Sunday, 22 May 2016

6 Ways To Sustainable Gardening

Hey everyone,

For me gardening is about more than just having pretty flowers and a few tasty tomatoes; gardening is about sustainability, it is about actually creating a net positive benefit to my environment, to my community and to my soul. So it is important to know if I am doing it right and to always try to find new ways to improve. There are 6 ways that I have identified my garden is sustainable and I would like to share them with you.

But first what is sustainability? Here is a common definition that I have heard:

Sustainability is the ability to meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

I have also heard it defined like this:

Sustainability is the ability of a system to continue to function in balance with other systems. 

So with that said here are 6 ways that my garden is sustainable. 

1) Composting. 

Sustainability in this context would mean that the inputs into my garden equal the outputs. So there is a conversation to be had here. But the general concept is that since I compost my household organics and then use that material to build up and enrich my garden soil I am putting back what I take out by harvesting my produce. It's not a closed loop but it is a move in the right direction. 

I always used to wonder why it is so important to compost. Why is it so bad to put a banana peel into the landfill vs into a compost pile? The answer is what is produced. When organics become buried deep in a landfill they break down in an oxygen deprived environment and turn into methane which is many times more potent of a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide that is produced in a compost heap. Also by composting, nutrients are recycled back into the soil and act as a natural fertilizer.

2) Seed saving. 

I am getting better at saving seeds and am constantly learning about how different plants work. By saving seeds I am ensuring that I will have a supply of cost effective, high quality seeds to grow my garden again next year. Thus my garden as a system can continue without the need to buy seeds every year!

This year I plan to save potatoes, peas, carrots, beans, sunflowers, radishes, tomatoes, cucumber, squash and peppers. I also plan to use these seeds to trade with other local gardeners so I will be a benefit to my community!

3) Not using fertilizers and chemicals.

This one should be obvious but it doesn't seem to be. There are countless YouTube videos and garden blogs that direct the use of fertilizers to get good results and while it definitely works to do so it is not sustainable to rely on chemicals to grow a garden. 

There are no chemicals leaching out of my soil and into the nearby river. That's what happens to most of the fertilizers and other chemicals that we put onto our gardens and lawns, some of them get absorbed but most of them run off into the sewer and into the river causing algae blooms that choke out fish and cause problems downstream. 

A good example is the dead zone at the Mississippi delta where the river enters the Gulf of Mexico. Fertilizers and chemicals run off of farms and cities across the USA and collect there causing a massive dead zone that is 6-7000 sq. miles large. But you don't need to go that far for an example of this sort of environmental damage as many lakes in Alberta experience dangerous algae blooms caused by fertilizer runoff. 

Obviously my little garden is a negligible variable in the grand equation but by not using chemicals I am part of the solution not part of the problem. By not using fertilizers my garden is a system that is not compromising the ability of other systems to function. By working with nature and using compost and mulch my garden soil gets healthier each year.

4) Using free and local resources.

As much as possible I get the materials I need for my garden from local sources and as cheaply as possible. For example; I get bags and bags of free coffee grounds from Starbucks and I get lots of leaves from my neighbours and a local church. I used the leaves and coffee grounds as mulch and for making compost. Another example are the decorative rocks that I found in a nearby field. Compare them to the granite landscape rocks that I bought a few years ago that were hauled on diesel trucks from really far away. 

It takes a bit of luck but if you're patient and creative there are many free and local materials to recycle or up-cycle into your garden. It's fun to do! Also try to trade with other people. This summer I traded raspberry suckers that I wanted to get rid of for some nasturtiums!

The motto in my garden is: "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can." I don't know where I heard that saying but I find it very profound. Being sustainable isn't just something for the rich to do, it is something that everyone must do. Use the resources that you have and get creative!

5) Mulching.

It always baffles me when I read a garden blog that lists off tips to grow a better garden and MULCHING ISN'T LISTED! Why are we so obsessed in the modern garden world with having bare soil around our plants? The benefits of mulching seem so obvious yet many people don't do it! 


- Holds moisture in the soil.
- Keeps the soil temperature more consistent. 
- Increases worm activity.
- Controls weeds.
- Adds biological material to the soil.
- Prevents erosion.
- Provides a protective disease barrier for plants.
- & more! 

Materials suitable for mulch are often cheap and readily available. I use my neighbours grass clippings. Once grass clippings dry they won't blow away and after the growing season they quickly break down into the soil.

If you're gardening on a large scale it may not be practical to mulch but there are other things you can do, like spreading manure or growing a chop and drop cover crop. For gardens like mine that are small and easily manageable mulching makes a lot of sense!

6) No tilling and minimal soil disturbance. 

This ties in closely with the concept in number 5 that bare soils is bad. Bare soil easily erodes away and becomes easily depleted, the organic material is not held in the soil but will break down and evaporate. Bare soil also frees up space for weeds to come in.

People till their soil to kill weeds but there are other ways. When I first started my garden I used the lasagna method; I buried newspaper and cardboard under compost and built raised beds. Weeds have never had a chance to take over because I use a lot of mulch. For larger scale gardens you may need to till to get things started but over time the need to till can be reduced or eliminated

I found this series of videos by USDANRCS to be very helpful. There is a lot of science that shows that tilling causes more problems than it solves and that we should move away from the practice. 

Here are some areas that I need to improve on.

1) Using rain water.

Currently I do not have a rain collection system setup for my garden. I use city water. Some argue that this is bad because of the water treatment chemicals and some say it is fine, I don't know. But I do know that it would be better to use free rain water that doesn't rely on energy intensive processing and pumping. 

The reason I haven't started collecting rain water yet is because I just haven't gotten around to it... yet! The garden hose is too convenient. But I hope to fix this soon! What do you think?

2) Better companion planting.

There are many claims about companion planting. Some are backed up by science and some by folk wisdom. I want to learn designs that actually work to make my plants grow better and more sustainably. What do you recommend?

3) More perennials. 

It is amazing how year after year a well taken care of apple tree will keep on producing an abundance of apples or how asparagus will become more and more abundant! This year I planted both of those things. I am always looking for more perennials. They make gardening easier and can be really cost effective. What perennials do you grow?

What else do you think I should do? What did I miss?

Please fee free to comment and share this post. Also if you’d like to contact me I am on TwitterFacebook and IRL (In Real Life - Let's go for coffee)!

Use the hashtag #16Paces on Twitter and Instagram to follow and interact with me as well. 


P.S. After writing this blog but shortly before publishing it, I put a garbage can under my rain spout. So now I am collecting rainwater!

Do you need Oilfield Safety Training or First Aid Training? 

I am the owner of Bullseye Safety, we offer H2S Alive and First Aid training in Red Deer!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

2016 Garden Goals - 16 Paces

Hey everyone,

 With gardening season coming in ernest, I would like to share with you my 2016 goals. As you may already know last year I started a garden. But not just any garden; I got rid of all my lawn and replaced it with raised beds and wood chips. I’ll leave the back yard garden story for later; most of what I do happens right in my front yard, right off the sidewalk.

Last year was a great success and I am SO glad that I decided to do this! Before I get into this years goals I want to review last years goals and see where I stand with them.

Last years goals:

1) This must look good. - I would say that I did an ok job here. My sunflower/pole bean arrangement didn't grow the way I imagined them and I wont be repeating that jungly mistake again. But for the most part I think I did a good job. Many of my neighbours complement and admire everything that I’ve done.

2)  This must be sustainable. - Here is where I fell short. I used WAY more water than I would have if I had left it as a conventional front lawn. That was by far my biggest shortfall. Another shortfall is soil disturbance, I did a lot of tilling and from what I now am to understand that may not be the best.

3) This must be productive. - My onions, garlic, spinach, herbs, cabbage, peas and sunflowers all failed. But that was offset by a decent crop of potatoes, carrots, celery and strawberries. I now feel connected more than ever to my food. How fragile and delicate is our existence when we depend so heavily on crop success. The entire planet is only a drought away from famine. Last year was a learning experience and this year I intend to find new things to not do in the garden because I wont be repeating my mistakes!

4) This must be cost effective. - I’d give myself a top score here because the biggest expense was buying the wood for the raised beds (about $400). I got many other things from free and local sources; my soil was mostly homemade, my mulch was free grass clippings from my neighbours and my wood chips were given to me for free by a local tree removal company.

So I intend to keep those goals as the basic mantra of my garden going forward. This year I want to add some more specific things.

This year’s goals:

1) Grow more stuff in my back yard. - Although I have a dog and very limited space there is a lot I can do and I have had all winter to dream. 

2) Get more involved in the local community. - I am a proud member of ReThink Red Deer and we do a lot to promote gardening, among other things in the community; I want to get more involved! There is a local gardening group on Facebook that I joined so I’ll start there. I want to learn from more experienced gardeners and help others nearby who want to grow food and live more sustainably.

3) Use less water. - Since I think that I fell short of my environmentally sustainable goal last year by over watering, this year I intend to plumb in a rain collection and irrigation system. Also, I intend to mulch with grass clippings more and cause less disturbance to the soil at harvest time.

4) Grow more perennials. - Partly because I want my garden to look nice year round and have more depth and angle and partly because I want to do less work, this year I am going to plant a tree and some shrubs. I am torn between an apple tree or a pear tree. What do you think? Yes, I will plant one in the front and one in the back so they can cross pollinate. Also I am going to plant some asparagus and some haskap, goji berry and saskatoon bushes.

5) Plan for seed saving. - Seed-to-seed is sacred to humanity.

6) Get the kids more involved. - Last year my kids and all of their neighbourhood friends loved my garden. I let them eat strawberries and peas and in return they watched over the garden while they were playing. Often I would see them crouched down around a plant. It was marvellous to see them. So this year I am going to foster that even MORE! I am going to get the kids involved at every stage.

7) Make some interesting garden ornaments. - First thing I am going to get the kids to help with is to make some creative crafts for the garden. Last year we painted some rocks but this year I am going to try to get them even more involved in the creative process.

So, those are the goals that I have set for this years garden. I plan to make more videos for my gardening YouTube channel 16 Paces. Stay tuned!


Please fee free to comment and share this post. Also if you’d like to contact me I am on TwitterFacebook and IRL (In Real Life - Let's go for coffee)!

Use the hashtag #16Paces on Twitter and Instagram to follow and interact with me as well. 

Do you need Oilfield Safety Training or First Aid Training? 

I am the owner of Bullseye Safety, we offer H2S Alive and First Aid training in Red Deer!

Friday, 8 January 2016

For The Love Of Learning

Hey everyone,

Today I said good bye to a dear friend of mine; Joe Bower, who tragically passed away a short while ago leaving his wife and young kids. I am still shocked by his passing and I am not sure if I can be very succinct in describing how I feel, but here goes.

I discovered Joe Bower on Twitter about a year before I met him in person. He wrote an extremely popular blog called For The Love Of Learning which is smart, witty and entertaining. At first, I followed him as just another fan and felt like I had moved up in life when he finally followed me back!

My impression of him just from Twitter was like meeting a celebrity. I was amazed that he would even tweet back to me as he had thousands of followers and I only had a few. But as it turns out Joe Bower wasn't just another #CelebrityTwitterPersona he was a Real Person! When we finally met he was easy to relate to and we quickly became acquainted.

Some people know Joe as a sports enthusiast, some know him as a teacher; I mostly know Joe as a political activist.  I am honoured to have collaborated with him in the civic forum. He was and will continue to be a source of inspiration for me. Joe and I had many conversations about society and current events. His passion for making a positive contribution to the community was very encouraging. I will never doubt the power of a positive conversation to change the world. In many ways Joe enabled me to change myself for the better.

I got to know Joe more closely about a year ago when my wife Krystal was a candidate for the Alberta Party and we had the opportunity to collaborate with Joe. He was very charismatic in political spheres and was one of Krystal's biggest supporters during the election. He would proof read blogs, help with social media and be source of fortitude and wisdom.
I am honoured to have earned Joe's support for Red Deer City Council.

After the campaign Joe and I went for coffee, well I had coffee, Joe had a beer. We went to Browns Social House. I remember where we sat and how I felt so comfortable in his presence. Joe always gave me 100% of his attention when we were together. He would listen intently, ask mindful questions and be a friend. I realized today at his memorial that Joe was like that with everyone. It is truly a great virtue to have!

It is a testament to how well known and respected Joe was that the entire Harvest Centre was filled with hundreds of people from our community! But knowing him as a friend, his renown to him was merely a periphery and I can witness to the fact that he was consistently humble and authentic.

The last time I spoke with him and shook his hand was only a few weeks ago. The moment keeps going through my mind. I keep seeing him standing in front of me, smiling and I can hear his voice. It is surreal to think how that was our last time together. I feel like there is a void inside me and I am still taken aback by this tragedy.

Joe was all about being a good and loving father. He really understood children and knew so much about parenting.
For example, he changed how I think about rewarding vs. punishing my kids. He helped me relate better to my kids so I could facilitate their own learning experience. For him, success was guiding kids and sustaining a positive relationship that made learning natural and easy.

Joe Bower made a positive contribution to the world and he will continue to be a source of inspiration to many. His writings will live on and continue to encourage many people. The best way that I can honour his legacy is to emulate his many virtues and be the best father that I can be. I am grateful to have been uplifted by Joe Bower.

My sympathy is with the Bower family. May they have the strength to continue through these difficult times.