How can our spring gardens support pollinators and other biodiversity? That’s the guiding question we invite you to ask yourselves. We have some great advice from some of our master gardeners. Read on.
Don’t get overly tidy. Mimic what you see in nature. Barb Mckean, Head of Education at RBG
Think like a forest. Perennials are plants that evolved growing in the remains of their old stems and leaves. Don’t get overly tidy. Otherwise, a lot of life gets thrown away into yard waste bags in early spring (including larvae and eggs of beneficial insects and pollinators, and microscopic invertebrates, bacteria and fungi that add life to the soil and break down leaves and stems and turn them into humus that feeds new growth). Pulling away last year’s leaves means your garden starts each year with nutrient deficiencies. Mimic what you see in nature to restore natural processes that feed the soil so it can feed your plants. Be patient as eventually all those old leaves and stems will break down.
Barb shares the following story from her own garden:
This spring, we had a Brown Thrasher drop by in early May, on migration back from the southern US. They aren’t really a city bird, but it was able to forage for invertebrates in the leaf litter in my garden for over 48 hours. If I had followed the old-school “rules” of gardening (‘clean up leaf litter in early spring because it harbours disease’), those critters would’ve been out at the curb in a bag a month ago and that bird would have had to have moved on. Instead it found shelter and food after its journey. I posted it on the local birder’s page and Lyn Hanna Folkes responded that I had stolen her Thrasher. We have the only two naturalized yards in our neighbourhood. The bird spent Friday in her yard, then popped over to mine for Saturday and Sunday. Smart bird!
Scott MacIvor makes me want to care for wild bees. I mean really care. In his April 9th lecture--entitled Wild-bee Diversity and Pollination Services: Are Cities a Refuge?--given at RBG for the Hamilton Naturalists' Club, Scott who is a bee expert and an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough in the Department of Biological Sciences, spoke about the specific needs of wild bees of our cities.
Scott's tender love of bees was contagious as he described the lives of these industrious little creatures apart from ours, doing their bee thing; their relationships--they have beautiful, complicated and unique relationships!--with their own special flowers.
The poetry of it all: how flowers have evolved nectar, scent and oil essence because they are trying to attract their favourite bees. Bees are positively charged while pollen is negatively charged. There's this technique used by some bees called "buzz pollination" or sonication, to release pollen which is firmly held by the anthers that is a fast, effective, interaction with the flower in point. And only bigger bees can open certain kinds of flowers.
"Bees and flowers communicate with each other," Scott said. Some bees, like the Carpenter bee, will vocalize to flight. "And for each flower, there is a different suite of bees, that is, flowers have a community of bees that they prefer."
"In the same way, different bees have different affinities for flowers, different interactions scaffolding one another. There's a mutualism in action." Think of that!
Most wild bees are solitary-- they live on their own. Female bees work to exhaustion, work to death, males mate and die. Yep. Sounds about right. What's more, each female is her own queen. I like that a lot. Some other interesting facts that Scott shared: Bees are more related to their sisters than to their offspring. Wild solitary bees are active only for a few weeks in the year, adults are very short-lived, one generation per year. "They have evolved to be active for their favourite flowers," Scott said. "They go find that beautiful dark cavity to build their rooms, all the males in the front, to die, all the females in the back because they are more important. Imagine a mason bee, waiting in a grass stem waiting, waiting for that one cue: warmth."
With his presentation, Scott invited us, we people of the Golden Horseshoe, to plan our spaces for solitary wild bees. His lecture was an invitation to consider how our designs, here in the city, might influence our decision making for supporting bee diversity.
This piece was recently posted in the Wood Duck April 2018
Toronto has a Pollinator Protection Strategy (PPS) in the works. I chatted with some of the people responsible for its creation to get a “behind the scenes look,” as well as thoughts on how we can do something similar in Hamilton.
Annemarie Baynton, Senior Environmental Planner at the City of Toronto is the lead on the initiative, and coordinates the various divisions responsible for implementation elements of the strategy.
Annemarie points to a long history in Toronto of municipal and non profit groups and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) working to protect pollinators and enhance habitat. “Our Parks division has been leading the way in habitat creation, enhancement and restoration for decades,” she says.
Another influence for the PPS was Bees of Toronto, one of the City’s free Biodiversity Booklet Series that came out and was very popular with the general public.
“So we wanted to bring this interest and the work already being done under a comprehensive structure,” Annemarie says.
That structure is the City of Toronto’s broader Biodiversity Strategy, (also in draft form)** and the PPS will be one of its components.
In developing the PPS, an advisory group was set up in 2016 of scientists and researchers, students and other academics, pollinator and native plant experts, and community based groups to provide guidance to the City on pollination protection and the development of proposed actions.
Annemarie says that the Pollinator Health Action Plan “was helpful and a good starting point, with one of its major goals being to restore, enhance and protect one million acres of pollinator habitat in Ontario.”
Together with the expert panel and sub groups, they came up with recommendations and actions, and then took the draft to the community for feedback.
Over 7000 people provided feedback to the draft. It will be going to Council later this year.
April 9th @Royal Botanical Gardens 7.30 pm to 9.30 pm.
You do not want to miss this talk with Scott MacIvor! Not only is Scott a treat to listen to, with his winning way of delivering a presentation, but he is a renowned native bee specialist, working all over the world.
Hosted by the Hamilton Naturalists' Club, in this talk, Scott MaIvor will provide an overview of the bees of Hamilton and Southern Ontario. He will examine the primary drivers of bee diversity and pollination services in cities based on the most research scientific literature from around the world, and question whether or not cities could be a refuge for these essential pollinator species. This region supports hundreds of native bee species and the talk will conclude with some key criteria for home and community gardeners interested in supporting and enhancing their populations.
Free. All welcome. Meet & greet at 7pm.
More about Scott
Scott MacIvor is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough. He is interested in plants and pollinators in cities and more broadly, the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning of green infrastructure, including public and private gardens, parks, and green roofs. Scott is also a researcher at the green roof innovation testing (GRIT) lab at the University of Toronto in the faculty of Landscape Architecture, and has worked with the city of Toronto Planning Division on a number of projects including the 'Bees of Toronto' and the 'Guidelines for Biodiverse Green Roofs'.
Read a blog post about a presentation gave for the Pollinator Paradise Project in November, 2016.
"Keeping ‘corridors of connection’ is better for bees and better for seeds," Dr. Clement Kent of York University.
The Pollination Guelph Symposium 2018 rocked Team Pollinator Paradise Project to the core. Nurturing Pollinators from the Soil to the Tree-tops was the theme of this year's Symposium and they meant it.
We heard from many speakers, including Pollination Guelph's Victoria MacPhail who provided project updates, and York University's Dr. Clement Kent, whose presentation was called Using Genetics to help Bees, and Bees to help Ecosystem Genetics. Clement said that plant genetic diversity is more important than bee diversity. Point is, we want to avoid inbreeding amongst bee species. With habitat, the more seed set, the better chances for cross pollination.
Clement told us about his redbud tree that was flowering, but had no seeds. Turns out that his tree was the only redbud in the neighbourhood, so it wasn't until more redbuds came to the neighbourhood that the tree finally seeded. The lesson is that we need to up the density of plants, while also protecting pollinators. We need to keep up the genetic diversity of pollinators. Read on for some more coverage of the day!
The Silvercreek Park Hydro Corridor Project
"Diversity is Stability." Moritz Sanio, Trees for Guelph.
Making lemonade or What happened after the buckthorn was Gone: The Silvercreek Park Hydro Corridor Project was a joint presentation by Moritz Sanio (Trees for Guelph) and Lisa Mactaggart, OLA Arium Design Group.
So what happened when Hydro One cut the forest along the 4 acres, Silvercreek Park hydro corridor? The neighbours were upset. What they didn't know was the this "forest" was composed of mostly invasive buckthorn. Once they were educated on how undesirable buckthorn is, they recognized an opportunity to create biodiversity by planting native plant habitat! In the process, the neighbours strengthened their community cohesion and engagement, while gaining a meadow.
We learned from Moritz that planting in the spring is a European model that is not the useful for introducing a meadow. We need to follow the model that nature provides. In putting seed into the landscape, 6 to 7 inches apart is ideal. Put seeds down in the winter or late fall if you want the seeds to germinate in the winter, so that they can stratify. That is, stratification breaks seeds' dormancy and they come up on their own accord, "so be patient," Moritz advised. Snow is handy because you can actually see the seed! Be careful not to step on the tiny seedlings.
Planting day for the project was May, 2016 and you can read all about it, as well as the plants that were used, in the Milkweed Journal
In brief, the mix, they used contained the usual suspects--the asters, goldenrods and brown-eyed Susans. Then came the Big Bluestem, New Jersey tea, and plants such as Canada anemone and Wild Bergamon, which is great in the city. Indiangrass was also used. Moritz shared that Canadian Wild Rye, planted first, will secure the site for other wild flowers and the relinquish it to these other flowers.
"The native species bring in the pollinators. It begins with the insects, then other creatures will follow, the frogs, garter-snakes, and so on," Moritz said.
Now, there is an entire neighbourhood of folks whose backyards face the corridor that work together to keep the site maintained--watering it, and weeding. Hydro One continues to maintain it as a compliant site and the City of Guelph does the mowing.
How many of us have heard about the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity? Back in 2010, at a meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, governments agreed to a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
The goal of Decade on Biodiversity is to support the implementation of the Plan and to promote its overall vision of living in harmony with nature. The actual Plan is aimed at implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)--which has three objectives: The conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity, the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
The point is, biodiversity (the variety of life on earth and its interdependence) matters. Deeply. Desperately. Urgently. Biodiversity is literally life, it is the health of the planet.
Diversity makes living things adaptable--and we need all the adaptability we can get, with climate changes, fragmented ecosystems, habitat loss and destruction, diseases, and a host of other ills. But biodiversity is declining globally at an alarming rate. With loss of biodiversity comes loss of genetic diversity, which means fewer kinds in a group that can handle the changes and still thrive--so we are basically diminishing chances at adaptability.
As biodiversity disappears, we are actively weakening our resiliency (not to forget our food security).
What to do?
Safeguarding Space for Nature and securing our future: developing a post-2020 strategy is a symposium (sponsored by the Zoological Society of London and other groups) that is taking place on February 27th-28th in London where international scientists,conservationists, policymakers, community leaders, business people, students and so on, are coming together to discuss what happens beyond the CBD’s targets of protecting at least 17% of land and freshwater and 10% of our oceans by 2020.
Over the next few years, governments will be reviewing the current Strategic Plan and considering a new strategy to meet the vision of conserving biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem services and a healthy planet for all by 2050, as part of the wider 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Because wildlife populations are declining so rapidly, there are proposals from groups like Nature Needs Half to make 50% of the planet a nature reserve.
Some scientists are suggesting integrated patterns of wildlife areas and linkages so that wildlife can move throughout these and preserve genetic diversity between populations.
Since world population will continue to grow, and since most of us will continue to live in cities, greening our urban areas, making them more friendly to nature is something that we can all do (more below). But scientists are asking us to look at the peripheries of our cities, where there are opportunities to enhance biodiversity. There are especially cities that are hotspots of biodiversity and need even more focus. From the Atlas of the End of the World, “It is important to note here that although our mapping….is based on particular endangered species, 'biodiversity' does not only mean individual animals and plants; it means the complex web of life which creates a healthy and resilient ecosystem, without which, no city can survive. Cities are generally preoccupied with their commercial and cultural centers whereas----they now need to look to their peripheries, for it is there that nature and culture are at loggerheads and it is there that the long-term environmental health of a city will be largely determined.”
So how do we create and support more biodiversity at home, in our neighbourhoods, cities, provinces and country? First off, educate ourselves. Who is doing what?
Canada has a biodiversity strategy!
Canada has set Biodiversity Goals and Targets for 2020. Our national goals and targets support the global Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 adopted by Canada and other Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010.
The primary responsibility for conserving biodiversity and ensuring the sustainable use of biological resources is shared among provincial, territorial and federal governments. The Strategy recognizes that governments cannot act alone to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of biological resources and therefore, invites and encourages all Canadians to take action in support of the Strategy. Visit biodivcanada.ca to find out more.
The best medicine for the winter blues is getting outside as well as planning for the spring! Check out our list of events below to brighten your day.Events are in partnership with Trees Please Hamilton, another joint program of Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Naturalists' Club.
Rain Gardens & Other Green Infrastructure: Approaches to Manage Storm Water in Hamilton*
Tue March 27, 2018 | 7pm-9pm
429 Main St E | Perkins Centre | Free
How to Build a Rain Garden 101*
Tue April 10th, 2018 | 7pm-9pm
1429 Main St E | Perkins Centre | Free
Everything You Need to Know About Gardening with Native Plants*
Tue April 17th, 2018 | 7pm-9pm
1429 Main St E | Perkins Centre | Free
Native Plant Sale at the Royal Botanical Gardens
Sat April 21st, 2018 | 9am
Identifying Invasive Plants and What You Can Do*
Tue May 29th, 2018 | 7pm-9pm
1429 Main St E | Perkins Centre | Free