Gardening how-tos

Learn About The Details of Growoya on Go Green Radio

Brant chatted on air with Jill Buck this weekend. What exactly is an oya?! Here are the details, in audio!

“The clay of the oya is porous, so it slowly waters your plants over time. Plant roots grow towards the water source and take only what they need and only when they need it. This is extremely efficient way to garden.” – Brant Cheetham 

Here’s this link! The Growoya interview is the very first one on the episode, so just hit play:

Gardening In Heavy Rainfall AND Drought

What happened to the soil in your garden during the last heavy rain? Did mini gullies form? Did you notice topsoil thinned out? Were any of your garden beds washed out, or sprinkled with silt from a higher hill? Where did the water go from your land? Did it wash away to flood local roads or join larger rivers?

And now in the summer months, are you experiencing a drought?

If only all that water had remained in the soil, ready to be used in drier times! So often drought-challenged areas experience hard rain falls that wash away the moisture-saving topsoils that gardeners so depend on. A double-whammy!

Protect Your Soil

It’s impossible to make it rain more, but an attentive gardener can prevent a drought from causing too much damage. One of the biggest challenges is to keep excess water from flowing away when it does rain. Levelling the ground can help, as can building the soil to absorb and retain more water. Sometimes, reserving sections of the garden for grass or trees helps with this – they stabilize the soil. Other times, choosing varieties of vegetables that are more drought resistant may be necessary.

We find that better irrigating is consistently under-championed as a tried and true method to resist drought hazards. As well as levelling a garden bed, it helps to build water-spreading structures, contour furrows, or pits and mounds.

The Magic of Organic

New soils tend to contain much more organic matter. They are much more drought resistant than well-cultivated soils, because they absorb water so much faster and hold it for longer periods. When organic matter gets used up and washed away over time, a number of things happen: if it is a “tighter” soil, it loses its granular structure and starts together, making it harder to absorb water. If it is a sandy soil, it may become so loose that water runs right through it.

Increasing the amount of organic matter in any soil helps conserve against drought. Leaving behind stalks, straw, and stubble from harvest to till them back into the soil is helpful. Farmers often actively plow the residual parts of harvest back into their soil. (This is also why it’s good to leave grass clippings on the lawn when you mow.) Layering compost, seaweed, dry leaves, and cut grass in beds through the winter helps.

Every soil is different, and may require some experimenting to find what works best to capture and maintain moisture in dry periods. It is a sure bet that with the right attention to water conservation, irrigation, and garden maintenance, your crops will grow as big as ever, even in times of drought.

Seed Swapping is Great

Inspired by a party conversation, I recently read Seedswap: The Gardener’s Guide to Saving and Swapping Seeds by Josie Jeffery. Seed swapping is the sharing of seeds with friends, neighbours, and relatives, and exchanging knowledge and ideas. Not only is it super fun sounding, but exchanging seeds is a gesture of community goodwill, and can help in times of economic squeezes. It maintains food security and protects biodiversity, rare species, and seed genetics. At the same time, this fascinating activity helps to make sure that species of a plant is preserved and passed on. This sounds like a whole lot of wins!

“Seeds are, in a sense, suitcases in which people can transport their cultures with them… Many families have brought their favourite seeds on tremendous journeys.” -Mike Szuberla, Organizer of a seed swap in Toledo, Ohio

In the forward, Jeffrey says that seed saving and sowing are a crucial part of a much wider sustainability and self-reliance agenda, where “small is beautiful” and where we must think globally and act locally. Ever since humankind evolved from being hunter-gatherers to farmers, communities have had a vested interest in making sure the quality and security of food supplies. This included the saving, storing, and sowing of the most reliable and productive varieties of crops.

Seed saving and swapping can be a big community event, too, says Alan Phillips, the Chairperson of Seedy Sunday in Brighton, England. “The Seedy Sunday event in Brighton started just over a decade ago on the first Sunday in February. Now thousands of people come out of their winter hibernation for this community event, to swap seeds, meet old friends, buy seed potatoes, obtain heritage varieties, have coffee and cake, and listen to talks.”

Having experienced central Africa in the middle of a great drought, Josie Jeffrey says, and seen at first hand the reliance of people, livestock, and wildlife on wild plants, she is “absolutely convinced that conserving seeds is vital for our future. The act of conserving seeds has the potential to create local food security, and when conditions are right for sowing, seeds can be shared and can help enable communities to survive drought.”

Anticipation and pleasure encapsulate the essence of seed swapping for me. Sowing new acquisitions obtained from fellow enthusiasts who had a glint in their eye of the beauty or the food that they were sharing. Hopefully, the next generation of pleasure-seeking seed swappers is well on its way.

The Internet has masses of information on seed-swapping events. Ask around your area, because it is more probable that you’ll find plants that will grow well in the conditions provided by your local climate.

How to start a “Round Robin” Seed Swap:

  1. Collect names of the willing participants and provide the final list of names to everyone involved.
  2. Send a package filled with your surplus seeds to the next person on the list. If you collect your own seeds you can make beautiful seed packets with this fun tutorial.
  3. The next person will then take on packet of seeds from the package and replace it will some more seeds.
  4. The package is sent to the next person on the list, who removes and replies as above.
  5. The chain carries on until the last person on the list mails the package (which should now contain a completely different combination of seeds) back to the original organizer.

If you want to learn more about Seed Circles, Seed Libraries, and other activities and events, I recommend Seedswap – it was a lovely read, with many facts and pictures!

Now is the Time to Prepare Winter Crops!

On the tip of every gardener’s mind in the summer is the question: “how can I make this last?” The wonderful hot summer days are perfect for reaping our harvests from the spring. Bountiful harvests are satisfying and therapeutic. We love it! Luckily, the vegetable season can be extended with the right planning.

I found a great book the other day called Sow Simple by Christina Symons and John Gillespie. Here are their seven steps for growing winter greens.

  1. Site Selection for the warmest, most sheltered spot in the garden. Watch the sun carefully over the year to see where the most exposure will land in the later months. The best place for a winter garden is an open, south-facing slope. Large rocks attract and trap heat for plants, and sandy, loamy soil retains heat better than clay. To lighten the soil for heat retention, compost and rotted manure should be mixed in if needed.
  2. Containers can be made from all sorts of driftwood, mill off-cuts, or rough-cut cedar, and raised beds have the added benefit of keeping warm for longer in the winter.
  3. Line the bottom of the bed with cardboard or newspaper. This will help smother weeds or lawn underneath.
  4. Compost soil mix is the best for your bed. High quality garden mix also works. You can also layer manure, seaweed, coffee grounds, lawn clippings, peat moss, sawdust and/or chips from (untreated!) wood, compost, sand, and leaves below a good four to six inches of top soil.
  5. Planting your bed for winter is a bit different. Leave lots of space between plants to allow light and discourage slugs from moving in. It’s ideal to have summer-planted pots of broccoli, kale, leek, cauliflower, cabbage, horseradish, Jerusalem artichoke, kohlrabi, parsnip, rutabaga, or turnip ready to plant up. These crops are not worried by frost, in fact they often benefit from it! Other crops are hardy but don’t love the frost as much. These include lettuce, arugula, chard, carrots, beets, parsley, spinach and cilantro. If you haven’t started your seedlings yet, now is the time! Otherwise, many nurseries stock vegetable bedding plants for fall and winter.
  6. Plant Covers protect your plants from the colder elements. A mini greenhouse can be built from Coroplast – a flexible plastic that lets light through. Another way is to use flexible PVC pipe as bracing.  Cloches can protect single plants or seedlings. These are made from bell-shaped glass or plastic. Large deli jars and semi-transparent milk jugs can help keep baby plants warm if you don’t want to buy from a nursery. If you’re looking for something more permanent, cold frames topped with clear plastic, glass or fibreglass collect heat from the sun. These can be portable or stationary. These covers work best in south or southeast locations with good drainage and adequate shelter. Walls and hedges that provide protection from cold breezes are helpful!
  7. Ventilation is critical to the health of your plants, especially in the warmer months. Raise the top of the cover during the heat of the day and close it in the afternoon to keep the heat in. If it gets really cold at night, you can put them to bed by insulating them with burlap sacks or old blankets.

Happy gardening! May it last over the many months of 2016!

Choosing Your Oya

What do tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, and pumpkins have in common? The all drink a ton of water! This makes oyas extra effective for these especially thirsty veggies.

But how many oyas, and what size is best for your garden? We recommend that the more water a plant uses, the bigger the oya should be. Generally, though, here are some easy rules for how to pick:

  • 2ft long small planters and in pots of at least 6″ of soil: SMALL OYA!
  • 3ft long/wide and in larger containers or beds: MEDIUM OYA!
  • 4ft long/wide with high output and veggies that drinks lots: LARGE OYA!

If your plot is 3′ x 6′, two medium sized oyas will do the trick perfectly. We recommend that you plant in a circle around the oya to help the roots get to the water easily.

Happy gardening!

Measuring how far roots will be able to drink from the medium oya
Measuring how far roots will be able to drink from the medium oya



Pest Control in the Garden

Chemicals in the garden are no fun. They might help in the short term, but they’re terrible for birds, frogs, bunnies, and other lovely creatures of the ecosystem. Here are some (often surprisingly!) effective alternatives:

  • Cover delicate seedlings with an overturned plastic bucket to protect them
  • Use bowls of beer or milk around your plants to catch slugs. They love the smell, and will drown once they fall in
  • Go around your garden with a torch in the evening, and get at any slugs or snails you find. The small ones are often the hungriest, so don’t be shy
  • Greenfly and blackfly are terrible for plants. You can take them off with your fingers or with a hosepipe, or introduce ladybugs to your garden. Ladybugs LOVE eating aphids
  • Welcome any birds or larger insects into your yard with bird baths and bird-friendly trees
  • Use old lace curtains over wire loops or plumber’s hose to keep certain bugs away from lettuce and cabbages
  • String criss crossed in all directions over a bed will keep pigeons and other birds from getting at your newly planted seedlings
  • Companion plants are a great way to manage pests. Marigolds and geraniums deter insects, for instance
  • Decoy plants are also helpful. Nasturtiums, aside from being delicious in a salad, will draw butterflies and caterpillars away from your cabbages
  • Onions, garlic and chives confuse insects that rely on their smell, like carrot root fly. Marigolds, rue, and tansy also work the same way
  • Make sure to take off any diseased or damaged leaves quickly, and to get overripe fruit away from your healthy plants
  • ‘Organic’ chemical fungicides and insecticides can be found in nurseries, but it’s still best to use them sparingly
  • One of the most effective ways to combat pests is to plant a diverse mixture of fruit, vegetables and flowers closely together. This way, no one overpowering scent attracts bad bugs, and there is lots of variety to attract the good ones! This also makes your garden extra beautiful according to us, so I say win/win/win!

Moving With Your Young Fruit Tree

Moving any time soon, but feel emotionally connected to your fruit tree? If it’s young enough – take it with you!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A large pot
  • Some compost
  • Your fruit tree
  • Liquid plant feed
  • Water absorbing granules
  • Some mulch


  1. Choose a large pot with a wide base. About 16 inches across.
  2. Fill your pot with peat-free organic multi-purpose compost, with some kelp-based water absorbing granules. This will make watering far easier when it gets hotter!
  3. Before planting, soak the tree in a bucket of water and plant it to the same depth as it was in the nursery pot. Water a LOT and lay mulch across the surface of the compost to retain as much moisture as possible.
  4. Feed your tree with compost every spring and with liquid feed once a month throughout the growing season.
  5. Prune as you like! Some prefer a minarette, some a column, and some as a standard tree. You could ask for a demonstration at the nursery you bought it if you need help. Also, YouTube. Seriously.

To decide how big it will grow, choose a rootstock that will limit its size. From smallest to biggest:

  • Apples: M27, M9, M26, MM106
  • Pears: Quince C, Quince A, or EMH
  • Plums or Damsons: Pixy or St Julien A
  • Cherries: Colt or Gisela 5
  • Crab Apples: Often come from a dwarf species


There were many evenings growing up when my mother would yell from the kitchen for one of us to go get chives from the garden. Chives and their mild onion flavor are best added to a dish at the end of cooking, and just after the leaves are freshly snipped.

They’re also gorgeous in the garden. They grow in dense clumps of fine grass-like foliage and are great for the edges of beds, window boxes, or larger containers.

Chive seeds can be planted after the first frost, or if bought as seedlings, plant young clumps about six inches apart in spring, in sunny, fertile and moist soil. Clip the flowers in early summer to increase leaf growth. You can add them to salads! They are delicious.

Chive plants tend to die down in the winter, but they can be potted in autumn for indoor windowsills. Water and fertilize regularly, and every 3-4 years, in the edge seasons around summer, divide the clumps with a sharp knife to separate and replant them.

Sowing Methods for AMAZING Vegetables

Root crops should be sown where they are to grow, while others often require a nursery bed or container for later transplanting. Beware, though, of the seeds going to seed in a hot summer. Wait until the soil is warm – and you can heat it by covering the bed with cloches or plastic for a few weeks – and not too wet. Dry soil might need a sprinkling of water.

To sow outdoors:

  1. Loosen the surface with a hoe to kill weeds and aerate the soil
  2. Rake the bed, making it clear of weeds and larger stones
  3. Using a line or cane, mark out shallow furrows in parallel to each other
  4. Sow seeds sparingly, spacing larger ones to avoid later thinning. Cover them with soil and sprinkle lightly with water again.

To sow indoors:

  1. Sow early and succession crops in small pots or seed trays while waiting for space or warmer weather.
  2. Using fresh, moist seed potting mix, fill the containers and tap them to settle the earth.
  3. Sprinkle seeds sparingly on the surface, and cover with a layer of compost.
  4. Set in a warm place indoors or a shady spot outside in the summer
  5. Keep moist during germination!

Most veggies seeds respond well to the same basic sowing routine: sowing, thinning or pricking out, and transplanting. It’s important to get the timing right, and to become familiar with the seasonal rhythm of raising vegetables over time.

Pricking out – or thinning – is important so vegetables are not unnecessarily competing with each other for nutrients as they grow. When seedlings have two true leaves and are big enough to handle, you’ll know it’s time to water them, allow to drain, and then loosen the roots with a table fork. Holding each seedling by a leaf (never the stem), transfer to potting soil. For larger seedlings, 4-inch pots is appropriate. For smaller ones, trays are fine, spacing them 2 inches apart. Water the seedlings and keep them in a well-lit place while they grow.

Before seedlings get too large, it’s important to transplant them. Before you do this, water them about an hour or two beforehand. Lift outdoor plants with a trowel without disturbing the root. Plants in pots can be tapped out upside down, and those in trays can be separated with a sharp knife. Plant the seedlings in holes made with a trowel, firm into place with your fingers, and water thoroughly.


Adapted from The Chef’s Garden

Grow Your Own Peanuts

Peanuts grow on small plants that are surprisingly easy to grow at home. Children love them, especially because of their unique propagation method!

What you need:

  • A medium or large pot
  • Compost/sand mix
  • A raw peanut in its shell


  1. All you need to plant a peanut plant is a nut. Any unsalted, unroasted nut that you’d buy to eat. Peanuts with their shells are preferable because shelled nuts can be dry, but its best to take the peanut out of its shell before planting.
  2. Plant one nut about 1 inch deep in a well-drained pot filled with sandy compost. Water it and then cover with plastic wrap or a plastic bag to keep it warm and moist.
  3. As peanut plants grow over the summer, their leaves look like clover. Eventually you’ll see yellow flowers.
  4. After flowering, the plant grows a stem downwards and into the soil, and ‘plants’ a seed in the ground. This is why soft, sandy soil is important! (And why kids love to watch peanuts grow).
  5. By the autumn, peanuts will be growing under the surface of the soil. You can eat them or re-plant them, or offer them as bird seed. Whatever you do, it’s an entertaining plant to have in the house!


Adapted from Growing Stuff, An Alternative Guide to Gardening