Green shoots are already bursting up from the ground at Steel Pony Farm, just south of Red Deer.
The garlic is strong and healthy and the 20-plus trays of leeks and onions were transplanted from the on-site greenhouse into the field earlier this week, said Mike Kozlowski, the founder and owner of the nearly seven-acre vegetable growing operation.
Members of the leafy brassica family — broccoli raab, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choi and brussels sprouts — were also moved to “harden up” outside before transplanting.
There are about 10,000 individual plants to put into the ground this year, Kozlowski, said, spanning 40 different crops and over 120 different varieties of those crops, including new produce like the soft-skinned delicata winter squash.
It’s a big leap from his first year of farming in 2011 on two acres when everything was hand sown and hand tilled.
Last year, he bought a tractor with brother-in-law Blake Hall of Prairie Gold Pastured Meats for all the primary tillage but continues to use hand tools for in-row cultivation.
“In my first year I was sworn off petroleum products and it took me and three other people three weeks to turn the soil by hand with shovels and forks. … Last year it took me six hours alone and I did over double the amount of land from 2012,” he said. “It’s a mechanical advantage I’m willing to get behind.”
A community-supported agriculture undertaking, Steel Pony began after Kozlowski, 30, spent the summer of 2010 bicycling around the province visiting other small and sustainable farms. The team delivers weekly food boxes of fresh vegetables to share members at $695 per season and will also be at the downtown market on Wednesdays. Half-boxes are available every other week as well for half the price.
He hopes to serve 120 families and still has shares available.
New this year will be an irrigation system to improve efficiency and crop yield, Kozlowski said.
“There’s different pressure regulators so there’s lots to learn. … It’s almost been dumb luck that I’ve been getting water onto the field in the past. We’ve watered by hand in near drought situations but it’s just not time effective at all or a good use of labour so this will be sweet.”
Over the coming weeks, it will be time to start direct seeding in the field for the farm team — consisting of Kozlowski, his sister Amanda, Jessica Eslinger, Jennie Greven and Paul Sutherland. This means burying the seeds for spinach, radishes, lettuce and herbs, Kozlowski explained.
He will be working on soil amendments this summer to improve the harvest such as a calcium product and a compost tea extract. He’s experimented with raw milk, fish and kelp products and compost additives to the soil in the past.
In the future, he plans to incorporate animals, specifically cattle, into the farm as a way to recycle nutrients into the soil and work more with public awareness and participation.
“In Red Deer, people are desperate for good food. I want to figure out a way to empower these people interested in farming to come out to the farm and take ownership for different projects, even have them managing their own operations potentially, and then there is all this collaborating to get as much good, clean, chemical-free food into Red Deer as we can.”