Sunday, 22 May 2016

6 Ways To Sustainable Gardening

Hey everyone,

For me gardening is about more than just having pretty flowers and a few tasty tomatoes; gardening is about sustainability, it is about actually creating a net positive benefit to my environment, to my community and to my soul. So it is important to know if I am doing it right and to always try to find new ways to improve. There are 6 ways that I have identified my garden is sustainable and I would like to share them with you.

But first what is sustainability? Here is a common definition that I have heard:

Sustainability is the ability to meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

I have also heard it defined like this:

Sustainability is the ability of a system to continue to function in balance with other systems. 

So with that said here are 6 ways that my garden is sustainable. 

1) Composting. 

Sustainability in this context would mean that the inputs into my garden equal the outputs. So there is a conversation to be had here. But the general concept is that since I compost my household organics and then use that material to build up and enrich my garden soil I am putting back what I take out by harvesting my produce. It's not a closed loop but it is a move in the right direction. 

I always used to wonder why it is so important to compost. Why is it so bad to put a banana peel into the landfill vs into a compost pile? The answer is what is produced. When organics become buried deep in a landfill they break down in an oxygen deprived environment and turn into methane which is many times more potent of a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide that is produced in a compost heap. Also by composting, nutrients are recycled back into the soil and act as a natural fertilizer.

2) Seed saving. 

I am getting better at saving seeds and am constantly learning about how different plants work. By saving seeds I am ensuring that I will have a supply of cost effective, high quality seeds to grow my garden again next year. Thus my garden as a system can continue without the need to buy seeds every year!

This year I plan to save potatoes, peas, carrots, beans, sunflowers, radishes, tomatoes, cucumber, squash and peppers. I also plan to use these seeds to trade with other local gardeners so I will be a benefit to my community!

3) Not using fertilizers and chemicals.

This one should be obvious but it doesn't seem to be. There are countless YouTube videos and garden blogs that direct the use of fertilizers to get good results and while it definitely works to do so it is not sustainable to rely on chemicals to grow a garden. 

There are no chemicals leaching out of my soil and into the nearby river. That's what happens to most of the fertilizers and other chemicals that we put onto our gardens and lawns, some of them get absorbed but most of them run off into the sewer and into the river causing algae blooms that choke out fish and cause problems downstream. 

A good example is the dead zone at the Mississippi delta where the river enters the Gulf of Mexico. Fertilizers and chemicals run off of farms and cities across the USA and collect there causing a massive dead zone that is 6-7000 sq. miles large. But you don't need to go that far for an example of this sort of environmental damage as many lakes in Alberta experience dangerous algae blooms caused by fertilizer runoff. 

Obviously my little garden is a negligible variable in the grand equation but by not using chemicals I am part of the solution not part of the problem. By not using fertilizers my garden is a system that is not compromising the ability of other systems to function. By working with nature and using compost and mulch my garden soil gets healthier each year.

4) Using free and local resources.

As much as possible I get the materials I need for my garden from local sources and as cheaply as possible. For example; I get bags and bags of free coffee grounds from Starbucks and I get lots of leaves from my neighbours and a local church. I used the leaves and coffee grounds as mulch and for making compost. Another example are the decorative rocks that I found in a nearby field. Compare them to the granite landscape rocks that I bought a few years ago that were hauled on diesel trucks from really far away. 

It takes a bit of luck but if you're patient and creative there are many free and local materials to recycle or up-cycle into your garden. It's fun to do! Also try to trade with other people. This summer I traded raspberry suckers that I wanted to get rid of for some nasturtiums!

The motto in my garden is: "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can." I don't know where I heard that saying but I find it very profound. Being sustainable isn't just something for the rich to do, it is something that everyone must do. Use the resources that you have and get creative!

5) Mulching.

It always baffles me when I read a garden blog that lists off tips to grow a better garden and MULCHING ISN'T LISTED! Why are we so obsessed in the modern garden world with having bare soil around our plants? The benefits of mulching seem so obvious yet many people don't do it! 


- Holds moisture in the soil.
- Keeps the soil temperature more consistent. 
- Increases worm activity.
- Controls weeds.
- Adds biological material to the soil.
- Prevents erosion.
- Provides a protective disease barrier for plants.
- & more! 

Materials suitable for mulch are often cheap and readily available. I use my neighbours grass clippings. Once grass clippings dry they won't blow away and after the growing season they quickly break down into the soil.

If you're gardening on a large scale it may not be practical to mulch but there are other things you can do, like spreading manure or growing a chop and drop cover crop. For gardens like mine that are small and easily manageable mulching makes a lot of sense!

6) No tilling and minimal soil disturbance. 

This ties in closely with the concept in number 5 that bare soils is bad. Bare soil easily erodes away and becomes easily depleted, the organic material is not held in the soil but will break down and evaporate. Bare soil also frees up space for weeds to come in.

People till their soil to kill weeds but there are other ways. When I first started my garden I used the lasagna method; I buried newspaper and cardboard under compost and built raised beds. Weeds have never had a chance to take over because I use a lot of mulch. For larger scale gardens you may need to till to get things started but over time the need to till can be reduced or eliminated

I found this series of videos by USDANRCS to be very helpful. There is a lot of science that shows that tilling causes more problems than it solves and that we should move away from the practice. 

Here are some areas that I need to improve on.

1) Using rain water.

Currently I do not have a rain collection system setup for my garden. I use city water. Some argue that this is bad because of the water treatment chemicals and some say it is fine, I don't know. But I do know that it would be better to use free rain water that doesn't rely on energy intensive processing and pumping. 

The reason I haven't started collecting rain water yet is because I just haven't gotten around to it... yet! The garden hose is too convenient. But I hope to fix this soon! What do you think?

2) Better companion planting.

There are many claims about companion planting. Some are backed up by science and some by folk wisdom. I want to learn designs that actually work to make my plants grow better and more sustainably. What do you recommend?

3) More perennials. 

It is amazing how year after year a well taken care of apple tree will keep on producing an abundance of apples or how asparagus will become more and more abundant! This year I planted both of those things. I am always looking for more perennials. They make gardening easier and can be really cost effective. What perennials do you grow?

What else do you think I should do? What did I miss?

Please fee free to comment and share this post. Also if you’d like to contact me I am on TwitterFacebook and IRL (In Real Life - Let's go for coffee)!

Use the hashtag #16Paces on Twitter and Instagram to follow and interact with me as well. 


P.S. After writing this blog but shortly before publishing it, I put a garbage can under my rain spout. So now I am collecting rainwater!

Do you need Oilfield Safety Training or First Aid Training? 

I am the owner of Bullseye Safety, we offer H2S Alive and First Aid training in Red Deer!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

2016 Garden Goals - 16 Paces

Hey everyone,

 With gardening season coming in ernest, I would like to share with you my 2016 goals. As you may already know last year I started a garden. But not just any garden; I got rid of all my lawn and replaced it with raised beds and wood chips. I’ll leave the back yard garden story for later; most of what I do happens right in my front yard, right off the sidewalk.

Last year was a great success and I am SO glad that I decided to do this! Before I get into this years goals I want to review last years goals and see where I stand with them.

Last years goals:

1) This must look good. - I would say that I did an ok job here. My sunflower/pole bean arrangement didn't grow the way I imagined them and I wont be repeating that jungly mistake again. But for the most part I think I did a good job. Many of my neighbours complement and admire everything that I’ve done.

2)  This must be sustainable. - Here is where I fell short. I used WAY more water than I would have if I had left it as a conventional front lawn. That was by far my biggest shortfall. Another shortfall is soil disturbance, I did a lot of tilling and from what I now am to understand that may not be the best.

3) This must be productive. - My onions, garlic, spinach, herbs, cabbage, peas and sunflowers all failed. But that was offset by a decent crop of potatoes, carrots, celery and strawberries. I now feel connected more than ever to my food. How fragile and delicate is our existence when we depend so heavily on crop success. The entire planet is only a drought away from famine. Last year was a learning experience and this year I intend to find new things to not do in the garden because I wont be repeating my mistakes!

4) This must be cost effective. - I’d give myself a top score here because the biggest expense was buying the wood for the raised beds (about $400). I got many other things from free and local sources; my soil was mostly homemade, my mulch was free grass clippings from my neighbours and my wood chips were given to me for free by a local tree removal company.

So I intend to keep those goals as the basic mantra of my garden going forward. This year I want to add some more specific things.

This year’s goals:

1) Grow more stuff in my back yard. - Although I have a dog and very limited space there is a lot I can do and I have had all winter to dream. 

2) Get more involved in the local community. - I am a proud member of ReThink Red Deer and we do a lot to promote gardening, among other things in the community; I want to get more involved! There is a local gardening group on Facebook that I joined so I’ll start there. I want to learn from more experienced gardeners and help others nearby who want to grow food and live more sustainably.

3) Use less water. - Since I think that I fell short of my environmentally sustainable goal last year by over watering, this year I intend to plumb in a rain collection and irrigation system. Also, I intend to mulch with grass clippings more and cause less disturbance to the soil at harvest time.

4) Grow more perennials. - Partly because I want my garden to look nice year round and have more depth and angle and partly because I want to do less work, this year I am going to plant a tree and some shrubs. I am torn between an apple tree or a pear tree. What do you think? Yes, I will plant one in the front and one in the back so they can cross pollinate. Also I am going to plant some asparagus and some haskap, goji berry and saskatoon bushes.

5) Plan for seed saving. - Seed-to-seed is sacred to humanity.

6) Get the kids more involved. - Last year my kids and all of their neighbourhood friends loved my garden. I let them eat strawberries and peas and in return they watched over the garden while they were playing. Often I would see them crouched down around a plant. It was marvellous to see them. So this year I am going to foster that even MORE! I am going to get the kids involved at every stage.

7) Make some interesting garden ornaments. - First thing I am going to get the kids to help with is to make some creative crafts for the garden. Last year we painted some rocks but this year I am going to try to get them even more involved in the creative process.

So, those are the goals that I have set for this years garden. I plan to make more videos for my gardening YouTube channel 16 Paces. Stay tuned!


Please fee free to comment and share this post. Also if you’d like to contact me I am on TwitterFacebook and IRL (In Real Life - Let's go for coffee)!

Use the hashtag #16Paces on Twitter and Instagram to follow and interact with me as well. 

Do you need Oilfield Safety Training or First Aid Training? 

I am the owner of Bullseye Safety, we offer H2S Alive and First Aid training in Red Deer!

Friday, 8 January 2016

For The Love Of Learning

Hey everyone,

Today I said good bye to a dear friend of mine; Joe Bower, who tragically passed away a short while ago leaving his wife and young kids. I am still shocked by his passing and I am not sure if I can be very succinct in describing how I feel, but here goes.

I discovered Joe Bower on Twitter about a year before I met him in person. He wrote an extremely popular blog called For The Love Of Learning which is smart, witty and entertaining. At first, I followed him as just another fan and felt like I had moved up in life when he finally followed me back!

My impression of him just from Twitter was like meeting a celebrity. I was amazed that he would even tweet back to me as he had thousands of followers and I only had a few. But as it turns out Joe Bower wasn't just another #CelebrityTwitterPersona he was a Real Person! When we finally met he was easy to relate to and we quickly became acquainted.

Some people know Joe as a sports enthusiast, some know him as a teacher; I mostly know Joe as a political activist.  I am honoured to have collaborated with him in the civic forum. He was and will continue to be a source of inspiration for me. Joe and I had many conversations about society and current events. His passion for making a positive contribution to the community was very encouraging. I will never doubt the power of a positive conversation to change the world. In many ways Joe enabled me to change myself for the better.

I got to know Joe more closely about a year ago when my wife Krystal was a candidate for the Alberta Party and we had the opportunity to collaborate with Joe. He was very charismatic in political spheres and was one of Krystal's biggest supporters during the election. He would proof read blogs, help with social media and be source of fortitude and wisdom.
I am honoured to have earned Joe's support for Red Deer City Council.

After the campaign Joe and I went for coffee, well I had coffee, Joe had a beer. We went to Browns Social House. I remember where we sat and how I felt so comfortable in his presence. Joe always gave me 100% of his attention when we were together. He would listen intently, ask mindful questions and be a friend. I realized today at his memorial that Joe was like that with everyone. It is truly a great virtue to have!

It is a testament to how well known and respected Joe was that the entire Harvest Centre was filled with hundreds of people from our community! But knowing him as a friend, his renown to him was merely a periphery and I can witness to the fact that he was consistently humble and authentic.

The last time I spoke with him and shook his hand was only a few weeks ago. The moment keeps going through my mind. I keep seeing him standing in front of me, smiling and I can hear his voice. It is surreal to think how that was our last time together. I feel like there is a void inside me and I am still taken aback by this tragedy.

Joe was all about being a good and loving father. He really understood children and knew so much about parenting.
For example, he changed how I think about rewarding vs. punishing my kids. He helped me relate better to my kids so I could facilitate their own learning experience. For him, success was guiding kids and sustaining a positive relationship that made learning natural and easy.

Joe Bower made a positive contribution to the world and he will continue to be a source of inspiration to many. His writings will live on and continue to encourage many people. The best way that I can honour his legacy is to emulate his many virtues and be the best father that I can be. I am grateful to have been uplifted by Joe Bower.

My sympathy is with the Bower family. May they have the strength to continue through these difficult times.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Free Vacuum!

Hey everyone,

The other day a friend of a friend was going to throw away his vacuum because it wouldn't suck anymore. Luckily Krystal asked to keep it instead of just letting it get chucked into the landfill for thousands of years.

When she brought it home I plugged it in and there was nothing wrong with the motor. So I took it apart and cleaned it. Sure enough it was plugged with lint, hair, dust and bits of plastic. After I cleaned it out I put it back together and...


It works fine!!!

Before now I didn't have a vacuum and it has been on my list for a while. (FYI, I only have 2 small carpeted rooms in my house so I needed one but don't worry it wasn't out of control.) So now that I have a sweet vacuum I went online to see how much it was worth. A few websites had it listed for $499! Score!

But after all this was said and done I got to thinking about how this sort of thing is exactly what is wrong with the world. We consume resources without regard and then discard without even a second thought. With all the talk about climate change and peak resources and lakes drying up and smog warnings we urgently need to change how we do things!

Sustainability is more of a media buzz word than a meaningful term these days so I feel it is fitting for the conversation to define it.

Sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behaviour indefinitely. 

Well there are many things we do that we will not be able to continue to do indefinitely and throwing perfectly good repairable things away is one of them. So in my little way I feel that I am making a positive contribution. 

What are you doing to move towards the goal of more sustainability?


BTW, If you are in the Red Deer area and are interested in solutions to live more sustainably there is an Eco-Living fair being held March 21 at RDC. More info click here. See you there!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Red Deer 100,000!

Hey everyone,

The population of Red Deer is now over 100,000 and it has been projected that the population of Red Deer will double in the next 18 years or so. What do you think about that? Do you think Red Deer is getting too crowded and sprawled out?

I have lived in Red Deer since the population was closer to 60,000 and I have seen a lot change. We now have rush hour traffic jams and smog on calm days. We used to brag about being able to drive anywhere in 10 minutes, now at times we're pushing 20 minutes or more! 

Growth is a hard thing to plan for. If we over shoot it then we will have problems with an over supply of housing and high capital expenses and possibly high debt payments. But if we undershoot growth then we have problems with the cost of living and housing prices spiking, utilities and services being over burdened and all that. I am grateful that the city planners in our city have been able to keep up.

Human civilization going forward is faced with monumental challenges due to climate change and population growth. Yes technology is rapidly developing but we must look beyond mere technological developments to solve our problems.

I am cautiously encouraged that Red Deer is in a position of continued growth this will be an amazing opportunity for us but there are a lot of challenges we will overcome. For example, we must balance the urge to sprawl outward by revitalizing our older neighbourhoods and our downtown. Just because our population is projected to double in 18 years doesn't mean our surface area has to double as well. 

I met some of the planners who are designing the new part of Red Deer named Timberlands. They were at the city Open House presentation about future developments north of Highway 11A. I am very encouraged by their vision and their progressive mindset.

The issue of where to build a new High School and a new Aquatic Recreation Centre came up a few times at the forum. The direction that we are currently heading in is that there will be a massive amount of growth on the north end of our city over the next 10-15 years and plans for a new high school and a recreation centre north of the river aren't part of those plans. I think this is short sighted.

Now I have been making a series of videos about what it like to be a pedestrian in Red Deer. I hope to elucidate some of the things that are serving us well and contrast them against things that aren't serving us well. If you haven't yet already, please check out my YouTube Channel and my Facebook Page.

I would love to hear your responses to some of the topics that I bring up. I believe in collaboration and I hope to be a part of the conversation as our city goes forward. 

Connect with Me on G+FacebookTwitter and now my two YouTube channels either 16 Paces (The Story Of My Garden) or Wieler4RD.

& IRL (In Real Life) - lets go for coffee!


Do you need Oilfield Safety Training or First Aid Training? 

I am the owner of Bullseye Safety, we offer H2S Alive and First Aid training in Red Deer!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Aquatic Centre Where?

Hey everyone,

There are two topics in this post that I will be sharing.


This last weekend Krystal and I were busy hosting an obstacle course for the Central Alberta Children's Festival. We have done something like this 3 times over the last 4 years because it is really a lot of FUN! We have kids of our own and our philosophy is that kids need to be able to run, jump, crawl and explore! So that is why we love designing this obstacle course for the festival!

The kids are drawn in by the vibrant colours and the interesting objects that we set out for them. The obstacle course started with a hopscotch. Then there was an army crawl, tires to jump through, hoops, balance beams and a tunnel at the end. We put a strong focus on making use of all the space we were given to create a safe and welcoming environment!

I am very grateful for all the volunteers who worked hard to make this event possible! Also I am grateful to Wrenchmasters for letting us borrow their tires!


Every year the festival is held at Rotary Recreation Park behind the downtown Recreation Centre. It is a beautiful location with many old trees that give the area picturesque feeling. Natural sites in our city; especially in our downtown will become more and more valuable as our city grows. The appraisal will be calculated in property value as well as cultural and environmental metrics.

I understand that this site will be the location of the future 50 meter pool and aquatic centre. I am very nervous that this location will be negatively impacted if the recreation centre is in fact expanded into this green space. The idea of paving large swaths of this heritage site under to make way for a parking lot and expanded recreation centre seems imprudent to me.

I am open to being persuaded that building the pool there is in fact a good thing, but I think Red Deerians would be best served if we were to select a greenfield site for this new construction and leave the recently renovated Recreation Centre as is. A good site would be somewhere on the north end, perhaps Hazlet Lake just north of highway 11A when that area becomes developed into residential as is currently being planned. It could be built right beside a new highschool that could service the town of Blackfalds too! But maybe I'm just a silly dreamer.

Now I know that building on a new site would be substantially more expensive and I know that the current outdoor pool will be shut down in a few years either way. Also I understand that there is an argument that it will be too expensive to operate the current recreation centre as well as a new centre somewhere else. So maybe this is the best solution but it is hard to keep all that in mind while walking through that wonderful park. 

Connect with Me on G+FacebookTwitter and now YouTube (16 Paces, The Story Of My Garden).

& IRL (In Real Life) - lets go for coffee!

Do you need Oilfield Safety Training or First Aid Training? 

I am the owner of Bullseye Safety, we offer H2S Alive and First Aid training in Red Deer!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

16 Paces - The Story Of My Garden

Hey everyone,

I live in an average suburban city in Central Alberta and about a year ago I decided I no longer liked having a lawn because it was not really beneficial to the environment. I started watching YouTube videos about permaculture and urban farming and I was inspired! One of my favourite channels is Alberta Urban Garden!

I have also been inspired by ReThink Red Deer, an organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of the people in the community by focusing on environmental sustainability and smart urban planning. I am proud to say that I now serve as a board member for the organization!

Over the last year I have spent many days and nights imagining and planning what I am about to do. I am going to turn my yard into a beautiful, sustainable and a highly productive urban farm. As part of that I have decided that I will try my best to align my practices with sustainable designs so that my actions will cause a net positive improvement to the environment!

I have been very busy over the last few weeks building my raised garden beds and wheel-barrowing dirt around. But the process actually started last year when I built a large composter in my back yard and started UP-cycling all the organic waste that my home produced... and then some... but thats another story. Now is the time to put ideas into ACTION!

I have 4 well defined goals for this project:

1) This must look good.

- Since I live in a suburban neighbourhood and all my neighbours have perfectly manicured lawns and since I do not want to be that neighbour that nobody wants to live beside, this has to be aesthetically pleasing.

2) This must be sustainable. 

- I want my actions to cause a net positive improvement to the environment. There are many ways to do this and I have lots of ideas. I hope to learn along the way and to be an inspiration to others.

3) This must be productive.

- I do not want to waste my time growing just a small amount of stuff. So I will do what I can to maximize yield while keeping with goal #2. Part of this goal is to maximize quality as well.

4) This must be cost effective.

- Being environmentally sustainable is not something just for the rich. In fact it is something that everyone needs to take seriously as it is a necessity for all of humanity. I will up-cycle, recycle and be as creative as possible so as to save money and add value to the things that I do.

The name of this project is 16 Paces. 

- I am calling it that because it is about 16 paces from my garden to my kitchen.

A few days ago I started my new YouTube Channel and Facebook Page to promote the video blog that I will be making to document my journey. Check them out!

Please Subscribe, Like and SHARE to help spread the word!

I have already made a few video blog posts. They are linked to the bottom of this blog.

I will be writing about this topic more but the majority of the things I will be discussing about 16 Paces will be on my video blog. So please follow along! I am always open to suggestions and I am eager to learn. Also I hope to be a source of inspiration to you as well!


Connect with Me on G+FacebookTwitter and now YouTube!

& IRL (In Real Life) - lets go for coffee!

Do you need Oilfield Safety Training or First Aid Training? 

I am the owner of Bullseye Safety, we offer H2S Alive and First Aid training in Red Deer!