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.