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.

Salad Greens July 25, 2011

Salad Greens

Salad Greens (and peas, dill & strawberries)

The salad is doing well this year. That’s because it’s late July and yesterday was the first day of “summer” here on the wet wet coast.  Now that it’s hot – and assuming the heat is planning to stick around, the salad will now bolt.  Which means it’s time to eat it all up. Fast.

Until this year, I’ve never had much luck producing sweet lettuce. The heat and dry of summer have always got the better of us and the spring lettuce has consistently bolted early in the year, quickly become woody and bitter. So for the long spring lettuce season, I give thanks.  The peas, brocolli and cabbage are also doing remarkably well with this odd season. To extend the growing of these spring crops in the summer heat, we need to get on top of watering now.  Until this week, we’ve been leaving the watering to the elements. Luckily, the rain barrels are full after a wet spring so we should be able to ward off bitter bolting greens a little bit longer.

It’s also time to sow another round of greens. We’ll plant in the partial shade of some of the bushier veggies to keep these a little cooler and eat them young and fresh during the hot summer, um, weeks.  Strangely, it’s almost time to sow winter greens too – more kale, spinach and crests to go into what will be a covered winter garden in a couple months.


Strawberry Beds and Buttercup Weeds May 20, 2011

Strawberry Flower

Strawberry flowers are blooming.  It fills me with hope for a summer of bounty.  It’s also a call to action!

Our house came complete with the most deliciously sweet strawberries.  Truly.  It also came complete with buttercup. For those of you who don’t know, buttercup is an incredibly invasive weed that makes pretty little yellow flowers, is almost indestructible and mildly poisonous. As an aside, in our first garden years ago, I planted buttercup on purpose after finding it in our front garden and thinking that the yellow flowers would add colour to the back.  I should write and apologize to the current owners of that home.  Regardless, we’ve been here almost a year now, and for that time, the strawberries and the buttercup have shared a bed. No more.

We’ve started anew, so to speak, creating a new strawberry bed and hoping for increased yields with all that root space to themselves.  Strawberries require healthy soil and lots of light. They love the sun and heat, and also enjoy being planted near onions. Strawberries shouldn’t be planted where previous strawberry beds have been, as rotten roots left decomposing can pass disease to the productive plants.

Since we’ve no shortage of strawberry, I’ve actually created a proper bed in the back (following the steps outlined below) and also transplanted some plants to the front yard – where they occupy a sunny patch in our newly converted grass-free yard.  As with all plants, it’s nice to try them in a few places and see where they thrive.

Strawberry Bed Before

Here are the steps taken to create a “proper” strawberry bed:

Step 1: Remove Weeds – in our case, Buttercup

Tedious work! I dug deep and loosed the roots, separating the strawberries from the darker buttercup roots. Buttercup is bagged and sent to the city green waste – no way that horrible little weed is setting root in my compost.

Step 2: Separate Runners

Strawberry runners are clipped and separated from the main plant.  Strawberry plants are generally productive for about five years.  With plants younger than this, remove the runners to send the energy towards fruit production instead of reproduction.  With older plants in need of replacing, allow the runner to take root, then remove the parent plant. In our case, we opted for a combination of the two and saved some mature plants, while also setting up for a good yield next year with younger plants.  If you’re starting from scratch, save the trip to the garden store and instead opt for a friend’s clipped runners.

Step 3: Build Raised beds

Raised beds provide an optimal growing environment.  To maximize strawberry yield, set a raised bed in a hot, sunny location and fill with garden soil.

Strawberry Bed After

Step 4: Plant

We follow biodynamic gardening principles which means – among other things – that plants are grown on mounds, spaced more closely than traditional gardening methods and are planted in combination with beneficial companions.  Our strawberry bed has a lovely chive plant  and will have a few daffodils near the edges when I get there.  Plants are spaced about 1 ft apart, in staggered (offset) spacing.

Step 5: Pinch flowers – sad I know!

The first year of plant’s its flowers should be removed so as to divert all the energy towards plant growth and health, instead of fruit production.  Which means, no fruit year one. But lots of really fabulous fruit thereafter.  Since our strawberries patch is a combination of mature plants being transplanted and new runners, I’ve pinched the flowers on half the plants and am letting the other half produce. Also, if I pinched all the flowers  my kids would think I was a complete failure when they had no strawberries this summer, and I couldn’t have that.

All in all, strawberries are a relatively simple fruit to care for and the reward is oh-so-sweet.  Here’s hoping the blasted buttercup can be kept at bay!


Raised Beds are Better May 8, 2011

Raised Beds

Raised Beds in the Making

We’re building raised beds in the vegetable garden.   Half way through the third enclosure, my husband asked me

“Why are we building these?”

“Because they are better,” I replied without missing a beat. I loved having raised beds at our last home and am eager to get them finished here.

“But why?” He persisted. I hesitated, ever so briefly, and in that moment I saw the swing of his hammer slow, the skepticism flash before his eye and the seed of doubt be planted that is ever so difficult to undo when the alternative means less work on the part of the doubter.

So here’s the lowdown on why raised beds are better:

1. First and foremost, they increase garden yields.  Raised beds accomplish this increased productivity in a number of ways, they:

  • Hold more heat – raised beds warm sooner in the season and hold the heat more efficiently. They are typically about 4C warmer than flat beds. This means an increased growing season, in more ideal conditions.
  • Facilitate easy coldframes – raised beds make it easy to install garden covers with PVC piping to keep the heat in and the elements out. With the use of a cold frame, the growing season is further expanded.
  • Prevent Soil Compression – when properly proportioned (we like 8ft x 4ft), raised beds allow for all planted space to be reached from garden paths.  This means that the gardeners (or the gardeners’ children) avoid stepping on the soil.
  • Promote dense planting – by reducing the space between crops traditionally needed for paths, raised beds favour dense planting, reducing the space for weeds.  This is a huge factor in our plot, which is completely overrun with buttercup from last year’s neglect!

2. Raised beds simplify garden planning and maintenance. Here’s how:

  • Clearly defined “plots” facilitate crop rotation,
  • Mulching pathways minimizes weeds

3. Raised beds are pretty.  I like a pretty vegetable garden and find orderly raised beds aesthetic pleasing. Especially when flowers are incorporated into the overall design – a key ingredient in attracting those very beneficial bees and butterflies.

And if those aren’t enough reasons, well, mother’s day is around the corner and I want the lovely raised beds.  So keep swinging that hammer handsome husband.


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!


Starting Seeds made SIMPLE March 25, 2010

Filed under: garden,planting,seeds,sustainable living — gumbootgarden @ 6:07 am
Tags: , , ,
Seed Starting - A Couple of Tomatos

Seed Starting - A Few Dozen Tomatos

A lot is made of seed starting.  I’m going to simplify the process for you: start some seeds! For the most part, nature has perfected the seed and all you need to do is put some semblance of the right elements together to encourage relatively good performance.  Which is not to discredit the more systematic tried and true seed starting methods, which I will describe below.  But rather, to encourage gardening.  Imperfect, messy, good gardening.

I was surprised to learn that seeds actually germinate more consistently in a relatively low light environment.  Ideal germinating conditions for your little bundles include low light and consistent warmth.  I like the top of my refrigerator – where the the fridge’s heat is being put to good use and where the seeds are safe from curious and impatient child fingers.

If you want to be a true planting rock star, you may consider soaking seeds for 8 hours prior to planting. You may also consider germinating seeds in damp paper towel, then transferring to seed starting dirt once germination has occurred.  These are, in my humble opinion, gardening techniques for the above and beyond gardener. I only engage in such thorough behavior when planting older seeds that I fear may have a low germination ratio (they might not grow well).

I do however, use soil-less seed starter mix until I run out.  At which point I plan to purchase more, but never do, and resort to regular old garden dirt (which, in my case, is really nice dirt), with almost as good results.  I’ll return to this point shortly.

Red Pepper Seeds

Red Pepper Seeds Germinating in Paper Towel (they're covered with another piece)

First, Seed Starting 101:

1. Soak Seeds. Fairly self-explanatory. Soak seeds. Eight hours is the oft quoted number. Skip if desired.

2. Germinate seeds. Germinate either in paper towel or in seed starter mix.

(a) Germinating in paper towel adds an extra step, but is only mildly more complicated.  Soak paper towel.  Place seeds (soaked seeds if you are a real keener) between the two sheets of wet paper towel on a flat surface.  Keep paper towel consistently warm and damp until seeds germinate.  Transfer seeds to individual pots. This is sort of fun with kids as they can really see the germinated seeds.

(b) Alternately, you can germinate seeds directly in plugs using seed starter mix. Mix should be warm and wet.  As with the paper towel method, seeds need consistent warmth and water to perform their magic.  I like to use egg cartons as plugs.  They are about the right size, completely recycled (thus free and environmentally friendly) and can be popped right into the garden when the plant is ready for transfer.

3. Transplant up and harden off.  Also simpler than generally conveyed – afterall, plants want to grow.  They work with you to thrive. But that’s a post  for another day…

Having now advocated seed starter mix, and admitted to skipping it later in the season with little ill effect, here’s the lowdown and the why it’s worth your while.

Seed Starter Mix Tablet

Seed Starter Mix Tablet

Seed starter mix is relatively inexpensive and offers a couple of advantages to the dirt from your garden, the most obvious and most important of which, is that it is disease and pest free.  This ensures a healthy start for your plants.  These mixes are generally made predominantly of  sphagnum peat moss, which is well draining but water retentive.  They are also mildly acidic, with a PH of around 5.8 – great for starting seeds. Some starter mixes have additional ingredients such as vermiculite, perlite or bark to increase drainage and water retention; limestone or gypsum to adjust Ph; wetting agents to increase the water retention; or fertilizers. I’ve honestly not noticed a difference in result from brand to brand, but caution against wetting agents because they are by definition non-organic and against fertilizers, which are not required for seed germination.

My favorite seed starting mix is the one that is available in bulk tablets from the gardening store in or neighbourhood.  The pellets mix 1 pellet to 1/2 cup of warm water and require about five minutes to transform from rock solid to mud. They are as tidy as anything in the garden can be, and because they are sold in bulk, are more environmentally friendly than their ultra packaged relatives.

For reference, three tablets (at 25 cents a piece) provides plenty of “dirt” for a dozen egg carton plugs, pictured above.

Seed starting is simple enough that even the most novice gardener can manage.  It’s also much much cheaper than purchasing plants.  And better for the earth. You need a consistently warm place (top of fridge) for germination.  And a sunny spot for your little plants to thrive after germination.  You need to water often.  And worry occasionally.

Stop fussing, start planting!


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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