Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ragweed versus Goldenrod

"In Finland, you have to pay good money for goldenrod," says Dr. Jim Quinn, biology professor at McMaster University. People get that it is not the cause of your allergies. Ragweed is likely the culprit.

Ragweed versus Goldenrod. "So why the confusion?" I ask Quinn.
This is common ragweed!

Quinn explains that there is a natural "spurious correlation" between goldenrod and ragweed. The idea of spurious correlation is taken to mean roughly that when two variables correlate, it is not because one is a direct cause of the other but rather because they are brought about by a third variable. Pollen causes hay fever.

Both blooming in late summer, "ragweed is cryptic. You don't notice it, but when golden rod blossoms it's obvious with it's masses of yellow flowers," says Quinn. And it gets the blame.

But as this professor reminds his first year class, "Think form and function." Goldenrod pollen is pollinated by insects so that is why it is sticky and heavy. Ragweed pollen is airborne.

The ragweed plants is similar looking to the common plantain weed. Watch for dark green plants with deeply cut leaves.

Ragweed is an exotic, grows well along roadsides and cleared land in urban settings: "It's connected to human habitation," Quinn says.

Golden rod is not much of an opportunist, and favours open habitat, farm land.
This beauty is goldenrod.

Do you want to discourage ragweed?

A thriving community of native plants will do the trick: "As soon as they get competition, they tend to go away," Quinn advices.

Read more about the differences in plants here

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ontario Wants to Regulate Neonicotinoids: It's a Good Thing

Bees pollinate our crops.
That’s why Ontarians have good reason to be concerned over the increasing number of bee deaths and the overall decrease in numbers of our native pollinators—deaths linked to the use of neonicotinoids (NNI), a relatively new class of systemic pesticides.

 “With five million acres of treated soybean and corn seed, there is much more concentration of this pesticide in Ontario than anywhere else in Canada,” says Dennis Edell, Board member of Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA).  Ontario grows 70% of the country’s corn and soy.
 “There is no where to place a hive in all this. It makes it very hard to make a living as a beekeeper,” Edell says. What’s more, Edill says that they’ve had to import over 33,000 queen bees into Ontario last year due to lack of queen vitality: “That’s one of the effects of pesticide poisoning. We lost 60% of our hives over winter.” Typically, the count for winter loses in Ontario is between 15% to 20%.

Since queens survive winter to initiate the spring hive, the loss of the queens is particularly significant.
Edill reports that the OBA is very pleased that the Wynne government is regulating in the public interest (environment and food sovereignty first) and invoking the precautionary principle in its proposal to reduce the use of the NNI by 80% by 2017. 

“It’s a very courageous move given the pushback from players like the Grain Farmers of Ontario and seed corporations,” Edell says.

The precautionary principle—the theory that if the effects of a product are unknown, then the product should not be used—is what groups like the National Farm Union (NFU) recommends as the best approach to regulate agrochemicals and new technologies like genetically modified (GM) crops.

They go further, recommending that a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed be implemented as soon as possible in both Ontario and Quebec. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Stefan Weber's Favourite Native Plants for Pollinator Gardens

Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)
Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinithaceum)

Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica)

Hairy Beard-tongue (Penstemon hirsutus)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Stefan Weber: "Everything Seed."

When ecologist Stefan Weber describes his work collecting native plant seeds, it brings to mind a rescue mission of sorts.

“We see these tiny wonderful remnant populations that you know are destined to be killed because you’re in the site of a future highway,” Weber says. “Chainsaws are buzzing in the background as you hurry to gather seeds to save before it’s too late.”

Weber works for St. Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre, the biggest for-profit nursery in Ontario, so in spite of the ‘do-good’ thrust, Weber reminds me it’s a business that sells bulk seeds: “We make money doing this.”

With his team, Weber goes into the wild, collects a small amount of seed to be scaled up for agricultural practices on the farm and greenhouses, and then propagates the plants.

Source identifying all of their seeds, the nursery grows over 500 different species ranging from native wild flowers, trees and shrubs to grasses, and even aquatics.

As a seed specialist, Weber is in charge of “everything seed.”

This includes timing when a crop is ready to be harvested, collection of that crop, the drying, the processing, the cleaning.

This large-scale restoration work involves growing every single seed into a plant.
It takes one or two generations to get a room full of plants –like a substantial field of plants. In years, that’s like two years to scale up from ‘wild’ to ‘field restoration status.’
It’s a rewarding occupation. Weber, who’s been with the nursery for two years, describes how they get to go everywhere: “We find things that conservation authorities don’t know are there. We see  territory that they don’t get a chance to see.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Flowers for Pollinators

Thanks to Bev Wagar for this information. Wagar is relatively new to the Hamilton (Crownpoint) community but is no stranger to the art of growing native pollinator plants.
Her favourite plants are of the Penstemon family (P. digitalis "Dark Towers," P. strictus "Rocky Mountain Penstemon," P. lyallii, P. hirsutus, P. virens, P. tubaeflorus P. serrulatus).

Wagar writes a regular column on gardening for The Point (Crownpoint's newsletter). Check out her website. Stay tuned for more from this master gardener!

Rocky Mountain Penstemon

Flowers for Pollinators

Choose old-fashioned, single (not double), unimproved varieties. Many newer cultivars have been bred to be low in pollen, or to have ornamental features that make it difficult for bees to find a landing spot. Choose plain, old-fashioned, colours; avoid bi-colours and novelty colours.

Make sure you have a variety of flowers blooming from early season through to frost. Early spring is very important-- bees emerge from their nests and are desperate for food. Leave the first spring dandelions, clover, and lawn violets for the bees.
If you are growing perennials, of course you should not rototill.

Choose carefully. Some perennials such as Borage, Poppies, Great Blue Lobelia, are extreme self-sowers. Borage, for example, is a nectar-producing powerhouse but is nearly impossible to eradicate once introduced. If you cannot recognize the seedlings of these plants, or you do not plan to shear, deadhead, rogue out the volunteers at least once a week, then do not plant anything with “pest” potential.
Consider the mature size of your plants. A four-foot phlox will cast deep shade on your-- or your neighbours'-- veggies.
Alllow some of your herbs to bloom for the bees. Basil, Thyme, Parsley, Oregano, and Sage will all be enjoyed by bees.

Many of the annuals are easy from seed. Check out seed swap groups on GardenWeb or FaceBook, or organize a February group order from your favourite seed house.

In my garden the top three bee choices are Agastache, Nepeta, and Blue Lobelia.
- Bev Wagar

Early bloom
Mid-Season bloom
Late bloom
Winter aconite (Eranthis/Winter aconite Muscari /Grape hyacinth Scilla /Siberian squill Calendula
Poppies, esp. Somniforum Cosmos
Nigella * Centaura/cornflower Scabiosa/ Pincushion flower
Verbena Bonariensis
Giant / Drumstick Allium Digitalis/Foxglove Crocus
Doronicum / Leopard's Bane

Clover Veronica
Great Blue Lobelia* Echinacea/Coneflower Echinops/Globe Thistle * Garden Phlox Bergamot/Bee Balm Thyme
Allium Asclepias/milkweed

Fall Sedums
Aster Solidago/Goldenrod* Eupatorium/ Joe Pye
* extreme self-seeder or thug potential. Use with caution.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Our Suggested Comments for the Proposed Plan to Reduce Neonicotinoid Use in Ontario

In an earlier post, we shared some information about the Ontario's Government proposed plan to decrease the use of Neonicotinoids (NNI), a chemical insecticide suspected of being a major cause in the death of honey bee populations as well as our native pollinators.

The government is seeking feedback and comments on the proposed plan. For those of you not familiar with submitting comments on government proposals, the process is fairly easy.  The proposed plan is called, Pollinator Health: A Proposal for Enhancing Pollinator Health and Reducing the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Ontario. After reading the plan there is a simple online form (click here) that you can input your comments into (look for Submit Comment on the right side of the screen).

The government is looking for feedback, so your comments can include anything you find important in the proposal and the use of neonicotinoids in Ontario. We conducted research and consulted with experts to develop our key points that we will be using in our submission to the Ontario Government and that are pasted below.

Please note the deadline for comments is January 25, 2015.

Environment Hamilton strongly supports this plan to regulate the use of Neonicotinoids (NNI) in Ontario.  The Plan is a sensible and achievable first step, and we support its intent.

Like many Ontarians, we are deeply concerned over the increasing number of bee deaths and the overall decrease in numbers of our native pollinators.  We are heartened that one of the goals of this plan is to reduce the use of the NNI by 80% by 2017. 

We urge OMAFRA to continue this thoughtful and urgent discussion and consider regulating the use of NNI even further to include a multi-year ban.  In the meantime, we encourage the use of labeling plants and seeds that have been treated by NNI's at nurseries, tree farms, seed sellers, so that consumers are able to make informed decisions when purchasing plants. 


Thursday, January 1, 2015


Helping to make a pollinator paradise

Pollinators such as bees can thrive in urban environments, particularly when we incorporate their habitat needs into our gardens. This can be as simple as adding native wildflowers to the garden, or can involve creating pollinator habitats in city parks. Not using chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides is also important.

Pollinators need a variety of flowering plants throughout the spring, summer and fall, nesting sites and a water source.
Visit the Pollinator Plant page to learn more about native pollinator-friendly plants.
Bees and other pollinators cannot use a conventional bird bath. Instead, line a shallow pan with rocks or marbles and regularly add fresh water.

Many of Ontario's native bees are ground nesters and need un-mulched or bare patches of the garden. Leaving a pile of sticks in the back of the garden, not 'cleaning' the garden in the fall is beneficial for nesting and overwintering pollinators which depend on standing, dead stalks (ex. raspberry) to survive the winter.

Many species of bees will make use of nesting structures such as Bee Nest Boxes, described below.
What is a Bee Nest Box?

A Bee Nest Box is similar to a bird house, except for native species of bees, some of our key pollinators. We depend on pollinators for 1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat. They are critical for the reproduction of 75-90% of all flowering plants but their populations are rapidly declining from habitat loss, toxins, pesticides and disease.

Hamilton Naturalists' Club and Environment Hamilton are helping pollinators across Hamilton by planting native plants that flower from spring to fall, providing food and nesting habitat. We are also hosting workshops helping Hamiltonians to build bee nest boxes which will provide habitat for bees. Contact us for details about the next workshop!

Almost 1/3 of native bees nest in hollow stemmed plants. The female will build a "room" for an egg, complete with pollen and nectar. She seals off the "room" and then starts another one, continuing until the end of the stem. When the eggs hatch they will eat the pollen supply and then overwinter in their "room", emerging from the stem the next spring.

The bee nests provide habitat, but it is also important to have food nearby. Planting native plants that flower from spring to fall will provide food for the bees and other pollinators, and will also make an attractive and low maintenance garden.

By creating nesting habitat, and planting native wildflowers, Hamilton will be creating a paradise for pollinators!