No Need to be Chicken About Poultry

The River City Chicken Collective (RCCC) is a group of Edmonton permaculturists and locavores who are keen to have the City Planning Department re-evaluate those bylaws which prevent the keeping of hens within city limits.

Known locally as the Urban Farmer, Ron Berezan is a strong proponent of the group’s RCCC’s pilot project to study as many as ten backyard sites in different neighbourhoods around the city. The goal of the study is to develop regulations with respect to husbandry, cleanliness and overall poultry-keeping practices within the city.

Numerous North American jurisdictions already allow chickens in limited numbers within urban communities, including Victoria, Seattle, New York, and Chicago. Both Calgary and Vancouver are considering amendments their current bylaws in order to allow limited chicken rearing.

The primary advantage for the backyard chicken enthusiast is the production of fresh eggs. On average three chickens can produce two eggs per day. Secondary advantages come in the form of insect, weed and slug control as well and the production of ample high nitrogen fertilizer for the composter.

The local food movement is gaining strength in Canada, in part due to our increasingly distant relationship between consumer and farmer. As our groceries come from progressively further away, our need to counter this trend grows. More Edmontonians are growing their food in their own backyards, front yards and in some cases wherever they can find.

This trend towards improved sustainability is not a nod to the latest fashion. It is, in fact, an indication that consumers take their food supply seriously. Recent occurrences of contamination of the food supply (think spinach 2006 and 2008) have people thinking more about what they eat and how it is produced.

Movies like Food, Inc. ask the public if they are hungry for change, and resoundingly the answer is yes.

Personally, I don`t want to raise chickens. It seems like it would be a lot of responsibility, and I’m pretty sure my dog would have objections to sharing her domain with fowl. I do, however, support the right of others to raise chickens if their heart is in it. I think it’s a great learning experience for children and a good source of locally raised eggs. All the more power to the River City Chicken Collective – you have my support.

I have every reason to believe that the city will enforce regulations that will keep the numbers reasonable and the conditions clean and sanitary. I’d much rather have a neighbour with a few contained hens than a single free-roaming cat that finds my garden the most attractive place in the neighbourhood to do its business. is a great resource for more information about raising poultry in the city. If you want to join Edmonton’s bid to host chickens in our backyards, go to and search for River City Chicken Collective.


Building a Rotating Composter

Commercial rotating composters are costly, but effective. I have one that I bought from Lee Valley Tools and it works great. Unfortunately they sell for $185, so adding a second one was over my budget.  

I also have a standard square wood-slat composter that I never remember (or should I say bother) to turn with a pitchfork because it’s difficult to do. Some of the material in that compost bin has been there for eight years. It was when I bought my first compost drum that I really began to take full advantage of the medley of leaves, grass and kitchen scraps around the house and yard.

I decided to make my own rotating compost bin with the goal of keeping it affordable and humble. I did some research and found plans for a number of rotating bins on the internet, but I was particularly inspired by one that I saw in person when on a garden tour last fall in Edmonton. It was simple, inexpensive and, according to the owner, effective.  

To make the composter, I used repurposed 2×8 preserved wood that I had on hand and an olive barrel from The Italian Centre Shop which cost $23. I also bought four tie plates at 87¢ each and four joist hangers at $1.17 each.  

I cut the 2x6s in the dimensions as shown below. I’m not sure the precise angle of the cut, but I designed it so that the legs would be 40 inches apart (outside measurement) at the bottom. 

I put two legs together as shown and screwed a tie plate on each side to hold them solidly. I then stood the legs up and used a level to place the joist hangers six inches from the bottom of each leg. I then used 30 inch cross pieces of 2×6 lumber to attach the two sets of legs together.  

I had some 2 inch PVC pipe on hand, so that’s what I decided would serve as my bar. I know I’ll have to reinforce the PVC eventually, but for the time being I thought it would do. (I replaced it a few days later when I found a discarded metal bar of the same size.) 

I cut two 2 inch holes 20 inches from the bottom of each side of my barrel. The barrel was 40 inches in total height with the lid, and I wanted to have the barrel well-balanced when it is rotating. Once the holes were cut, I inserted the PVC pipe and placed the barrel on the stand.  The notches hold the pipe in place.

The next day I decided to make it into a double composter, so I built another set of legs and added a second barrel. Now I should have lots of composting space for the year. If not, I know where to find another barrel and where to buy some more tie plates and joist hangers.

Using the barrel is simple, and when it’s a quarter full it spins with almost no effort. It’s wise not to overfill the container (keep it under half full), as I imagine it becomes more difficult to spin as it gets heavier.

I leave the lid off so that oxygen can reach the amalgam of yard and kitchen waste, although if it rains hard I like to cover it up. I might need to put a small drain at the bottom front, but for now it seems unnecessary. I try to remember to spin it every day (with the lid on of course) and I hope that in a few weeks I’ll have some great compost.



Making a Clothes Pin Bag

OK, technically a clothespin bag has nothing to do with gardening.

Still, I can’t resist sharing a good idea and I think that having a funky clothespin bag is a great idea. Gardening involves using sunshine. Drying clothes on the line involves using sunshine. Ergo, making a clothespin bag could be seen as a garden project. Besides, every self-respecting gardener loves the smell of sheets dried in the fresh spring air. 

I have supplied a two part pattern which you need to print, cut out and paste together. Once you’ve done that, you should have a pattern that is 27 cm by 25 cm. My pattern follows the shape of a specific clothes hanger – your shape my need alteration. In addition, note that the pattern is 2 cm wider than the clothes hanger to allow for hems.

Choose a funky fabric or something classic. If you want the inside of the bag to be a different fabric than the outside, then pin two pieces of fabric together before cutting (making sure the wrong sides are together).

Fold the fabric over and place the pattern near the top.

Trace the pattern onto the fabric, then measure 80 cm and place the pattern in reverse at the bottom of the fabric. This length will determine the depth of your bag, so adjust it to your own needs. I have made some at 80 cm and some at as much as 110 cm. I use one bag for clothespins, one for an office organizer for my coat and personal items, and one at the back door for dog treats.

Cut out the pattern, and open up the center hole. If you are working with two fabrics, pin them together and baste them near the edges with the right sides showing.

Carefully pin and sew double fold bias tape around the opening. If your fabric is likely to fray, zigzag the remaining edges.

Fold the bottom to the top with right sides together and sew the exterior from the bottom corner to the top and back to the opposite bottom corner. Invert and press.

April Showers? Yes Please.


Another dry spring

April showers bring May flowers, or so the saying goes.

Edmonton is a northern prairie city where this adage doesn’t reliably apply. In fact, historically April is a dry month with an average of 26mm of precipitation, about half in rain and half in snow. In May we see the precipitation nearly double to an average of 49mm.

Environment Canada predicts less than normal precipitation for Edmonton this spring, which in itself wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that we just survived the third lowest snowfall in recorded history.

And we’ve been experiencing drought or near-drought conditions over the past ten years. Predictions are unfavourable for this growing season, and with forest fire season beginning, Alberta firefighters are on high alert for a busy year.

What does this mean for our gardens here in Edmonton? It means it is time to give serious thought to what we grow, how we grow it, and how we use and recycle our water.

As far as what to grow, indigenous plants make for the perfect xeriscaped yard. Look for open-pollinated native plants such as Gaillardia aristata (blanket flower) or Linum lewisii (blue flax) to add beautiful color to your perennial garden while attracting bees and other helpful insects to the yard.

Mulching is the key to water retention, not to mention a bane to weeds. Mulch should ideally be composed of organic residues such as grass clippings, leaves, shredded bark or even newspaper. Mulch not only aids in retaining moisture, it warms the soil in the spring and encourages growth. As the season progresses, mulch prevents weed seeds from germinating by blocking sunlight.

Watering should always be done in the early morning hours, a task easily accomplished with the aid of an inexpensive watering timer. Watering in the morning allows for more efficient water absorption, whereas watering in the evening allows moisture-loving pests to take advantage of your plants overnight.

Drip irrigation is the way to go if you can afford the initial expense (it will pay for itself over the long haul). Sprinklers are inefficient at delivering moisture, especially if there is any amount of wind or heat. If we do eventually get a decent rain, I plan to collect as much runoff as possible in my rain barrels for future use.

For those who want to reduce their water use dramatically, step one would be to take up the lawn. Typical turf grasses such as Kentucky Bluegrass require regular watering and fertilization, both of which have a large impact on the environment. If you’re not ready to take up the lawn (I’m not there yet, I must admit), low-maintenance alternatives such as white clover or drought tolerant fescues may be the answer.

This year will prove to be a challenge in Northern Alberta, but we’re learning more about water conservation and in time we’ll reap the benefits.

Ten years of below average precipitation takes its toll

Gardening and Vegetarianism: Join the Club

Yum: Fresh Vegetables

Gardening and vegetarianism seem like a match made in heaven. Once you’ve decided to forgo meat, having fresh produce at hand is a wonderful way to enhance the vegetarian lifestyle.

It’s not just the fresh vegetables; a large part of what I appreciate most in my garden are the fresh herbs. Cooking with basil, oregano and cilantro straight from the plant is what makes culinary experimentation enjoyable.

So when I heard  that the South Edmonton Vegetarian and Gardening Club hosts a monthly potluck on the last Sunday of every month at Pleasantview Community Hall (10860 – 57 Ave NW), I was excited to bring a dish and find out what the group was all about.

The Club hosts the potluck which features a food demo by someone in the group followed by a tremendous and varied buffet, culminating in a presentation by a local speaker.

Ron Berezan, the Urban Farmer, was the guest speaker at the first potluck I attended back in May of 2009. Last month we heard from Bruce Bashforth of Bedrock Seed Bank about Xeriscape Gardening and use of native species.

The group’s April 25, 2010 speaker will be VcToria from VcToria’s Raw Food; she’ll be presenting “The Benefits of Raw Food”. VcToria teaches Beginners Raw Food classes (see for more information).

Everyone is welcome: vegans, vegetarians, veg-curious, meat reducers, omnivores! I guess I would consider myself veg-curious, as I haven’t completely given up my chicken fingers just yet.

The potluck begins at 5:00 pm, and guests need to bring a vegetarian or vegan dish to serve approximately six people as well as their own reusable utensils and plates, mugs, bowls, etc. The cost is $3 per person / $6 per family for the potluck and speaker, or you can come for just the speaker at 6:30 pm. It’s a family event, so children are more than welcome to attend.

More information is available at:

Making an Upside Down Tomato Planter



This year I decided I wanted own an upside down tomato planter, similar to the Topsy Turvy planters seen in magazines and on TV. With the price as high as $20 for a single planter, I had to figure out a way I could make one for far less. I wanted it to look nice and be functional, but not break the bank. 

I bought some green waterproof fabric at the discount fabric store for $2.50 a meter. It was great to work with because it had no fray. I also purchased a 90 cm package of no-name velcro at the dollar store for a buck. 

I had a 23 cm (9 inch) peony ring (plant support) that I wasn’t using and I thought would work perfectly for the upper support. At the dollar store there were also some  25 cm wire hanging baskets which would have worked nicely and were only $1.50, but I didn’t buy them. If I hadn’t had the peony ring I would have used a wire coat hanger or two.

Using  C= pi x d , I calculated that I needed approximate 73.5cm of fabric for the circumference and I added 2.5 cm for the seam allowances and 1 cm for flexibility for a total of  77 cm. I cut out a piece of fabric 77cm by 66cm.

I folded over 5 cm along the long side of the fabric and pressed it. This would become the top of the planter. I made three buttonholes 25 cm apart along this folded edge, with one of them 1.5 cm from the end. Between the buttonholes I sewed an upper row of velcro and a lower row of velcro, each 24 cm long.

I sewed the side seam, making sure to leave the buttonhole near the edge just outside the seam. Then I folded over the bottom seam of the planter 2 cm and sewed a hem leaving an opening large enough to insert a cord.

Instead of a cord I found a plastic cable tie that I thought would work  just as well. I ran it through the pocket at the bottom and cinched it up to make about a 5 cm hole.

I put the peony ring between the upper and lower velcro, folding a flap over and securing the velcro to itself. The three legs of the peony ring were threaded through the buttonholes. All I had to do was make a bend at the top of each leg and I had a three evenly spaced hooks to hang my tomato planter from.

Voila: only $3.50 for my tomato planter and I think it looks as good or better than the store bought version. I plan to plant a tomato in the bottom and perhaps a wave petunia in the top.