Gardening for Life!


2010Gof SBHills 20(1)

Keeping it Healthy!

Enrich your garden bed soil :

  • Change out the soil completely every 4 years in each garden bed before people plant
  • Call 3-1-1 to inquire about City of Calgary's compost (from the leaf and pumpkin collection) for community gardens. You will be connected with City Staff to get clearance to pick it up. You must shovel and load it yourselves so bring some friends! There is compost available for 20 community gardens each year. Early birds get the compost!

  • Take some bags of leaves from the leaf composting program collection depots so that you have leaves for the community garden's compost bins.
  • With worm castingsWorms at Work are a local Calgary business producing high quality worm castings.
  • With spent mushroom substrate (SMS): Only use spent mushroom substrate that is no longer giving off heat. SMS usually consists of hay, straw, straw horse bedding, poultry litter, cottonseed meal, cocoa shells, gypsum and sphagnum peat moss.You can see this heat from recently used mushroom substrate by the steam that comes off the discarded piles of SMS at a mushroom farm. When collecting SMS for your garden always take it from the oldest and coldest piles (no steam or heat coming from them whatsoever).  Then mix it sparingly with existing soil.

SMS can burn tender plants because it has a high concentration of salts just because it is a manure and because these salts are what the mushrooms leave behind when they are finished feeding on the mushroom substrate.  Too much SMS surrounding a plant can be poisonous to the plant roots or burn them so much that the roots cannot take in water. You can tell if a plant has been burned by SMS because the leaves can become scorched looking and die. Do not use SMS where you sow seeds directly into the soil because they are very vulnerable to being burned by the SMS.

When you use SMS in a garden bed with seedlings apply no more than a 2 cm layer and completely mix it into the top 10 cm layer of soil.

  • To break up soil with a lot of clay in it try adding:  coffee grounds (free at Starbucks), Spray Lakes Sawdust, Eco Chips, or Zeolite.


  • To improve soil fertility plant cover crops of oats, clover or buckwheat and then when they are a few inches tall, turn the plants back into the soil. Inexpensive seed in bulk can be purchased at Apache Seeds at 10136 149 St NW, Edmonton, AB T5P 1L1 (780) 489-4245.


  • Contact nearby community gardens to see if they are interested in participating in a bulk buy of high quality soil.  Search by NW, NE, SW, SE using Find a Garden tool.


  • It is inexpensive to test the pH of your soil (how acidic or alkaline it is). Soil testing kits for pH are available at garden centres. Soil testing for heavy metals and petrocarbons is expensive and up to 30 holes must be sampled at about $1000 per hole.


  • Hugelkultur uses a variety of large chunks of untreated wood and brush mixed with soil to make a natural wicking bed. Another advantage is that people can tend the plants from seated or standing positions.

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