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Growing a Safe and Natural Urban Garden

Many individuals are moving towards more sustainable living, with urban gardening becoming a very popular hobby.

While urban gardens are great for the environment and the health and well being of those who grow them, there can also be some risks to watch out for.

Studies have shown that gardens near heavy traffic areas may become contaminated with high levels of heavy metals. There are steps that you can take, however, to reduce the risk of your garden becoming contaminated, even if you are working in a contaminated area.

Learn about the land you are working with. Before planting a garden it is important that you try to identify whether or not your soil may be contaminated. Your local land authority and health or environmental agencies may be able to help with records of past uses as well as soil testing. If you discover your land may be contaminated, is near buildings where lead paint may have flaked off or is in a high traffic area, you may want to consider growing your crops in a raised bed. Line the bed with a sturdy liner and bring in new, clean soil in which to grow your crops. Barriers such as a wall, thick hedge or other thick vegetation can also be helpful in blocking the dust and contaminants that may threaten your crops from the presence of heavy traffic. If you are in an area with lots of traffic, creating a barrier around your urban garden is a great idea to help eliminate the risk of contamination.

These simple suggestions can be very helpful in ensuring the growth of a clean garden and supplying you and your family with fresh, natural, homegrown ingredients.

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Jump Start Your Garden: How to Plant Seeds Indoors

Are you planning on planting a vegetable garden this year? If so, get a head start by planting your seeds indoors!

While not all plants are suited to this method, many vegetables are. Suitable vegetablesinclude broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, leeks, onions, parsley, peppers, tomatoes and squash. Vegetables that do not do well when transplanted and therefore should not be planted indoors ahead of time include root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips, and parsnips as well as corn, beans, peas and okra.

While it is helpful to start early with many types of seeds, it is also important that you don’t plant the seeds too soon. In order to determine when to start sowing your seeds indoors, count backwards from the suggested planting time on the back of the seed packet. Most seeds will need to grow for approximately two to eight weeks before being transplanted into the garden. The suggested timeline will refer to your last frost date. If you are unsure of when this is, visit The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Canada or the The Old Farmer’s Almanac: United States.

All the supplies you need to start growing your seeds indoors can be found around the house or at a local hardware store or garden centre. For example, old food containers can be used to plant seeds in.  It is important, however, that any materials you are using or re-using are sterile. To sterilize seed trays use a weak bleach solution (approximately one part bleach to nine parts water). If you are using your own soil it is a good idea to spread it in a shallow pan and to set it in the oven (at 180 C, 350 F) for thirty minutes to be sure that it is sterilized as well.

How To Get Started:

Please note: Before getting started, it is important to read the back of the seed packet for any additional steps that may be required.

Step 1: Fill your starter tray (or re-useable food containers) with loosely packed soil. Using the spacing instruction on the back of the seed packet, poke holes in the soil for the seeds.

Step 2: Plant your seeds in the holes.

Step 3: Lightly water the newly planted seeds (be sure not to over water, as the seeds may float out of their planting holes). Once watered, cover the tray with a plastic lid (or, if you are re-using containers, place them inside zip-lock bags) to keep the moisture trapped. (At the first signs of germination, uncover the tray or remove the container from the plastic bag.)

Step 4: Over the first few days, check the tray to test moisture levels. Add water as needed.

Please Note: Water carefully. Use a small watering can to gently water the seedling only when the top of the soil appears to be dry. It is important that you do not over water as this can lead to the death of young plants.

Keep the tray in a relatively warm environment and provide at least eight hours of light daily. A bright window will work however, grow lights or fluorescent tubes are better, especially in dull winter climates. If you are using grow lights or fluorescent tubes, make sure to keep the seedlings approximately eight to ten centimeters (three to four inches) away from the light source.

It is important that you pick a good growing site for your seeds to germinate. The top of a fridge is a good spot, as the heat will help keep the soil warm and aid in germination.

Step 5: Transplant healthy sprouts to larger pots so they can develop a stronger root system. This will help make the transplanting process easier on them.

Once the outdoor gardening season arrives you will have strong, healthy sprouts to plant.

Good luck and have fun!

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Not All Weeds Are Bad: Your Guide to Reaping the Benefits of Good Weeds in the Garden!

While most gardeners are quick to rid their garden of weeds, what many people don’t know is that some weeds can actually be beneficial to a garden! Therefore, rather than eliminating all of the weeds from your garden, learn to recognize those that will be helpful and use them to your advantage!

There are many different types of weeds that can provide numerous benefits to your garden. These benefits include the protection of topsoil, helping to pull up nutrients and water deep in the ground that other plants are unable to reach, luring harmful pests away from your crops and flowers and attracting beneficial insects to the area.

Protecting Topsoil:

Weeds such as spurges, purslane, lamb’s-quarters, chickweed and ragweed can be very helpful to have in a garden, as they will protect essential top soil from being washed or blown away.

Bringing Up Nutrients and Water:

Dandelions, prickly lettuce, spiny sow thistle, wild amaranths, cockleburs, nightshades and Queen Anne’s lace are examples of weeds that have very strong roots that go deep into the ground. Weeds with deep taproots can benefit a garden by breaking up hard soil and bring up nutrients from the areas that most plants are unable to reach. If the weeds are composted or turned into the soil, the nutrients that they have absorbed will be distributed for other plants to use. As well, moisture is also wicked upwards outside of the roots for other plants to benefit from. Weeds like Mugwort may also be helpful in absorbing heavy metals from the ground, stopping erosion and adding nutrients to soil.

Attracting Beneficial Insects and Luring Away Pests:

Certain repellent weeds such as dandelions, cockleburs and goldenrod can help to deter pests such as army worms. As well, other weeds including Lamb’s-quarters and Rosa multiflora will help protect your garden by luring away insects such as leaf miners and Japanese beetles that might otherwise feed on your plants.

Pennycress and dandelions are also great weeds for attracting beneficial insects. Clover is a common weed that can be used to attract earthworms and also to lure away pests such as rabbits. In addition, certain weeds such as Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, evening primrose, wild mustard, amaranth and dandelions will help to attract beneficial insects that will feed on and eliminate the harmful ones.

So, next time you go to weed your garden take a closer look and remember not all weeds are bad!

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Indoor Composting: How to Build Your Own Indoor Composter

composting indoors

Looking for a way to compost your leftover organic materials but don’t have an outdoor area available? Make your own indoor composter! All you need are a few simple materials and you will be producing your own nutrient rich soil for your urban garden in no time!

All you’ll need is a trash can or other large container with a lid, a smaller container that will fit inside the trash can (this will hold your compost so make sure it is large enough) a brick or flat, medium sized rock and Stall DRY. The area under the sink in the kitchen is often a good place to keep your compost – just make sure that your larger container will fit easily into this area!

Place the brick (or rock) on the bottom of the larger trash can and spread some Stall DRY around it (this will be used to absorb any liquid that drains out of the compost bin). Next, make holes in the smaller container – place them on the sides and bottom of the container (a drill or a hammer and nail will work well for creating the holes!). Then place the small container inside the trash can. The brick will hold the smaller container up off of the bottom of the trash can so that any liquid can drain out into the absorbent Stall DRY underneath. The Stall DRY will absorb the liquid and help to absorb any odor!

You can speed up the composting process by making sure to mix up the materials in your compost often.

Keep in mind that composting is not an overnight process therefore it is often a good idea to build two composting bins so that one can be swapped out for the other while the composting is taking place.

Now you’re ready to compost!

Please note: Stall DRY can also be added directly to the compost to help keep down the odor and absorb any excess liquid (just be sure not to add too much Stall DRY, as you want the compost to keep a wet/dry balance).

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Gardening: Easy to Grow Vegetables

There’s nothing like the taste and freshness of home grown vegetables, not to mention the fact that they contain much more nutrients than those that have traveled thousands of miles to reach your local grocery store! Many people are starting to grow their vegetables at home and why not – with these tips it’s easy! Even living in an apartment shouldn’t stop you from growing some of your own, fresh produce; all you need is a sunny window!


Carrots are delicious, high in dietary fiber, antioxidants, manganese, niacin, potassium, vitamins A, B6 and C and are easy to grow at home! They will be ready to eat about two months after the seeds have germinated.

When planting carrot seeds, be sure to leave a few inches between the seeds and plant them less than an inch deep in the soil. Carrots can be easily planted outside or in a pot – as long as the pot is at least twelve inches deep. Keep the soil evenly moist in order to avoid growing carrots that are tough and stringy. Round carrot varieties will grow best indoors in pots.


Tomatoes, which are in fact fruit, are highly nutritious, containing fiber, iron, magnesium, niacin, potassium, phosphorous, antioxidants and vitamins A, B6, C and E. Tomatoes will need at least three months before they are ready to be harvested.

When planting your seeds in a pot, plant only one tomato plant per pot. Depending on the type of tomato plant you are going to grow, you will need a pot that is anywhere from eight to eighteen inches deep. If you are planting the seeds outside in a garden, make sure to leave at least a foot between seeds to allow for growth. Mixing compost in with the soil will also be beneficial to your tomato plants! (See – Indoor Composting: How to Build Your Own Indoor Composter, for more information on do it yourself indoor composting.) If you are just starting out you may want to purchase a small tomato plant from a nursery, rather than try to grow it from seed, as this will be much easier!

Tomatoes require lots of sun so be sure to plant them in a sunny area or place your pot(s) in a sunny window! Make sure to water your tomato plant(s) a couple of times per week (a spray bottle will work well for this).


Peas can be grown indoors or out and will take a minimum of two to three months to grow. Peas are very nutritious vegetables, containing fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A, B6 and C.

Plant pea seeds approximately two inches apart and one inch deep and be sure that the plants have some type of support to climb up. If you are planting peas indoors, be sure that your pot is at least ten inches deep. If you are planting your peas outside in the garden it is best to grow them in the early spring or late summer/fall, as hot weather can interfere with their production. Mixing compost into the soil is also a good idea. Pea plants require more water as they begin to develop. Start by watering freshly planted seeds with approximately half an inch of water per week, increasing this amount to one inch of water per week once the plants begin to mature. Make sure that your soil drains well.


Mushrooms are very simple to grow, especially indoors! They can be grown indoors at any time of the year – all you need is a dark space such as a cupboard or attic.

The easiest way to grow mushrooms at home is to purchase prepared bags of special compost containing mushroom spawn. These bags will only need to be watered before being placed in a dark area. Be sure to maintain the temperature at approximately 50 to 60ºF (10 to 15ºC) and your mushrooms should be ready to harvest in just a few weeks!

To make your own mushroom spawn compost, pack a mixture of straw and an activator (you will need to purchase this) into a sterile plastic pot or bucket. Once the mixture has cooled down and begins to turn into compost, add the mushroom spawn. Place the container in a dark area and in a few weeks your mushrooms will be ready!


Lettuce is also a great indoor crop and a good source of folic acid and vitamin A!

In addition to grow lights or a sunny window, you will also need plastic containers (plastic boxes such as those that grocery store lettuce is packaged in will work great), potting soil and lettuce seeds.

To build your lettuce boxes simply slice eight or nine holes in the bottom of each box, add a couple of inches of moist potting soil and sprinkle a pinch of lettuce seeds over top. Cover the seeds with a small amount of soil. Using a spray bottle, generously spritz the surface with water. Put the lids on your boxes and place them in a bright, warm, sunny place or under your grow lights. The seeds should begin to sprout in approximately one week. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the container’s lid to use as a watering tray. Fill the tray with water every day to keep the soil nice and moist.

Be sure that your lettuce plants receive enough sunlight! They will need approximately twelve hours of light per day therefore grow lights may be needed if ample sunlight is not available. Within three to four weeks you should be able to harvest your own, homegrown lettuce! To keep the plants growing, simply cut the leaves off and leave the growing crown intact. By doing so, you will be able to harvest more lettuce in about two weeks.

When growing lettuce outdoors, be sure to plant seeds in nutrient-rich soil that is free of debris. Plant seeds approximately eight to sixteen inches apart. Water the seeds every morning.

Please note: it is best to water lettuce only in the morning (and not at night) in order to avoid disease.

Nothing tastes better than fresh, homegrown produce! And with these simple tips growing your own crops at home is easy!

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Flood Recovery: Water Cleanup

In the aftermath of a flood, persistent indoor moisture can have negative implications for both personal and structural health.

The City of Calgary Water Services branch advises that failure to “…reduce moisture and humidity can present serious long-term health risks such as respiratory disease”, while “mold may also damage building materials long after the flood”.

It is therefore important to treat any affected area using absorbent solutions in order to quickly capture and remove excess moisture.

Some simple and inexpensive solutions for use in the aftermath of a flood include Stall DRY Absorbent and Deodorizer and Can Dry Granular Absorbents.

With the ability to absorb up to 140% of their own weight in liquid, Stall DRY Absorbent and Deodorizer and Can Dry Granular Absorbents will remove unwanted moisture, dry out the treated area, prevent mildew and suppress odours leaving a cleaner fresher, and healthier environment.

These products are all natural and can be used on concrete and other sub-floor materials in flooded basements, rooms, sheds and garages after the excess standing water from a flood has been removed.

Directions for Use:

1. Remove all excess standing water with water vac, mop or other suitable device.

2. Once the standing water has been removed, apply up to 0.5 inches of Stall DRY Absorbent and Deodorizer or up to 1 inch of Can Dry on top of the sub-floor, concentrating on applying the product alongside the walls, including closeted areas, and extending out 6 inches. Where dry wall has been removed, apply the product alongside and in-between the studs.

3. Let product sit until dry. For best results leave in place until installing new dry wall and flooring.

4. Sweep up. If vacuuming, use a shop vac. Do not use a household vacuum for this purpose.

5. Dispose of used material. Please note: Stall DRY Absorbent and Deodorizer and Can Dry Granular Absorbents are all natural products and can safely be disposed of at landfill sites.

For use on concrete or sub-floor areas:

In order to dry the surface under wet carpet or damaged flooring, remove all carpeting or damaged flooring. Apply 0.5 inches of Stall DRY Absorbent and Deodorizer or 1 inch of Can Dry to the concrete or other sub-floor material surface. Let product sit until dry.

Clean up as instructed above.

If moisture and/or odour remains, re-apply the product and allow to sit for an additional 24 – 48 hours.

For use with cupboards:

Apply alongside the outside and inside of the base of cupboards. Cover the inside bottom surface with 0.5 inches of Stall DRY Absorbent and Deodorizer or 1 inch of Can Dry. Let product sit until dry. Clean-up as instructed above.

A 18.2 kg bag of Stall DRY will cover an area of up to 200 ft.2. A 16.3 kg bag of Can Dry will cover an area of up to 100 ft.2.

Please note: The area covered will vary depending on the dampness of the area being covered.

For more information about flood recovery, see the Alberta Health Services site at

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Paint Disposal: How to Dispose of Leftover Paint

There are two types of paints commonly used by homeowners. These include oil-based paint and water-based latex paint. Below are guidelines to follow when disposing of these different types of paint. Please note: it is always best to consult your local rules and regulations before disposing of paint products and other chemical substances.

Oil-Based Paints

All oil-based paints must be taken to a household hazardous waste drop-off to be disposed of. Do not dispose of oil-based paint in your regular garbage.

Latex Paint Over 20 Years Old

Latex paints that are over 20 years old may contain lead and therefore must also be disposed of through a hazardous waste drop-off area.

Latex Paint Less Than 20 Years Old

First, you will have to determine whether or not the leftover paint that you have is latex paint.

Look on the label to see if this is specified. If the label has been torn off or is unreadable you can also tell what type of paint you have by how it is thinned or cleaned up. If water will rinse the paint off of your hands and brushes then you have latex paint. If a special product such as paint thinner, a brush cleaner or other solvents must be used then the paint is oil-based. If you can’t decide what type of paint you have then it is best to treat it as an oil-based paint and take it to a hazardous material drop-off.

While Latex paints are less toxic than oil based paints they still have poisonous chemicals in them. Due to the fact that latex paint is often made up of half water, it is easy for these harmful chemicals to seep into the ground, posing a threat to our environment. It is therefore very important that latex paint is left to dry before it is disposed of. Rinsing a small amount of paint off of your hands or brush will not cause any problems however paint should never be poured down any drain or waste water system!

The best way to dry out your leftover latex paint before disposing of it depends on how much you have left in the can.

If there is only a thin film (less than 1/32 of an inch) on the sides of the can then you can simply throw the can out. If it’s a metal can then it can even be recycled.

If there is an inch or so left in the bottom of the can, simply open the lid and leave the can in a well ventilated area to dry. (Please note: it is important that you leave the open paint can in an area where children and animals will not be able to get at it.) Within a few weeks the paint will dry out and harden at which time the whole can can be put out with your regular garbage.

Note: It is important that when putting the paint can out with your regular garbage that you leave the can out for the collector to see. As well, leave the lid off so that your garbage collector can see that the paint is dried and hardened, as haulers will not pick up paint unless they know that it is thoroughly dried latex paint.

In the case that you have a lot of paint left in the can (a pint or more) there are a few tricks that you can use to help the paint dry out faster:

1. Line a box with a plastic bag and pour a thin layer of paint into the box (less than 1 inch). (Keep the box in a well ventilated area where pets and children cannot get into it.) Leave it to dry out and harden. Once the first layer has hardened add another. Repeat this process until all of your leftover paint is hardened then leave the box out with your regular garbage.

2. Mix the paint with scoopable cat litter or Can Dry (either in the can or in a box lined with a plastic bag). Leave this until it is fully hardened then put out with your regular garbage.

Please Note:

If a latex paint can says that it is mildew resistant or preservative it must be disposed of through a hazardous material drop-off site.

Always check your local rules and regulations for disposal procedures for paints and other chemical substances.

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Eliminate Odor in Shoes and Sports Equipment with Stall DRY!

Do you have a pair of shoes or sports equipment that you just can’t get the odor out of? We did! So we put our Stall DRY to the test.

Many people have told us that Stall DRY works great for removing the toughest smells, including skunk spray. So, we thought we would put the product to the test…

First, we got our hands on the smelliest shoes we could find. In fact, the odor in these shoes had soaked right through and into the outer material.

Next, we took one shoe (we kept the other untreated for comparison purposes) and got it completely wet, making sure to let the water soak all the way through.

Step 1: Wet the shoe or equipment with water.

**It is important to get the shoes or equipment wet, as this is what helps the Stall DRY draw out the odor.
Then, we covered the shoe in Stall DRY, spreading the product evenly throughout the shoe.

Step 2: Cover the shoe or equipment with Stall DRY.

Step 3: Let dry.

We added some more Stall DRY to a bag and left the shoe completely covered in the bag for a few hours.

Once the shoe was completely dry, we removed it from the bag, dusted it off and sure enough…the smell was gone!

So, if you have an odor that you can’t seem to get rid of…give Stall DRY a try!

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How to Kill Fire Ants

Fire ants can be a nuisance to have around, not to mention dangerous to sensitive individuals and small animals if attacked.

Fire ants can be identified by their copper brown head and body and dark abdomen. They will often nest near moist areas including river banks, pond shores, lawns and along the side of highways. Most often their nests will be built under objects such as timber, logs, rocks, and bricks. However, if there is no cover for nesting, the ants will construct a dome shaped mound that can reach up to 16 inches (41 centimeters) high and 5 feet (1 meter) deep!

Fire ants feed on young plants, seeds and occasionally crickets. As well, they will often attack small animals and children. Most types of ants will bite and spray acid on the wound they have created however fire ants bite in order to inject toxic venom called solenopsin. This venom causes a burning sensation (hence the name fire ants) and can be deadly to sensitive individuals.

Common reactions to fire ant stings include pain, swelling, redness and itching. If you are allergic to bees or wasps it is likely that you may also experience an allergic reaction to fire ant bites. Allergic reactions may include vomiting, dizziness, disorientation and/or wheezing.

any people use diatomaceous earth as a natural alternative to exterminate fire ants. The product can be sprinkled (or mixed with water and sprayed – for suggested application rates and methods see: APL’s Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth Now Approved in Canada As Natural Insecticide) on and around mounds, along the ants’ trails, on plants and in any other area where the ants are present.

Fire ants must come in direct contact with the product in order for it to be effective therefore it is important that all affected areas are treated with a light layer of dust.

Please Note: In the case of strong winds or rain, the powder must be replaced, as it is easily blown and washed away.

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What You Need to Know About Fire Ants

Unlike most ants, European fire ants can be very aggressive and will attack in a swarm if their nest is disturbed. People working outside in their yards and gardens and children and pets are especially at risk if they happen upon a fire ant nest. In fact, fire ant stings can cause severe swelling and have the potential to send an individual to the hospital.

European fire ants prefer warm, wet environments however, in the summer of 2010, it was discovered that this species was willing to push the limits of its tolerance and adapt to new environments, as infestations were discovered in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Until this time, the presence of fire ants had not been documented in BC or even above the 49th parallel. Since then, infestations have also been discovered in Burnaby, Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia.

In addition to their new environment, European fire ant queens also seem to be changing their behaviors. In most cases, new queens will fly away from their nest to start a new colony elsewhere. However, it was discovered that the queens in the nests found throughout BC had simply been walking to new nest sites, creating a much greater concentration of nests.

While an infestation of concentrated nests can be dangerous to have in your yard, an even greater concern lies in the fact that these fire ants have the potential to move into recreational areas, affecting the use and enjoyment of these sites.

Due to the fact that fire ants are commonly found in the soil around the root balls of plants, it is likely that they have been introduced and spread through the transplanting of infested plants. Therefore, it is very important that you check the root system and attached soil of any plant that is being relocated. If you notice any ants, submerge the root system in water for an hour before moving the plant to its new location.

With multiple queens in each colony, fire ant nests can be very difficult to destroy. A helpful tip is to mix your insecticide with an attractant such as sugar. This may also be helpful when using diatomaceous earth to eliminate an infestation. As the ants must come in direct contact with the product in order for it to work, the attractant is helpful in drawing the ants to the powder where contact can occur. As well, in addition to lacerating their exoskeletons, consumption of DE by an insect will also help to lacerate them internally.

Red Lake Earth Diatomaceous Earth is often used as a natural insecticide and is especially effective against ants and other crawling insects. For more information on the use of diatomaceous earth for killing ants please see: How to Kill Fire Ants

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