Friday, 30 January 2015

Veggie Patch Friends - Companion Planting

Planning your vegetable garden and have some extra space?  Why not throw in some comos?  What I'm suggesting (aside from growing some pretty flowers) is a very basic form of companion planting: 'planting of different crops in proximity for pest control, pollination, providing habitat for beneficial creatures, maximizing use of space, and to otherwise increase crop productivity'.

Just as you may have been told to grow basil with your tomatoes for them to grow better, or marigolds to repel pests...  These are not old wives' tales, studies have confirmed both and many other productive plant pairings.'s "A Vegetable Growing Cheat Sheet" (portion on  the right, go to link for full chart) makes the whole thing very simple. But is limited to the most common / popular vegetables in the UK.

Wikipedia's List of Companion Plants not only lists those that help, but also those that might harm the yield of certain vegetables and fruit trees (e.g. beets and bush beans don't get along).  Reading the entire list and trying to incorporate everything, however, is a little like planning a wedding seating chart for friends, feuding family members, and fawning couples (with some history of the relationships)... But if one can get similar results as 20% more tomatoes when grown with basil with other vegetables, it seems worth it to doing a little investigating.

AfriStar Foundations "Companion Plantings" (below) is a great balance of the two - not too detailed, not too simplified.  The names of the plants might be a little different from what we're used to, but there are pictures to help.

Oh, and what of those cosmos I mentioned before?  They're everyone's good companion: they attract beneficial insects (bees and pest predators).

For more information about different plant pairings not just for the vegetable garden also see Organic Gardening's Beginner's Guide to Companion Planting.

Bee-Friendly: Companion planting encourages not using pesticides, instead working with nature by attracting beneficial bugs, repelling pests, or luring pests away.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Plan to Garden - Garden Planning eTools

Got garden planning fever?  A bout hit me while online, so instead of my usual garden planning MO (grabbing a random piece of paper and pen, doodling, and inevitably misplacing it), I decided to give two free online garden planning tools a try.

Garden Planner 3 

Start creating your own birds-eye-view garden plan or open up one of four sample plans and start editing.  The online demo version allows for printing, but not saving.  A 15 day free trial of version 3.2 is available and for $ 34 you can own the program

My backyard (approximately) in Garden Planner 3
  •  A number of generic items you would find in a garden (such as flowers, trees, furniture, planters) are programmed in
  • It's easy to change the colour and size of these items once you've added them in
  • You can draw your own items using the "tools" tab and label accordingly

  • You need to click a button to switch between "moving" or "resizing" an object
  • When resizing, instead of one edge changing, the object increases or decreases with the middle point staying static
  • Windows keyboard short cuts (e.g. Ctrl-C to copy) do not work.
  • Online demo (free) cannot save

Overall thoughts:
Fun to play with, but not very user-friendly.  Other reviewers of the free demo have called it no better than moving around paper cutouts.

Better Homes and Gardens' Plan-A-Garden

Create a free account with Better Homes and Gardens ( to start dragging and dropping plants and garden elements onto one of 27 "scenery" backgrounds.  Upgrade with a $ 9.99 subscription or purchase the program license to "unlock" plants and items or to upload your own photo as a background.

My front yard (approximately) with horizontal plan view in BHG's Plan-A-Garden

  • Plant information is included: You can filter by shade and light requirements and clicking on the object's information button will take you to the BHG's plant encyclopedia
  • Realistic looking plants and objects 
  • Search available for objects
  • The main view let's you view the plan vertically, while the "Plan View" allows you to to see and edit the horizontal layout

  • Undo button undoes all changes until last save
  • No drawing abilities - limited to item lists (which do not include annuals or some of the most common plants in Edmonton e.g. peonies, mountain ash trees)
  • Can increase or decrease the size of items, but not change its proportions or colours
  • Print function is of main view and includes no notes on plants used

Overall thoughts:
Moderately fun to play with, but lacks functionality and practicality. The pretty plants and objects are quickly overshadowed by the limited selection and inability to "create your own" stand-ins. 

Final Notes 

Again, while fun to play with, neither program really delivered what I needed.  One gets what one pays for!  Of the two, based on the features shown in the free version, I'd more likely buy Garden Planner 3 for it's flexibility and then search online for plant information.  But, I think at the moment I'm just as good to invest in a dedicated garden planning note book for my doodles and some coloured paper to make cutouts.  

Have you tried other online Garden Planning Tools?  Have you found one worth the cost?  What's your favourite way to plan a garden? 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Why Bee-Friendly?

For almost a decade, honeybee disappearance has been big in the news.  When Colony Collapse disorder (CCD) hits, honeybee hives are basically ghost towns.  And it rightfully has farmers scared: Much of our food supply relies on honeybee pollination to be successful.  Native bees have been called into action to help pollinate, but their numbers have been declining too. 

You're likely not a farmer and you might not even like honey.  But in the short and long term, taking care of our bees means taking care of you and your family. 

 The Short (Term) of It

1. Honey comes from honeybees
2. You eat vegetables, fruits, nuts, berries (or animals that eat those things) - Many of these require pollination to fruit or seed
3. You grow vegetables, fruits, nuts, or berries - Zucchini, pumpkin, watermelon need pollination to fruit and you get much better yields when raspberries, cherries, plums, blueberries, and apples are pollinated (imagine hand pollinating all those yourself!)

The Long (Term) 

1. Things (i.e. pesticides) that harm bees have been linked to harming birds
2. Things (i.e. pesticides) that can harm birds can harm pets and people (it's often just a matter of dosage)

(Warning: Mixed Metaphors ahead)

Take bees as your canary in the coal mine: be friendly to bees to be friendly to yourself.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Ban Neonics: A Provincial and Federal Matter

Neonicotinoids (neonics), a bee-killing insecticide that has been linked to the global decline of bee populations, is not regulated in Canada.

Is change at hand?  The Government of Ontario's proposed to drastically reduce neonics use by 2017, but also faces large amounts of lobbying from industry.
The David Suzuki Foundation has started an online petition to encourage the Government of Ontario to move on with the proposal -- restrict (a first step to eventual bans of) neonics use. 

Sign the petition / send an email before 25-Jan-2015 and Bee Counted! 

The application and use of pesticides is a provincially legislated matter - but before pesticides can be used, they must be registered and approved at the federal level through the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (of Health Canada).
The David Suzuki Foundation's email petition to ban neonics use in Canada directs the message to the federal Minister of Health and related provincial MLAs (e.g. Minister of Environment).  Sign today to help save the bees! 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

2015: Bee-Friendly

Tonight's meeting was a flurry of ideas as Club members discussed and planned this year's activities.

The main result?  A combined resolution to be Bee-Friendly!

Basically, we aim to learn about, spread the word, and take action (in and out of the garden) to protect and support bees. 

Why such a focus? These important pollinators have been dying in large numbers worldwide and Highlands is not immune: A large group of dead and dying bees was found in the neighbourhood this past summer. It is scary, sad, and angering, and so we're taking action.

We'll be chronicling our Bee-Friendly findings here along with our events and activities as details are finalised.

We're ambitious. We hope you are also excited to join us in this challenge.