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April 30, 2014 | Donna Balzer

Hurry up and wait

Some garden tips for Calgary's spring season

Spring dashes in and out of Calgary like a mouse checking for crumbs at the cabin. Winter is gone and the earth is warming. Suddenly, winter is back again with flurries and frost.

As the snow melts, jobs in the garden include raking the lawn, cleaning leaves off outdoor beds and making compost. These jobs seem simple enough but wait —
not so fast. The surface of the lawn has to be thawed and that takes longer on
the shady side of the yard. When it comes to compost, dry, raked grass leaves can be saved and added to compost bit by bit. With so many mango peels all winter and not enough dry leaves, you've probably made slime instead of decent compost: the dry lawn bits are the solution to getting the compost system functioning again.

Neighbours start gathering leaves and cleaning up shrub beds now, putting the leaves curbside. I slip by and pick up the leaves until my garden overflows. Again, dry leaves are a great source of carbon. This dry matter, added in layers, compensates for all the greens of lettuce and slimy slippery strawberry hulls spilling from the composter.

If you like to dash out in your Bermuda shorts for a moment of sun and raking, remember it is best to take the house key with you so you can get back indoors once the sun sets. The bugs feel the same way, but their refuge is the leaf pile, so don't take their home away too soon.

Leaving mats of leaves on the ground until the over-wintering lady beetles have a chance to find their summer homes is better than being the early bird, removing the leaves too soon and accidentally killing off the good bugs.

Beetles emerge from piles of leaves on warm days and retreat again as it
gets cool. I have seen these beneficial beetles with their noses pressed
against the inside of clear plastic bags as they wait curbside to be sent to
the dump.

If you feel like raking leaves and filling bags, place open bags beside the house instead of sealing and dumping them. The open bags allow the good bugs to come up
for air, escape for a drink of water and retreat back to the bag when arctic
air appears.

Spring is always on its way in Calgary but won't officially be here until sometime between Mother's Day and when the final puck is dropped in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Meanwhile, there is a fine line between cleaning and keeping
a sustainable garden. Don't be in a hurry for spring cleanup. Wait to finish the job for the sake of the bugs.

Balzer is a garden writer and speaker. Check out her blog at

Tagged: compost | Garden | Guest Column | leaves | spring | Outdoors

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