APBI402-Riley Park

From UBC Wiki

Case Study: Regrounding Riley Park: a Foundation for Sustainable Soil Management

Case specific learning outcomes

  1. Characterize the soil chemical environment and its modification to enhance plant, animal and human health.
  2. Describe processes of soil genesis, recognize diagnostic features of natural and anthropic soils, and relate management practices to information available for soils of Vancouver.
  3. Discuss the relationship of soil management to Vancouver Park Board policy and community aspirations.


Riley Park is located near the southeast corner of Ontario St. and 30th Ave in an area of Vancouver that is rapidly growing in population and increasingly in need of usable green space for multiple purposes. Subsequent to the move of the Riley Park Community Centre to the Hillcrest Centre and the demolition of the old community centre, ice rink and the Percy Norman Pool; Vancouver Parks and Recreation have carried out a community consultation and design process that has culminated in a redevelopment plan that was officially approved in November 2015. See: http://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/hillcrest-riley-park-improvements.aspx. This plan included development of a youth soccer pitch and challenger baseball field on Hillcrest Park and transportation of soil materials from Hillcrest to Riley Park.

Riley Park native soils have developed in both glacial till (north sector) and glacial marine (south sector) parent materials although the latter is not indicated accurately on the current Vancouver soil map. As much of the park has been developed on anthropic soils (formed by human activity), you may wish to refer to the discussion by Dr. K. Dlusskiy on the need for a new Anthroposolic Soil Order in the Canadian System of Soil Classification summarized in the 2018 presentation Anthroposolic soil order.  This includes reference to an informative research paper by Naeth et al. 2012 that provides a perspective on human made soils and their classification. Another useful reference would be Phillip Craul’s 1999 book “Urban Soils: Applications and Practices.”

The garden site that was handed over to the Riley Park Community gardeners in spring 2017 was severely compacted with virtually no internal drainage. The south half of the site (formerly the site of Percy Norman Pool) consisted of compact fill topped with 10 cm of Vancouver Yard trimmings compost. Some native soil (also compacted and topped with Vancouver Yard trimmings compost) remains in the north half of the garden. Since these factors were unsatisfactory for plant growth, the gardeners acquired a volume of soil sufficient to create raised beds with an average depth of 30 cm. The soil was obtained from a company called Supersoil in Surrey supersoil.ca that re-purposes soil from construction sites for reuse in landscaping. Their treatment includes screening and addition of 25% mushroom compost. This soil was sampled in early 2018 from the storage pile by a 402/502 student prior to the construction of the beds. With a couple of exceptions, no fertilizer or soil amendments were applied during 2017 in order to assess how crops grew in the soil. In 2018 and 2019, garden soils received an application of approximately 2 to 4 cm of compost from Net Zero Waste, an Abbotsford based composting company. An analysis of this compost may be found on the SPEC (Society Promoting Environmental Conservation) website. See South Coastal BC Compost Guide.

A single soil analysis can provide a snapshot of soil health or quality and be a useful guide for short term soil management, however, sustainable soil management requires longer term monitoring of relevant soil quality variables. This is year five for the Riley Park soil assessment and you can refer to 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 data. Our long term intention for the Riley Park APBI 402 project is to create a data base via regular sampling for soil chemical indicators similar to that done for the UBC Farm.  In fact, this is the most comprehensive soil quality data set for any park in Vancouver and possibly in Canada.

The task for the 2020 APBI urban soil management team is to 1) to review the natural history, grounded in its soils, of the park, 2) review the past APBI 402/502 results of our Riley Park groups, and 3) sample and assess the soils in selected beds of The Riley Park Community Garden for their ability to support the growth of plants including vegetables, small fruits (including blueberries), an espaliered orchard, herbs, a “food forest” and a wide variety of pollinator friendly plans, mostly on the perimeter beds of the garden. (See https://www.rileyparkgarden.org) Composite soil samples will be taken to Pacific Soils Analysis Inc. in Richmond to be analyzed as per a complete soil fertility package including boron and other micro-nutrients (similar to samples from UBC Farm). Compost analysis will be conducted on a random sample from the middle of the bin.

Weeks One & Two

Learning Outcomes

  1. Assess the physical attributes of relevant areas of Riley Park (including soil, landscape and microclimate) that could be relevant to Riley Park management.
  2. Develop a sampling procedure and a set of chemical indicators suitable for urban soil management for a community garden.
  3. Discuss and interpret soil test data for urban use in growing plants.


  1. Assess the set of variables used to form the basis of soil quality assessment for management of soils and vegetation in Riley Park.
  2. Sample and submit soil samples for laboratory analysis (Pacific Soil Analysis Inc. in Richmond) for the assessment of soils and anthropic growing media. It is imperative that this sampling be done and submitted to the laboratory as soon as possible.
  3. Interpret characteristics of the soil parent material (both natural and anthropic). Students may choose to connect with the ENV 400 student team who are mapping soils in Riley Park as they have been working to characterize the Park's soils and to interpret their findings in terms of meeting the goals of an urban park. Contact information will be provided.
  4. Interpret 2017, 2018 and 2019 data from soil test reports for the soil used in constructing raised beds for the main garden and 2016 data for Ed’s Garden soil. This is the first year that the garden has had its own compost.

Useful contacts

Art Bomke, FLFS Professor Emeritus and long time Riley Park area resident. Art.bomke@ubc.ca or (604) 874-2479 Please note that Art will be away from Vancouver Feb 19 through March 4, but should have access to email during that time.

Varouj Gumuchian, Riley Park Garden Green Team. varouj@telus.net

Additional background

Community service opportunity: This project in its entirety is a service to the community gardeners, providing a sound soil data base for sustainable management of soils in Riley Park and the gardeners are very appreciative of your contributions. A useful deliverable (for bonus credit) would be to update the Riley Park soil database (2016-2020), and provide a short text document explaining the data in terms accessible to interested Riley Park Gardener. If possible, the gardeners would appreciate a presentation on your learning about the soils of The Riley Park Community Garden. This can be based on your group’s in-class presentation modified to be understandable by non-soil scientists.

TBA: Meet at Riley Park (Tuesday Feb 11, time to be announced in-class) for sampling - coordinated with Art Bomke and Maja Krzic


On-site visit to assess landscape and soils and sample soils from selected areas of Riley Park. In 2020, we will focus on Ed’s Garden, the veggie plots, pH of the blueberry bed; both in the main garden. Also, the Riley Park gardeners have just finished the first year of using a three bin compost system and would like to have a compost analysis to give some indication of compost quality.

Probably the most variable and error-prone step in the soil testing process is in field sampling. The goal is to represent the area to be monitored as accurately as possible and to reduce the possibility of including an anomalous area that could skew the results such that the intended sample population is not fairly represented.

A second requirement for making good use of soil testing as a tool for sustainable management is that sampling protocols be similar from year to year and field to field and that good records are kept to enable easy comparison among park areas and identification of trends in the key soil quality variables. Your work in 2020 will add to that of the four previous groups and will provide the foundation for future sampling and interpretations for the various land uses in Riley Park. This may be the best soil health data set for any park or community garden in Vancouver and possibly Canada, and will complement the current ENV 400 soil mapping project.

We will make available a copy of the 1981 BCMAF publication by John Neufeld (see reference materials in canvas) which contains interpretations tables for most of the methods used by Pacific Soil Analysis Incorporated, the local laboratory also used by the UBC Farm to analyze its soil samples.

You should familiarize yourself with the biophysical characteristics of Riley Park, including parent materials and the main soil management groups, Bose-Heron, Whatcom-Scat and anthropic. Refer to the soil map of the City of Vancouver for more on the native soils of the site Vancouver soil map. Vancouver, like most cities has not benefited from a proper soil survey, but our UBC Soils group has produced a first attempt at an urban soil map based on surficial geology mapping and correlating soil parent materials to those described in the publication by H.A. Luttmerding “Soils of the Langley-Vancouver Map Area”. This report and the Soil Management Handbook for the Lower Fraser Valley are available at: http://sis.agr.gc.ca/cansis/publications/surveys/bc/bc15/index.html and https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/farming-natural-resources-and-industry/agriculture-and-seafood/agricultural-land-and-environment/soil-nutrients/610000-1_soil_mgmt_handbook_fraservalley.pdf

Guiding questions

  1. Describe the processes of the formation or genesis of the Riley Park soils, including the five soil forming factors; parent material, topography, biota, climate and time. Consider the 6th factor: the human factor.
  2. What aspects of the proposed Anthroposolic soil order would be relevant in classifying the soils of Riley Park?
  3. The soil chemical environment derives from the complex interaction of the soil mineral and organic colloids, weathering processes, vegetation and past management. Given the information in the above referenced publications, what are important indicators of its chemical conditions for plant growth? Will a general soil fertility package of analyses, similar to that done for the UBC Farm, suffice for Riley Park?

Note: No classes during Feb 17 to Feb 21 due to Reading break

Weeks Three & Four

Learning outcomes

  1. Interpret soil test results for Riley Park soils. Note: Dr. Brown will be available to assist in data interpretation and recommendations.
  2. Characterize chemical characteristics for Park soils and growing media. What modifications are needed to enhance plant and human health and meet community garden objectives?
  3. Discuss the policy environment of Vancouver Parks and the Riley Park Community Garden group with respect to soil management, eg. the policy of adhering to organic practices in parks and community gardens.
  4. Recommend soil management practices with emphasis on soil chemical indicators, but including other landscape and soil physical properties that interact with the chemical variables.
  5. Prepare group presentation. This should include recommendations for future monitoring and research either by APBI 402/SOIL 502 or other stakeholders.

Guiding questions

  1. What influence will the topography and physical characteristics of the native and anthropic soils have on future soil and plant management?
  2. Much of the initial park development occurred in the middle of our rainy season. What impacts might this have on soils, subsequent plant growth and park development?


  1. Group presentations and synthesis
  2. Prepare individual reports on learning via the Riley Park project.
  3. Tabulate data for the five years of the Riley Park project and provide a summary report explaining the data in terms accessible to the non-soil scientist (Community Service; +2 bonus marks for those involved).
  4. An oral presentation to Riley Park Community gardeners (T.B.A.)