Why Top Soil isn’t Tops in my mind

Gardening season is officially here in Calgary, and every day I see more people ready to purchase soil for their new raised or in-ground beds.  They are often looking for the cheapest place to buy “top soil” and so I felt this post is timely.

First, a definition: What is top soil?  According to Better Homes and Gardens “Topsoil is the top layer of the earth’s surface. Topsoil is dark in color and high in organic matter, which makes it very easy to till and fertilize ground for growing plants. It is scraped from the ground  and sold in bags or bulk, often called “black dirt”.”  I thought this was an interesting definition, and it touches on the points I want to make.

Top soil is not always dark in colour or high in organic matter.  In the Calgary area, top soil is usually what is scraped off by developers as they create new neighbourhoods, and may not be very high in organic material at all.  (It may also incorporate a lot of the sub soil, as our top soil is not always very thick.)  As the soil is processed, the soil biology is destroyed, and many of the volatile nutrients, such as nitrogen, are lost to the air. What is left is generally very high in clay, and fairly low in organic material or humus.

This is in a local garden.  You can see the clay that has baked in the sun, and the weeds that are trying to grow.

This is in a local garden. You can see the clay that has baked in the sun, and the weeds that are trying to grow.

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Advertising Guidelines

Hi everyone,
With the re-vamp of my website, I will be offering some advertising on my blog.  I will do my best to keep it related and unobtrusive.

If you are interested in advertising on the blog, here’s what you need to know:

  1.  I have guidelines for the ads I will accept.  Generally, they must be for products or services that are gardening related, and supportive of sustainable and organic gardening.  I will not accept ads for pesticides that are not OMRI listed, or any GMO product or from a company that sells GMO products.
  2. Companies must have a business model that purchases from more than one supplier, and have a business license.
  3. Ads must be in a square format at this time.  I can re-size the ad, but am not able to make any other changes.
  4. Ads must be emailed to me in proper format, 2 weeks before the advertising period is to start.

For the introductory period, I will be charging $20/month per advertisement for the first month.  After that, the price will go up to $15/week or $60/month..

I will also mention advertisers on my Facebook page once advertisements have been paid for.

Payment will be accepted via EMT.

Please contact me for more information!

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Design Tip #1: Use foliage as colour first.

When my children were small, I always used them in my explanation of garden design for my clients. I would say “ Suppose my children snuck into your garden one night and cut off all the flowers. Your garden should still look good. If we design using foliage first, the flowers will be a bonus.” 
 We are so fortunate that plant breeders have worked so hard to create perennials, trees and shrubs with amazing foliage colours and textures, neat and tidy habits and interesting features such as attractive bark or long lasting seed heads. It’s important to use these features to full advantage when designing the ornamental garden. Plants that are perennial (live more than one season) typically don’t have a long season of bloom, because the plant is not trying to go to seed as quickly and prolifically as possible as annuals (plants that only live one season) do. This means that choosing all your perennials based on their flowers may not lead to the best possible garden.

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The weeds are trying to tell you something: Are you listening?

As a gardener, I have battled many weeds.  I’ve been paid to battle tenacious weeds like quack grass and thistle.  I have struggled as an organic gardener not to give in when someone tells me “Round-up would get rid of that.”  However, now that I am entering a more permaculture/sustainable frame of mind, I am realizing that the weeds are not the problem at all, they are just a symptom.

Nature ALWAYS has a plan.  When we go and disturb nature, it has a plan to get back on the road to a climax eco-system.  We have two choices: to battle mother nature’s plan, or to just go along, and try to tweak as we go.

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Harden off your plants: so they don’t die.

Many a beginner gardener has made this mistake.  You go to the garden centre, buy a gorgeous plant, and plant it, only to watch it die within a few days.  What went wrong?  Perhaps you forgot to harden it off.Planter display Continue Reading

Do you recognize your babies?

A friend of mine told me a funny story.  For years, she had struggled to grow spinach, planting lots of seed in rich soil every spring, but failing to get a single plant.  When I expressed surprise over this, we explored her techniques, and discovered that she had been mistaking her spinach seedlings for Manitoba maple seedlings, and ruthlessly destroying all of them.  We both laughed, and it struck me how different some plants look in the seedling stage, before they develop their first true leaves.  So here are some babies you may be planting this spring: Continue Reading

Grow Yummy Tomatoes from Seed!

Heirloom Tomatoes grown from seed.

Heirloom Tomatoes grown from seed.

There is nothing better than biting into a tomato freshly picked off the vine and warmed by the sun in July.  But if you want to experience that, now is the time to get started. Continue Reading

Wicking beds: Good, Better, Best

Wicking beds are commonly used in the permaculture movement, and are a fabulous way to grow healthy plants with bottom watering.  When plant roots reach down for water, they grow deeper and thicker, which means more nutrient gathering and healthier top-growth.

Even better, wicking beds allow you to go away for the weekend in the summer without worrying about your vegetables or flowers.

grow tomatoes in Calgary

A wicking bed showing healthy tomato plants about to bloom.

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Sometimes, I start too many seeds…….

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How to Grow Beautiful Dahlias

Is there any flower as big and beautiful as a Dinnerplate Dahlia?  I’m not sure, but I can’t resist growing one to enjoy every summer.  They also make great cut flower that last well indoors.  Dahlias may look delicate, but they are actually surprisingly easy to grow provided you follow these tips. Continue Reading