Bumbleseeds Approves Peat Free Gardening

keyhole garden simple composting solution

Unlock Composting Solutions with Keyhole Gardens

Composting has never been easier for us! Using our simple version of a highly effective gardening concept, keyhole gardening allows us to dispose of our kitchen waste quickly and easily, and enables us ease of access to the built-in composting center in our raised bed garden. The compost center not only makes composting a breeze but it also provides nutrients directly to the soil and our garden contents.

The keyhole garden concept originated in Africa and was developed for people who were ill and could not look after a traditional garden; it typically refers to a round shaped garden and the term ‘keyhole’ is used because it has a keyhole shape (circle and wedge) on one side of it when viewed from above. Imagine a pizza with a ‘dough ball’ in the center and one slice is removed; that ‘dough ball’ is the composting center and the slice removed allows easy access to put compost into that center.

How it Works

The round keyhole design is taller in the middle and gradually slopes down to the edges. The contents or layers added to the compositing center or ‘basket’ will distribute nutrients from this center. Our keyhole garden was built on a slope so we left the top surface entirely level. Most keyhole gardens are positioned close to the kitchen for ease of access to add kitchen waste and for harvesting.


Keyhole gardens are ideal for intensive planting, plants are placed very close together to maximize production and help to repel weeds and retain moisture.

We decided to experiment with the keyhole garden concept...we only had a small area of yard that we could install a vegetable garden bed. This area had two key drawbacks; it was on a slope and we had so many large tree roots that a logical option was a ‘no dig’ raised garden but it was full day sun and a great spot if we could find a good planting solution.

A rectangle shape for that area would allow us easy access to maintain the garden, and for walking through our yard. We decided to combine a no-dig, raised-bed, keyhole garden concept; placing the compost center at the topmost shallow end that would work with the slope; we wanted to see if the nutrients from the composting center would work its way down to the other end of the garden. As a first time experiment, it works very well!  

Our keyhole rectangular garden was laid out with the 4 x 4 pieces of wood and screwed together ensuring it was square. We covered the entire bottom inside this rectangle with cardboard which was then soaked with water. We also continued the cardboard up the interior walls, about six inches, to help hold the soil mixture until it got settled in. Layers of twigs were added next covering the bottom of the bed and this was topped off with a mixture of 90% soil and 10% sand to make it well draining. Using cardboard is a great way to suppress weeds and helps retain moisture!

We decided to experiment again - instead of using the ‘basket’ for composting like the example from Africa below, we fashioned a ‘circle’ out of galvanized deer proofing wire and placed it at the top end of the shallowest part of the garden bed. This circle sat on the bottom which was covered with cardboard that was ‘watered in’. We lined the wire circle with cardboard – this was later removed when the soil and sand mixture was added overall and our first layers of browns and greens were added. This wire composting center works very well so far. We water the layers down when they are added; so far it appears to be adding substantial naturally based nutrients to the garden vegetables in the entire garden bed as everything is growing and healthy.

What Can You Put in Your Compost Center?

Having a built in composting center that utilizes a number of layers of materials to retain moisture and nourish the soil makes this more productive than a conventional garden. Composting ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ and layering each in the composting center will ensure your keyhole garden nourishes your soil and its contents:

Greens: (Nitrogen) green compost ingredients are anything soft with a higher moisture content such as grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and garden trimmings; these have a higher nitrogen content, rot quickly and encourage fast microbial growth. Greens can become very wet and compressed and will smell – you will need to balance out the density and add enough brown matter to introduce more aeration to the mix to keep it balanced. Note: evergreen clippings can take a long time to compost and will slow down the composting process – avoid these.                                                                 

Browns: (Carbon) refers to any organic matter which is rich in carbon.              Any plant waste which is dry, fibrous, and hard is generally recognized as brown and includes paper, brown paper bags, shredded woody material, sticks branches and straw. Browns are more resistant to decay. Consider these as the slow-burning food for your compost heap. Large logs, thorny branches and larger woody items will be too large to break down; you will need to chip or grind these prior to adding them. The addition of greens helps to promote moisture retention and decay; keep a layer of brown on the top of the compost to discourage animals

These layers of green and brown materials keep the composting process working successfully. After the first layer of brown (cardboard and twigs) materials, we added a layer of green - our uncooked vegetable scraps were placed into the keyhole garden center. We then added a layer of dry manure (which we keep close by), and eggshells and more soil. These layers replenish the soil nutrients as the plants grow. 

What About Watering?

Even though keyhole gardens might need less water than conventional gardens, gardeners need to water regularly to keep the topsoil moist. Clean water can be used directly on the topsoil just like a regular garden, but “grey water” from washing hands, laundry, and dishes can be poured into the central basket. The layers and the composting in the composting center will clean the water sufficiently for the plants to use it.

As the layers of your keyhole garden decompose, dry manure and topsoil should be replenished after each season so that it does not become short on nutrients. Also, if the topsoil turns grey or sinks below the garden walls, this is your cue that it is time to add topsoil and dry manure.  If vegetables stop growing well and there are no pests or diseases present, you may not have to remove all of the soil but simply top up the soil with more soil and manure. If you do find pests or disease you will need to remove the old layers of soil and start again. After four seasons or years it would be good to completely replenish the entire bed and start fresh.

 Benefits of A Keyhole garden:

  1. Nutrients: short term and long term benefits are realized because the central composting center contents of organic layers helps to continuously feed the garden and enrich the soil.
  2. Retains moisture: the layers of organic material soak up and retain moisture which is beneficial as the garden requires water less frequently and in smaller quantities.
  3. Easy to maintain: the soil re-nourishment and moisture retention properties of the garden help to reduce the amount of time and effort required to maintain the garden. The raised garden design is also easily accessible. The round design is especially easy to access the central composting area.
  4. Low cost solution: keyhole gardens are typically low cost as you can use almost anything to make one. If stones are used they hold heat in throughout the cooler evenings, pallets can be used in whole or taken apart for the frame; any building materials like steel sheeting, pressure treated wood etc can be resourced and reused.

For our Bumbleseeds keyhole garden, we reused old and new 4 x 4 lumber and finished the outer edges off with wood offcuts from another project. Cardboard was used for the bottom and a piece of deer fence was used for the composting center.

Note: The composting center, (if made with trigs only in the example below) will decompose over time and likely within 1 or 2 years, and should be replaced. The garden wall near the composting basket should be made so it can be pulled away which allows gardeners to remove the rotted basket and replace it with a new one.

 Keyhole Gardens Contents:

What is recommended to grow in a Keyhole Garden:

  1. Leafy greens such as kale, lettuce and spinach; we found our chard is doing very well and bigger than our container grown chards.
  2. Herbs: cilantro is doing very well in the shallow end; most herbs will do well provided you take the root into consideration and plant accordingly.
  3. Root Crops: beets, carrots, garlic and onions do very well in keyhole gardens. We planted carrots and cosmos in the deepest part of the garden bed, lettuce, shallots and chard in the middle, and cilantro and zinnia in the shallow end.

What is not recommended:

Any vegetables with wide reaching root systems such as tomatoes and zucchini may not do very well in a keyhole garden unless the depth will allow for the root growth and reaching to heights as they grow taller.

Here’s what we read before starting our improvised keyhole garden according to our needs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyhole_garden

 Looking to Make an Authentic Keyhole Garden?

  1. Clear a circle approximately 2 metres across and remove all grass and plants; pound 4 corner posts for the composting basket into the ground; as big as required.
  2. Mark the outline of the garden with stones. Leave an access point toward the center in one place so that gardeners can reach the composting basket easily. (If stones are unavailable, the garden walls can be made of any sturdy, permanent material, such as old tires.)The composting basket is finished by encompassing the 4 corner posts with either sticks or rope to keep the contents inside of this area; the composting basket is lined with thatching grass so that compost materials and water will flow from the basket into the garden soil (once soil is added).
  3. Construct each layer so that it slopes down from the center basket to the edges of the garden so that water will flow from the basket into the soil of the garden

Layer 1: the first layer in the garden is composed of small iron scraps and iron cans (from food or beverages), aloe leaves, dry animal bones (not fresh animal bones), or broken clay pots. The iron, aloe and bones provide minerals to the soil as they decompose, and the broken clay aids in drainage of the garden so that it will not become flooded after storms. Fist-sized stones can be substituted for the broken pots. If bones are not available, they can be left out.

Layer 2: a layer of wood ash is added to provide potassium and thatching grass to provide moisture retention.

Layer 3: a layer of soil is added on top of the wood ash; the addition of soil helps to decompose the iron, bones, aloe, and ash, freeing the nutrients those materials contain so as the plants are able to use these.

Layer 4: a thick layer of soil and dry manure mix is added on top. (If wet manure is used, it can kill the young seedlings that are planted later.) As the garden grows taller, stones are added around the edges. The stones should always rise a bit higher than the soil.

Bumbleseeds highly recommends keyhole gardens! Our crops are healthy and full of flavour; we can pick a salad and eat it fresh within minutes. Our chard can be picked at 5:00 and sautéed and eaten by 5:20. So enjoyable!

Whatever the shape, size or location you decide on…the concept is brilliant. If you are looking to experiment with a keyhole garden, we highly recommend making it even easier by using a raised bed design of whatever size you can fit, and making the composter center as large as your family requirements need to compost all of your kitchen waste. Keyhole Gardens are extremely easy to maintain and we like the added benefit of using organic layers to feed our growing food source.

K Rawlins
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Bumbleseeds Approves Peat Free Gardening

Bumbleseeds Approves Peat Free Gardening

One of our favourite gardening guru’s is Monty Don. Monty made his television debut in 1989 on the morning show in Britain. Today, Monty is the leading British broadcaster and writer on gardening and horticulture, and is best known as the lead presenter of the BBC gardening television show Gardener’s World.

Monty has travelled the world writing primarily about gardening. As of 2003, Gardener’s World was filmed at his family property known as ‘Longmeadow. Monty’s two acre property isdivided into several different areas including the Cottage Garden, the Jewel Garden, the Islamic-inspired Paradise Garden, and the Vegetable Garden.

We are confident that Monty has many followers; all of his books about various global garden designs (French Gardens, English Gardens and Italian Gardens to name a few) are inspirational. Monty’s television show ‘Gardener’s World’ is also quite informative and a great resource as it touches on the basics from simple planting and ‘pricking out’ techniques to more complicated topics such as pruning, espaliers and growing advice for all kinds of plants.

Monty Don is still writing and his show gets better with every season. Monty is known to always be on a mission - he is now urging everyone to embrace the natural world and is encouraging all of us to do our part to preserve it - starting in our own backyards - for the betterment of not just for humans but for every living creature.  With that mantra, Monty is creating an awareness about the downfalls of using peat and is openly voicing his opinion about the immediate need for all of us to focus on the climate and avoiding the use of compost made from peat, and all plants grown in it.  https://www.montydon.com/tips-and-advice

What’s Down with Peat? 

Many disadvantages have been unearthed regarding peat as a soil additive for the environment and the peat used to produce garden compost is mainly derived from peat bogs. When a bog is mined, one of the first things to go is the water buffer; water that would normally be stored in the bog runs much more quickly to waterways and increases the chances of flooding areas. Once removed, the same volume of peat cannot be grown back in a human lifetime! 

5 Reasons not to use peat:                                                                          

  1. Valuable ecosystems containing rare and endangered species that live in and around peatlands threaten their survival or are destroyed when peatland bogs are mined and drained.
  2. Peatlands contain one of the world's most important carbon stores. When peat is spread on a field or garden, the carbon quickly turns into carbon dioxide adding to greenhouse gas
  3. Half a million tons of greenhouse gases are released back into the atmosphere contributing to global warming.
  4. The unique biodiversityof peat bogs are being irreversibly lost. Rare birds, insects and plants such as the insect-eating pitcher plants, red-capped and long-necked sandhill cranes, large heath butterflies, and dragonflies disappear.   
  5. For years gardeners trusted peatas a valuable growing medium however it’s not always ideal; it is not nutrient rich, makes a poor mulch and quickly dries out - and it is easily blown away. Other better and environmentally friendly soil options are available.                                                                                                                                  

Since the 1990s, it has become increasingly apparent in the news that the depletion of peat bogs was proceeding at an astounding rate and contrary to what many people think, peat is not replenished in a sensible time frame. It takes hundreds of years for a peat bog to reform. According to one article on the CBC website however, it states that researchers have found ways to reclaim a bog ecosystem if only part of the peat layer has been stripped away. And further research says that much of the planet’s peat remains intact, and Canada actually has over 200 million acres left -about 1/4 of the world's supply. Read the article here https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/peat-moss-gardening-1.5411539

All Canadian provinces regulate peatland use as they are protected in Canada; this means only a small percentage can be harvested and it must be done responsibly, with a plan to regenerate the bogs. This is however, no uniform national policy on whether and how they should be harvested. The Canadian Wildlife Federation published an article by Asha Jhamandas about the pros and cons or using peat. Jhamandas writes that agricultural development has been the single greatest cause of wetland loss in Canada since settlement, claiming about 15 per cent, and peat harvesting has had the smallest impact of about 0.02 per cent.

According to a 2001 issues paper published by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council, in partnership with Environment Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association: ‘If you put all of Canada's peatlands into the United States, they would cover the size of Washington, Nevada, Oregon and California,’ says Hood. ‘And the size of what we’re harvesting is smaller than the city of Portland, Oregon.’

The article also goes on to say that ‘coco coir, or coconut fibre husk, is a product imported via ocean vessels from Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines and Mexico, and it has many of the same characteristics as peat. But is expensive to buy and the supply is only about 10 per cent of what is required for the horticultural industry,’ says Hood. ‘It is also cleaned with brackish water and so may have a high salt content. It would be the closest alternative to peat, but there are problems — shipping, quality control and cost’.

Read the article here: https://cwf-fcf.org/en/news/articles/for-the-love-of-peat_resource.html#:~:text=Peat%20harvesting,how%20they%20should%20be%20harvested.                                                                                                                                          

As there are other renewable and sustainable options available such as compost and leaf mould which can both be made in your own backyard, and if cannot produce sawdust, shredded bark or wood chips — all renewable resources (well, that’s another debate so we won’t go there) you can purchase these from garden centers or online.

And that leads us to another sustainable option:                                                                                                                                    Coconut coir, also known as coco peat, is one of the best alternatives to peat moss.  Coconut coir is readily renewable, pH-neutral, non-hydrophobic soil amendment that aerates, improves water retention, and is more environmentally friendly than peat moss.

Peat is reported to hold several times its weight in water ( reported as 10-20 times); more so than that of coconut coir which only holds an average of 8 to 9 times its weight in water however some sources say coir holds more water – up to 30 percent more and the argument continues. The simple fact that greenhouse gasses are greatly reduced far outweighs the benefits of peat at whatever level of moisture it retains – but then again, arguments continue as coconut coir has to be shipped by ocean!

Benefits of Coconut Coir:

  • Coco coir is a renewable resource; it is made from the fiber of coconut shells. When coconuts are harvested, the long fibers of the husks are used for things such as doormats, brushes, upholstery stuffing, and rope.
  • Makes an excellent mulch for gardeners who require a mulch that offers plenty of drainage and aeration.
  • Retains its physical properties longer and with less shrinkage.
  • Excellent wettability-superior to peat as it has a unique water holding capacity.
  • Similar to peat in terms of look, feel, and moisture retention.

As you can see, the debate continues…

Bumbleseeds is all about empowering the pollinators.                                                                   We choose to stand with Monty Don and all of the others who are opposed to peat and feel our ecosystems, including rare and endangered birds, butterflies, dragonflies and plants, are important. If using alternatives to peat can help reduce greenhouse gasses then we want to help make a difference - We choose peat free.

K Rawlins
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Companion Planting: A Good Neighbour Guideline

Companion Planting: A Good Neighbour Guideline

Companion planting is a term used in gardening and agriculture circles that refers to which plants make the best ‘neighbours’ for various reasons including but not limited to:

  • pest control
  • pollination for the 4 B’s ( birds, bees, butterflies and bugs)
  • providing habitat for beneficial insects
  • maximizing use of space
  • increasing crop productivity overall

Here is a brief overview of what plants are beneficial when planted next to one another in gardens, raised beds and container plantings:


  • Anise: plant anise and coriander seeds together as they both germinate more quickly when side by side.  Keep the soil moist and separate them when the seedlings have grown a little.
  • Basil: basil makes a good companion to tomatoes, both in the garden and plated.  You will need to grow three basil plants to every tomato plant for it to be effective.  Basil also helps to repel white fly, flies and mosquitoes; have a pot or basket handy in the kitchen and outdoors near the barbeque.  Basil dislikes being planted near Rue.  Basil is an excellent pollinator attractant especially for bees. 
  • Borage: plant this edible flowering plant in your strawberry patch and it will increase the crop.  Borage is a good companion to tomatoes and squash and it will attract bees to your garden. 

Chamomile: chamomile is an excellent influencer; it encourages other plants to increase their essential oils which makes them taste and smell more strongly.  Avoid too much Chamomile next to onions and cabbages.  Chamomile tea made by soaking the flowers in cold water for a day or two is a useful spray for some plant diseases, especially damping off.  Chamomile is rich in calcium and it also keeps compost heaps sweet and healthy. 

  • Chervil: improves the flavour of carrots if grown near them, and radishes planted near these plants will have a hotter taste. 
  • Chives: carrots grow larger and healthier when planted near chives.  Chives help delay parsley from going to seed.  If grown underneath apple trees, chives help to prevent apple scab.  They are also said to help control aphids and black spot on roses.  Cooled chive tea, made from chopped herb with boiling water, helps combat downy and powdery mildew. 
  • Coriander: Sown with Anise seeds, it helps both seeds germinate more quickly.  Coriander repels aphids.  Don’t grow it near Fennel it hinders Fennel’s seed formation.
  • Dill: cabbage, celery, corn, lettuce and cucumber grows well if planted near dill. Dill has a reputation for being an enemy of carrots.  This is only true if the dill is allowed to flower when it will suppress the carrot crop.  If it is not allowed to flower, dill gets on very well with carrots.  Best to not plant dill near Fennel as they may cross-fertilise.
  • Fennel: nota choice for companion plants for any garden food plant; fennel will inhibit the growth of bush beans, kohlrabi and tomatoes so best to keep it out of your vegetable garden. Fennel is an excellent addition to any garden as it attracts bees, flies, ladybugs, beetles and wasps and if you can find a place in full sun for this majestic specimen plant it is worth it as every part is edible, from the bulb to the flowers, and it can be eaten raw or cooked. Though the stalks and leaves are edible, fennel recipes most often call for the bulb. ... It caramelizes as it cooks, taking on a sweeter flavor and tender, melt-in-your mouth texture.
  • Hyssop: good for both cabbages and grapes.  It helps deter white butterfly.  A good insect repellent if planted in the vegetable or flower garden.  Keep away from radishes.
  • Lavender: is of general benefit to all kinds of plants in the garden but particularly repels all varieties of moths from laying their eggs and is an excellent bee attractant. Swiss chard does well planted next to Lavender. 
  • Lemonbalm: attracts lots of bees and improves the growth and flavour of tomatoes when planted near one another. 
  • Lovage: an all-round garden asset that improves the health and flavour of most other plants if situated near them.
    Marjoram: has a beneficial effect on most vegetables if planted near them.
  • Nasturtium: a useful insect repellent.  Add a few of these plants around broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, radishes and fruit trees. 
  • Oregano: plant near broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower to repel cabbage butterfly and improve the flavour of these vegetables.  Also said to benefit grapes.
  • Parsley: grow parsley near chives; also aids in the growth of roses, tomatoes, asparagus, beans and carrots. Keep away from Mint. 
  • Sage: the only herb that sage likes to live beside is rosemary; best place for sage is in the vegetable garden.  A good companion to strawberries, tomatoes, cabbage and carrots.  Keep away from cucumbers.  Sage tea can be sprayed on mature plants however not recommended to use sage spray on seedlings. The sage blossoms are quite pretty and they also attract beneficial insects and pollinators that can help your whole garden flourish.
    Thyme: plant thyme next to cabbages.  Thyme flowers attract pollinator bees.


Bush Beans: plant with corn, cucumbers, strawberries and tomatoes; do not plant with onions or beets.

Beets: loves lettuce, onions, cabbages and potatoes.

Cabbage: does not like radishes, strawberries or tomatoes.

Leeks: plant with carrots, celery and onions; avoid bush beans and pole beans

Onions: does well beside summer savory and chamomile; avoid beans and peas.

Peas: lives well with carrots, turnips, radishes, cucumbers and aromatic herbs; peas do not like loads of water-careful not to overwater.

Potatoes: do not like tomatoes or cucumbers but like cabbages.

Sweet Pepper: likes basil and okra

Tomatoes: enjoys the company of asparagus, carrots, celery, chives, garlic, onions and parsley; avoid brassicas, fennel, corn and kohlrabi

For more great partnerships please check out our Companion Planting Guide for Veggies here

Planting tips:

When to plant is just as important as what to plant next to what:

  • When lily of the valley is completely flowered it is typically safe to transplant tomato seedlings out.
  • When apple trees are in full blossom it is safe to plant bush beans
  • When apple blossoms fall it is time to plant pole beans and cucumbers
  • When lilacs are in full bloom it is safe to plant out tender annuals
  • When bearded irises are in bloom, it is time to transplant peppers and eggplant seedlings into your garden
  • When peonies are in flower it is safe to plant cantaloupe and melons


Whether you are a ‘newbee’ or an expert gardener, have some fun experimenting with companion planting to get the absolute most out of your garden. Companion planting is an excellent opportunity to learn how to naturally repel pests without using harmful pesticides, and provide a valuable food source and habitat for our 4 B pollinators. Learn more about the 4 B’s on our website www.bumbleseeds.com                                                                                            





K Rawlins
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It’s that time of year again!

It’s that time of year again!

Time to pull on those boots and get down and dirty!

Once the risk of frost has passed, and the temperature reaches an average of  12C to 25 C consistently, planting crops outdoors can begin. I do a check around to see how everything did over the winter. You can safely remove any protective coverings from your plants and shrubs - I use burlap; if you use and re-use burlap, hang these out to dry, roll them up and place in storage for next winter if they are still in good condition.

It’s always a good starting point to check the ground and make sure it isn’t too saturated or difficult to work; the last thing you want to do is compact or compress all of the soil – don’t make any more work for yourself. The earth should be relatively dried out and easy to work with a fork or shovel.

Start of the Season Maintenance and Care:

First things first…after winter, your plants need nourishment; it’s important to feed your trees, shrubs and perennials the appropriate products. I have ‘feeding Fridays’ in our garden and I use dried seaweed. Match the correct nutrients to your plants and if you’ve inherited a garden ask an expert which products are best.


Gardening is a personal experience; one that comes from trial and error as there are so many variables that it can sometimes be confusing. One of the areas that I struggle with is pruning. The rule of thumb to follow when pruning trees and shrubs is ‘If you have no good reason to prune, don't’. Most trees and shrubs have a natural form and may do better and look better if left alone. Each species of tree has their own characteristic shape or growth habit and when pruning, you should try to maintain that as best as possible. There are times, though, when pruning must be done and proper procedures should be followed:                                                                                                                              

Pruning is essential to:

  • Eliminate any limbs with weak crotches that arise from the trunk at acute angles.
  • Eliminate limbs that cross one another or compete for the same space in the crown.
  • Eliminate dead and diseased branches which also improves the appearance.
  • Prevent the presence and spread of disease and insects.
  • Enable more vigorous growth in the remaining branches of older trees by pruning out part of the crown of the tree and reducing the leaf area that the root system has to supply.
  • Increase the air circulation through the tree to increase air flow. I was always advised that a bird should be able to fly between the branches. An open airy canopy allows more sunlight to filter through which is beneficial both the tree and for lawn growth below.

The best time to prune larger overgrown shrubs is late winter or early spring (March or early April); take note that heavy pruning in late winter or early spring will reduce or eliminate the flower display for 2 or 3 years. Keep this in mind.

  • Summer-blooming flowering shrubs: the best time to prune these shrubs is from the end of winter to early spring for shrubs that bloom from late June through to fall and examples of those are Rose of Sharon, Spirea, St. John’s Wort, Hydrangeas (Smooth and Panicle), Beauty berry, Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) among others; these bloom on new wood -the flowers that appear in mid to late summer develop on the new growth that occurs in the spring. For this reason, pruning should take place in early spring just before active stem growth begins so there’s no danger of cutting off flower buds that formed last year.
  • Wait to prune spring blooming shrubs like Forsythia, Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Weigela and Lilacs until right after flowering normally, but if hard, renovation type pruning is required, it is better to do it in early to mid-spring just before new growth starts. After pruning, fertilize, and apply a loose layer of bark or leaf mulch ensuring not to cover the base of the tree, and water well.

If you’re not sure, ask an expert; if you have to prune I suggest you do your homework and research first - I have killed many a shrub trying to ‘pretty them up’ (namely a gorgeous smoke bush) because I cut too it hard and at the wrong time of year. Lesson learned!

Start with a Plan:  I would always forget what plants I wanted to move and where to (or I thought would do better somewhere else) so I started using bamboo canes to mark these; if you have a similar system, now is the time to see if you want to remove and change out plants from last year. This helps me formulate a plan of what plants go where (and what new seeds I can buy and transplant!) I start my plan by drawing a garden map (as best I can) and make note of what is being moved, added or removed.


OK…plan in place, boots on – coffee in hand – first on the list of chores, if you hadn’t done it at the end of the last season, is to clean up and organize your potting shed and sort of your tools. I clean my tools with soap and water and rub any metal parts with some 3-in-1 oil, just to keep them looking and working smoother. All of my seeds are organized by timelines and my potting table is readied with seed starter trays, potting soil and I add vermiculite to some mixes for better draining soil. Once i have the tools, potting shed and supplies sorted, I start outside.


‘Weeding’ doesn’t take us long. Most people remove their dandelions and other weeds while the ground is relatively wetter as it’s easier to remove them. We remove all weeds except dandelions because we have read up on bees and their struggle to find sources of food at this time of year and they add a bit of colour after a drab winter– to each their own. We will be outside later in the year after all the flowers start blooming and popping the dandelions out of the lawn with a handy long root removal tool!

We are lucky in that we inherited an incredible coastal garden – thankfully two owners before me and both very experienced garden ladies choreographed the overall layout - we don’t have a lot to change. We added a signature palm tree (since we were from Ontario and still can’t believe they grow in Canada!)  and we are trying to grow everything else from seed. We have a small greenhouse which makes sowing seeds early an option and something fun to do in the late winter. If you don’t have one - put one on your list; they are great places to experiment with growing different seeds, and storage for citrus trees and tender perennials if you have them.

Preparing the Soil and Beds:

If you’re starting from scratch you can always get a soil test and either match your plants to your earth’s soil characteristics, or you can add nutrients, mulch and remediate your soil to suit. Firstly, you have to prepare the beds…if you have to dig a garden, grab a pointed shovel, a garden fork and some friends. Dig up the entire area, remove any grass and break up the soil. Add nutrients such as compost or manure and work it in well so it’s easy to dig; if you need to add some sand to make it well draining soil do so.

As I said there are many variables to gardening…some people don’t do anything to their existing beds and things grow back just fine. Others like a clean and tidier look and remove the leaves and rake out the beds from last year to clear the way for this year’s new growth that will be breaching the surface. At this point you can add an inch or two of mulch. My beds are mulched – pretty low maintenance; I just top the existing layers up and stick a seedling in here and there wherever I can. There are different kinds of mulch and several colours to choose from. Mulch helps to retain moisture (and we typically use less water) and is applied once the soil warms consistently for the season. I like a sharp edge on my garden beds as it defines the lines of my gardens; on my wildflower meadow I have no edge and some beds have rock lined edges. Depending on the look you want the sky is the limit.

Containers are an easy planting option and one that can be used for anything from herbs, lettuce mixes to trees; great choice for balconies, patios and anywhere you want a featured plant or easy to access garden pickings. Ensure the soil meets the requirements of the plant choice and there is good drainage so the roots don’t sit in water. Containers tend to need more water more often so best to make water easily accessible.

Don’t dig digging? 

Then no dig gardening is for you. If you’re looking for an easier gardening option, other than tilling and turning up the soil, why not make a raised bed planter to plant flowers, veggies and herbs? You will need to build either a raised box (you don’t have to bend over so much with this one) or a box with walls about 18 inches or so high on the ground and place cardboard in the bottom; cover the entire bottom of the box.

Place your garden soil on top of the cardboard and mix in any sand or grit for drainage and compost or manure you need for the plants you are planting.  There you have it, an easy no dig garden option that is ready for planting!


Now is the optimum time to divide or move your perennials before they start new growth. Dig out away from the roots and replant them in their new digs as soon as possible. Ensure to water them in well; they may droop but should come back with added vigour. Any perennials that are already starting to flower or have some buds should be left standing, and divided or lifted after they bloom or best moved in the fall.


If you started your seedlings indoors you will typically need to transition them from the greenhouse to the garden by placing them in a cold frame until the temperature warms up consistently or just bring them in and out of the greenhouse for a period of 7 – 10 days to acclimatize them gradually. Having a table handy beside the greenhouse helps with this but a cold frame makes things easier and a lot less work. After all danger of frost has passed it is time to plant them into your prepared garden areas; you can also direct sow them. Follow the instructions on the seed packets or online.

Alternatively, you can plant the seedlings out and place cotton sheets, burlap, plastic or fabric over hoops to protect the rows/seedlings; this raises the temperature and keeps the cold off.

Seeds you can sow in March:

  • Indoors: cauliflowers, lettuces, salad greens and tomatoes under cover.
  • Outdoors: beets, broad beans, Brussel sprouts, cabbages, carrots, herbs, leeks, parsnips, peas, spinach, spring onions and turnips.
  • Great time to start planting out early potatoes, onions, garlic and shallots.

Seeds you can sow in April:

  • For most crops, start seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the last spring frost date.
  • Start your broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery and cabbage seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before planting them outside so they can be harvested before the fall frost
  • Outdoors: direct sow collards, corn, lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, onions, peas, peppers, radishes, spinach and turnips

We love gardening. And we enjoy meeting gardeners, who like myself, get a kick out of picking, growing and planting new seeds (as well as learning new and interesting methods to make gardening easier, faster and more affordable so we can buy more seeds!) I especially like the opportunity gardens provide me with, I can enjoy a bounty of vegetables and beautiful flowers all grown without any pesticides.

Gardening also:

  • Helps you and your family eat more vegetables.
  • Saves money
  • Connects families by working on a project together
  • Creates sharing if you have more than you need
  • Let’s you know what you grow

Gardening is not only one of the healthiest activities I enjoy, and our family eats better because I know what I grow, but research also proves that thanks to beneficial bacteria found in soil, gardening also improves your immune system - helping us get sick less often, fight off infections easier, and improves our immune system.

And healthy for us translates into healthy for everyone including our beneficial pollinators. Newbees to expert gardeners are learning everyday about the importance of attracting pollinators to our gardens. These pollinators…we call them the 4 B’s…Birds, Bugs Bees and Butterflies need us now more than ever!

If everyone let a small part of their backyards 'go wild' that would help. Providing a consistent food source like a pollinator wildflower garden is an ideal start. Every seed counts. Let’s all do our part to help the 4 B’s! 

K Rawlins
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