About us

Campus Crops is a student run urban gardening initiative at McGill University's downtown campus. We want to grow food on campus, by students, for students. We have been running garden behind the School of Environment building at 3534 University since 2007. In 2009 we started a terrace garden behind the James Administration building. We're really excited to keep improving these two spaces, and need lots of helping hands for the summer ahead! Get in touch and get gardening!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

McGill's Great Flood, 2013 edition: Ruined Efforts and Modifications to Plans

As many of you may know, on Monday January 28, a broken pipe on Dr. Penfield St. released thousands of litres of water from the McTavish reservoir on the McGill downtown campus. A considerable amount of that water unfortunately swept through our garden, until the flood was reduced to a large stream entering the campus near the Wong building and exiting at the Roddick Gates.

The damage to our garden and nearby area was considerable. The (sketchy) drawing below reconstructs the path taken by the water around our garden.

Click to embiggen.

The water emerged near the Wong building (photo credits to the McGill Daily) and flowed through the on-campus street to the path along the MSE building leading to University St (shown on the drawing). The water removed bricks from the path over a length of approximately 5 meters (shown by the hatched part of the path on the drawing) and dug into the ground about a meter deep there. Part of the water then went directly on University St by following the path (photo credits: McGill Daily) while the rest flowed toward our garden, carrying with it the bricks from the path and smaller rocks from under the path.

At this point, the water dug out the tarp that was covering a knotweed patch near our garden, the result of a lot of work this last summer. About half of the tarp was removed from over the knotweed patch. The water probably carried pieces of knotweed who knows where (Carl's personal take on this: there's knotweed in the garden). The stream was divided again, part of it flowing through our garden while the rest made it to University St through the MSE driveway.

Finally, most of our garden was washed away by the water. A major part of the stream exited toward University St. through the weird alley between the Birks building and the MSE building (which is a few meters lower than ground level in the garden). The basement of the MSE building was also flooded. (The picture shows the "Door to basement" on the drawing above, but from the inside. The door is about a meter below the garden's ground level. Photo credits: Aaron Eger).

Our perennials, covered by green plastic containers along the Birks building, were saved from the water, but the rest of the garden was completely destroyed as the topsoil and the organic matter we added this fall to improve the soil were seemingly replaced by poor-quality soil, bricks and rocks coming from the path and the knotweed patch.

Below are some pictures of the garden taken by Jess on January 29 (the day after the flood).

The garden, as seen from the MSE driveway, on the right of the staircase. The perennials are located along the wall where the wooden structures are.

Looking toward the knotweed patch. The trench in the upper right corner was originally filled with soil and rocks to hold the tarp in place.

The garden, through the staricase. On the left is the wrapped potato box. Hopefully the box hasn't been damaged by the water.

Another shot looking at the knotweed patch. The hole in the path can also be clearly seen above the tarp.

What now?

Obviously, a lot of time, energy and money just ended up in the sewers. The people who started the garden in 2007 did a lot of work to remove the rocks and improve the soil in the garden, but, with the flood, in terms of soil condition for the garden, it's literally back to square one for Campus Crops. It seems that we'll have a lot of work to do in order to restore the garden to a usable state. We might not be able to use it to grow vegetables next summer.

We haven't discussed a plan for the restoration of the garden yet, and that is something we will surely discuss with our new volunteers at our General Meeting this semester, but we'll have no choice but to remove as many rocks as possible and see what we can do with the soil that is left. 

There are a lot of possibilities to restore the garden. We'll probably aim for an organic agriculture solution and try to build the soil back to something more manageable over the summer without having to import lots of materials. We could also decide to add a lot of organic material at once to be able to use it early in the season. Or we could add some organic materials and hope to be able to plant fall crops in the middle of the summer.

It may still be possible to install a temporary container garden at or near the site for the summer so we can grow some vegetables.

Stay tuned for updates regarding what we'll do with the garden this summer!

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