Winter Harvests at Floating Gardens

Visiting a greenhouse on a 40 degree Saskatchewan day was not the best decision we’ve ever made, but it was well worth it, sweat stains and all.  Why?  Because we got to see the Floating Gardens in Osler, Saskatchewan, a farm unlike any other we’ve visited.  We have been consistently impressed by the innovation of the food-growing folks in our country; from John Lenart’s apples, to Jackie Milne’s root cellar, and now sibling duo Chris and Rachel Buhler’s all-season greenhouses just north of Saskatoon.

Chris and Rachel grew up on a farm and wanted to go into business together.  Chris was inspired to continue farming when he learned Saskatchewan grew only 4.7% of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the province.  This is a staggeringly low number, especially next to Alberta and Manitoba who grow closer to 40% of their own produce in a similar climate.  Chris and Rachel wanted to help reduce Saskatchewan’s food insecurity, so they wrote a business plan for a farm that would see them growing fresh veggies, herbs, and greens all year round. 

The farm name includes ‘Floating’ because all of their plants are grown hydroponically, which means they are grown without soil.  Most of them (tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, and more) are grown in coconut fibre, which is able to maintain a good balance of air and water, ensure a healthy root system, and encourage fast growth.  Supported by intricate systems of ropes and pulleys, the crops grow up, requiring less room. 

Spanning just half an acre, their greenhouses grow a variety of crops that supply several restaurants and market patrons with fresh veggies throughout the year.  In the winter, their greenhouses can usually get to about 20 degrees Celsius during the day, and, throughout the night, the temperature is maintained with a wood fire.  The wood they burn is all scrap wood discarded by larger companies, diverted from the landfill.

Their kale, chard, lettuce greens, and herbs are grown in what’s called a ‘float culture’.  The seeds are sprouted, then placed in a styrofoam sheet, and left to float in nutrient balanced water. 

New seedlings are added regularly, pushing the increasingly more mature plants to the other end of the container.  Once the plants reach the other end, they are fully grown and ready to be harvested.  One of their biggest challenges is keeping up with the demand, and growing this way means they always have a consistent harvest for the restaurants that have come to rely on them.

Leaving the greenhouse, Rachel and Chris rewarded us for surviving the temperatures with some ice-cold lemonade and basil, eggplant, and tomatoes for the road.  

Growing fresh greens in the middle of a Saskatchewan winter sounds crazy, but Floating Gardens is an example of how innovation and (insanely) hard work can achieve just that.  Thanks so much to Chris and Rachel for having us!