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

How to Re-pot a House Plant

Early Spring is a great time to re-pot your houseplants.  Here is a step by step guide:

  1. Make sure your Houseplants are well-watered, ideally a day or two before you plan to re-pot them.

    Growing citrus indoors

    A Citrus and a purple Oxalis ready to be re-potted.

  2. Gather your supplies.  You’ll need a good potting soil or worm compost (I’m using a package of worm castings that I bought at the garden centre.)
    potting soil, worm castings

    Pamper your Plant brand Worm Castings


  3. Un-pot your plant.  Gently support the base of the trunk or the surface of the soil with your hand, turn over the plant and give the pot a gentle whack.  The plant should fall out.

    re-potting houseplants

    Examining the roots. The Oxalis has orange tubers and fine roots.

  4. Examine the roots.  If your plant has so many tightly wound roots that it looks like it doesn’t even need a pot to hold the soil together, then it is root-bound and needs a bigger pot.  Carefully loosen some the roots with your fingers so they are facing outward. If it doesn’t look root-bound, like this plant, then you can re-pot into the same size pot.  (Pots that are too large can lead to root-rot as the soil remains too damp).
  5. Add a sheet of paper to the bottom of the pot to keep the soil from falling through the holes.  (All pots should have drainage holes, or the plant will not survive.)

    re-potting plants

    Add a sheet of paper to the bottom of the pot to prevent soil from falling through the holes

  6. Add a layer of soil on the bottom, estimating how much it will take to bring the surface of the plant’s soil up to the level of the rim of the pot.  (Some settling will occur over time.)

    re-plant house plant

    Adding soil to the pot. Note the white salts left on the pot from watering with Calgary’s hard water.

  7. Add soil to all the spaces around the plant, gently packing it down with your fingers or a small stick.  The soil should be filled to the rim.
    Re-pot a Houseplant

    Lots of airspace means we need to add more soil.

    re-potting houseplants

    Adding new potting soil to fill the spaces around the edges.

    The Oxalis now has new soil filling all the spaces, and is ready to water.

    The Oxalis now has new soil filling all the spaces, and is ready to water.

  8. Water the plant in the sink, and then return it to its regular spot.


    Freshly re-potted Oxalis

  9. Don’t over-water for the next month or so as roots re-establish themselves.  Allow the plant to dry out between waterings, especially if it has been re-potted in a larger pot.

    Thriving houseplant

    A few days after re-potting, this Oxalis is thriving once again.

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Gardening Classes for 2016

Grow veggies in Calgary

Pea Shoots on the left, various Strawberries in the middle, and Kalettes and Tomatillos on the right.

Here are the classes I will be teaching this spring and summer.  Please stay tuned to my Facebook Page for updates:

Gardening for Absolute Beginners $20 (1 class, 2 hours)

How to Save Money on Your Grocery bill by Growing More of Your Own Food $20 (1 class, 2 hours)

“I took this class last week and it was fantastic! Kate is so knowledgeable and patient, It was very informative. I highly recommend taking it!” S.T.

“I as well took this class last week and learned so much as I really had no idea how to do my own garden. I highly recommend this class it was so informative and easy to understand!” J.T.

Garden Design for Homeowners $75 (2 classes, 2.5 hours each)

Gardening fun for Children!  $20 for one child and one adult (1 class, 1.5 hours)

Garden Tours and projects at The Passionate Gardener’s Garden $50 (1 class, 2-3 hours of hands-on learning)

Please contact me if you would like to host a gardening class and get to learn for free!  (Hosts must be able to accommodate 10 paid guests)

Come learn with me, The Passionate Gardener

Come learn with me, The Passionate Gardener

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New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners

Gardening New Year’s Resolutions:
It’s that time of year again, when almost everyone is making resolutions: to go to the gym more, eat less, quit those bad habits. All those are good ideas I’m sure, but have you thought about the resolutions you could make in your garden? Here are some of my ideas to make my 2016 garden even better:
10: Go through all my old seed packets BEFORE doing my seed order. I’ll admit I have a bit of a seed buying problem. My catalogues usually arrive in the dead of winter, and they bring with them the promise of spring green and summer bounty. However, do I really need to buy more green beans when I have 3 half full packages in my seed box? It’s important to use seeds up within 2-5 years, as germination rates decrease over time. Properly stored seeds can last forever, but our homes are often too warm for long-term seed storage.

Does this seem like too many seeds?

Does this seem like too many seeds?

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The seeds I am excited to plant in 2016

I am a nurturer by nature, so any tiny thing I can carefully tend until it grows big and strong is a wonderful gift for me. I think this is the reason why I enjoy starting seeds so much. I get all that nurturing reward, without the hassle of finding homes for 10 wiggling puppies. (I’ve noticed that extra tomato plants are much easier to find homes for than puppies.) These are the varieties I’m especially excited to start this year:
Glass Gem Corn from Baker Creek Seeds. This corn is so beautiful it looks photo-shopped. The kernels are a variety of colours like gems nestled tightly together. I have not grown corn before, because I haven’t had the space, but I am excited to try it in my new permaculture front yard. I plan to start some indoors and direct seed others after the risk of frost is over, and see which batch does better. I plan to plant the corn in a block for proper pollination, and use nitrogen fixing ground covers around it, because corn is a high nitrogen crop.

Heirloom corn

Glass Gem Corn

Pink Berkley Tie Dye Tomato from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. First off: the name makes me laugh. Each year I get my two daughter to pick out the tomatoes and carrots we should grow, and this year, my youngest chose this tomato because she wanted a “zebra striped” tomato. Pink Berkley is a cocktail sized tomato, and Johhny’s seeds describes the taste as “outstanding-sweet and complex like the finest heirlooms.” Although this is an indeterminate tomato, it is pretty compact, so that’s a nice thing in my overcrowded wicking bed. (Indeterminate means the tomato plant has no fixed height, and continues to grow and fruit as long as it is alive).
Boldor Beets from Johnny’s Selected seeds: I normally grow red beets, but it annoys me when I roast them with other veggies and everything ends up pink, so I thought I’d try a yellow beet this year. It is supposed to keep its colour well, and taste sweet. Beets are one of the earliest crops to direct seed outdoors. The seeds can be sown as soon as the ground can be worked, even if more cold or snow is expected.
Wa Wa Sai Cabbage from West Coast seeds: I recently discovered I can make a pretty delicious kimchi, so of course I thought of growing my own Sui Choi cabbage. This variety has a very short sixty days from planting until maturity, and can be planted in spring or late summer. As long as I can keep the cabbage moths away, I expect I’ll get enough heads to feed my newfound love of kimchi.
Kolibri Kohlrabi from West Coast Seeds: Many people haven’t discovered the amazing kohlrabi. It looks like it came from outer space, but tastes like the sweetest, crunchiest broccoli you’ve ever had. This variety is purple, and doesn’t grow all that large, and the flavour is outstanding. I grew it in a raised bed last year, and the bulbs were large enough for harvest in July, but still sweet and crisp in October. I tried to put it in a stir-fry, but my kids always ate it raw before I could get it in the pan. It’s much easier to grow than broccoli, and didn’t seems to attract the cabbage butterflies like it’s other relatives do.

Kohlrabi sticks with a yogurt dip

Kohlrabi sticks with a yogurt dip

Scarlett Kale/Celebration Chard: These veggies have much in common. They are very good for you, are easy to grow, and last well into the fall. I chose them both for my front yard permaculture garden for another reason-they are so pretty! Scarlett Kale is as attractive as any ornamental cabbage with it’s big plum curly leaves. Celebration Swiss Chard has glossy upright dark leaves, and stems in a riot of bright yellows, oranges, and reds, as well as white for contrast. These are great beginner plants.
Romanesco Zucchini from West Coast Seeds: This is a really tasty and unique zucchini. It is a lighter green than most, with pale green ribs along it’s length, meaning when you slice it, the slices are more star shaped than round. It is an heirloom, which means you can save seeds, and it also seems quite resistant to powdery mildew. Continue Reading

Gardening with Children

I may be biased, but in my opinion there is nothing better than giving children a love for gardening.  They will grow up to be more self-sufficient, more healthy, and perhaps even more appreciative of spending time with their parents.  Considering that my eldest daughter corrected her preschool teacher, explaining that what they were walking through was mulch, I think I’m well on my way.

So how can you get out in the garden with your kids? (Grandkids?)

1.  Grow food!  There is nothing more amazing to a child than seeing that tiny seed grow until it becomes a snack.  Start with easy and rewarding plants, like lettuce, or quick growing ones like radishes.  (A radish can be ready to eat in a little over a month!)  When you’re feeling more confident, go for the unusual veggies: Rainbow Swiss Chard has stems from bright yellow to hot pink and red, Thumbelina Carrots are tiny little pumpkin shaped carrots, and Patty Pan squash are shaped like flying saucers.  Bring your kids with you when you choose seeds and let them choose some of their own.  Seeds are an inexpensive way to practice gardening.  (Don’t forget to get some compost to enrich your soil).

Spaghetti squash

A happy child harvests her first spaghetti squash!

2.  Let it Go!  (OK, I shamelessly borrowed from the song you may have heard one too many times.)  Give your children a patch of dirt or a container to mess around in.  My daughters had 3 flats of seeds one year, and they dug them up and moved the dirt around from one to the other all spring.  They still managed to grow a few beets, chard and spinach. It also helps keep them out of your garden.

Planting vegetable seeds with children

A child plants vegetable seeds indoors

3.  Grow a Rainbow!  There’s a great children’s book by Lois Ehlert called “Planting a Rainbow” that was the inspiration for us.  This year will mark the fourth year we have taken part of my front rock garden and made a fabulous rainbow of annual plants.  Hint: for green, use an herb, like parsley, and you will be happy to keep it trimmed into shape.

gardening with children, rainbow garden, fun garden ideas

A rainbow garden: Geraniums, Zinnia, Marigolds, Parsley, Lobelia, Pansies, Petunias

4.  Challenge them!  For older kids, you can really kick things up a notch by practicing trickier garden skills like grafting.  Imagine having a tree that grows 5 kinds of apples!  (Lee Valley tools sells grafting kits)  Or get them started on a big project, like a pond.  One of the best entries I’ve ever seen in the Calgary Horticultural Society’s Gardening Competition was gardened by a high school student.  He created a tiny creek that flowed throughout much of the garden and then over a 4 foot water wall behind the seating area.  Amazing!

5.  Educate them!  Gardening can be the gateway to conversations from food scarcity to organic growing to climate change, to soil diversity.  Plus, I’ve heard from parents of teens that when parent and teen are out shoveling or raking, the conversations just seem to flow naturally.  My oldest is very proud of her Grade One Learning Fair entry, where she learned all about seeds, including drawing a graph of the height of the mature plant compared to the size of its seed.  Learn a new gardening fact and impress your kids!



Sprouting chickpeas, and examining them daily for growth.

6.  Plant a Fairy Garden!  These are all the rage right now, and for good reason.  Anyone can find the space for a small fairy garden, inside or out.  For a temporary green carpet, try sprouting seeds!



A beautiful fairy garden

Plant a beautiful fairy garden with your children.

I hope I’ve inspired you to get out in the garden with your kids!

Note: Have a group of kids eager to learn more about gardening?  The Passionate Gardener can customize a class for groups of 15 or more children.

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Top 10 groundcovers for Calgary

10: Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata): This is a low growing plant with fine needle like leaves, that becomes smothered in flowers in late spring.  If you’d like inspiration on how to use it, just google “Shibazakura”.  It does well in hot and dry areas once established, and is available with flowers in white, white and pink bicolor, mauve, pink and purple.

9: Kinnikinick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi): This is a native plant, and is very hardy, with glossy green leaves and red berries in the fall.  It would be the perfect groundcover in a wooded area, and could be underplanted with spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils.

8: Sweet woodruff: (Gallium odoratum) One of my favorites for shady spots.  It has interesting 10 part leaves, white flowers, and a scent that is reminiscent of vanilla!  It is a great to use against the house, under benches, and around trees.  I cut it and bring it inside to enjoy the scent too.  Sweet woodruff, once established, can be left alone to slowly expand in area.

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Summer of 2012: what we’ve been up to:

After a slow and cold start, the summer is shaping up to be a good one.  At home, my renovation of my front rock garden is on-going, and we’ve enjoyed having all the space to experiment with.  My 5 year old daughter and I planted a rainbow garden.  After being nearly wiped out by the hail in early July, it has grown back nicely.  The flowers are as follows: red geraniums, orange zinnias, yellow marigolds, green curled parsley, blue lobelia, indigo pansies and violet petunias.  It’s wonderful having a ton of parsley to pick for tabouleh salads.

Annuals create a beautiful rainbow garden

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