Shopping Cart
Your Cart is Empty
Quantity:
Subtotal
Taxes
Shipping
Total
There was an error with PayPalClick here to try again
CelebrateThank you for your business!You should be receiving an order confirmation from Paypal shortly.Exit Shopping Cart

K.A. BEATTIE HORTICULTURAL CONSULTANTS

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous" Aristotle

Blog

Blog

Doc Smarty Plants' Blog

view:  full / summary

Papua New Guinea

Posted on March 19, 2017 at 11:35 PM Comments comments (24287)

This amazing island paradise, once connected to Terra Australis by a land bridge, is rife with contrasts. Papua New Guinea or PNG is the eastern portion of the island of new Guinea with the western region simply known as Western Papua is part of Indonesia. Millions of years ago, when the seas and oceans were more shallow, a natural connection between this island and Northern Australia existed at the Torres Strait. Indigenous peoples migrated southward perhaps blending traditions, customs and the gene pool with existing Aborigine peoples, or maybe these were the first inhabitants. As ancient as time itself, PNG is still relatively untouched, at least in the outer villages and in the highlands.

 

One of our excursions transported us, as if time, to an actual village as well as to a cultural village designed for tourists or “dim dim” as we are referred to. The functional village was beyond fascinating! We were greeted by the local dignitary who explained what we were about to experience in his village. The large, grassy field where we arrived was lined with a great many villages, young and old, all out to see the herd of dim dim. I think that we were as much a spectacle of amusement as anything with our cell phones, cameras, pale skin and profuse “glow” of perspiration.

 

The sound of a conch shell announced the beginning of a very curious spectacle. Several warriors emerged dressed in leaves, grass skirts, feathers and bone amulets all hanging on to a large woven net. Suddenly, a creature emerged from a pile of leaves to much shouting and squealing. This character was festooned with adornments and was representative of a wild boar, the hunters catch of the day. The males of PNG do the hunting and fishing and the women do everything else, at least traditionally. The boar round up finished with the poor beast ceremonially speared and the rest is left to your imagination.

Scattered throughout his large open area were dancers and tribes-people from surrounding islands and visiting villages. Each performed traditional dances and made their own music which completed this spectacular “cultural fair”. The village women had prepared a snack of local fruit all beautifully displayed under the shade of an enormous Polynesian chestnut tree, truly a beautiful setting. Young boys demonstrated their prowess of paddling their canoes to the barked instructions of a male village elder. I just couldn’t get enough, alas the buses needed to be loaded and the experience was about to end. What a send off, the entire dance troupes and many villages walked and danced the entire entourage of “dim dim” to the waiting buses.

As experienced travellers we don’t expect things to be the least like it is at home, afterall this is why we travel, is it not? PNG offers somewhat rudimentary facilities, if any at all, in the outer villages. My wife described one delightful latrine boasting tiles, colourful surroundings and a wash basin with soap outside. Don’t expect any of the luxuries of home when travelling on excursions outside of Port Moresby. Take caution of course if you are tramping through the jungles as I did, insect repellant should be worn and very sturdy footware. Higher elevations will often have rain, even in the drier season, so mud is the norm. My excursion returned back to the MS Sirena looking like we had mud wrestled and lost. Jokingly we did muse at the protocols of boarding the ship looking like little piggies. All in all an adventure not to be missed and certainly not for the faint of heart as the roads into the mountains rival that of the Amalfi coast only with many potholes, bumps and a varied assortment of road conditions. Port Moresby was our port for the jungle trek and the previous day from Alotau, where we travelled to the local village.

Plan to visit in the near future as recently discovered oil and gas reserves are bound to influence the economic and social fabric of this beautiful land; a land of many smiles.

 

Remnants of Gondwana

Posted on January 16, 2017 at 7:05 PM Comments comments (7540)

Remnants of Gondwana

Australia, the amazing southern continent has much more to offer than Kangaroos, Koalas and Uluru. Australia’s land surface was once a part of a much larger for most of its history. First Pangea, when all continents were amalgamated into one supercontinent, followed by the great southern continent Gondwana. The island continent didn’t occur until its separation about 45 million years ago. This massive movement over an extreme timeline birthed Terra Australis with its ever-changing populations of animals, plants and peoples. The Australian relic rainforests offer a unique glimpse at what this portion of earth was like millions of years ago, before human kind was here.

Portions of Tasmania along with scattered pockets of relic rainforest still exist along the eastern regions of Queensland. These remnants exist where 600-800 mm of rainfall occur as well as ideal weather conditions. These veritable museums of ancient plants are not to be missed if you enjoy history and of course, plants. Much of the continent was clothed in such greenery during the Early Tertiary period (65 - 2 million years ago). These precious relics are “Closed Forests” as they are functioning only as closed ecosystems for good reason, as human intervention overtime along with climate changes, have diminished their scope. In north Queensland, the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics includes Kuranda Rainforest and the Daintree - the oldest tropical rainforest on earth. Ports that allow for access are Cairns, Port Douglas, and Cooktown. If you’re truly fortunate, your guide may point out the oldest living vascular plant on earth!

Australia is a veritable “Ark” transporting its Gondwanan heritage into the future. Animals, specifically marsupials, existed here over 100 million years ago. Today you will see their ancestors as Wallaby, Kangaroo, Bandicoots and Platypus (if you are very fortunate). Reptiles of all manner existed in abundance on the ancient continent and today you will see them as giant monitors and the fierce yet notable Komodo Dragon of the Indonesian Archipelago, considered a severed section of Australia.

Open eyes and a curious sense of adventure are mandatory for any visit to Australia as it is an amazing and mysterious continent indeed. Some of our ports of call included Darwin in the northern territory, Cairns, Cooktown, Townsville, Brisbane and Sydney. Ship arranged shore excursion were very thorough with a wide scope indeed. There is little doubt that you will not see all that you would like to, but for the regions that you do select, keep a keen eye open for the remnants of an ancient time. Our well-informed guides were quite open to discussion and in general, very proud of the remarkable conservation efforts that are currently in place for these endangered relics of an ancient epoch.

Remnants of Gondwana

Posted on January 16, 2017 at 7:05 PM Comments comments (3431)

Remnants of Gondwana

Australia, the amazing southern continent has much more to offer than Kangaroos, Koalas and Uluru. Australia’s land surface was once a part of a much larger for most of its history. First Pangea, when all continents were amalgamated into one supercontinent, followed by the great southern continent Gondwana. The island continent didn’t occur until its separation about 45 million years ago. This massive movement over an extreme timeline birthed Terra Australis with its ever-changing populations of animals, plants and peoples. The Australian relic rainforests offer a unique glimpse at what this portion of earth was like millions of years ago, before human kind was here.

Portions of Tasmania along with scattered pockets of relic rainforest still exist along the eastern regions of Queensland. These remnants exist where 600-800 mm of rainfall occur as well as ideal weather conditions. These veritable museums of ancient plants are not to be missed if you enjoy history and of course, plants. Much of the continent was clothed in such greenery during the Early Tertiary period (65 - 2 million years ago). These precious relics are “Closed Forests” as they are functioning only as closed ecosystems for good reason, as human intervention overtime along with climate changes, have diminished their scope. In north Queensland, the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics includes Kuranda Rainforest and the Daintree - the oldest tropical rainforest on earth. Ports that allow for access are Cairns, Port Douglas, and Cooktown. If you’re truly fortunate, your guide may point out the oldest living vascular plant on earth!

Australia is a veritable “Ark” transporting its Gondwanan heritage into the future. Animals, specifically marsupials, existed here over 100 million years ago. Today you will see their ancestors as Wallaby, Kangaroo, Bandicoots and Platypus (if you are very fortunate). Reptiles of all manner existed in abundance on the ancient continent and today you will see them as giant monitors and the fierce yet notable Komodo Dragon of the Indonesian Archipelago, considered a severed section of Australia.

Open eyes and a curious sense of adventure are mandatory for any visit to Australia as it is an amazing and mysterious continent indeed. Some of our ports of call included Darwin in the northern territory, Cairns, Cooktown, Townsville, Brisbane and Sydney. Ship arranged shore excursion were very thorough with a wide scope indeed. There is little doubt that you will not see all that you would like to, but for the regions that you do select, keep a keen eye open for the remnants of an ancient time. Our well-informed guides were quite open to discussion and in general, very proud of the remarkable conservation efforts that are currently in place for these endangered relics of an ancient epoch.

Far East Fantasy

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (5016)

Shanghai to Sydney aboard Oceania’s MS Insignia is a spectacular itinerary. Having spent only a couple of weeks aboard from Shanghai to Jeju and Incheon Korea, Tianjin and Beijing China to Kobe, Okinawa and Naha Japan, the first few days have been wonderful. Cherry blossom season held on just long enough for us to enjoy the fluffy pink clouds and rosy carpets at our feet. As ancient as many parts of this region are the cities are remarkably modern and sophisticated. Shanghai towers with beautiful new architectural wonders as well as punctuated with colonial and regional designs. The rapid magnetic levitating train is a highlight as it can whisk you away at speeds remarkable by any standard. Our stay straddled a weekend and public holiday so locals were out and about in the many greenspaces in the city.

The island of Jeju Korea sparkled and danced in the sea as we approached, a truly magical place. Many Koreans come to Jeju for vacations and to celebrate special events so it has a festive mood. Abrupt volcanic mountains rise from the sea sporting verdant foliage as if a fancy haircut and deep caves coaxed the very bravest of sous to enter. This limestone and volcanic island supports a very prosperous tangerine and citrus industry with tourism most likely running a close second for GNP. Women divers plunge into the depth retrieving sea urchins among other delicacies and proceed to scoop out the centres as their reward for spending 2-3 minutes holding their breath underwater. Lava tunnels and volcanic craters invite the more adventuresome of the guests but most excursions are very doable. Enjoying the super weather in Jeju and for that matter anywhere makes all the difference on any tour.

Tianjin and Beijing China held an entirely different array of interesting places for us to explore. The great wall, or a piece of it at least was extra special for me. Hangyaguan, or the yellow wall is of the oldest remaining piece of the Great Wall of China. Had I actually climbed to the visible summit of this behemoth structure, I could have gazed on Mongolia. Alas I made it to the second watch tower realizing that the climb down might well be as challenging as the climb up.

The coach ride to and from the pier offered an excellent glimpse into the everyday lives of the residents of this region. The inordinate number of trees and shrub planted everywhere was truly remarkable and indeed nice to see. Apparently this mass planting exercise is an attempt to mitigate the industrial pollution that is prevalent in the area. We were very lucky as the constant light breeze afforded us decent quality. I had expected to witness massive traffic clogging the freeways and thousands of people everywhere, not so… as a matter of fact the complete opposite.

Incheon and Seoul Korea offered something for everyone. Culture abounds in Korea as well as local markets bulging with fish and sea creatures of unknown origin or species. For the history buffs, the Korean War memorials and museums are exceptionally well done.

Japan from Hiroshima to Kyoto and Naha to Okinawa was so wonderful and chocked full of paradoxes. Beautiful architecture from Dynasties past to ultra-modern buildings shinning with metals and glass piercing the still blue and cloudless skies. The island of Mirajima Guchi was a special delight indeed. The iconic Tori Gate stood proudly in the bay at low tide as if welcoming us to this spiritual place. The Shinto temple afforded us a glimpse at this ancient religion or belief system complete with wafting incense, candles and many Shinto priests offering blessings. A resident herd of deer inhabit this island and are remarkably tame; watch your handbags and papers!

Traditional villages, cultural displays, music dance and of course food only enhance the wonderful excursions ashore in Japan. Learning how to bow properly, rehearsing the odd word in Japanese and of course appreciating raw fish and various seaweeds all go towards a very special time and place along our wonderful journey. Definitely not to be missed this region of the world is truly a treasure chest of history art, culture and philosophy; you may return a different person after seeing and feeling this remarkable region of the world.

 

 

Birthplace of The Clouds

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (4753)

The Amazon Basin, or Amazonas, is often referred to as “the lungs of the planet.” I prefer “the birthplace of the clouds.” Huge pillars of candy floss-like vapor rise continuously over the murky waters of the Amazon. Early morning light paints the outer edges of long, island- like shaped clouds as if they were just dipped in gold. As the constant, almost oppressive, sun heightens in the sky, shapes, densities and colors change yet again. Clearly this must be the birthplace of all clouds. This evening, as I enjoy the endless ballet of color and the relentless sun decides to set, another show takes main stage. Soft, evening light drools over the edges of huge banks of clouds, highlighting in sharp contrast the horizon, the sea, and of course, the main body of clouds.

This orchestration of color and texture takes place daily as we sail the mighty Amazon River aboard Regatta. It is the end of the rainy or wettest season; therefore, the river can be navigated by this smaller ship. The Amazon Basin is as large as the continental U.S., boasting more than 4,000 miles of navigable waters and thousands of tributaries. The Tapajos River is the fourth largest in the world and is only one of such tributaries. Spending several days “at sea,” as it were, on these massive rivers, is delightful. The water color changes from clear to café au lait and abounds with interesting creatures.

The shoreline, often just a faint line in the distance, is predominantly submerged trees with only the very tops of these massive specimens peeking out until the dry season. Flooded homes and a battalion of boats of many shapes and descriptions dot this curious landscape. Tramping through the thick rainforest delighting at the huge selection of plants and insects may seem a tad too adventuresome for some with all the scary things that lurk in these parts. However, remember that once aboard Regatta, you are pampered like royalty and will get to sleep in your stateroom, not a tent in the jungle — not exactly the intrepid explorer!

The entire voyage was 21 days, starting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and ending in Miami, Florida. Evidence of the upcoming World Cup was evident in construction and a general fervor of anticipation in Rio, Salvador, Fortaleza and the inland city of Manaus. Contrasts were everywhere, from architecture representing both old and new world, to subsistence agriculture, to full scale devastation of the rainforest to grow soya beans.

The plants of the many regions on this expedition were the absolute highlight for me. Enormous trees festooned with entire ecosystems on their branches, insect homes and buttressed roots the size of a compact car. Curious sounds in the forest kept everyone alert and watchful, but as it turns out, the wildlife are very cunning and excellent at camouflage — with the exception of the ants. The largest biomass in this rainforest is ants, and it is not that hard to believe when you see them. One species is used by local indigenous peoples as insect repellant. The smallest ants ever basically “rain” out of a disturbed nest to be squashed and applied to the skin. Thankfully, these ants don’t bite like so many of their cousins.

Brazil nut trees reign as the tallest trees, holding their lofty canopy well above 30 meters. These trees are protected by law, so are often seen standing in the middle of a newly created field which is sown to the pervasive soya bean. As regal and statuesque as they are, they appear to be sad to be the only species left after modern day agricultural devastation.

The rubber trees, which played a huge role in Brazil’s economic development, are still evident, easily recognizable from the wounds inflicted from endless tapping for their precious latex. Noble and sturdy, these “workhorses of the forest” play a crucial role in the ecosystem, particularly as a food source for certain fish. As the seed pods mature and fall into the river they make a sound that attracts a huge fish. This fish has teeth that resemble the molars of a sheep and massive jaw muscles. Once the buoyant seed pod is in the water, the fish snaps its jaws around the pod, cracking it open and creating an almost gunshot sound.

As we sail out of this enormous river towards the Caribbean, even more sunsets and luscious forests await — many rich in myth, folklore and swashbuckling.


 

Start Your Engines

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (7108)

The garden’s neo-natal wards will be popping up all across this country over the next several weeks. Like so many other anxious gardeners, I too am disinfecting, mounting lights to rival I am sure even the most sophisticated “gro-op” and sorting through a rather sizeable container of “got-to-have” seed packs. There really is something inherently common for all gardeners and that is the absolute need to get a head start on things and get our private stash of special plants germinated. Germination and the maintenance thereafter can pose some difficulty for first timers; there are a few tricks of the trade that are well to be observed.

Cleanliness can’t be emphasized enough as lack of sterile or extremely clean conditions has been the cause of many a lost crop. I prefer to use brand new containers that I further wipe down with a germicidal moist wipe that would be used in the home just to ensure a sterile area. If you are re-using seeding containers soak and scrub them in warm, soapy water, rinse with clear water and then dip in a 1:10 solution of household bleach and water or use a moist anti-bacterial wipe for the final touch. The seeding mix itself will be sterile so there is no need to re-cook it. Many older garden references, including a couple of my books, suggest a method of home sterilizing media; I would not attempt this now as seedling mixes are common and easy to find. Take care to select a “seeding mix” as they are quite different from standard potting mixes. Typically they are light, fine textured, almost dust-like and especially formulated for the rigours of the neo-natal plant ward. A very good piece of equipment is a sieve either home made from screening, a culinary variety or one that is designed for the plant lover.

One of the most useful tricks is the method of watering the seeding bed. Before that however, we need to get the germination bed ready. I like to use a pan, which is a plastic container that is squat with a wide mouth, often referred to as a bulb pan. The seeding mix is poured in and tamped down so as to ensure that there are no air pockets. You can use another clean pan to press the media down, this provides a smooth seeding surface. The reason that smooth is important is so that finer seeds can be seen which helps to avoid over-sowing and crowding. Open the seed packet and fold a crease in one end, forming a sort of spout. Aiming your seed packet lightly tap your holding hand, this graduates the seed flow. ALWAYS under sow, never clump and try to fill the container, this will cause no end of problems later on. Now, the cool watering part. Fill a shallow baking pan with warm water and set the seeding pan in slowly. The seedling pan’s dry media will slowly take up the warm water and moisten the entire container without disturbing the newly sown seed. Once convinced that the media is moist, remove from the watering pan and sift a very little bit of dry seeding media over the seeding pan to cover the seeds. The dry media will absorb the perfect amount of moisture from the pan without further work. Most seeds should be covered.

Covering the seeding pan with plastic wrap or a glass sheet is wise, this will keep the humidity at the appropriate level. Warm conditions are best, so if there is room atop an appliance like the refrigerator, set your new seeding pans there until germination occurs. Once the seedlings appear, it’s wise to remove the plastic wrap gradually and move the pan into indirect light. Germinating seeds do not require light until they have emerged. One of the most common errors post germination is stretching because of lower light conditions. If you are planning to place your crop under artificial light, the tubes should only be a few inches from the tops of the plants, and adjustable also.

Fungal problems are common this early in the seedling’s life, so apply a light dusting of cinnamon or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as a preventative and increase the air circulation around your tender crop. Naturally increased air flow translates to drier media, so watch the watering. I strongly suggest bottom watering as suggested for the first saturation.

Good luck and welcome to almost spring!

 

Edible Landscapes

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (6881)

“You can’t do that…vegetables belong in the vegetable garden not the front yard!” I quote this statement paraphrased for editorial reasons as I have heard it a few times relating to various personal landscapes. Traditionally the vegetable growing component of the garden was relegated to a larger plot, typically in the rear of the home and usually maintained in neat, almost militaristic, precision rows. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, however, many urban lots are not large enough or perhaps not configured in a way that this approach is reasonable. Societal pressure also plays a role in what is considered acceptable as an urban landscape. I find this interesting to say the least. Let’s consider the genesis of vegetable gardening in Canada. Initially food was grown as a necessity and with many urban dwellers coming from rural backgrounds, it was a no brainer, everyone in town had a veggie plot of potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage and so on. Many new Canadians from various European heritages brought their intrinsic abilities and in some cases, seeds of their favourite crops. During the war years, of course many households were maintained by the women, responsible for raising the family, growing and harvesting the food under very difficult circumstances. Once peace came into being and the men returned home, they noticed a few flowers dotting the predominant vegetable plots basically planted to brighten up the otherwise gloomy scenario of wartime, rationing and hard times. Gradually more and more colourful plants entered into the urban landscape and as times improved, vegetable gardens for the most part shrunk, in size. Societal trends starting shifting as well, with an improving economy and a baby boom in full swing, the days of laboring in large vegetable plots were a distant memory for many; grocery stores were now carrying produce. One could go shopping and purchase peas, carrot, potatoes and most of the otherwise locally grown commodities. During those times I have heard it said, in paraphrase “we don’t have to grow our own vegetables, we can now afford to go to the market and buy them, and only the poor grow their own.” Sad but a reality indeed but thankfully the pendulum has swung completely back and today in the 21st century it’s quite respectable if not “cool” to grow your own food.

Growing incredible edibles within your landscape is not only fun, curious to most, but easy as anything to accomplish. Naturally not every veggie is well suited to be on display as it were, but there many that even the newest green thumb can rely on. Starting with a few basics is always wise. The entire lettuce family requires compost rich, well-watered soil and decent light conditions, definitely not shade. Cruise the produce aisle of the supermarket and take note of the various leaf shapes and colours that are available. I prefer to grow lettuce with Heuchera or Tiarella, both very popular perennials these days. The brilliant foliage lasts well into the season and up to frost. Lettuce varieties require similar growing conditions and can be harvested throughout the season without leaving a gaping hole in the landscape. Similarly, the much larger flowering kale and cabbage have been so popular over the past years. Cabbage kin are the same shape and there are variations in colour as well, so consider them for containers and as punctuation points in the landscape. Carrots, with their feathery foliage, are delightful grown in amongst perennials with coarser foliage and in full sun, Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla) for example. The trick is not to sown to thickly and of course thin so as to allow only a few carrots to develop. For extra fun and interest with younger gardeners plant Paris round or purple carrots, they always receive rave reviews from junior gardeners and foodies.

Climbers of the veggie persuasion are also very useful in the landscape. As an example, take any of the pea varieties, they work beautifully as wind and sun protectors for more tender plants, particularly on a balcony. Should you chose to containerize pea plants, ensure that the media is rich in compost and if you prefer to use fertilizers, apply regularly with ample water. The crop of peas will be practically all season; the foliage and flowers add a new dimension to any garden and kids simply love them. Scarlet runner beans are really not all that edible but they too add a dimension to the balcony garden.

The entire notion here is to simply try placing edibles among your existing “landscape”. Judge for yourselves and use your own artistic abilities to grow an edible landscape, or at least a portion of the yard to munch on.

 

Fall, The Final Chapter

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (7477)

Rather a sad time of the season for many gardeners, then again, rather joyous for others. The bright colours and interesting textures that you have worked so hard on to perfect, the exact placement of that wonderful new perennial and those sultry summer days sniffing the fruits of your labours all ends now. Myself, I tend to support the joyous constituency; the work is (almost) completed, the garden is somewhat put to bed for the next several months of winter and I actually may have some time to plan next year’s adventures. No matter how you approach the gardens’ final curtain call, there are a few important tasks that should be considered, not the least what the overall condition of your estate should be left in. So often I see frenetic garden types snipping, cultivating, ripping and tearing their gardens down to their very roots in order to leave a “tidy” appearance. In my opinion that is the worst thing that a gardener can do! Indeed there are some scruffy perennials that might enjoy a haircut for winter along with some of the overzealous plants that performed better than expected. In general, just leave everything to Mother Nature, she has been at this much longer than you, and does an excellent job. Consider raking the leaves from your yard or mulching them if you have a lawnmower that does such things, and spread the remains all over your perennial gardens. The organic material of course will be sodden as a result of the autumnal rains and then packed down with snow for the entire winter. These are both very positive conditions for not only the plants but the tiny creatures who call your garden home. These wee souls that have worked so diligently all summer long in our gardens and their habitat, helping to make it the best home for themselves and resulting in a very favorable construct for us. The very least that we could do is to provide them with shelter and food for the winter. This simple act of apparent lethargy will house a tremendous population of ladybugs in particular. Ladybugs are extremely beneficial insects in a Canadian garden for the simple facts relating to their diet, aphids. The aphid, as you are most likely aware, have the seeming ability to reproduce almost in front of your eyes; in truth it takes about 14 days from egg to pregnant female. These insects are voracious feeders, sucking the very liquid life from plants in short order. Their massive numbers also produce a considerable amount of waste, referred to delicately as “honey dew”. This sticky, residual waste provides the perfect conditions for many molds and fungi, typically a sooty black powder. Perhaps you park a vehicle under a tree during the summer months and wonder why the windshield is relentlessly spotted with sticky “goo”…thank the aphids above in the overhanging tree. The solution is very simple, provide a home for ladybugs and they will do the cleanup. One ladybug can consume hundreds of aphids in one sitting and as well, the larval stage or teenager, consumes even more, just like human teenagers do.

Consider cleaning up your gardens in the spring when things are coming back to life and the weather is warming. Face it, you are going to be out there anyway, picking, prodding and observing on a regular basis just to see what survived and is poking its nose through. Clean then, compost the already partially decayed material and observe the ladybugs skittering away to find a new spring season home among the new leaves and emerging plants.

Some literature would suggest that pruning is a good task for the late autumn and early winter. To be clear, it is always better to prune when the plants are dormant or inactive. Winter pruning of fruit trees usually happens in late winter and always before the buds break. Pruning too early in the fall can be dangerous in the event that an open fall warms the soil and plants start to be active, pushing out new growth. Naturally this growth will not have time to mature and “harden off” before the onslaught of winter. The result is that this new growth succumbs to winter kill.

Wrapping evergreen shrubs such as Thuja (Cedar) is a common practice in colder regions of the country. Remember this is not a winter coat, but a sunblock. Water these shrubs heavily in the late fall so as to have the soil freeze with lots of moisture for the first thaws in the spring.

Good night gardens, sleep well, I’ll set the alarm for early spring and we can start all over again.

 

 

Pollinator Paradise

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (1870)

There is a lot of buzz around pollinators lately, and with good cause. Populations of many common Canadian pollinators are shrinking at remarkable rates for a number of reasons. As with many global tragedies, the issues seem overwhelming, the predictions austere and for many, I assume a sense of hopelessness prevails. What can be done by the individual Canadian, what possible difference can one household make? The truth of the matter is that each of us with very little effort and expense can make a world of difference, it’s just knowing how.

Developing and maintaining a garden should not be overwhelming, as a matter of fact it should be an exercise in outdoor movement, observation, diligence and of course patience. The first step is to get past the fear or reticence of actually making the garden. You don’t have to have the most expensive, trendiest bits and pieces to have a successful project. Designer this, that, these and those abound with some working others not so. The point is to use clean containers, a prepared media (bagged soiless mix) and good plants or seed stock. Land is not crucial, just a corner of the balcony or patio is sufficient, this is perhaps the biggest mental barrier. Just consider if everyone in your region planted simply one pollinator friendly plant on their balcony, the results would be amazing. Butterflies, hummingbirds and a great many less distinguishable species would have food and shelter even on the 20th floor. One must keep in mind when selecting a location, that a more protected area is far more desirable than a windswept stretch or corner in the blazing hot sun. The recipe for success includes heaping doses of common sense!

A consideration that is often overlooked when focusing on developing a space for pollinators, is that the garden needs to supply benefits for three seasons. Remembering our elementary school science we can likely connect the dots that honey bees collect nectar from flowers and in doing so their fuzzy bodies get covered with pollen. This pollen is then transferred to other flowers and presto cross pollination. Honey bees also mix some of this pollen with the sweet nectar from the flower to form “bee bread” a protein rich substance that they feed to the larvae. Understanding that not everyone would welcome honey bees to their home, garden or balcony, bees are just one excellent example of Canadian pollinators. One in every three bites of food that we eat in Canada is as a result of some sort of pollination.

Butterflies are typically a more acceptable family of pollinators than bees and as well they add great beauty to any garden. The Monarch butterfly has been in the news for some time now as a species that is in peril, with populations reaching very dangerous levels. These migrating butterflies require specific food plants for their larval stage but are not as precise for adult food. Various species of milkweed (Asclepias spp) are the favoured larvae food and as such with this plant labelled as a noxious weed for many years, the Monarch’s habitat has been reduced significantly over time. Only now are regions of Canada allowing this plant to be grown with many conservation charities providing seed and instruction to increase the monarch’s food source. There are many other butterflies and moths that you can attract to your garden such as the Swallowtails, the Admirals, Hairstreaks and of course moths abound as well.

Rather than go on with a step by step process for developing your pollinator garden, I will offer some excellent plant suggestions to entice a variety of butterflies to your garden or balcony space. This selection of plants offers colour for the entire season, nectar as well as pollen. Keep in mind that perennial plants that are grown in containers will most likely require over wintering indoors with the exception of Canada’s mildest climates. Ensure that there is a water source for the butterflies to drink from. A simple clay saucer with few pebbles scattered in will be sufficient. Fresh water daily is important. The Home Depot stores across Canada will be carrying a selection of perennial plants for pollinators suitable for every region accordingly. The Canadian Wildlife Federation endorses these kits with a portion of the proceeds going to the Federation for conservation education programming.

Milkweed

Echinacea

Rough Stemmed Goldenrod

Evening Primrose

Rough Avens

Coreopsis

Autumn Joy Stonecrop

Prairie Blazing Star

Obedient plant

New England Aster

 

The final words are to create, observe and maintain this space with a young person. There is nothing quite like the wonderment and excitement of a child experiencing nature.

 

A Family Affair

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (1883)

There is a great deal more to growing plants and gardening than the obvious soil, pots, water and petunias. It’s a family affair, or certainly could be. Introducing and engaging young ones into the world of green and growing is rife with learning opportunities, lifestyle foundational development and just good old fashioned fun. In today’s busy and scheduled world many young parents rely on peer suggestion and electronic support for parental guidance and concepts for structured play and oddly enough “free time”. Older adults, Grandparents for example, typically have a wealth of experiences to share with young children, none the least the art of cultivating plants. There is an overwhelming amount of observational evidence from health professionals, garden designers and clergy in the area of health benefits as related to being outdoors and to gardening specifically. It shows that gardens with many natural elements, help people feel connected to something greater than themselves, feel safe and shift to a more positive way of life are grounding, consistently inspire and develop patience and relationship skills. Harvard naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson, believes that Nature holds the key to health due to our built in affinity for it.

We as the adult population are responsible for the positive mentorship of the younger generations, therefore consider gardening or growing plants with the young people in your life. Simply strategies work the best as do simple projects. One such program, tailored for young ones up to six years is called “L’il Green Sprouts”. This “free range – semi structured” program guides the adults through a myriad of growing activities that can be facilitated right at home. Activity sheets, a cute little gardening kit with kid-sized tools, a magnifying glass and paper and pencils make up the hands on component. One could decide to grow a Chia Pet following the step by step activity sheets or perhaps follow up with an activity outside in the snow or in the summer garden, an art project. The key to this program is that the adults are spending quality time with the wee ones, talking, laughing, learning and above all, observing.

These lifestyle skills are crucial to a child’s development and their respect for nature. Once a young person has been introduced to nature, before the age of seven years, they will keep that respect and curiosity for all things in nature for life. Consider starting at home and starting early, what a tremendous gift for your young loved ones, and it keeps on growing throughout their lives.

Knowing where food comes from and participating in the culture of same is an important connection for youth today both physically and nutritionally. A study on a youth gardening program in Detroit reports that after gardening, children have an increased interest in eating fruit and vegetables, possess an appreciation for working with neighborhood adults, and have an increased interest for improvement of neighborhood appearance. In addition, they made new friends, and showed increased knowledge about nutrition, plant ecology, and gardening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate-intensity level activity for 2.5 hours each week can reduce the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death. The CDC considers gardening a moderate-intensity level activity, and can help you to achieve that 2.5 hour goal each week. Additionally, those that choose gardening are more likely to exercise 40-50 minutes longer on average than those that choose walking or biking. Starting at home with young children at the kitchen table or in the garden, the connection of food and where it comes from is vitally important, particularly if we are conscious of sustainability and the ability to feed ourselves from our own efforts. There are many examples of trending towards or perhaps back to the 100 mile food source, organically grown produce and ethically sourced food. Understanding that growing some of your own food and the associated physical activity will provide many positive benefits, seems to me to be a good combination.

The connections are pretty obvious from the health benefits to social interaction and intergenerational learning. The youth as well as the adults involved in growing plants and maintaining them learn from each other. In my own personal experience I am convinced that I learn more quite often than the kids do! You might consider an existing program to kick start your initiatives or simply just get involved with the youth in your life through gardening.

 


Rss_feed