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."