend into the growing space where they are misted with a liquid nutrient running through a pipe system beneath the planters, set on timers and propelled with a pump system. The excess liquid runs back into a collection bin where it is filtered and recycled. The nutrient liquid is changed at regular intervals, and the misting system needs checking and cleaning as it can get clogged.

Like many food growing innovations, some of the preliminary research into this method of food production came from the cannabis industry (Michael Pollen remarks on cannabis-grower-inspired horticultural innovation in Botany of Desire)

Aeroponics planter showing plant roots

Plant roots within the pyramid

Aeroponics pyramid planter watering system

Misting head and pipes

Aeroponics system inflow nutrient bin

Nutrient recycling bin

The original design of this system was set up for growing basil; plants with larger leafy systems need to be spaced more widely. For example, the planters do work well with potatoes, which will extend inside the pyramid with the leafy matter above, but the plants need to be spaced more widely and/or positioned where their bushy leaves don’t intrude on what else is growing in the same planter. Other plants have been tried, including broccoli and squash, but speed and quantity are the goals in the current setup.

Hopes for the future are to extend the growing season by building a greenhouse (the system is located on the cement pad once used for the greenhouse that served the Government House kitchen).

There are compromises in every agricultural method. Aeroponics is admired for its clean, water-conserving and productive features and small footprint. The nutrients in the foods grown are believed to be similar to those in soil-based methods, although of course it depends which nutrient mix, which growing conditions, and which soil you are talking about.

However, held to a sustainability lens, this particular system does depend on peat plugs, plastic pots, plastic piping and electricity to run; and relies on an imported liquid nutrient mix. So it will never be free of external inputs as a soil-based farm can be. Done on a large scale, it can take farmland out of production and damage the health of the soil beneath its operations as readily as any other human activity. Moved indoors / into a greenhouse, additional requirements include heating and dehumidification systems = more electricity.

Growing without soil means that humans must attempt to mimic nature in providing the nutrients for plant growth; our species has determined there are 17 (or maybe 18) essential plant nutrients, but in the soil of course there are far more micronutrients, as well as microbial helpers working synergistically to nourish plants and build soil, adapted to different soil and climactic conditions. To my mind, there are as well question marks around the source (sustainability) of the ingredients in the nutrient mix, as well as the risk of diseases that can be swiftly circulated through a closed system.

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Poetry walking in Saskatchewan

A week spent with environmental literati from around the country and beyond was stimulating, delicious and rather warm at times. The first ALECC conference since pandemic times was, as they say, an intimate affair – not everyone who could have attended was yet willing or able to rub shoulders – but protective measures such as masked indoor events felt safe and comradely.

Tuesday, the evening before the conference began, Mari-Lou Rowley, Katherine Lawrence and I read from our new collections to a live (masked) audience who joyously filled the reading space at McNally Robinson, with another 35 or so attending online through the magic of live streaming.

On Wednesday, Mari-Lou and I attended ALECC’s opening reception (the food was excellent and plentiful) and caught up with some familiar names and faces. Ariel Gordon, Tanis MacDonald and Kit Dobson read from their new books with Wolsak and Wynn, and the “Confluence” exhibit by Susan Shantz was on throughout the conference in the next door gallery (her talk on Friday night, “Confluences of Water, Art and Science,” with collaborator Graham Strickert, was excellent)



Thursday I was teaching online all morning and turned up in time for the first of two Poetry Walks, with Ariel and Tanis. It was much fun – we walked along a walking / running trail, stopping at intervals to read poems to our followers. Ariel borrowed one of ALECC’s helpful balloons to guide us.


Rhona, reading from Larder


Ah that green balloon


Tanis and Ariel under the cottonwood trees


We pause to sniff some wild aromatics

The setting for our Thursday night barbecue dinner was stunning; a hidden grove on the campus of our host organization, the University of Saskatchewan. The prairie dogs (Richardson’s Ground Squirrels) appeared not to have found this space, busy as they were gorging on the drifts of elm seed that covered much of the city… another sign of trouble, since trees shed seed when feeling stressed and needing to secure their genetic futures.

A river of elm seed on a Saskatoon street

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel – making the grounds  somewhat hazardous to human walkers

Friday was a long and rather warm day, temperatures starting to climb into the high 20s. Technical difficulties interrupted a video session, but it was all low tech for readings in the  “Ceremony, Desire, Requiem: The Poetics of Water and Land” panel. Sheri Benning kicked off with a reading from Field Requiem (starting with the beautiful “Winter Sleep” which was featured in film form on the Paris Review website last winter). Self-described “Indiginerd” Tenille K. Campbell followed with a passionate romp through poems from Nedí Nezu, and some straight talk on some realities of indigeneity in northern SK.

Saturday was a hot one, with temperatures forecast to reach 36c, so I was delighted to find we had a good following for our final poetry walk. Ariel, Tanis and I were joined by Lisa Bird-Wilson who read work about residential schools, while we read mostly environmental poems including a couple by Victoria poet Yvonne Blomer, who had planned the event but was unable to attend.

Lisa Bird-Wilson

Ariel reads, in the Sculpture Park

Tanis reads – finally some blessed shade

At least the pelicans could chill in the South Saskatchewan River

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Next stop: Saskatoon

I’ll be lifting off on Monday – first trip off Vancouver Island since 2019 – and flying to Saskatoon, where I’ll be reading at 7pm on Tuesday evening with two fabulous Saskatchewan poets, Mari-Lou Rowley and Katherine Lawrence at McNally Robinson Booksellers. It will be livestreamed for those who can’t make it! The event link is right here on Facebook.

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Bake Sale Update – The Final Tally!

The bake sale! We did it! The final menu featured 21 different items baked by six local bakers. Of these items, 19 were gluten-free, 20 were dairy free, 15 were vegan and 2 were raw foods.

Grateful thanks to the bakers, to the shoppers, and to the people who donated funds that got us to an eye-popping $1000 by the end of that long and tiring day! Funds went to Red Cross Canada’s Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine. From the generosity shown, it seems I was not the only one wanting to stop anguishing and actively support something.

A number of those who stopped by were unable to eat gluten, and expressed delight at having so many options to choose from at a bake sale.

Here is what we had on offer, just so you know what you missed, if you missed it:

  1. Almond Brownies (GF, DF)
  2. Banana bread (GF, DF)
  3. Breakfast bars (GF, DF)
  4. Cassava Flour Pizza Crackers (GF, DF, vegan)
  5. Coconut Chocolate Truffles (GF, DF, vegan, raw)
  6. Deli “Rye” bread (GF, vegan)
  7. Granola bars (vegan)
  8. Mama’s Muffins (GF, DF, vegan)
  9. Mini chocolate cakes w/ chocolate icing (GF)
  10. Oat cakes (DF, vegan)
  11. Oat peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (GF, DF, vegan)
  12. Olive bread (GF, vegan)
  13. Orange Mini Muffins (GF, vegan)
  14. Paleo Seed Crackers (GF, DF, vegan)
  15. Peach Upside-Down Cake (GF)
  16. Peanut butter cookies (GF, DF, vegan)
  17. Peasant Bread (GF, vegan)
  18. Savoury muffins (GF, DF, vegan)
  19. Sourdough Flax Crackers (GF, DF, vegan, raw)
  20. Twix bites (GF, DF, vegan)
  21. Whole Grain Seeded bread (GF)

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The Poetry of a Healthy Bake Sale

The News has become a dark place, and February 24 was a darker day than most. For a couple of months I felt crushed, dodged war reports, hunkered down in helpless anguish.

Then one day an email dropped into my inbox from The Real Bread Campaign, reminding me that there was indeed something I could do. I could bake!

I managed to enlist a few other like-minded bakers, and an idea was born. A healthy baking bake sale!

And so it will be, this very weekend. We’re defining healthy in any way we choose; the only condition being an ingredient list so buyers can decide if our views match up.

I’m still deciding what to make. So far I’ve made some favourite crackers – cassava flour – and some sourdough flax crackers. Planning to make some banana bread (GF) and some chocolate-coconut truffles; some muffins; maybe if there’s time some cookies too.

By other hands we also have GF / vegan peanut butter choc chip cookies, rhubarb bars, savory muffins and homemade Twix bars; and some magnificent gluten free olive bread and GF “fake rye” bread.

Our bakers include CSNN grads and GTUF members and I thank them for their generous donations of food and time. Quality cooking takes quality ingredients, and great care. I’m hoping we’ll get a good turnout on Sunday afternoon and be able to turn over some needed funds for the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal. Any leftovers will be donated to a local community kitchen or two.


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