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The Lawn

Natural lawn rehab

Love them or hate them, the lawn is a part of our communities. For those that love them, they are a little park of our very own. A place to gather with others. A place for the kids to play. For those that hate them, they are a constant source of work and frustration.

For years people have been fed the story that we need to aerate and power rake in the spring and spray weed killer & lawn feed, or some other chemical, on our grass. Then we cut the grass as short as possible to give it the “manicured look” all summer, and water it everyday with municipally treated water. In the spring, the dandelions come up first before the grass is green. We do it all over again.


organically maintained lawn


There are many varieties of grasses and they all have different characteristics. The grass on your lawn can not be just cut shorter to create a golf course green. (Something I have been asked by a couple of people about over the years.) Golf courses use specific species of grasses and a strict mowing schedule to create what they do.

The ideal height for the standard residential lawn is 2 ½ – 3”. Only annual bluegrass (which is considered a weed in most places) and bent-grass (which is what they use on golf course greens) can tolerate being mowed lower than 1″

We should not cut more than 1/3 of the shoot height either. So if your lawn is 3” high, you can cut off 1” to a height of 2”. If your lawn is 4 ½” high you can cut off 1 ½” to a height of 3”.

Don’t cut it down below 2”!

‘Told you to get your mower fixed.’

Mowing at the optimal height leaves the plants with sufficient photosynthetic capacity to maintain a strong root system, and still leaves the lawn thick and strong enough to support foot traffic without flopping over. The longer leaves or tillers cushion the crowns, and create a dense canopy that prevents water evaporation from the soil surface. It also provides a lot of surface area to catch the morning dew – which is an important source of water in the summer.

Lawn Mowing Frequency:

In late spring and early summer, when the grass is growing quickly, mowing every 3rd or 4th day may be advisable. When the grass is dormant during mid summer, we don’t have to mow at all. The mowing schedule should be determined by how fast the grass grows, not by the calendar or pocketbook.

How The Lawn Grows:

growth cycle of grass

Without getting too deep into Rhizomes and Stolons and the intercalary meristem, there is a few things to keep in mind for the average lawn.

Grass has a crown.

Cut above the crown, plant survives. Cut below and the plant dies. The lower the crown to the soil surface, the shorter you can cut the lawn. Crowns are also the grass plants major storage organ. The healthier the crown, the more tillers / leaves it will have. The more tillers, the denser the turf. This is not only more beautiful, it also protects the crown better from injury, reduces the evaporation of water from the soil, and shades out germinating weed seeds

manual reel mower spring fever sale


By late spring, leaf production outpaces root growth, which peaks in early summer. As the temperature rises, leaf production drops. The grasses in the lawn will remain green, as long as they have sufficient water. As the weather gets cooler again, leaf production increases until it peaks again in early fall. Then it quickly drops once more, until the grass goes dormant for the winter.

If the summer heat is coupled with drought, some cool season grasses can enter into complete dormancy. In this case, the plants withdraw their energy into their crowns. They allow the foliage, and many of the roots, to die. The size and vitality of the crowns will determine the length of drought an individual plant can withstand. During an extended drought a good proportion of the weaker plants die, resulting in a thinner turf than before the drought.

The absolutely worst thing we can do is to force the plants in the lawn to do something they are not naturally supposed too. Cutting the lawn very short, and fertilizing with synthetic nitrogen fertilizers direct too much energy to the leaves in the early spring. These activities stimulate immediate shoot growth to replace the photosynthetic capacity at the expense of root growth, which is what the plants are supposed to be growing in the early spring. This results in a shorter root system, less drought tolerance, and increased irrigation needs during the summer, as the upper layers of soil dry out.

Sack of Cash

Creating a lot of unnecessary and counterproductive work. Which is bad enough when you do it on your own. If your lawn care providers are charging you for all of these steps……….it is counterproductive and expensive.

Let’s rethink how we take care of our properties.

I haven’t even talked about the pesticides and how they get carried into your homes and spread through the air ducts….Yet.

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Also, check out the Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care. Click the logo to follow the link.

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Indicator Plants (a.k.a weeds)

indicator plants

Now that the snow has seemingly slowed for the foreseeable future. At least where we are here, south of Calgary, Alberta. We can start to think about growing things in our gardens again. The first thing for many people, especially in urban settings, is the lawn. Grass being one of the first things to turn green and make us think about summer and being outside…..6 feet from everyone else of course.

As the new green shoots of grass come up through last years brown. The broader leaved plants begin to show up as well. This is the time to spend looking at what is growing around your yard. The plants that will do the best are the plants growing in soil that is suited for them, in an area of light that follows suit.

By identifying what plants are growing, we can then decide what we need to do to either, enhance their growing, or changing something to deter them from growing, and encourage something else to grow.

Some indicator plants that are common in our lawns & gardens are listed below with a few things that they may indicate about the soil. I also included some benefits that these plants actually bring to the soil.

They are there doing a job after all. If we remove them, we now have to do that job. Best to know what the job is.

White Clover

white clover insecticidal plants indicator plants

Indications: High Magnesium & Chlorine levels. Good drainage. Compacted soil

Benefits: Fixes Nitrogen in the soil, helps to loosen compaction, suppresses other plants from growing, edible plant and flower


dandelions indicator plants

Indications: Very low Calcium level. High Potassium and Chlorine levels. Compacted soil with low hummus levels.

Benefits: Puts Calcium in the soil, helps to loosen compaction, some of the first food sources for pollinators in the spring, edible plant, flower, and root.


toadflax indicator plants

Indications: Low Calcium level. Low hummus levels and very little bacteria in the soil.

Benefits: Though some species are invasive, they bring nutrients and ground cover to bare and discarded land. Medicinal uses and the bees love them.


plantain indicator plants

Indications: Low Calcium except broadleaf variety which indicates a high Calcium level. High nutrient levels but low hummus and moisture levels.

Benefits: Brings nutrients to the soil and provides ground cover, helps to loosen compaction, many medicinal uses as well.


chickweed indicator plants

Indications: Low Calcium levels but high Magnesium. Low hummus levels and sandy soil.

Benefits: Helps to loosen compaction, improves soil fertility, provides ground cover and erosion control, edible plant and flower.

Leafy Spurge

leafy spurge

Indications: Very low Calcium and Phosphorus levels. High in Magnesium and and Potassium. Low hummus in sandy soil. High Aluminum level.

Benefits: Though considered invasive in many places, it will grow where most other things won’t, provides erosion control, ground cover and brings nutrients to bare soil.

Common Tansy

Tansy indicator plants

Indications: Low Calcium and hummus levels. High magnesium level. Low soil porosity, bacteria levels, and poor drainage.

Benefits: considered noxious in some places, the scent will confuse insects away from vegetable crops, accumulates potassium in soil, many medicinal uses as well.


knotweed indicator plants

Indications: Low in Calcium but high in Magnesium. Anaerobic, compacted soil with poor drainage.

Benefits: Helps loosen compacted soil, good for wind protection and erosion control, it will grow anywhere and can be very invasive. This plant will grow through a crack in concrete or asphalt.

Ox-Eye Daisy

ox-eye daisy indicator plants

Indications: Low Calcium but very high Magnesium levels. Low hummus and bacterial activity.

Benefits: Great food for pollinators, brings nutrients and ground cover to depleted soil, many medicinal uses as well. Considered noxious in some places.



Indications: Low Calcium but very high Magnesium levels. Low hummus levels with poor drainage.

Benefits: Provides ground cover to bare, salt damaged, degraded soil. Will grow where most plants won’t.

Quack grass


Indications: Low Calcium but very high Magnesium levels. Low hummus level. Anaerobic, compacted, sandy soil.

Benefits: Helps control soil erosion, Provides ground cover to bare, salt damaged, degraded soil. Will grow where most plants won’t.

Perennial Sow-Thistle

perennial sow thistle

Indications: Very low Calcium but high Magnesium levels. Low hummus level but good drainage.

Benefits: Brings a number of nutrients into the soil including Calcium, and Potassium. Provides ground cover to bare soil, many medicinal uses as well.

Lamb’s Quarters

Lamb's quarter

Indications: Low Potassium and Phosphorous levels in particular but, degraded soil.

Benefits: A dynamic nutrient accumulator and nitrogen fixer. Provides ground cover to bare, degraded soil, edible leaves and many medicinal uses as well.

Many of these indicator plants have other benefits not listed above. Every plant can be an indicator, as they will grow best in soils and locations best suited for them. The healthier the plant, the better the conditions are for it. This is true for plants we want to grow as well as those we do not. Check out some of theses pages as well.

Ground cover plants

Insectary plants

Insecticidal plants

Plants that perform double duty

Plants deer do not like

Aromatic pest repelling plants

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Composting for Small Spaces & Small Gardens

Composting for small spaces and small gardens can be tough. If you are a family that lives in an apartment or townhouse in an urban setting, your garden space, if any, is more than likely on the smaller scale. When this is the case, trying to squeeze in a 3-bin compost bin that measures 3m X 1m is pricey real estate to give up. Compost is by far the best thing you can add to the soil in your garden. Hands down. No argument. So what is a person to do?

Compost inside!?!

But, if you can’t fit a 3-bin system in your yard, can you fit one in the kitchen?

Just kidding. I am talking about composting inside, year-round, with worms.

worm close up composting for small spaces


Don’t Go!!! Just wait!

A lot of people I have talked to, love seeing the worm bins at the market and in classrooms. But, when it comes to having them in our house. Many people get a little…squeamish.

worm compost for small places

“How do I get the compost out? ” & ” Do you have to pick out each worm?” Are questions I get asked a lot.

If you have not seen them before, allow me to introduce you to the migration system for worm composting!

Worm Composting – The Migration System

The migration system of composting with worms takes all the squeamish work out of harvesting the finished compost. Though, I would still recommend a pair of gloves, it is a great way of composting in small spaces. The key aspect to this system is the screen divider that splits the bin in half. Because of this divider, the worm farmer (that’s us) can use the natural tendency of the worms to move, or migrate, toward a food source.

The inside is lined with a poly film to protect both the wood from moisture but also, I have heard the worms don’t like cedar, so its a double purpose I guess.

How it works.

Really, the migration system can be used in any worm composting container. Simply make a screen divider that will fit snuggly into your worm bin. I construct bins to have a permanent divider built in. This just allows for more aggressive turning of the compost as it is being made. With the divider in the midway point in the bin, it is easy to divide the compost bin into 2 halves.

The worms do not know the difference!

I have been composting with worms for about 12 years. I have looked at them under microscopes and collected eggs from under layers of plastic when a hole was found in a liner. My kids do everything but name the worms as we feed them, so I can say this with a lot of confidence.

worm egg compost for small spaces

I’m pretty sure the worms have no idea the screen is even there!

divider compost for small spaces

It’s just a way for us to divide the working compost from the finished compost.

Feed the worms on one side of the screen and then, when that side is getting full, start feeding them on the other side of the screen. The worms will migrate to the new food source as the old food source is eaten. This will leave finished compost, virtually worm-free.

Finished compost close up

Basically, once you get into a rhythm, just move the food source from one side of the screen to the other. It’s actually kind of fun to watch the worms move from one side to the other. It is as close to communicating with the worms as (I think) we can get.

Worm composting can be a great addition for kids around 10 years old as well. They can have a thousand little pets! They need to be fed once a week at the most, but can go 3 weeks once they get established. It all depends on the quantity of food. The worms will never run away. They will only survive for a few minutes out of the compost. And, every few months you empty their bin of some of the best, organic soil amendment money can buy.

For free!

Visit to learn more about composting with worms (and other methods)!