Gumboot Adventures

gowing and growing green

Seaweed for the Garden August 6, 2011

Seaweed from the Beach

Seaweed from the Beach

We spent last weekend camping near a beach covered with washed up seaweed. Seaweed is full of nutrients – reputed to be as good as fresh manure for the earth – so before leaving, we collected a rubbermaid full of seaweed for the garden. The kids collected (and returned) a bucket full of fish from the tidepools.

Chasing Fish in the Tide Pool

Chasing Fish in the Tide Pool

We live on the West Coast, so mulching with seaweed seems like a given, but the opportunity hadn’t presented itself until now.

Seaweed can be applied directly to the garden as a layer of mulch or it can be added to the compost. A tonic can also be made by filling a barrel half way with the seaweed and adding water. After sitting three months, this is similar to the commercially available seaweed fertilizer formulas.

Impatience and lack of organization negate the possibility of making tonic right now. And as much as I’d love to mulch, I’m not going to for two reasons:

  1. We didn’t rinse the salt from the seaweed with freshwater.  The salt can be harmful to the garden and can kill the worms. In the rainy winter months, the effect is negligible, but during the summer months adding a lot of salt to the garden isn’t a great idea. That said, that’s way too much work for this busy mama!
  2. Apparently seaweed is rich in growth hormone and shouldn’t be applied late in the growing season.  We might mulch with seaweed in the early fall, when the winter garden is just starting and the other beds are replenishing.

So the seaweed is going into the compost. I’ll let you know how that turns out…

Collecting Seaweed

Collecting Seaweed

Collecting seaweed is as easy as anything. The variety of seaweed is inconsequential and many types varieties can be found on most beaches.  The one and only steadfast rule is respect. Seaweed is an important part of the aquaculture and removing it can be harmful to the natural balance of the environment. So,

    • NEVER take live seaweed. ONLY take seaweed from the beach.
    • RINSE the seaweed gently in the ocean to release aquatic organisms back into the water.
    • LEAVE plenty of seaweed on the beach.  Dried seaweed is a home and harbor to many creatures, if you take it all they are left without cover.

Great Gross Garden April 30, 2010

Fair warning – this is gross content.  Really gross. Worms.  Perfect, wonderful, magical worms.  And lots of them.

Lots of Worms in the Compost

So many Worms in the Compost

It’s no secret that worms are immeasurably important for your garden.  They fill the dirt with nutrients.  They aerate.  They add nitrogen.  They may have no brain, but they work wonders without. So you can imagine my delight when I turned our compost a few days ago and it was crawling, literally, with worms.  Gross.  And Great.

Call the kids.  Get the camera.  A perfectly normal reaction in our house!

Wider Shot of Worms in the Compost

Can't make worms in the compost pretty, but they sure are Exciting!

There isn’t much to post about worms. So instead, in their honour, a long overdue post about the importance of composting.

Composting is critical to sustainable gardening.  It’s also simple – practically fool-proof – and keeps all that valuable “waste” from entering the landfill. Backyard gardeners can choose from an assortment of compost tools – from the cheap and simple homemade pile, to Ferrari composters like Lee Valley’s Rolling composter (,33140&ap=1).  We’ve got a simple barrel with a lid at the top, ventilation throughout and a trap door at the bottom from which to access the compost dirt. It’s served us beautifully and was purchased from the City of Vancouver for $25 (  Perfect.

In some cities, including my hometown of Vancouver as of April 22, 2010, kitchen scraps can be recycled through the municipal program along with yard greens. A big kudos to the city for this program.  Apparently Vancouver is working towards moving garbage to a bi-weekly pick up and recycling and green waste to weekly pick ups.  More kudos!

Finally, vermicompost is a great option for folks with limited space or limited compost needs. We’ve got friends that vermicompost and rave about the process, but as I don’t have a lot of first hand experience here, I’m going to suggest further reading if your intrigued. A great intro is provided at

So assuming that you, like me, are backyard gardeners with small compost bins, here’s what you need to know.

City of Vancouver Compost Bin

City of Vancouver Compost Bin - $25

To make dirt, your compost pile needs three things:

1. Brown Stuff

2. Green Stuff

3. Air (preferably warm air).

There are loads of detailed how-tos available about the compost process.  I’m going to keep it simple. Layer brown stuff (leaves, stems, grass clippings etc) and green stuff (the stuff from your kitchen).  Ideally, always cover a layer of green stuff (kitchen) with brown stuff (outside stuff).  This avoids having the green stuff rot, get stinky and attract bugs. The tricky part here is that the green stuff then occasionally rots in the collection bin in the kitchen while awaiting transfer.  Which is much worse. But if you can find balance, you do get much better results by adding the green and brown layers simultaneously.

Whenever you remember (the more often the better, but I’m culprit to lazy turning) turn the compost pile. This provides the necessary air. For added air, keeners can start compost piles with a layer of sticks at the bottom to allow air flow from below the pile as well.  I’ve never tried this but am excited to do so with the next compost pile.  Yup, I’m a keener.

Composting will provide you with superb dirt, lots of worms, decreased garden expenses (you won’t need to buy matter to introduce into the garden to keep it healthy) and a green conscious.

That’s it for compost tips from me.  For more tips – and they are good ones – check out

Last, but not least, we’ll be building a new compost pile shortly.  As regular readers have likely noticed, my posts have been far and few between of late.  We’re taking our green gumboot adventures to a new home next month, and are about to launch into a world of green renovations.  So it’s been a lot of seed starting, but no planting, or transplanting, or garden plot planning or any of that other spring fun at our house.

But that’s all about to change.  Posts will pick up and I’ll keep you abreast of our new garden adventures, and also of our green retrofit.  Should be fun!


Embrace Your (Garden’s) Shady Side June 22, 2009

Snap Peas - a good shade veggie

Snap Peas - a good shade veggie

With three to four hours of direct sunlight and not a lot of space, a friend emailed to ask what she could grow on her substantially shady apartment patio. The answer – plenty!

Traditional fruiting veggies like tomatoes and peppers are out the question, but the leafy greens & the brassica family thrive in the cooler weather a bit of shade provides.  These plants also have the advantage of smallish root systems – making them ideal container species.  The rule of thumb for most of the shade friendly plants is that they require 3.5-6 hours of sunlight.  A few greens (live Chevre) and herbs (lemon mint) will do well with less sunlight, but your options are really reduced after the 3 hour mark.

The following 10 vegetables are good shade choices:

  1. Salad Greens, such as leaf lettuce, arugula, endive, and cress.
  2. Broccoli
  3. Cauliflower
  4. Peas
  5. Beets
  6. Brussels Sprouts
  7. Radishes
  8. Swiss Chard
  9. Leafy Greens, such as collards, mustard greens, spinach, and kale
  10. Beans

There are further considerations to maximize your shady output.  In the bean and pea families, for example, the bush varieties generally do better in shady environments than their climbing cousins.  And across the board, you will want to look for varieties with quick maturity cycles.  The more shade you’ve got, the less time you have!

Swiss Chard Growing in a Shady Spot

Swiss Chard Growing in a Shady Spot

Moderatly shady garden patches can have distinct advantages when planting appropriate crops. In addition to holding the water better, and therefore requiring less regular watering, these patches have the potential of a longer growing season.  I, for example, planted a lovely and very complete bed of leafy greens in a sunny cold frame early on this season. We had leafy greens well before the masses, but despite opening the frame in May, my brocolli bolted as soon as the first hot spell hit.  The spinach wasn’t far behind.  And the lettuce brought up the back shortly after.  Now in late June, I’ve only a couple lettuces, swiss chard and kale left in that bed.  I’ve got second crops of some varieties planted in shady spots in the garden.  For example, swiss chard is popping up behind the potatoes.

I digress, this post is for shady gardeners looking to maximize their sun.  A little creativity will also help to liberate you from a “what you see is what you get” approach to the garden lot (or patio as the case may be).  In shady places, consider how best to utilize reflective surfaces in your garden space.  White walls help.  Mirrors or water can be utilized.  Some folks lay reflective plastic on the ground, which serves the dual purpose of maintaining ground temperature and reflecting light back to the plants.

Well nourished soil is also critical (and by critical, I mean helpful, but if you’re soil is poopers – plant anyway and stuff might grow).  This is especially true in patio plots where the same species are planted year after year in the same dirt.  Without a little forethought and a bit of soil maintenance, the nutrients in the soil will soon be depreciated. Compost and crop rotation are key.  And where true crop rotation isn’t possible –  like in container gardening or shady-spot gardening, where the soil will never get the benefit of deep rooted veggies pulling up hidden nutrients from the well that is the earth – compost becomes all the more important.

I can practically hear my friend – but I live in an apartment, how will I compost? You will vermi-compost! Here on the wet coast, worm composters are available from the City of Vancouver at a discounted rate of $25 (  And while this isn’t the post to go into details on the many benefits of composting, it really is the a to good gardening and a pillar for sustainable living.  I’ll do a post on this in the near future – in the meantime, check out  Vancouver gardening gurus City Farmer’s how to video


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