Testing the Waterworks in our Garden

After our Water Solutions Brainstorming Session last week, we’ve decided to test the waterworks in our garden to make sure they are working as designed before we go ahead and replicated them in the second half of our garden.

There was some concern over the amount of water used in our Wicking Beds this season, which is more than should be necessary, there are several reasons that this might be:
a) The reservoirs are leaking: Perhaps the black plastic used to line the reservoirs wasn’t durable enough, has been punctured by the rocks and is allowing water to seep into the ground.
b) The beds aren’t ‘wicking’ properly: the gravel used to fill the reservoirs is too porous and the “wicking action” of the beds is not actually working as it should,
c) Gardeners are over-watering:  the purpose of the beds is to limit and even sometimes eliminate the need for top watering.  Perhaps gardeners are unsure of how much water their gardens really need, or are skeptical about how effective the wicking beds really are, or watering habits just need to change.

So, Julia and Ryan tested  the beds for leaks.  They filled all of the beds on Thursday Sept. 20th, and recorded how much time was needed to fill the reservoir.  They came back to check the following day, topped up each bed, and again noted how long the reservoir took to fill, the idea being that if any took remarkably longer than the rest this indicated there might be a leak.
See their results here.
They concluded that there are just a few beds that are taking significantly longer than the others to fill, and should be checked for leaks.

This weekend, Robin, Avni, Adam and Chrystel tested different reservoir materials to see if any worked better than others.  We looked at the gravel currently in our beds, sand, a mixture of the two and wood mulch.

We also decided to do a test dig in Robin’s bed to see if it is working as it should.  At 11/2″ below the surface the soil was an optimal moisture, and remained that way right to the bottom.  We also saw evidence of really healthy and deep root growth from the plants that had been growing there as they also reached right to the bottom of the bed. 

We folded back the landscape fabric to reveal wet rocks, and found the water level 6″ below the surface of the reservoir. 

We then timed how long it took to fill. 
 After 8 mins the reservoir was full and the over-flow drain worked perfectly. 

We’ve left the hole open (though covered) to monitor over the next few days how quickly the water level diminishes. 
We’re pleased that the results indicate that the wicking beds are functioning just as they are designed to!

Garden Blitz & Free Tea Party! – Sat. Oct. 1st : 10am-4pm

 Let’s Build a Garden!

Grab your shovels, wheel barrows and work gloves! 
Bring along your grass clippings and dried leaves!

* Tree Planting along the north fence
* Building a herb garden for the hospital
* Sheet-mulching the potato spokes
* Developing the rest of our garden
     …learn permaculture techniques
        …sample local teas
           …get your hand’s dirty
               …help build a garden!

Tell a friend! Spread the word! See you there!

Useful Weeds

Rob Avis from Verge Permaculture refers to many weeds and so-called ‘invasive species’ as Hard-Working Immigrants…A neat perspective giving value to the many plants dismissed by most gardeners as a nuisance. 

Below is some information I came across on Plants for a Future facebook page that I thought would help us to understand why dandelions and chickweed aren’t necessarily a problem in our gardens:

Chickweed – Stellaria media.   
  A very common garden weed, chickweed grows, flowers and sets seed all year round. An annual plant growing about 15cm it spreads by means of seeds. It is very easy to control by hoeing and we actively encourage this plant since it has so many beneficial uses. The young leaves have a mild flavour and can be available all year round if the winter is not too severe. Very nutritious, they can be eaten raw in mixed salads, or cooked to make a very acceptable spinach substitute. The small seed can be ground into a powder and used in making bread or to thicken soups. Chickweed has a very long history of herbal use, being particularly beneficial in the external treatment of any kind of itching skin condition. It has been known to soothe severe itchiness even where all other remedies
have failed. When applied as a poultice, it will relieve any kind of roseola and is effective wherever there are fragile superficial veins. An infusion of the fresh or dried herb can be added to the bath water and its emollient property will help to reduce inflammation – in rheumatic joints for example – and encourage tissue repair.

Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale.   
Dandelions are another of those weeds that is at times cultivated for its edible leaves – indeed there are a number of named varieties that have been developed in Europe. A perennial plant growing up to 40cm tall, we encourage it in the lawn but tend to discourage it in cultivated beds because slugs like to hide under the leaves. The plant spreads very freely by means of its light seeds, but is easily controlled by hoeing. The leaves are literally packed full of vitamins and minerals, making this one of the most nutritious leaves you can eat. Unfortunately, they have a rather bitter flavour, though we find a few of the leaves added to a mixed salad to be quite acceptable. The bitter tasting root can also be cooked, some people say they have a turnip-like flavour. When roasted and ground into a powder, they can be used as a much healthier alternative to coffee. The dandelion is a commonly used herbal remedy. It is especially effective and valuable as a diuretic because it contains high levels of potassium salts and therefore can replace the potassium that is lost from the body when diuretics are used. The latex contained in the plant sap can be used to remove corns, warts and verrucae. The latex has a specific action on inflammations of the gall bladder and is also believed to remove stones in the liver.

Plantain – Plantago major. 

Common Plantain is a common lawn weed. This perennial plant grows up to 20cm tall, though it will be much lower when growing in a frequently cut lawn. Although most gardeners mercilessly root it out of their lawns, it actually does no harm when growing there and, indeed, helps to maintain the fertility of the lawn. The young leaves are rather bitter and tedious to prepare because the fibrous strands need to be removed before use, but they have been used as a pot herb. It is best not to use the leaf-stalk since this is even more fibrous than the leaf. They can be blanched in boiling water before using them in salads in order to make them more tender. Although very tedious to harvest, the seed can be ground into a meal and mixed with flour when making bread, cakes etc. The whole seed can also be boiled and used like sago. Common plantain is a safe and effective medicinal herb. The leaves are used externally as a healing poultice and treatment for bleeding, quickly staunching blood flow
and encouraging the repair of damaged tissue. Internally, they are used in the treatment of a wide
range of complaints including diarrhoea, gastritis, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, haemorrhage, haemorrhoids, cystitis, bronchitis, catarrh, sinusitis, asthma and hay fever. Plantain seed husks are an excellent treatment for digestive disorders. They contain up to 30% mucilage which swells up in the gut, acting as a bulk laxative and soothing irritated membranes.

Thistle – Cirsium species.   
There are many different species of thistle, the two you are most likely to encounter as weeds are C.
arvense, the Creeping Thistle a perennial plant growing to about 90cm, and C. vulgare, the Common
Thistle which is biennial and grows up to 2 metres tall. These are very aggressive weeds, the first spreading freely by means of its roots and the other sending its seeds far and wide to grow where you least expect them. The young roots of both species can be eaten raw or cooked. Although nutritious, they are rather bland with a taste reminiscent of Jerusalem artichokes. They are probably best when used in a mixture with other vegetables. Be warned though, just like Jerusalem artichokes the root is rich in inulin, a starch that cannot be digested by humans. This starch thus passes straight through the digestive system and, in some people, ferments to produce flatulence. The young stems can be peeled and cooked like asparagus or rhubarb. Young leaves have a fairly bland flavour and can also be eaten raw or cooked, but the prickles need to be removebe eaten – not only is this rather fiddly but very little edible leaf remains.

How Does our Garden Grow?

Gardeners celebrated the first season’s bounty of greens, herbs, edible flowers and new friends under the August full moon recently.  

Thanks to the rich injection of nutrients from our enormous pile of horse manure, carefully selected seed varieties, and the tremendous amount of love and care that this garden has seen this year, our beds are flourishing with tasty additions for our summer salad menus!
The squash, cabbage and beans are thriving in our hoop garden, the arugula, mizuna, tat soi, and curly cress are adding zing to our salad bowls, our swiss chard crop is prolific, the potatoes substantive,  the sweet pea blooming, the calendula robust, the bok choi adds flare, the sage offers wisdom, the stevia a sweet finish…

But most importantly…we’ve had lots of fun! We’ve made new friends, shared seeds and the secrets of the trade, made peace with the rabbits, frolicked with the aphids, experimented with living walls, and gotten creative with up-cycled materials (check out our tin can roof! and old CD scarecrows). There’s always room for experimentation and innovation in the garden… where our veggies grow, smiles bloom!

We saw our first frost on August 27th, and have had a couple more since September rolled in.  Our nasturtiums, squash and amaranth are suffering frost bite, and it looks like we’ll sample some fried green tomatoes this year as our season quickly nears it’s end.  Lots of frost-hardy varieties still going strong though…greens and herbs abound, so keep the harvest coming!

As we approach season’s end, we are beginning to develop a design for the remainder of garden and we invite your input!
What is the highlight of the garden this year?
What would you like to see more of?
What didn’t work so well for you?
How would you like to be involved? Plot renter? Communal gardener?

Please let us know! canmorecommunitygardening@gmail.com

Wild & Edible Plant Walk

A day-long excursion through Larch Islands and Carrot Creek with Blaine Andrusek, Master Herbologist from Wild Rose College gave members of Canmore Community Gardening a little bit of insight into the local bounty of edible and medicinal plants.

Blaine’s colourful stories, wild tales and hilarious anecdotes guided a captivated audience through nearby forests, riverbeds, meadows and groves, revealing the abundance of edible wild plants in our own backyards! Under blue skies eyes were turned groundward as pieces of nature’s mysterious medicine were revealed.

The lesson is: Nature always provides what is needed, we just have to remember to ask her and learn how to listen for the answer.