Friday, June 17, 2011

Edible Gardens

Re-thinking your garden landscape to harbour plants that produce food vs. ornamentals, is a great way to cut down on grocery costs and support diversity right in your backyard!
Many plants that supply a bounty of edible leaves, berries, fruits, vegetables and flowers can grow successfully in our climate by utilizing containers, raised beds, arbor, and/or planting directly in to the ground soil.

Raised beds are great when dealing with restricted space, also, they allow you to work with less soil and stimulate quick germination/growth through there capacity to warm up faster.

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Containers can be a good way to start your edible garden with easy to grow, smaller plants such as:
chives, lettuce, rosemary, sage, cilantro, thyme, basil, parsley etc.  For larger pots, tomatoes and peppers can be grown successfully.

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When planting in larger raised beds and directly in the soil, keep in mind that by mixing different plant specimens, you can enhance nutrient cycling.  Beans are great nitrogen fixers and help to build and support a healthy garden and nutrient-rich soil. Other plants such as various herbs and marigolds act as natural pest deterents. 
When mixing plants, consider the physiology of the plant. Lettuce, onion, and carrots are different sizes and have different light requirements and thus, grow well together.  The three sisters (corn, squash and beans) is another great plant combination that you may have heard of.

Here is a list of a few of the many edible flowers: clover, carnation, nasturtuim, calendula, basil, lavender, borage, ginger, rosemary, sage, thyme, pansy, and roses.

Different methods of gardening require soil with different properties - ensure that you're using approrpriate soil mixtures or contact Swick's for a garden that fits your needs and home.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Home for the Bees in your Garden

Mason and Honey bee populations in suburbs and cities have been decimated in recent years. Mites, Colony Collapse Disorder and various environmental factors continue to push this vital animal towards extinction. These little garden creatures are imperative for the pollination of a healthy ecosystem.  Anything we can do to help support bee populations is essential to their survival.

Mason bees rarely sting so they are a terrific bee to attract to any urban garden.
You can lend a helping hand and attract more bees to your yard by planting nectar and pollen producing flowers. Some great choices that will thrive in our climate are; Ceanothus, Lavendar, Thyme, Hebe, Iberus, Heather etc.
Bees are more attracted by blue, purple, white and yellow flowers and prefer flowers planted in bunches.

Once you have brought the bees to your garden, building or buying a simple mason bee home is not only fun for you but great for the solitary mason bee.

To build a simple bamboo bee home, cut a long piece of bamboo into several 5-7 inch lengths and tie them together with wire or twine. Place the bundle in a sheltered area amongst tree branches. With any luck your home will have guests in no time.

It is also important to supply your bees with water.  By filling a large dish with rinsed sand and rock and then water, you create a safe drinking fountain for the bees -- and avoid stagnant pools which will attract mosquitoes, and likely drown the bees. 

Blessed Bee is a great organization based in the lower mainland that aspires to integrate bees into the fabric of urban life by providing guest honey beehives to reside in neighbourhood back yards.  Check out the video and their website for inspiring ways to support bees and get a hive for your own backyard!

A great website with step by step instructions to construct a more elaborate house.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rain Barrels

Living in the lower mainland, we undoubtedly receive more than our fair share of rain - so why not  harness the plentiful resource at hand and reduce domestic water use in the process?

Rain barrels catch stormwater, as it is diverted from your roof into a downspout, and store it for future use.  They not only reduce water use and runoff, but are a great alternative to using drinking water (which is treated with chlorine) on your lawn or in the garden.

Vancouver City offers a 50% subsidy on rain barrels. Click Here for more information on how they work and where to get one!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Composting is a great way to convert decomposable organic materials into nutrient rich soil amender and fertilizer and reduce land fill waste.

Composting relies on four key ingredients: Nitrogen, Carbon, Oxygen and Water.
Creating a successful compost means using the right mixture of "brown" and "green" materials, and ensuring that adequate levels of oxygen and moisture are present.
Brown Ingredients are high in carbon and include paper, straw, hay, autumn leaves etc.

Green Ingredients are high in nitrogen and include garden refuse, tea/coffee, food scraps, grass clippings etc. An approximate 50:50 ratio of Brown and Green ingredients works best.

How it Works:
Naturally occurring microorganisms, fungi, and insects feed on waste which produces heat. As the temperature rises, decomposition increases and harmful bacteria is kept at bay. When the temperature drops, turning the pile adds oxygen and once again increases the temperature. When the temperature drops for the final time, earthworms and other beneficial critters move in and this signals that the compost is ready for garden use! The finished product should be a dark, crumbly, nutrient rich humus.

What too compost:
grass clipping, leaves, uncooked food, egg shells, fruits and vegetables, tea, coffee grinds, paper, garden refuse, straw, hay etc.
*NO cooked food (cooked food attracts rodent and smells)
Some things to make note of:
1) A vile smell surrounding your compost may indicate anaerobic conditions (no oxygen), keeping the compost pile aerated will fix this.
2) Should you find your compost to dry, make some holes in the pile and allow a hose to run over the top (this way it seeps in the through holes and doesn't become too saturated).
3) For a compost which receives little or no aerating (turning/stirring), refrain from using brown ingredients as they steal nitrogen.

Composters can be bought for $25 through the City of Vancouver:

For some other great tips visit metro vancouver:

Note: Vancouver City now accepts compost in the Yard Trimmings bins.

Swick's Landscaping builds and maintains both strata and residential composts, this reduces costs of fertilizers as well as waste disposal. When ready you can then use the top soil to top up all your garden beds. Please contact Swicks for your own compost!