Archive for the ‘Gardening’ category

The Ugly Side of Summer

June 5th, 2014

This is a guest post by Carson Arthur

We spend all winter waiting for it…and for some of us, suffer miserably through it.  I’m talking about summer. There is definitely an ugly side to our favourite season that we grin and bear! I’m talking about allergies, molds and mosquito bites. Don’t spend the entire summer inside hiding from what ails you…I’ve got solutions to all of the summer blues!

 Any discussion about the ugly side of summer HAS to include mosquitos. These pesky little biters will travel up to 2 kms for a meal. As a landscaper and an active gardener, they seem to like me more than my friends. I’m always outside working which doesn’t help because mosquitos are attracted to body heat and the carbon dioxide from heavy breathing. Also not in my favour, mosquitos love to rest inside of the garage where its cool and dark…and the storage spot for all of my tools!


Mozi-Q homeopathic tablets to fight mosquitos and other flying insects

Mozi-Q homeopathic tablets to fight mosquitos and other flying insects

Deet has been the gold standard for repelling these biters but if you want a homeopathic option safe enough for infants under the age of one or even the family dog, try Mozi-Q (it’s an oral bug repellant that you chew!). I started using this plant-based product in 2013 when I was at the cottage. I still got a few bites, but I didn’t get the red welts. I also got significantly less bites than my guests. Recently, I discovered that other biting bugs like black flies also seemed to be avoiding me. As featured on Dragon’s Den this is definitely my secret weapon this summer when I’m outdoors.


I learned recently that a lot of allergy problems have nothing to do with your sinuses. Many allergy sufferers have reactions because of an imbalanced immune system in the gut (Pascoe Canada) Allergic reactions are an over reaction of your body’s immune system and how it deals with foreign bodies entering through the lungs, skin or eyes. This can be more common in people with low levels of healthy bacteria in their guts. Allergies also impact people who have excess acidity or unbalanced pH levels. Often taking a sodium bicarbonate supplement with potassium helps with allergies, or if you are pill-adverse, you can increase your greens with foods like celery and spinach.


Avoiding pollens and allergens always works too. Here are some simple solutions for you to try

  • Garden in the morning when pollen counts are at their lowest
  • Wear long sleeved clothing to avoid skin contact
  • Garden after a heavy downpour as the pollen is washed away – but beware the light rain showers. They just stir the pollen up!
  • Don’t plant Maples or Oaks and go with flowering fruit trees instead
  • Beware the ornamental grasses like ryes and fescues. They are the culprits for summer allergies next to ragweed.
Pascallerg: homeopathic remedy to treat allergies

Pascallerg: homeopathic remedy to treat allergies

When it comes to products, my favourite is a homeopathic solution called Pascallerg. This product helps fight allergic reactions by helping modify the immune system. Not only did it reduce the severity of my personal symptoms, it also reduced the frequency of my allergic reactions. Summer allergies that I’ve always had are getting less severe because my immune system is better able to handle them. I also love that it’s safe for children as young as 1 year of age.


We’ve all heard that mold in the home is extremely hazardous to our health, but did you know that mold occurs outdoors as well? Our gardens and backyards are actually a great breeding space for molds that are inhaled via mold spores. Our immune systems deal with these mold spores just like an allergy, with watery eyes, sneezing and congestion. We often blame pollen when in fact our bodies are reacting to the mold spores outdoors. Mold spores are excellent at traveling. In fact, if one piece of fruit in the bowl has mold, then all of the fruit will have spores on them.

One of the best spots for mold to grow is in our mulch. For years, we’ve been putting mulch around our flowerbeds to prevent weeds but to also hold the moisture in the ground on the hot sunny days. We also rely on mulch to breakdown into the soil below, naturally adding nutrients for our plants. This decomposition happens because of mold! Mulch is a perfect food source and mold loves to be kept warm and wet. Just watering the garden in the summer promotes mold growth. Prevent this mold growth by making sure your mulch completely dries out between waterings.

Concrobium Mold Stain Eraser

Concrobium Mold Stain Eraser

Another big issue with mold around the yard is the black staining that occurs on composite decks, plastic furniture, even on the house siding. Pressure-wash it all you want, it’s almost impossible to get those stains out. I found a great new product that worked really well for me. Called Concrobium Mold Stain Eraser, this product is so easy to use. Simply mix the entire container as per the instructions and spread/spray directly on the stained areas. Safe for kids, pets and your plants, Concrobium Mold Stain Eraser doesn’t even need to be scrubbed-in to effectively remove the mold stains.


Summer is supposed to be worth waiting for. This year, try some of my easy solutions and make the most of your outdoors. Avoid the ugly side of allergies, molds and mosquitos and fill every single day with enough memories to make it through another winter…especially if it was like the last one!



Carson Arthur  Carson Arthur is an international landscape designer with a focus on environmentally friendly design. His newest series, Critical Listing, teaches homeowners how to raise the value of their homes through outdoor renovations. He is part of the Cityline team; writes a column for Huffington Post about outdoor design and appears regularly in a variety of magazines with guest articles.  He is the North American outdoor expert for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate and the outdoor guest expert on the Shopping Channel.

 His credits include; the host of HGTV’s Green Force; the Gemini nominated Room to Grow on Global and the Discovery network; and Better Home’s and Garden’s Home, First Home on the Hallmark Channel in the U.S. Currently, Carson’s programs can be seen on every continent in the world.  He is also the author of the sold out book Garden Designs for Outdoor Living.


Urban Seedlings — Raised Bed Gardening in Your Own Backyard

April 23rd, 2013

A friend of mine told me about this great new company, Urban Seedling. The company, started three years ago by husband and wife team Tereska Gesing and Shawn Manning, specializes in planting raised bed organic vegetable gardens in people’s backyards. Imagine growing your own organic vegetables, available for your consumption for pretty much most of the three growing seasons.

Tereska, Shawn and their children, Danika and Luka

Tereska, Shawn and their children, Danika and Luka

In addition to their core business of building and planting raised bed gardens, Urban Seedlings also offers a variety of seasonal workshops.  The workshop I attended, given by Tereska, took away the mystery I’ve always considered gardening to be (despite the fact that I have a B.Sc. in Biology and technically know how everything is supposed to work). The even better news is, if you are a novice, but are determined to grow your own vegetables, they’ve got a crew of gardeners available to you for support throughout the growing season.

In fact, Urban Seedling offers several levels of service from full service where, they build, set up, and plant your garden in spring, summer and fall, to medium service where they can set it up for you in the spring, and put it to bed in winter.  For the DIYers in the crowd, the workshops are for you. They will teach you how to build your own raised beds and plant your vegetables, even if you happen to live in a condo and only have a balcony.

I had several questions about raised bed gardening, all of which were answered during the workshop:

Why raised bed gardening?: There are several advantages to raised bed gardening, but drainage is probably key. By building a bed above the earth, proper drainage is ensured. Further, by filling in your own mix of earth, compost, peat moss and vermiculite, you can ensure that you have the best soil mix that will promote maximum growth.

The raised bed: We were shown how to construct and plant a 10’x3′ bed. Using cotton twine or pieces of wood, the bed is divided into 30 1’x1′ squares, with each square dedicated to one vegetable — you can, however, plant as many squares of the same vegetable as you want.  The exception is squash: it needs a large area, so when it comes time to plant it, four squares are taken up and the seeds are planted at the intersection of the four squares. In addition to the bed itself, it’s important to provide a trellis at the long, preferably, north, end of the bed  — away from shadow casting plants. It’s also a good idea to erect a short fence that will keep squirrels and other animals out of the garden. Tereska noted that if you don’t put the fence in soon enough, and the animals in the area have tasted your yummy vegetables once they’ve sprouted, there is next to no way to prevent them from getting through. So, put the fence up as soon as you’ve planted your spring seedlings.

When are the vegetables planted?: There are three plantings during the growing season, assuming your first planting is no later than the last week in April. Admittedly the weather this year has been a little less cooperative than last year, when they were able to start planting the first week of April.

By planting new vegetables three times a season, you not only increase the variety of foods available, but also, you can maximize the number of vegetables one bed can offer. For example, peas,  spinach, kale, lettuce, arugula (roquette), and broccoli can all be planted in the spring. A few of those, such as kale and arugula will also continue to grow all season long, providing you with fresh, flavourful veggies throughout the growing season. Lettuce and peas, however, are replaced with summer plants because peas stop or slow production with the hot weather and lettuce gets bitter.

By late May, to the latest, mid-June, summer and a few fall vegetables are planted. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and other climbing vegetables are planted in the last row so they can climb up the trellis. Other vegetables are introduced such as peppers, squash and beans.

In late August, the (almost) last planting is completed: new lettuce, spinach, beets and carrots are planted. In November, the beds are prepared for winter, but it’s also the time when garlic is planted.

Seedlings started early in the season inside the warehouse. They'll go to the greenhouse next.

Seedlings started early in the season inside the warehouse. They’ll go to the greenhouse next.

 Seedling Placement: Knowing where to place your vegetable seeds or seedlings is important. Tereska suggested that if there is no way to access your raised bed from behind, it’s best to keep it to a 3×10 size. According to one of the group members, who is a client of Urban Seedlings, a 3×10 bed produces plenty of vegetables. Climbers such as peas, tomatoes and cucumbers need to be planted at the back near the trellis, the middle rows tend to be saved for the plants such as kale and arugula that stay the full season, and the front row is dedicated to changing plants.

In the spring as well, Tereska pointed out that it’s important to plant tallest to shortest so the tall plants don’t block the shorter plants’ sunlight. By summer, however, they’re all tall, so it doesn’t matter as much.

How much does it cost?: prices vary by service, from full scale to DIY workshops for $20 so you can take matters into your own hands.

Tereska also offered us a few words of advice about the garden in general:

1. The place where you are planting your raised bed must receive at least 6 hours of full sun per day.

2. You need to check on your garden every day. This is important for a few reasons: one, because as it grows you’ll be able to tell how the garden is progressing and whether it’s healthy or if pests have discovered your veggies. Weeds need to be pulled daily and squares need thinning once seedlings have sprouted. One of the advantages of raised beds is that there tend to be fewer weeds in them.

3. Planting a bee-friendly flower and herb garden close by helps encourage pollination and vegetable production.

4. Your garden needs to be watered every day, so if you’re planning on going on vacation, arrange for a neighbour or Urban Seedling to come in and tend it for you.

You can find out more about Urban Seedling’s products and services by visiting their website. One of the things I really appreciated was that their catalogue of seeds has been put together specifically for the Island of Montreal’s climate.

You can also visit them at their new location in Ville Émard, where they’ve set up a greenhouse and have seedlings for sale as well as everything else you need to make your own vegetable garden.

Greenhouse filled with seedlings

Greenhouse filled with seedlings






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Permaculture 101: Turning lawns into food

July 30th, 2012

Pop quiz: What’s wrong with this picture?

Bucolic backyard setting

If you’re like most of us out there your answer is probably “Nothing.” It’s a beautiful, peaceful  setting, shady in spots, tranquil, how can there be anything wrong with it?

If you’re involved with the small but growing Permaculture movement, however, everything is wrong with this backyard. This is the backyard of Katherine and Willy and their two young children. In fact, they’ve recently moved from downtown Montreal to the town of Très-Saint-Rédempteur, Quebec’s first Transition Town. Permaculture and Transition Towns go together; Permaculture representsa more holistic approach to gardening. Over the years permaculture enthusiasts and experts have used the philosophy as a new way of looking at different manmade systems from manufacturing to the ways cities function.. Transition towns are about communities that are building a resilience to both peak oil and climate change. These may seem like scary, far out there ideas, but, as one transition town advocate pointed out to me, it’s absolutely not about reverting to pioneer days or the stone age. It’s definitely about embracing technology and using it to our benefit, while fitting it into a better, more sustainable, lower impact way of living. Permaculture is the foundation for Transition Towns.

Permaculture is a way to live where you develop outdoor spaces to create sustainable, productive landscapes. You work with nature instead of imposing on it. In order to develop the right permaculture landscape for your land, you need to observe your surroundings for a year or so, noting rain patterns, how the water travels, the sun’s path in summer and winter, how the winds hit your property during different times of the year while you plan your garden and surrounding area. The long-term goal is to create a mini ecosystem that regenerates itself every year with very little input from humans. It also can provide plenty of food for its inhabitants, both for animals and humans.

Katherine and her husband are already planning what will go where, including a rainwater harvesting system which will include a swimmable pond and an additional swale for better drainage, a vegetable garden, fruit orchard, honey bees, and a chicken coop. Apiaries (the equivalent of a chicken coop, only for bees) are becoming increasingly important given the rapid decline of bee populations globally, as well as providing local pollination within any permaculture project. Katherine figures the entire property will be completely “developed” with a sustainable system in about 10 years time.

The (mostly) negative impact of lawns: While a lawn serves a general purpose of providing a gathering space and  play space, it is unnecessary to have as much lawn as we in North America do. In order to maintain what we all imagine as a “perfect” lawn, a lot of energy and water go into maintaining it. The typical grass lawn requires petroleum-based fertilizer, weekly cutting, and watering twice or more per week. In a permaculture setting, lawns are minimized — if used at all, and the rest of the land becomes productive, providing food for humans and animals. Different types of trees and their specific placement provide wind breakers year round, heat barriers in summer and food in summer and fall. In Katherine’s case, she plans on taking down the random trees planted throughout the property that serve little or no purpose, and replanting with very specific goals in mind, the lawn will be turned into productive areas.

In permaculture settings, land is divided into five different zones.

  • Zone one represents the area where the most intensive work is necessary and is therefore located closest to the living quarters. In this area will be the kitchen garden and vegetables, as well very small animals such as chickens, that may be incorporated into the mix.
  • Zone two is usually a “food forest” where trees are planted that produce fruit either for humans or animals or both. Some smaller animals, such as sheep or goats, might graze here as well.
  • Zone three is where larger scale (commercial) agriculture might take place such as growing wood for fuel, cereal crops, pastures for grazing.
  • Zone four is managed forests, rangelands and wetlands.
  • zone five is the wild forest with no human intervention.Katherine and Willy’s project  will stop at zone two, as Only those projects with a lot of land and agricultural zoning / commercial plans will do steps 3, 4 and 5.

The permaculture system largely takes care of itself without the need for additional pesticides or chemical-based fertilizers and only occasional shaping from the gardener. So for instance, there would no longer be a fear of wasps around fruit trees, a problem when we had with two pear trees in our backyard a few years ago. From early August through mid-September we were unable to sit outside because of the wasps attraction to our pear trees. Introducing trees and plants that provide the habitat for wasp predators, such as orioles or bats, will help control the wasp population. If you think about the system, it makes sense; in high school biology we learned about ecosystems and how each part of the ecosystem provides food for each of the different parts of the chain forming a pretty much perfect system — until we humans get involved and start messing up everything. (If you don’t remember your high school biology, there’s also “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King.)  For example, if you leave some dead wood lying around, this will provide perfect habitat not only for useful fungi but insects such as earwigs that control your slug population!

There are 12 principles of permaculture, but in a nutshell, the three most important seem to be that a permaculture system produces no waste– what is waste from one plant or animal can be an input for another. Permaculture embraces biodiversity, because a diverse ecosystem is one that can resist diseases and pests.The design of a food forest will make it much more resistant to drought, flooding and other extreme weather events we are seeing these days. Finally, a system must produce a yield which we and any animals in the system can use. Permaculture makes use of nature’s patterns and layers, so not only does the design expand outwards from the centre, it also is integrated vertically. The upper canopy of the forest may provide fruit, the lower canopy shade-grown fruit and the underlayer provides plants which will be mulch and ground cover to keep moisture in the ground, including some edible coversuch as comfrey and other herbs. Also, integrating slope into a plan, and using gravity for water feeding is an  important consideration for permaculture projects. Katherine and her family envision their current quiet backyard as one that will one day be a vibrant, dynamic system, producing some of the food they can use to live on, as well as providing a better and way more interesting place for the kids to play and learn about permaculture.

Using Less Water in the Garden

February 27th, 2012


Many of us have childhood memories playing outside during warm weather and getting caught in the stream of water as our parents fed the garden with the hose. It may have been fun to catch a few drops while the tomatoes were being drenched but overall it wasn’t efficient water usage.


With spring just around the corner gardeners are already planning out logistics for the new growing season and water efficiency is something that’s high on their agenda.


After all, some regions of North America are experiencing drought like conditions and water bills have gone up. Rather than cut back on prospective crops many gardeners want solutions.

That being the case here are a few tips for conserving vital water resources without jeopardizing a successful growing season:


Low-water plants

One way to save water is consider the types of plants and vegetation being grown as needs vary. For example, certain varieties of vegetables like some cucumbers need more water; things like squash need less. Certain lawns need to be fed very often; plants like lavender and rosemary can manage on less.


This isn’t to say an avid gardener should replace all plants that drink a lot with lower maintenance species. However it’s something to consider when choosing new additions for the garden or when planning to overhaul the landscaping.


In many respects it can be a major upgrade and excitingly new botanical adventure.



Water early

Once you’ve sorted out the kinds of plants it’s important to know the best time for feeding. For instance watering the garden during the middle of the day isn’t ideal because it’s the hottest hour and a large percentage of that water will simply evaporate.


The best time to water plants is in the early morning hours when it will give roots strength to take on the midday heat.


If that doesn’t work out the late afternoon or early evening will suffice. Just remember that when watering close to dark or at night it’s preferable not to get leaves wet because lingering moisture invites fungi and nocturnal creatures like slugs that eat vegetation.



Target the roots:

Targeting roots is the key to efficient feeding but doing so requires a good delivery. As already mentioned hoses are probably not the best tool for this because even on the most sensitive setting water will land in other places too.

Instead, the hose should be employed as a means for transferring water from the home to feeders when plots are in the middle of the yard. These feeders, such as watering cans, could then be filled on site in place of having to carry gallons from the house.

It should be noted that even when a hose is not being employed some watering cans may not have the appropriate spout to deliver water directly to the base of plants. If necessary, try using a water bottle or something similar that can control the stream better.

Alternatively, a great way to target roots is through drip irrigation systems which use minute amounts of water. These have been used regularly in agricultural settings but can be found more and more in the average green thumb’s garden.

Jakob Barry is a home improvement journalist for He blogs for pros across the U.S. like  Memphis, TN plumbers.


Gifts for the Green Builder in Your Life

December 14th, 2010

I’ve been browsing through old posts to see if I could come up with any “gift suggestions” for all the green builders out there. There is a definite slant towards practical materials in these posts. I don’t think anyone would be thrilled to see SIPs panels, a bag of insulation or a 3 litre toilet under the tree. But I do think a bucket of all natural iQ cleaners would make a nice house warming gift!

Anyway, I did manage to collect a few products and services out there that might actually appeal to the green building enthusiast in your life. Here are a few of my suggestions:

Kill A Watt EZ

1. The Kill-A-Watt. Are you really surprised by this one? It’s one of my all-time favourite measuring tools. I’ve used it on almost every appliance and gadget we have in our house. It’s straightforward and easy to use and measures the number of watts your computer, TV, iron, toaster, basically whatever you plug into a wall, uses. It’s a great gadget to identify the biggest and smallest energy users in your house.

Available through and other retailers.


Digital Timer Controlled Power Centre: A power bar with 8 grounded outlets, four on a timer and four independent. This power bar has 7 program opportunities and can be set to auto or random. Great for using with lights if you are away. We have our computer and wireless system hooked up to this, so it all turns off at night. (In addition to saving energy, it also stops our teenagers from staying on social web pages until the wee hours of the night.)

Available through Canadian Tire for $24.95

Energy-Wise Landscape Design

Energy-Wise Landscape Design: This is a wonderful and thorough book for the avid gardener in your life. It is not a picture book but rather a comprehensive look at how to landscape your property to lower your energy bills (cooling in summer and heating in winter), and save water. It is meant for any climate zone. The appendices help you with calculating tree height and latitude, as well as plant selection.

Available through $29.95 plus shipping.

A Milk Paint Painting Course: Milk paint is an all natural product that contains no petrochemicals consisting of a mixture of limestone, clay, casein, and natural pigments. It’s a zero VOC product that soaks into surfaces so it never peals or chips. Learning how to mix and apply isn’t difficult, but sometimes it helps to watch someone else do it first, so Homestead House, the only Canadian Milk Paint manufacturer, offers courses in learning how to paint with its product. What a great gift for the do-it-yourselfer! See their Services Page for more information on painting classes.

95 Niagara Street
Toronto, Ontario
M5V 1C3
(King St W. & Bathurst click for map)


Cork gifts and accessories: Cork is an amazing product with so many different uses. It grows on the cork oak tree in the Mediterranean. The bark can be harvested every 9 years for up to 200 years. At the Cork House in Oakville, the store is overflowing with accessories made from cork. In addition to the flooring I wrote about, there are handmade decorative cushions, cork furniture, both upholstered and wood/cork combinations, cork pads of all kinds, watch staps, cork-bound journals, purses, toilet kits….you get the idea. The store is located in Oakville in the oldest building in Halton Region.


Address: 2441 Neyagawa Blvd. Oakville, ON. L6H 6Y3
Phone: (905) 257-5588
Fax: (905) 257-5589

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