Friday, December 2, 2016

Including pollinator-friendly, native species plants in school gardens.

Central School, Hamilton.
As non profit groups, working towards the health of our environment and our community, we are delighted to learn about the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) Outdoor Manual to help guide schools in improving their outdoor spaces.

The importance of engaging children in and bringing children closer to the natural world cannot be over-stated.

Nature is health and well being, and connection to the outdoor world not only improves physical and mental strength, but also, nurtures the love of our fellow creatures and the wonder of the natural world itself.

Unfortunately, many of these small critters are in danger. Pollinator populations such as beneficial insects, solitary bees, butterflies and small birds are declining rapidly. The loss of habitat, the use of harmful pesticides, climate change are some reasons for this decline. But it turns out that urban centres can help towards this conservation problem in ways that have been overlooked. Planting native plant species in gardens across a city is of extreme help, and the beauty is, everyone can participate in this since pollinators do not require a lot of space to carry out their functions.

A schoolyard is a perfect environment in which to plant a pollinator-friendly garden. Children reap the benefits of observing the creatures the gardens will attract. Native plant species are also very low maintenance, once they are established and require far less water than traditional ornamental gardens that contribute very little towards pollinator food.

On looking over the current plant list in the Outdoor Manual, we've noted very few native plant species. As well, we have noticed that some plants on the list are also invasive plants (not native to the area) that cause harm to our local habitat by competing for resources and space.

As such, we've let the HWDSB folks know that amending this list so that the selections add both biodiversity and educational value to school sites would be a simple matter.

Not only are we and other local nature groups available to assist, but there are also many people (including a number of Board parents) in this community who have this expertise and who would be very happy to help with a suggested list of species to use.

There are numerous resources such as Peel Region's "Digging" manual and examples that showcase what gardening for nature looks like (for instance, Central School on Hunter Street is one excellent model).

We have urged them to plan the gardens to include large numbers of native plant species and contribute significantly to the wellbeing of pollinators. We've let them know that we are available to help.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

When the bylaw officer comes calling: What makes a naturalized garden palatable?

Photo credit, Julie Sthalbaum.
What makes a pollinator friendly garden acceptable? That is, what will keep the bylaw officer away and the neighbours happy?

Recently, people have emailed us to say that their gardens are drawing unwanted attention--the grass is too long, there are weeds. One lady says that an order was left by a by-law officer claiming that under the By-law Section 3(1)(a)(c)(i) she had to remove all long grass and weeds from entire property and maintain to a maximum height not to exceed 21 cm (8 1/4 inches). The bylaw officer wrote that this should include the entire property, "Front, rear and side of property."

Dundas garden. Photo credit, Julie Sthalbaum.

As far as this local Dundas resident is concerned, her garden is flowers and grasses, but there were a few weeds that might have been on the bad weed list and she removed them. Apparently, the officer even took issue with Goldenrod!

We chatted with Tamara Reid, Supervisor for Municipal Law Enforcement at the City of Hamilton.

How do we make naturalized, pollinator-friendly gardens fit into a neighbourhood? That is, according to by-law, what constitutes a native plant/natural garden and what is just a garden that has been let go, of which the neighbours are justifiably upset about?

Demonstrating intention is key. "It is helpful to have even a hand-drawn image of what you are aiming for--what your garden is intended to look like," says Tamara. "You can show that to a by-law officer and that helps."

Tamara suggests having some visual demarcations like logs or rocks, different heights of grasses or plants just helps guide the eye and looks more like a planned garden. "The idea is to have boarders, again so the garden looks planned."

We contacted the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Agricultural Information Contact Centre. We were told that in fact, the Weed Control Act is in place to protect agricultural and horticultural operations from weeds. It does not apply to noxious weeds or weed seeds that are far enough away from any land used for agricultural or horticultural purposes so it wouldn’t apply in an urban area like the City of Hamilton. "It would be bylaws that need to change if bylaw officers are asking residents to remove goldenrod," the correspondent said.

We were also told that in 2015, nine weed species were removed from the noxious weed schedule of the Weed Control Act. Some of these species are considered a food source for pollinators, such as bees (e.g., wild carrot, goat's-beard, scotch thistle, nodding thistle, yellow rocket, and tuberous vetchling). These and other species that are being removed are no longer considered significant threats to agricultural or horticultural production and can be managed through modern management practices.

Goldenrod is not on the noxious weed list but can be a weed if it gets into cultivated fields and that is why we see it in the Ontario weeds gallery.

Now it's time to think about what action we can do as a community to change the bylaw and make it easier for people to plant native gardens!

Signage: We're Feeding Pollinators

Signs like our "We're Feeding Pollinators" do wonders. Many residents have told us that putting up our sign as part of our certification program has really helped in deterring complaints from neighbours who don't get it.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Diversity is Key: Protecting Our Native Bees and other Pollinators.

The key message we took away from our latest forum on helping native bees and other pollinators?

 Diversity is what matters: we need habitat diversity as well as maintaining bee diversity.

A trio of experts in their individual field of work informed the audience on exactly what the issues are and how we, as every day folk, can make a difference.

We kicked off the evening with Dr. Peter Kevan, Professor Emeritus at Guelph University. Kevan went into detail about why we need to be taking care of our native bee populations in the first place.

According to Kevan, in Canada, we don’t have a decline in honeybee population--or at least, not like what the US is experiencing! Instead, honeybees are essential because wild bees are being eliminated. Native bees are getting cut out of the picture for obvious reasons, including habitat lose. But we need pollinators in agriculture, so we buy honeybees.

What's more, wild bees increase production yield. “Botanically, this relationship is not fully understood,” Kevan said, about the benefits of bee diversity to crop yield. But it's a very important one. Delicious fruits like blueberries are better serviced by wild bees—they can take on 70 species of pollinating bees. The orchard bee is cold tolerant, forages widely and doesn’t sting. Bumblebees pollinate greenhouse tomatoes. (Kevan pointed out that Canadians can be proud that we were one of the countries putting forward this bee technology).

What can we do to protect bees from the point of view of agriculture?
Kevan suggests we consider fields with windbreaks. In the field, practice low tillage and rotation, "everything that we can do to diversify the habitat." Make use of berms and hedges, conservation strips in fields and floral resources across the seasons. Remember that weeds are important resources.

In our city gardens, Kevan suggests that we can do our part for solitary bees by making sure to leave habitat such as twigs and bare ground for hole and ground nesters.

Biodiversity in Cities: Ecosystem functioning, and Green Infrastructure.

Central Park School, Hamilton. Photo Credit by Lubmila Shkoda.
Next up was the captivating Dr. Scott MacIvor, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Toronto (Department of Biological Science and the Faculty of Landscape Architecture).
MacIvor shared with the audience that so much has been learned in the past 6 years; at least 6 papers are published daily on bees.

It was fascinating to hear that wild bees are generally happy, they can count to 4, and they are much more diverse that we thought. “Every female is her own queen,” MacIvor said. And with over 364 kinds of wild bees in our region, “Bees are important, bees are diverse and we know more about wild bees than anywhere else in the world.” That’s something to be proud of!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Protecting our Native Bees and other Pollinators: Forum is today.

We are excited to be hosting our annual forum: Protecting Our Native Bees and Other Pollinators: What we can do to help.

Our line up includes:

Peter Kevan, Professor Emeritus, Guelph University. Dr. Kevan's research focuses on community and applied ecology, pollination biology, native vegetation and insect fauna, conservation of beneficial insects, apiculture, plant breeding systems, foraging and perception by arthropods, insect thermoregulation, arctic ecology.

Scott MacIvor
Dr. Scott MacIvor is a post doctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Toronto in the Department of Biological Science and the Faculty of Landscape Architecture. He is interested in urban biodiversity (especially bees), ecosystem functioning, and green infrastructure.

Michelle Ordyniec has been involved with beekeeping for the last 4 years. She began her interest and work with honeybees while working at Weir’s Lane Lavender Farm. Through lots of beekeeping programs, classes, research, personal experience, and an extra dose of passion, she's become pretty knowledgable about bees (not limited to honeybees!) With the mentorship of other local beekeepers, she has worked with the ten-odd hives on the farm, as well as keeping honeybees at her home in Hamilton.

For free tickets, please click here.