Monday, December 14, 2015

TOYOTA: Planting Pollinator Gardens on its 21,000 Acres of Land

 It’s not often you hear about large corporate players making significant contributions to sustainability efforts. That’s why we are so excited to learn about Toyota's project to protect honeybees and other pollinators.

With 21,000 acres of land in North America, they decided to put this acreage to good use by planting pollinator gardens. A number of sites, including those certified or applying for certification with the Wildlife Habitat Council, are already maintaining pollinator gardens, and more are on the way.

Here's a summarized version of the article that Miye Cox, a Cambridge/Woodstock, Ontario engineer with Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc (TMMC) and associated with the project forwarded to us to share with our readers. The original version can be found here.

It helps that a number of Toyota facilities are located along the monarch’s migration pathway, from Canada in the north, through the U.S., to Mexico in the south.
A number of Toyota’s North American plants are developing monarch butterfly waystation habitats onsite and in the surrounding community. The waystations contain wildflowers and milkweed. Wildflowers provide nectar for the adults while milkweed serves as food and shelter for monarch larvae.
Toyota’s North American manufacturing headquarters (TEMA) in Erlanger, Kentucky, has a pollinator garden with a butterfly pond.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK) has two monarch waystations onsite and has supported our additional waystations in surrounding communities.
Toyota Bodine Aluminum Tennessee (BAI), located in Jackson, worked with a landscaper to plant over an acre of Southeastern Wildflower mix. BAI is an aluminum casting facility that manufactures engine blocks for Toyota. The site’s biodiversity team is focusing on providing the essential habitat components for pollinators, birds, bats and other wildlife, as well as encouraging team members and the community to explore and learn more about native species.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas (TMMTX) has four pollinator gardens onsite. Team members are working on increasing the variety of native species in these gardens.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Mississippi (TMMMS) planted four pollinator gardens alongside two new pavilions built by team members. The pavilions include a number of sustainable features, including furniture made from recycled plastic, solar lighting and rain water harvesting. All of the gardens were certified by Monarch Watch as monarch waystations.

In Cambridge, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC) has over 150 milkweed plants already established; additional wildflowers were planted this year to enhance pollinator habitat.
In Woodstock, TMMC enhanced naturally occurring wildflower and milkweed growth by adding new wildflower mixes. Monarch butterflies and their caterpillars have been observed in these areas. Monarch larvae eat milkweed leaves as their first meal and use the plant for shelter as they grow. To increase awareness of the importance of monarch butterflies and other pollinators, team members created a new pollinator garden using both wildflower mixes and plants from the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Of Honey Bees, Native Bees and Overwintering Your Garden (Brenda Van Ryswyk): Part 2

This is a continuation of the interview we did with Brenda Van Ryswyk, Natural Heritage Ecologist with Conservation Halton.

Native Bees Need Habitat; They Need Protection 

Studies show that urban and sub-urban areas can be habitat for many species of native bees, so if you have a big backyard, you can have a really positive impact on native pollinators. A study in France showed that the sub-urban area (areas with at least some lawn/gardens) had the highest abundance of both species and individual numbers of native bees (when compared to highly urban areas of all concrete, and intense monoculture agriculture). Any amount of lawn has real potential.

Brenda reports that some species of bee can use cracks in mortar of buildings for nesting habitat or cracks in pavement. In urban areas they need more nesting habitat and a little bit more nectar (too much hard impervious surface is not good).  She points to a University of Toronto study that showed when flowers were added to an area bees quickly appeared to feed on them.

80% of native bees will use soil to nest in, therefore bare ground and soil is vital native bee habitat, "Not everything needs to be covered in grass or vegetation," Brenda says. The other 20% mostly nest in hollow stems, holes and cracks. Brenda suggests that it is easy to help those species by leaving some dead wood in your yard, not “cleaning up” all the old plant stems or purposefully providing hollow plant stem bundles for nesting.
"Simply planting more flowers for nectar is a simple but highly beneficial thing to do. The next best thing to do would be to leave some bare, sunny ground undisturbed for them to nest in," Brenda says.

More random facts from Brenda:
Most of our native bees are solitary. The exception is the bumblebees, they do build small colonies.
Most of our native bees cannot and will not sting.

The solitary bees
 1) have no reason to sting, being solitary! The main reason for stings is defending the hive, since they have no hive they have no reason to sting.
2) Many solitary bees physically cannot sting because they are so small and are to week to pierce our skin.
3)Bumblebees are one of our native bees that can sting, because they do have a colony they will sting if you harm the nest and individuals will sting if you grab and crush them.
4)But it is perfectly safe to observe ALL bees as they are feeding (even honeybees) because “a feeding bee is a happy bee” and when they are feeding they are away from the hive so will not sting unless you grab and crush them (threaten their life)…..(or step on them, if you are barefoot in the lawn).

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Pollinators Paradise Project @ Art Crawl!

We have been busy making Seedball Hearts as part of a fundraiser for December's Art Crawl

We'll be at Evergreen's Community Holiday Marketplace
Friday December 11th, 2015
Seedball Hearts filled with locally-sourced seeds-  all pollinator friendly!
294 James Street North from 6pm-10pm
selling homemade, locally-sourced seedball hearts - a great stocking stuffer! 

All the money raised will go back into our Pollinators Paradise Project to create more pollinator habitats across the City.

Hope to see you there!

For details, contact Juby at

Friday, November 27, 2015

Of Honey Bees, Native Bees and Overwintering Your Garden (Brenda Van Ryswyk): Part 1

Brenda Van Ryswyk
Brenda Van Ryswyk is a Conservation Halton, Natural Heritage Ecologist-- natural heritage meaning the world of plants, trees etc in the natural environment that we carry forward.
Plant inventory is Brenda’s original focus but she also works with salamanders, frogs, butterflies and other small creatures.
Brenda grew up in a rural area, south of Ottawa. Her house was surrounded by forest where she was exposed to nature.
"I've always had that love of nature, I've always been curious about it." Brenda took photographs of what she saw, and of course, being curious, she wanted to identify what she saw: "It blossomed from there."

What's the best part of the day, I ask Brenda? "Being outside all summer long. I get to walk all day," she responds.
Any darker parts? "The negative effect that so many people have on nature," she says. Brenda explains that human population is increasing, and while its great that people want to get outside, "sometimes they don’t have a lot of respect for nature. A significant number of people don’t stay on the trails, for instance and they just don’t realize that they may be stepping on rare species.
Brenda worries that too many people are detached from nature--that is they don't have a solid understanding of the connection to and the reliance that humans have on the natural environment. "For many people, there is a lack of personal connection, people don’t see it directly affecting them," Brenda laments.

Honey Bees. 
About honeybees. Not to down play their role, but Brenda says, “If we lost them, (I don’t think we ever will, but theoretically) we would still have pollination from many native pollinators. We have become more reliant on the European Honeybee for pollination simply because of the scale (huge size and monoculture) of our farming practices."

Fact: European Honeybees cannot pollinate tomatoes. Tomatoes are native to North America and are mainly pollinated by bumblebees. Bumblebees do a  special type of pollination called “Buzz-pollination” where they vibrate their body while on the flower and shake the pollen out. Tomatoes have strange flower form so they need this vibrating to shake the pollen out onto the bumblebees body and the bumblebee then pollinates when it moves to the next flower. Bumblebees have been used in greenhouses growing tomatoes for decades for this reason (and were one of the first native pollinators to be “managed” and used in agriculture intentionally).

The thing with European honeybees is that they are good at honey making, but they are not designed to pollinate our North American native plants. Brenda points out that our native bees often do a far better job. For example, the Blue Orchard bee can do the work of ten bees in an apple orchard, pollinating from flower to flower. Just as soon as the snow melts and the flowers start blooming, this bee will come out and start working. 
They can be ‘managed’ by farmers (like the European Honeybees must be) but the native bees are much less maintenance for a farmer, requiring only a little maintenance at certain times of the year. Whereas a European Honeybee colony needs maintenance throughout the entire year.The adult Orchard Bee dies once the flowers have finished blooming, they have laid their eggs and the next generation of larva matures over the summer, overwinter as a pupa in the hollow stem (or tube or whatever cavity/hole) and is ready to emerge in the spring. For those wanting more information visit Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Managing Alternative Pollinators, a Handbook for Beekeepers, Growers and Conservationists.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Seed balls at Sir. Winston Churchill

Thanks to Sir Winston Churchill high school for their help today!

The Tech classes are helping cut wood for bee boxes AND they helped us make over 300 seedballs!
We are very excited about this new partnership.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Our Hamilton Native Plant Adventure: Guest post by Amy Taylor

What's great about people who garden is that they love to share their stories.
Below is a guest post from one such gardener. Amy Taylor is a Crownpoint resident and owner of The Art of Tea and Tasseomancy. Here is what she writes:

My husband and I bought our 92 year old house in Crown Point back in 2007. The front and back yards had very simple gardens, the front had a small strip garden along the front porch and a yew planted on the other side of the stairs with grass filling out the rest. 

The back yard had grass, low maintenance plants like hosta, clematis and euonymus.
The only two unique plants the back yard did have was a Prickly Pear Cactus and Ostrich Ferns, we kept those but the rest came out before we moved into the house. It had some great features, like a pergola, wired outdoor speakers and lighting already set up. It was a nice back yard. But it wouldn’t do. So began our planning for the next year.

We decided that when we got the house that we would do our very best to have an environmentally viable home and green space to match.  Having plants that we could use as food and medicine (I am a traditional herbalist) and plants that were important to attract pollinators was top of mind as well as using plants native to our region and native cultivars. 

The happy balance was that the above requirements had a lot of cross over. Also we didn’t want to have to focus overtly on taking care of the garden, we wanted it to be a free looking space, so we planted what we knew would survive here, would benefit the local pollinators and wildlife, and not need much assistance from us with water etc. once it was established.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

If you missed Susan Chan's Presentation on Neonicotinoids: Here it is.

So you missed pollinator biologist, Susan Chan's presentation (Disappearing Act 2) on neonicotinoids in October? That's a pity but have no fear! Susan's powerpoint is available for download.

A lot is being done in Ontario to reduce the use of these harmful pesticides, put there is still much more to do.
Susan reports that neonics were introduced in the 1990s as seeds on soils. Here is a scary factoid: DDT is 10,000 times (in parts per billion) less toxic to pollinators than neonics are--that is to say, very tiny amounts kill creatures.
Susan offers a very clear picture of why neonics are so problematic. A wide spectrum neurotoxin, applied locally, it ends up on every part of a plant (also the nectar and the pollen). Neonics are persistent and water-soluble.
As well, there are no labels on pesticides indicating that the product contains neonics (which have major active ingredients). Farmers have to buy by brand names; "these things are not pure," Susan says. "We have a real problem with labelled use, versus reality--the way it is used and the way we are supposed to use it do not line up."

Susan says that while the honey bee is the poster child for the harm neonics cause, many other creatures are impacted, including aquatic invertebrates, birds, butterflies, and amphibians.
In the wider environment, the concern is that neonics move with soil and surface water.

It is also scary to learn from Susan that neonics are used on every crop in Ontario--from corn, veggies and fruits to Christmas trees. 99% of Ontario corn acres are using neonics-treated seed. Our land is not even growing food: 40% is industrial use, and the other 60% is feed use.
And although we have strong integrated pest management in the horticultural sector, in the field, we have no such system.

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
If farmers can start to follow label instructions we can also reduce its use. OMFRA took action and is now a leader in N. American in this respect, with a policy and best management practices. Susan says they are clamping down on farmers and seed producers to be involved in the education and forcing farmers to prove that they need the seed. They are requiring farmers to look for the pest in the fall, getting the farmer back into the game to see if they have a problem.

Click on the link to learn more from Susan's powerpoint presentation.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Spreading Wildflowers: A chat with Miriam Goldberger

Miriam Goldberger has been at it for decades. Her 100 acres Coldwater, Ontario-based wildflower farm is the largest in Canada, selling native seeds (since 1988). She is also a writer and the author of Taming Wildflowers, a wonderful resource for newbies who want to start a native species patch or meadow.

Miriam has always had an interest for growing things from seed—and also a long-term fascination with birth, midwifery, family and regeneration.

She tells me she got into wildflowers when she started looking for low maintenance plants for the beds around her property, so it was “a back door way to learn about native flowers. Also, they made brilliant cut flowers.”

To the term “taming” and why she uses it in the title of her book, Miriam says taming is really a combination of irony (“Why would you want to?") and the fact that it is possible to work with them and harness their power to provide benefits for people and creatures.  She believes that wildflower are beautiful all around, for meadows, container gardening, weddings and other "pollination partnerships."
"Current research points to the importance of wildflowers in terms of food agriculture farming and landscape," Miriam says. "Studies show that pollinators positively inform the yield of food crops and quality of the food grown. Beneficial insects reduce the need for insecticides by 60 to 80 percent."

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lennox Toppin Says

Lennox Toppin would like to discuss love, sex, death and decay with you. These are the overriding principles that help guide the yearly themes which he applies to his intriguing downtown garden, located in Hamilton's historic Strathcona neighbourhood. This year he once again delved into those principles, while celebrating themes of personal freedom and liberation – new themes which surfaced for him due to many changing circumstances. In addition to exploring these evolving themes, he also introduced more native plants to his garden.

Here's what he writes:
It wasn't by choice; I have a deep spiritual and physical connection with my garden, and it told me that it was time to explore this area. To many it may have appeared like the garden did not contain a lot of native plants, it actually had quite a lot. Tucked in various corners, you will see much more than what is apparent on a quick look. And if you view the garden from different vantage points, you will often notice things that you did not before. This has always one of my goals with my garden: to convey that there is a lot more happening than what is on the surface – which is a reflection of how I feel about myself. So, I really wanted to enhance what was already there.

Environment Hamilton hosted a native plant sale in April, and I ended up buying 20 clumps of native carex albersina (White Bear sedge) from Matt Mills of Talondale Farm. I wasn't exactly sure at the time how these would fit in the garden, but once again, my garden told me. I ended up removing a bed of vinca minor (Periwinkle), and replacing that with the clumps of carex, in an artistic display. I'm amazed at just how strong and perfectly those sedges grew! A welcome addition to my garden.

The Royal Botanical Garden's spring auxiliary plant sale was also a source of inspiration. Before the sale, they provided a comprehensive listing of plants which they were going to be selling. This allowed me to do additional research as to what might work for my garden. I am a big supporter of various local horticultural groups' plant sales, which I have noticed are featuring more 'eco-friendly' choices. I added plants like allium cernuum (Nodding Onion), arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-Pulpit), chelone obliqua (Turtle Head) and mertensia virginica (Virgina Blue Bells). I also planted ulvularia sessilifolia (Bell Worts), in memory of a close friend's mother, who recently passed away after a short battle with cancer.

The idea of attracting pollinators is somewhat complex. I always thought that concept revolved around 'the pornography of the flower', and having a partially shaded back garden makes this a little less 'easy' than if there were more sun. But I have never been a great fan of 'easy' – life is full of challenges, and I am here to challenge myself, along with my own and other peoples' preconceived ideas. And I have learned there are many native 'pollinator friendly' plants which do well – in fact thrive – in filtered shade, which actually reflects the woodland environment.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pollination Biologist and Farmer Susan Chan: How farmers are creating pollinator habitat on farms

Susan Chan is coming to Hamilton on October 27th. Come out and hear this inspirational speaker and learn what you can do to protect and cultivate pollinators.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Importance of Bee Health to Sustainable Food in Canada

The Importance of Bee Health to Sustainable Food in Canada is a report put out by the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry (May 2015). The purpose was to hear witnesses’ perspectives on the challenges facing bee health and how governments can help stakeholders address these challenges. The Senate offers nine recommendations.
Read the report here.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Chat with Pollination Biologist and Farmer, Susan Chan

Susan Chan is coming back to town for Disappearing Act: part 2! Pollination biologist and practicing agriculturalist, I caught up with Susan, before her talk on Oct 27th.

What comes first for Susan, pollinators or growing food locally?
“The two are intrinsically intertwined,” she replies.
Susan is interested in food for humans, but also food for everyone else—that is, for all creatures and plant reproduction, since plants are the first layer of our food chain.
A self-proclaimed “whole system thinker,” Susan believes that the healthier the whole system is, the more resilient we are as communities. “The way to be more resilient is to have a whole bunch of players in the field,” she says.

About twenty-five years ago, Susan became interested in the honeybee while studying with Peter Kevan (University of Guelph).  She describes Peter as being “ahead of his time.” He pointed out that we couldn’t have food production predicated on one pollinator—the honeybee, which is not even native to this country. He pushed the Ministry of Agriculture to do more for native bees.

This opened up a whole new interest for Susan: solitary bees and pollinators. One particular bee caught Susan’s attention—the squash bee (now her area of expertise). The squash (and pumpkin) bee is a specialist bee at particular risk from neonicotinoids.

Why the draw, I ask Susan? “I fell in love with it. It’s a very gentle, beautiful bee, with a very interesting life. I feel like I didn’t have any choice; this is what I had to do. It chose me.”

 “Bees are a poster child but they are representing a bigger size of the pie, this is an insecticide that kills all insects,” Susan points out.

I ask whether she is working with the Aboriginal/First Nations community in any capacity. Susan tells me that in fact, the squash bee is a “First Nations’ bee,” belonging to Indigenous culture, and originating in Central America thousands of years ago. It followed their activities and cultivation to Canada: “It’s an immigrant, like the rest of us.”

 "Susan reports that she had the opportunity to speak to a group of First Nations people (Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, AIAI) in partnership with Farms at Work for the Kanienkeha:ka (Mohawk) Flint Corn Seed-Saving & Education Project and is keen for their support in seeing the squash bee established at permanent nesting sites. “It could be a First Nations’ symbol,” Susan muses."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How to Harvest Milkweed

Neat post at Monarch Butterfly Garden on how to harvest milkweed (it's that time of the year).

How To Harvest Milkweed Seeds: All of the Facts, None of the Fluff!

1. Don’t Pick Pods Before Their Time
If you pick pods and open them to discover light brown (or white!) seeds, you won’t have viable seeds for planting. However, it’s no fun to separate seeds after the pods have burst open because of the fluffy mess! So what’s a milkweed gardener to do?

2. Use Rubber Bands or Twist Ties
These common household items can be lightly secured around milkweed pods to keep them from bursting open. Monitor the pods to see when they start splitting open and then cut off the pods to bring indoors. You can also press on the seam of each pod to see if it starts to pop.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Supercrawl 2015 Photos

It rained and it rained and it rained...

Want to know what's growing in the garden?

Check out what is growing in Victoria Park's pollinator garden (Strathcona)! Thanks Paul O'Hara of Blue Oak Native Landscapes for planting the garden and for this list!

Below is a list of the plants that were planted in the new Victoria Park Butterfly Garden in August 2015.  All the plants are native to Southern Ontario except where indicated. 

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
One tree planted near walkway.  A tough oak found in a variety of habitats in Southern Ontario, particularly clay plains.  The best way to help local insects is to plant a native oak on your property as they support a greater variety of species than any other native plant.
Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
One tree in north corner near fence.  Our native juniper.  Excellent tree for nesting birds.  Gin-flavoured berries eaten by a variety of birds.  Found in meadows and thickets around Hamilton.  Many trees can be viewed on the 403 corridor through Aldershot.
Small Trees/Large Shrubs
Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
One tree planted in middle of garden by fence.  An excellent small tree for any garden.  Flowers and berries have high wildlife value for birds and pollinators.  A common understory tree in local forests.
Witch-hazel (Hammamelis virginiana)
One shrub planted by Bur Oak.  Fall flowering.  A common understory shrub in local upland woods.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
4 planted in southeast part of garden.  White flowers in early spring a favourite of early emerging insects.  Serviceberries are common shrubs/trees on dry rims and woodland edges in Hamilton.
WAYFARING VIBURNUM (Viburnum lantana)
The large existing shrubs leftover from the last butterfly garden.  A non-native shrub that I infrequently find spreading into native habitats.  Not recommended for planting.  Native to Europe.
Gray Dogwood (Cornus foemina)
One shrub in north end of garden by walkway.  Probably the most common roadside shrub of meadows, thickets and woodland edges in the Hamilton area.  Look for their white vanilla scented flowers around Canada Day and their maroon foliage in fall. 
Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)
A few shrubs planted in garden edges.  A tough, drought tolerant native shrub that grows in a few spots on the Flamborough Plain in Hamilton and at Sassafras Woods in Aldershot. 
Purple Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus)
One shrub planted in middle of garden beside Pagoda Dogwood. Purple flowers in summer.  A common shrub in local moist woodlands. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Celebration at Victoria Park Butterfly Garden. The chocolate cupcakes were delicious...

Perfect evening for a celebration at the Butterfly Garden (Victoria Park). We were excited to thank our funders and partners, heard excellent words from Trillium Foundation volunteer, Bonnie Tolton and Ward 1 Councillor, Aidan Johnson.


We played "pollinator trivia" games with the children and..

get this, I had my first official cupcake. Chocolate. From Bitten. 
Now I know what all the fuss is about. I had no idea that cupcakes could taste so delicious. Why didn't some one force me to try one, all these long years? I thought they were like muffins or something. But this! This is heavenly.. this is, wait. This is a blog about pollinators. Sorry about that---but wait again! Without pollinators we would not have cocoa plants, the very plants we need in order to make chocolate, and chocolate cupcakes and..

In my haste towards the cupcakes, I forgot to take photos of them, so lifted this image from Bitten's website:


Scroll down to the bottom of this link to read about what is growing in the garden! Thanks Paul!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Pollinator Gardens Tour and Native Plants Sale at local church: A success!

Sept 5th--

The pollinator garden tour at the First Unitarian Church is describe by tour leader Joanne Tunnicliffe as being "a stellar event."

Here is what she writes:
Thanks to the native plant people who took time to explain the types of plants and why they were important. We had some great deals from they and now they have to go into private gardens and the Unitarian church.
What I like best about this are the positive networking that comes out of an excited group of people willing to follow the many ideas given out on the church tour.
We have a few offers of native plants, trees and shrubs from our excited audience so we look forward to some follow up on that. We even had a couple interested in helping out on occasion and another all set to join our church and will be there on Sunday.
All the many hours spend in readiness paid off by the energy given back by the eager folks who showed up to learn, who asked questions and who were genuinely thrilled to be a part of our beautiful church gardens.
We have a small group of dedicated gardeners who have spent a lot of time taking care of particular gardens that reflect their interests.  We have a large spread out garden area and without the help of our volunteers it would not be showing as well as it did today.
Thank you for the support of Betty and Victoria who have seen the progress from day one and often remark on the many changes occurring with each season.
Especially to Beatrice and Juby, the co-ordinators, we send a heart-felt thanks for making our church community gardens open to the public and giving us the opportunity to share our principles, goals and passions.   

Monday, August 31, 2015

Two Ontario Nature Youth talk about Environmental Activism

A portion of the poster Mariel created.
When Etobicoke native, Mariel Lepra joined Ontario Nature in the fall of 2013, she immediately proposed a campaign for the Youth Council.  Deeply concerned about the decline of bee and other pollinators’ populations, Mariel suggested the campaign advocate for the banning of neonicotinoid pesticide use in Ontario.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t an area on Ontario Nature’s radar! It took this (now) 18-year-old youth to make it a focus of the organization.

“I’d read about bee and colony collapse disorder in books like Keeping the Bees, and about neonicitinoids and wanted to help.  Staff at Ontario Nature exclaimed, “You opened our eyes,”” Mariel says.

Receiving plenty of positive feedback from the general public, the campaign consisted of getting people to sign postcards and petitions. Mariel and friends hand-delivered over 1,200-signed postcards to Queen’s Park. She also co-wrote a letter to Premier Wynne on behalf of the Youth Council, urging her government to ban the use of neonics.

The Youth Council members created a video as well.
They are working with partners to encourage Ontarians in planting pollinator gardens and native plants.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Harvesting Invasive Phragmite for bee box filler.

Yesterday morning we harvested some invasive phragmites along Cootes Drive with a LOT of help from some dedicated volunteers! A HUGE thanks to them!
We are using the phrag as bee box filler for our native, solitary bees who lay their eggs in hollow stalks for the winter. Neat, eh?
Here's a photo of our harvest.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Why you should certify your pollinator paradise with us!

Why certify your pollinator paradise project with us, you may ask?
Here’s what one person says about the effect a “pollinator paradise” sign in his garden has had on the neighbours: 
"Our house is on a corner, so our whole yard is visible from the sidewalk. We get a lot of people passing by a very unusual garden, and then stopping to read the sign. The people who already found the garden beautiful are excited to see that it's also beneficial, while those who thought it strange become more understanding as they see the logic behind it. The number of conversations I have while out gardening has doubled, and we've not had a single by-law complaint against us since it was posted--compared to at least five per season in previous years." Peter Hopperton.

Clearly, within the neighbourhood, certification of your property raises awareness and legitimizes what we are trying to achieve here—creating vital, much-needed habitat for pollinators of all kinds.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Upcoming Events!

Over the spring and summer, we have been busy planting pollinator patches with the Hamilton Victory Gardens and North Hamilton Community Health Centre - thanks to both of these amazing organizations who very willingly partnered with us to get more pollinator habitats in our City. 

Now, it's time to start hosting events. Listed below are some events that we have organized and others where we'll be at.  
Hope to see you soon!

Our next event is a guided tour of pollinator gardens. 
Fall is when many pollinator plants are in bloom, providing much needed food for pollinators as they get ready for the winter.
Join us on a walking tour starting at the First Unitarian Church and 2 other nearby sites.  As well, there will be a plant sale that our local pollinators need and love!
For details, check out this poster.

Friday, July 31, 2015

(Re) building the Butterfly Garden at Victoria Park: Stage 2

“The butterfly garden was meant to be a place for celebration.” Calla Shea-Pelletier, volunteer caretaker at Victoria Park Butterfly Garden 

“What’s alive in Hamilton” butterfly checklist says the city of Hamilton has over 100 species of butterflies and moths.However, due to factors like loss of habitat and chemical use, populations (such as monarch butterflies) continue to decline.
Hamilton Pollinator Paradise project is planting native habitat to attract and nurture more butterflies and other pollinators. On August 5th, we will be replanting the Victoria Park Butterfly Garden and you’re invited!
The garden was originally planted in 2009 by the City of Hamilton for Strathcona School.

Original Garden
Karen Must, a teacher through the Scholastic, Arts and Global Education (SAGE) at the school, initiated whole school participation within the international Monarch Program, in which students raise monarchs in the classroom, releasing them in the fall. SAGE is a program “of choice” with a focus on community involvement both locally and globally.  

The garden represented a first time partnership between the school and The City of Hamilton -- a $50,000 donation to create an irrigated outdoor classroom in Victoria Park to be included in the redesign of Victoria Park. 

Former parent, volunteer and champion of the garden, Calla Shea-Pelletier is looking forward to carrying on the notion of the garden as a hub for community engagement. “Not only has the Butterfly Garden been a collaboration between SAGE and the larger school community, as well, neighbours and interested visitors have all worked to maintain the garden in Victoria Park,” Calla says. “The outdoor garden was meant to be a place for celebration.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

Urquhart Butterfly Garden

It was a perfect morning at the Urquhart Butterfly Garden (1992) in Dundas. Photographers and a couple of families with small children milled about while I chatted with Joanna Chapman, the founder of this beautiful paradise and haven for pollinators of all kinds. She tells me that the original purpose of the garden was to show people what a garden without pesticides and herbicides could look like. “It is so much more now,” Joanna comments.

"We seem to be on the right track," I say, so many people understand the importance of growing habitat.

All well and good but Joanna still has concerns: while people are growing habitat in their own spaces and naturalizing their backyards, what is required is long swaths of habitat, along side our roads and highways. This is important because of the amount of sunshine available for wildflowers to thrive in.

About Weeds
People are getting the idea that they don't need to have a manicured lawn, but they still need to understand what a weed is. "Weeds are important host plants for caterpillars that will grow into butterflies," Joanne says.

Take action
What can you do? You can write your councillor and tell them you want to see more road side pollinator habitat like they have in Highway 40 Prairie Passage in Lambton, Ontario and the Green Highway in Texas.

You can tweet them too. Use the hastag #hamiltonroadsidehabitat Let's make this thing happen!

Urquhart Butterfly Garden's awesome Summer Series of free public workshops and guided identification walks led by experts in the field continues this summer. Check out their website. I will be sure to attend the August 29th "Making the Community a Pollinator Haven" to get more tips on making Hamilton a pollinator friendly city and getting our city planners and councillors on board!

They are also offering a photo competition! Deadline is August 30th.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Garden is a Thing of Beauty

“Beauty—it turns people on,” says Garden Designer, Candy Venning of Venni Gardens. Candy attributes traveling quite a bit around the world and living in tropical countries to her love of beautiful things—especially flowers.
She claims to have inherited her strong eye for design from her fashion designer, nature-oriented mother. Combining these traits with her appreciation for public spaces (she recently completed work at the city-owned Sunset Cultural Gardens at Bay Front Park), Candy, a fairly recent arrival to Hamilton, has thrown herself wholeheartedly into the beautification of her Gibson/ Landsdale (GALA) neighbourhood.
Planting at the Sunset Cultural Garden
Already, with Simon, her partner, Candy has planted bulbs and seeds on the sly, in abandoned places, random streets and along boulevards. They mow the lawn for the Pearl Factory and give out seeds and bulbs that have been discarded by their suppliers at the end of the season, to GALA residents. “If you live on our block, you will have better gardens,” she promises.

Candy explains that the GALA neighbourhood group that she is a member of, recently received funds from the Hamilton Community Foundation (HCF) and the Social Planning Research Council (SPRC) to plant thousands of bulbs and seeds that have since been distributed at schools and other community venues.

“The idea is to foster pride, even if you are renting,” Candy says.
She owns a rental property where she has ripped out the grass and notes a markedly decrease in doggie poop and garbage. Describing it as an “evolving experiment” where she observes how plants behave, what thrives what doesn’t,  the garden is wild-looking but gets better each year.

In her work as a garden designer, Candy aims to show people that native flowers can be an attractive option for gardens. Even in her most traditional gardens, “I’ll throw in native species and not even tell people!”

I ask Candy what her dream garden would look like. “There has to be a meadow component in terms of a lot of different things that bloom and change from year to year,” she says.
The height of the plants is also important. “Do you recall being a child and walking through the tall grass, the smell of summer, the beautiful memories?” she asks.
Other elements of Candy’s ideal garden would include mowed walkways, shade structure and trees—of course!

For Candy, gardens should serve both art as well as function: “Rigid gardens don’t do much for us. A static garden doesn’t make my heart sing,” she says. “When you look at something that is not sustainable, it offends the eye. When you see a garden that’s changing and evolving, that is far more interesting, more pleasing.

Of course, she would love to get paid to do a public space (her idol is world renowned, Piet Oudolf, who has “the best job on the planet” and designs garden plans for Canada Blooms and the Toronto Botanical Gardens etc) but until that time, the next volunteer project Candy will be working on is the city-owned,  Birch Avenue Green Space.

Over the years, this space has had a lot of dumping (see below). Candy envisions just perennials, trees, and a structure where people can bring tents, “something that represents the neighbourhood in a positive light, that’s interesting, not ugly, but light and airy with some lighting on it.”

This fall, she will be doing a fundraiser with pollinator bulbs for the neighbourhood beautification project, as well as experimenting with plants that are both ornamental and edible too, like thyme, and asparagus: “artichoke has the most beautiful flowers and the bees love it. $1.49 at the market and what an effect!”

Birch Avenue Green Space.

Brenda Duke is the main lead on the beautification project for the Birch Avenue Green Space.
“Candy is my mentor though,” this full time office worker insists. “When it comes to gardens and plants, she knows best.”

Friday, June 26, 2015

Pollinator Paradise Project Goes to School!

Report from the front lines! Our summer intern Kaelyn writes:

Kids made bee boxes
Members of the Hamilton Naturalist Club and Environment Hamilton have been visiting schools in the community to teach kids about the importance of pollinators.

During our visit to Queen Victoria School we introduced the students to native pollinators – bees especially – and their role in the community.

Together we made bee boxes for nesting solitary bees, later the students were able to decorate the boxes in their groups so they could be placed around the city.
Once the bee boxes were complete, the classes were ready to create their very own pollinator patch! The existing plants were removed from the edge of the school yard to make way for more brightly coloured, pollinator friendly, native plants such as asters and geranium.

This year’s sixth grade classes were pioneers for future pollinator patches. Upcoming sixth grade classes will maintain the current space as well as possibly adding new plants to increase biodiversity and provide more food for native pollinators.

These past few months and this experience has been wonderful. [I’m] really stoked that we got to garden and make houses for our local pollinators because without them we’re nothing”
-          Sheridan D.

    “Pollinators help the earth, and news flash we need the earth – no earth no us.” – Ayrek

Saturday, June 20, 2015

It's a journey of discovery

"We are stewards of the land, on a journey of discovery."
 Gerten Basom
Gerten Basom is the artist behind the new signage plaques, to mark our pollinator patch locations across the city. Gerten combines her love of nature and her passion for art to create images that further her message: that we don't own the land; we are caretakers of it. I chatted with Gerten a few weeks ago about her journey to reaching this awareness.
Daughter of German immigrants, Gerten was born and raised in a rural area of Peterborough. Her mother hand planted 2000 seedlings in her early 20’s, of mixed pine, spruce and hemlock on what was then barren land. “56 years later, it's become a forest. We grew up with that, we were very much aware of the environment around us," Gerten reminisces. And "like typical Germans," Gerten describes her family as always being out on the trails, hiking the Kawartha territories, camping at the lakes.
"We became deeply acquainted with the land," she says. "Being outdoors was who we were--exploring ponds, fields, building forts. It was all one big adventure."

At school, the elementary school principal, an "outdoors" guy and biologist, furthered the children's understanding and appreciation of nature. He would read Farley Mowat novels to his  students; "That shapes you at that age," Gerten reflects.
Her visual arts practice has always been there, she says, that journey beginning with a dynamic grade 5 art teacher. What followed was a rather circuitous route, from York University (where the message was to "think outside the box,") and then a decade later, Dundas Valley school of Arts, Ontario College of Art, and finally, at home at McMaster University.

I ask Gerten, why the reconnect to art ten years later?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Victoria Park, Strathcona! Breaking Ground and celebrating the Pollinators Paradise Project (June 13).

Planting a pollinator patch along the Pipeline Trail

Kaelyn  Bumelis is the summer intern, assisting the Pollinator Paradise Project for the next couple months. She was out in the field this past Saturday (June 6th), getting her hands dirty, planting native flowers along a small segment of the Crown Point’s Pipeline trail.

Here’s what she reports about the plant-in:

Saturday was full of fun and lots of sunshine as the volunteers helped realize the vision for the Pollinator Paradise Project. Whether you were a skilled gardener or green behind the ears, the Pipeline trail “plant-in” was an opportunity for people of all ages to come out and help create a sanctuary for  pollinators and a nice place for the people of the Crown Point community to escape to.
Organized in partnership with the Crown Point Garden Club (pipeline planning team), this native plant garden, located between Edgemont and Park Row North, will also increase biodiversity in the area and provide food for native pollinators, like bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other beneficial insects.

Numerous different native plant species including Asters, Mountain mint, Goldenrod, Wild strawberry, Ox-eye, Coreopsis were planted in a beautiful display with room for a pathway through the garden.
New connections were made and existing ones strengthened. We spoke with trail neighbours and one resident even offered to donate more plants. Delicious apples and macaroons were shared!
All in all, the event scheduled for 100 in 1 day (a global festival of civic engagement) was a great time. I enjoyed meeting many of the community minded people who came out to help and who shared their experiences with me.

Next steps:

The Pollinator Paradise Project is working on signage for the location.
Some next steps for the garden club will be establishing a schedule for maintenance of the garden and acquiring more plants. City of Hamilton will be putting a bench at the site, across the trail in the shade of the trees, so people can sit and enjoy the sight of the pollinator paradise. The garden club also plans to revitalize the small triangle on Edgemont.
The Pipeline Trail planning team are  continuing to work with the City on the Pipeline Trail Master Plan, and community consultation is ongoing through the summer.
Pipeline Trail Planning Team member, Elizabeth Seidl urges residents and trail users to get involved in the planning process: “Feedback and community engagement is critical in planning for the trail as the plan will affect several neighbourhoods.”
In the middle of the design phase, “this is the opportunity to voice concerns and ask questions.”
The Master Plan proposes changes to intersections and suggests improvements to enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety, which can affect traffic patterns and street parking.
The next public meeting is Thursday, June 25 at 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Perkins Centre. The final presentation is Saturday, September 19 at 2 - 4 pm at the Steam Museum. To see what has been presented so far, visit
Contact Elizabeth Seidl  for more information:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Hamilton Urban Beekeepers

The air was warm that mid-spring afternoon, and although the likelihood of rain was high, we weren't too concerned--the rain would hold off for our visit to the beehives.
Juby and I (Beatrice), accompanied by Amina Suhrwardy on her bike, met up with Brandi Lee Macdonald, urban beekeeper and instigator of the OPIRG McMaster working group for the Urban Bee Keepers (HUB). The other partner to the project is McMaster Beekeeping Initiative, that have helped establish  the hives on the northwest side of campus.

Created to respond to the decline and colony collapse, HUB offers
 hands-on workshops for the community on responsible urban beekeeping and organize field trips to local apiaries. HUB partners with academic departments to offer an experiential component to students conducting research on honeybee colonies
They also sell honey! Most delicious on lightly toasted bread, with a dab of butter.

I was a little nervous about being stung, but Brandi had Juby and myself, well suited up to face the two hives.
Brandi directed us to come in from behind the hives, since the front of the hive is directly in their flight path. "Approaching the hive from the front, or standing in front of it puts you in their flightpath and in their way as they zip in and out of the hive," she explained.

It was astounding to hear that bees have facial recognition, that is, they are able to recognize individual human faces! We learned that in winter, there are around 10,000 bees per hive (the Queen bee stops laying eggs in winter) but at peak season, each hive has over 80,000 bees. Each hive can produce up to 80 to 120 pounds of honey.

The Queen lays around 1000 eggs a day, lives for 2-3 seasons and peaks in the summer.
"Bees are curious," Brandi shared with us. "You can tell what their temperament is. These are sweet natured."
She approached them with smoke, talking softly to them: "Smoke calms them down," she explained. Pausing to listen, "You can tell by the sound they make what mood they are in."

The hives are made from Langstroth style wooden hive bodies and frames, and wrapped with black corrugated plastic. Even in winter, they stay nice and cozy, at 30 degrees in temperature, the heat being generated by the bees' bodies (metabolic heat) as they cluster in a big ball.

Brandi delighted us by removing the frames so that we could get a first hand view of the bees in action. The frames inside the hive are where the honeybees draw wax comb for storing honey and pollen, and rearing their brood.

The first hive was very active, the bees sprung off, whizzing around our well protected heads! The second hive was far more sleepy.

It was also interesting to see the different colouring of the bees, some black, dark brown and others yellow and orange--a reflection of their genetic diversity in the hive since the queen mates with multiple drones on her mating flight, so there is a healthy genetic mix in the hive population.

We learned that the colour of the pollen also varies. The bees bring in pollen from different flowering plants (which are different colours), as they are in bloom throughout the season. We observed white pollen from nearby willow trees opening up on Coldwater Creek, and a dark, indigo-coloured pollen from some variety of Phacelia.

We discussed the possibility of offering a tour of the beehives in partnership with the Pollinator Paradise Project, likely to happen in upcoming weeks, so please stay tuned.

As we ended our visit, the racks of bees securely back in the hives, the sky opened up and we made a dash to the bus stop, Amina pedalling away swiftly and Brandi dashing to her car!

Check out the Hamilton Urban Beekeepers.

The Art department had students in the environmental art program create artful bee hotels from recycled materials to attract native bees (as opposed to honey bees, which are European). Here are some examples of what they came up with. Love them!