Summer Gardening Tips for a Sustainable, Water-Conserving Garden



There is no denying that summers in Canada are becoming increasingly hot and dry. Wildfires, heat waves, droughts… This is scary news especially when most of us are trying our best to garden ecologically and sustainably!

With hotter weather and water shortages, it is becoming increasingly important to garden in a way that conserves water, for the health of plants and soils, and the health of our planet.

Whether you garden in the ground, in containers, or even in pots, here are some ways you can take care of your garden while conserving water this summer.


Feed the Soil

Nutrient-rich soils retain water better, and produce healthier plants! 

Here are some tips for keeping your soils well-fed: 



  • Decomposition is your friend: make sure you leave roots and dead leaves to decompose in the soil! These create layers of moisture-absorbing materials, and the nutrients produced through decomposition will be absorbed by your plants and soil-dwelling microbes.


  • Add compost to your soil, mixing it directly with soil, or adding a generous layer to the top of your soil, especially around the base of your plants. Work the compost into the layers of soil underneath using a garden fork to gently combine the compost and soil. 


  • If you mow your lawn, leave the clippings on the grass to create a layer of mulch, and allow this layer to decompose, further feeding the soil with organic matter. This layer of mulch will also protect your grass from moisture-wicking evaporation (another bonus point towards water conservation!) 


Mulch, Mulch and Mulch Some More!


Mulch has so many benefits to your garden and soil. A well-mulched garden needs less water, has less weeds, and healthier soil!

Thick layers of mulch will help to drop the overall temperature of your soil, protecting the beneficial microbes that live in the top two inches of soil. It will also limit evaporation, safeguarding moisture in the ground. And finally, a well-mulched garden is a powerhouse against weeds, which also leech nutrients and moisture from your plants! 

Here are some tips for good mulching:Mulching


  • Choose a lighter coloured mulch, as dark ones may be dyed and might also trap more heat


  • Avoid rock mulch, as they absorb heat & require landscape fabric which is bad for your soils. Also, limestone rock mulch leeches calcium carbonate into your soil over time, making it more alkaline.


  • Add 3 inches of mulch, especially to your vegetable garden, as vegetables are not bred to compete with weeds. This will adequately protect your plants from any competing weeds, and will help lock in all the moisture you need for a thriving garden!


As for you gardeners, make sure you stay hydrated as well! Wear a sunhat, and sunscreen, and take lots of shade breaks if you plan to spend plenty of time in the garden this summer (as you should!). 


Happy gardening!

 If you have any questions, feel free to email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. !



Gaia College course material

Gaia College instructor: Jennifer Burns-Robinson

The Spruce: https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-use-compost-6892401

Easy Sprouting How To!

Sprouts_1.pngDuring the sprouting process, the nutrient composition of the seed’s endosperm goes through a lot of changes. Not only does the phytic acid break down to release the nutrients present, but nutrients are also created that are not present in the seed until then! The nutrient content reaches its peak as the leaf tips are just emerging from the seed. In most cases, this is also when they are the most flavourful.

Growing your own sprouts is super easy to do and you don’t need a garden to do it! The best part is that you can eat your seeds within 2 - 5 days.

To start all you need is a jar with a screened lid, plus your seeds. You can buy sprouting mixes that contain a variety of seeds, or try a single variety. 

Here are some ideas to try:

  • Adzuki bean
  • Alfalfa
  • Broccoli
  • Chickpeas
  • Clover
  • Fenugreek
  • Lentil
  • Mung Beans
  • Pea
  • Radish

Find a supplier


  1. Put 1 tablespoon of seeds in your sterilized jar, close the lid and then give them a rinse. Soak the seeds for 2 - 12 hours (depending on the size of the seeds). Then drain off the liquid.

  2. Place your jar in a well-draining, warm place (but out of direct sunlight).  Use a dish rack or bowl to keep the jar at a 45-degree angle for air circulation and water drainage. 

  3. Be sure to rinse your seeds at least 2-4 times a day!

  4. Once your sprouts are ready to eat, rinse and drain them. Use a clean towel to absorb excess moisture and refrigerate them for up to 5 days.

  5. ENJOY!


Learn how to grow more of your own food! 

Ecological Spring Gardening Tips

“Our privately owned land and the ecosystems upon it are essential to everyone’s well-being, not just our own.”

― Douglas W. Tallamy


Spring_Gardening_Tips.pngAs ecological awareness is rapidly growing, you might be wondering how to approach gardening in an ecologically friendly manner this spring. The first step is to stop trying to eradicate ‘pests’ from your garden. Instead, ask yourself how you can work with nature to make your garden a haven for the inhabitants of the ecosystem around you. 

Now, more than ever we need to think about our impact on the environment and your garden is a great place to take positive action! Refusing to use damaging chemicals and pesticides is a good start but there are several other ways you can make your garden more healthy and resilient. 

Support your native pollinators, insects and birds

A healthy, biodiverse garden is teeming with life. That includes a wide variety of insects! Yes, we know some insects will nibble on your plants but a healthy ecosystem should also be home to plenty of predators that will keep those pests in check. 

Insects play a vital role in the ecosystem. They are food for the birds you work so hard to attract to your garden!  So, how do you best support native insects and birds? With native plants! Native plants are the absolute best source of food, pollen and nectar for insects and animals as they have evolved together. 

Spring is a great time to get those native plants in the ground. Please look for local and organically grown native plants and/or seeds and consider choosing keystone native plants, trees or shrubs. Keystone varieties offer an abundance of food and resources for our many butterflies, native bees and birds. 

You can start your search for keystone plants native to your ecoregion (in North America): https://www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/About/Native-Plants/keystone-plants-by-ecoregion

Hold off on that spring clean up! 

You may be excited to remove the standing dead plants from the garden this spring but please wait until it warms significantly and you see the bumblebees! Many pollinators will be hibernating in dead plant material. Give them time to wake up and emerge in spring. Once you are seeing the bees carefully remove the dead plants and move them to your compost bin. 

While we are on the subject, many insects and small animals find shelter and protection from the cold under fallen leaves. Where possible leave the leaves as a nutritional mulch for your plants or wait until very late spring to move the leaves to the compost pile

While dandelions are not native to ​​North America they are an important early source of pollen and nectar for bumblebees. If you don’t have early-blooming native plants in your yard consider allowing your dandelions to flower in early spring! The pollinators will thank you. 

Instead of feeding your plants, work on feeding your soil. 

As you invite more diversity into your garden both above and below ground, your garden becomes more sustainable and supportive of the soil food web. 

The organisms that enrich your soil need sufficient food for them to carry out their jobs. Here are some ways to feed your soil this spring so your plants can thrive:

  • Compost and/or vermicast is both a wonderful food source for and of beneficial microorganism. Spread a thin layer of compost or vermicast on your garden beds and top-dress your lawn with it as soon as the ground is warm and dry! If you add it to frozen soil the spring rains may wash it away.
  • Compost tea is a microbial brew derived from compost via a special controlled process. This brew will also contain beneficial microbes that you can apply directly to your soil and plants. This is a good option if you don’t have a large compost pile to draw from. Read more about compost tea https://www.gaiacollege.ca/compost-tea.html
  • Effective Microorganisms (EM) is a commercially available solution of fermenting microbes. These critically important organisms produce a variety of unique metabolic products and stimulate overall soil microbial biodiversity. Apply this solution directly to your soil, lawn, and compost. You can also use it as a foliar spray or to aid in seed germination. 

The Organic Gardener’s Pantry carries EM and many more products that are both good for your garden and the planet. https://www.gardenerspantry.ca/

Think ‘peat free’ this year!

When you are looking to fill your planter boxes, raised beds and pots consider a peat free potting mix. There is much concern over the environmental consequences of exploiting peat bogs, mainly because of their global role as carbon sinks and regulators of water flow. Peat bogs grow very slowly, and it takes hundreds of years to replace what is harvested in a short time.

Here are some options to use instead of peat if you are building your own potting mix: 

  • leaf mould, 
  • Pitt Moss,
  • decomposed wood chips,
  • compost, 
  • sheep’s wool.


To learn more about how you can make your garden more ecologically friendly this year check out the following courses:

Winter Gardening Tips

Winter Gardening TipsDuring the coldest of days and extreme weather events, we want to ensure our soil, plants and outdoor structures are best protected from the elements.  

Here are some tips to get you started:

Continue to mulch your garden beds as needed 

Ideally, you want to mulch your beds well ahead of the winter freezing weather but if you haven’t yet aim for a thick layer of mulch around the base of your plants. This mulch can be leaves, straw, hay, newspaper, wood chips, wool, or any other insulating material. The benefit of this mulching (among many others) is that it will add organic matter to your soil.

Vegetables should be mulched well before any frost is predicted. Intense cold can damage roots and tubers - carrots that freeze often turn to mush when thawed, and the starch in potatoes converts to sugar which leads to an unusual and unpleasant flavour. Basically, it's best to prepare for winter early and mulch well!

Protect your container plants

Container plants also require additional protection. In the soil, roots are protected from frost by the thick winter mulch and snow, but containers are exposed to freezing temperatures from all sides. Many container plants die in the winter because their roots freeze! You can wrap the containers in multiple layers of bubble wrap or - best of all - heel them in. This means burying them in bark mulch, leaf mulch, or even in the soil for optimal protection.

You can also move potted plants close to the foundation of the house and under the eaves to benefit from extra warmth and protection. 

Reinforce hoop houses 

If you are in an area that will expect snow over the winter you will want to ensure your hoop house can withstand some snow load especially if they are constructed out of irrigation pipe. It's easy enough to put in some temporary posts - they don't have to stay there all year. This slight inconvenience that can save your precious greenhouse from collapsing under the snow.

Protect your plants in hoop houses and greenhouses

It’s helpful if you can take some steps to reduce the temperature fluctuations during the cold of winter. Heat sinks or thermal masses can help to trap daytime heat which can then be released during the night to protect plants from freezing. Large barrels of water that have been painted black are good examples of heat sinks. When placed in a greenhouse, ideally against the north side, the water will heat up during the day which will slowly be released into the air during the cooler nighttime temperatures. Heat sinks are an inexpensive way to moderate hoop house and greenhouse temperatures.

Here are some further ideas:

  • Build a compost pile or two inside the greenhouse. It will provide heat, and also even out the fluctuation at night.
  • Cover your plants with cold frames - even inside the greenhouse!
  • Line the paths with flagstones or gravel. The stones absorb heat during the day and give it off slowly during the night.
  • Large terracotta planters and pots filled with soil also offer thermal mass.
  • Keep chickens in part of the greenhouse during the winter, or attach the chicken coop to the greenhouse. Their body heat creates warmth, and so does their fresh manure.
  • And if you have electricity - put up a string of Christmas lights - it actually generates a lot of heat (the old-fashioned ones, not the new LED lights).

Order your seeds

After all that cold work outside, it's time to curl up by the fire with a big mug of hot chocolate and get lost in next year's seed catalogues! 

Fall Garden Chores

Fall Garden ChoresAlthough it may seem strange to be getting ready for next year while it's only the fall, this is the perfect time to amend soils, evaluate the compost system, repair tools and structures, and plan for the next wonderful growing season. It's also the time of year to plant garlic and fall bulbs!

? Amend the soil

Leaves, plant debris, and finished compost are all in abundance and can be used to increase the organic matter content of the soil. Many people also use straw.

Organic matter improves almost all aspects of soil health. The best food for a tree or shrub ecosystem is its own discarded leaves & branches; it's best to let the leaves accumulate where they fall.

Mulch thickly around plants you wish to protect for the winter, like winter veggies and perennials and all of your empty garden beds. If you weed your beds before mulching, your busy springtime self will thank you!

? Cover crops

Cover crops are living mulch. They are usually fast-growing plants grown to incorporate large amounts of organic matter into the soil. Crops grown over winter will protect the soil from compaction and soil loss through erosion. As soon as the soil can be worked in the spring, the crops are turned into the soil.

? Plant Protection

Some plants may benefit from extra protection from overnight frosts. This is also the time of year to move hoop house structures to cover sensitive plants like tender salad greens. If snow is a concern in your area, be sure that your structures can support a snow load.

As well, in dryer parts of Canada you may need to water before the freezing sets in. 

Place stakes and wire mesh around any newly planted trees, so they don’t get stepped on when they are buried in snow, and to keep the rodents from chewing them.

If you have plants that you didn’t get in the ground before frozen temperatures hit sink them into a garden bed (in the pot) to wait for spring planting. Conversely, if you are in a location with mild temperatures you could plant them into the ground now. 

?️ Tool maintenance and repair

Gather up all of your buckets, pots, hoses, tools etc. that you won’t use over winter and store them away before snow makes them all disappear until spring.

Then take time to evaluate the state of your tools. Replace any broken handles and tighten any that are loose. Sand and oil all wooden handles. Clean off any dirt from your tools and prepare a sand/oil bath. You can clean your tools simply by taking a bucket of clean sand and putting some non-toxic oil (like mineral oil) in it (not used motor oil as is often suggested). The abrasive sand will remove rust, and the oil will protect it from moisture.

If you have rain barrels that will freeze over winter, you could take this time to empty, clean and then turn them upside down until spring. 

? Compost evaluation

The fall is a great time to evaluate the health and activity of your compost. Materials are abundant, and you are less likely to be distracted by more "fun" jobs in the garden.

Take a shovel or digging fork and dig through your compost. Is it stinky? Brown and sweet smelling? Full of worms? Full of uncomposted kitchen scraps? Also, evaluate the moisture level. Many composts dry out in the summer and need to be watered.

Gaia College instructor Jennifer shared her strategy for preparing her compost pile each fall in Zone 3, “I turn the compost and water it to be sure that there are no voles in residence, then build it up as best I can with fall garden waste and kitchen waste. Water again, then I let it freeze up until spring. The volume will decrease by 30-40% as it thaws in spring. Freezing and thawing really helps to break things down quickly.”

? Plan next year's garden

You could plant seeds now that need cold stratification. If you are starting native seeds with irregular germination you could start them in a pot sunk into your garden beds, and then transplant them when they come up in the spring. 

Take some time to write down your thoughts and reflections on how the season went. What worked well, and what needs improvement? What did you enjoy (looking at, growing, eating), and what would you eliminate in the future? A garden journal is essential!

Also, plan your food crop rotation. If the same crop is grown in the same spot year after year, the nutrient conditions in the soil - and the crop residue - result in the proliferation of organisms that like to feed on that particular crop.