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GROWING THE GREENBELT

This week we attended a meeting, ‘ Growing the Greenbelt’. The Ontario government has plans to greatly increase the Greenbelt boundaries and is going through the consultative process. The biggest driving force for the Greenbelt update is the protection of water. And you guessed it, our Puslinch area is the first study area under review.

I have summarized our talks with government reps and collected handouts. The government realizes that urbanization threatens the long term health of water systems. This urban impact can be through changing the landscape to hard and impermeable surfaces, such as roads, buildings and concrete which will not allow water to seep into the ground but runoff into drains and storm sewers. Of course, if water is not allowed to seep into the ground the aquifers are not recharged.

In 2005, the Greenbelt was established with 810,000 ha of green space. With the growing of the Greenbelt, an additional 10,000 ha could be added along with 21 urban river valleys. Public comment is required prior to the deadline March 7, 2018. Greenbelt designations are basically divided into 2 categories. 1 – Protected Countryside – The aim is to protect against the loss and fragmentation of agricultural land base and support agriculture as the primary land use. This means that settlement areas outside of the Greenbelt are not allowed to expand into these protected countrysides. 2 – urban river valleys.

So why is our Puslinch so important? It’s all about the moraines and associated cold water streams. Moraines are the result of glacial activity where the glacier stood in one place for an extended period of time. These moraines are associated with sand and gravel features important to recharging ground water. Cold water streams are fed by ground water discharging from moraines. They often form headwaters for rivers and lakes.

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Focusing on Puslinch, we need to comment to politicians about such issues as agricultural practices, aggregate extraction, water taking and town growths. These are all valid concerns as the greenbelt expansion happens. There are various methods to have your voice heard. Go onto Ontario.ca/greenbelt for all the information.

This is your moment to shape Puslinch’s future. If we stay silent, in 25 years, the unchecked growth of the surrounding cities will swallow up Puslinch. And never forget, ‘Farms feed cities’.

 

 

SPRING IN A JAR

Every tree, shrub and wildflower has its own unique formula for germination.  It is up to us, as growers, to understand their uniqueness and simulate these requirements.  Some plants have very complex germination requirements while others are, relatively, simple.  Each germination inhibitor must be removed, in order, so that seeds may sprout.

Most seeds need a period of warm followed by a period of cold stratification.  These periods of warm and cold simulate nature’s winters and springs.  Some seeds may also need to get scarified.  This means we need to scar the dense seed coat so that water can get inside the seed and initiate germination.  Without water, no germination will ever occur.  In nature, the scarification would occur as the seed passes through the digestive tract of a bird or mammal and the gastric juices would pit the seed.

It always feels like spring is around the corner once we start moving stored seeds and nuts to their next phase of germination.  Right now, many seeds are being moved into refrigeration awaiting the beginning of spring.

 

THE AMERICAN HAZELNUT TREE

Back in 2006, Ferraro Rocher built a new confectionery plant in Brantford. This plant was to be the center of their North American operations. In order to run this facility at its limits 12 – 15,000 acres of hazelnuts had to be planted in Ontario. Though 80% of worldwide hazelnuts are grown in Turkey, shortages in hazelnuts brought Ferraro to Canada. Incentives through Growing Forward 2 (GF2) were made available to entrepreneurial farmers. Recently, in August 2017, the Ferraro plant had expanded, again. This is the only Ferraro plant in North America and the 8th largest plant, worldwide.

In North America, there are only 2 native species indigenous to Ontario. The American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) is our Carolinian species residing throughout much of the traditional Carolinian zone up to the Lake of Woods. The Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) is our hardy northern variety ranging throughout Ontario up to 50 degrees N.

Ferraro has very specific nut size and quality requirements which, unfortunately, our native hazelnut cannot fulfill. European hazelnuts do fulfill these specifications but cannot survive in North America. Why? The first difficulty is the Eastern Filbert Blight. The fungus Anisogramma anomola is native to North America and carries the blight. While our native Ontario hazelnuts are hosts to this fungus they are not harmed by this blight. The exact opposite is true for the European hazelnuts.  The second difficulty for European hazelnut, is cold temperatures where all plant parts are killed by cold. Of special concern, is catkin survival. If catkins freeze off, then no pollinated fruit will grow – the nuts.

The obvious solution was to create hybrids. Crossing European X North American hazelnuts. To date, many varieties have been developed and tried with success. In order to maintain genetic purity of these crosses and to increase propagation rates, new rapid cloning techniques have been developed. No perpetuation of the crosses through seed production and seedlings, just clones.  To see the full hazelnut story see our article under the trees tab.

My concerns lie in the promotion of these cloned varietals over native.  Every time we promote non native or hybrids over native species the native species populations show a negative effect. My concerns may be unjustified but only time will tell. Just to ease my conscience and to be on the safe side, we have added this lovely tree to our species listing at our nursery.

THE SWEET MAKING OF HONEY

Probably, the most asked question, to beekeepers is, ‘ How is honey made? ‘ It is, actually, a very involved process between flower and bee. Once you understand this process, you really do appreciate what a miracle bees, honey and pollination are.

Honey is a natural product made from plant nectar by honey bees. The flavor and odor of honey is derived from the plant pigments and other materials in the nectar. Honey from each floral source is unique just as the flowers themselves.

 

All nectar contains microscopic yeast cells. These are specialized yeast that can grow in rich sugar solutions containing 30 – 80 % sugar. These yeast cells may cause fermentation of diluted honey (green) but they are inactive in normal (ripened) honey containing less than 19% water. It is important that the bees ripen honey as quickly as possible in order to prevent this fermentation.

Honeycomb in closeup

In most nectars, the predominate sugar is sucrose. The other major component is water. The nectar is manipulated by the honey bee in many ways. The nectar undergoes 2 chemical changes induced by natural enzymes secreted by the honey bee into the nectar from glands in their bodies. There is also 1 physical change that occurs, again, by the bee.

To read the full article, see the sweet making of honey.

 

 

WOOD DUCK BOXES

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Though the thermometer was at -25 yesterday, it was a good day to clean out the water access only wood duck boxes. We have to wait for the lake to freeze to get to the boxes. It is always a surprise when cleaning and resetting the boxes for spring occupation, what you will find.

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Not all stories are happy. This unfortunate wood duck egg never quite hatched.

 

 

 

We found some mice in fluffy wood rush nests and some even stranger occupants.

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A common grackle had built this huge twig nest and left 1 unhatched egg behind.

THE CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT

According to Bird Studies Canada, the Christmas bird count started in 1900. This makes the count the longest running Citizen Science project. In Canada, approximately 14,000 birders count over 3 million birds from December 14 to January 5. Data is collected by Birds Studies Canada to help create strategies to protect birds and their habitats. In conjunction with Audubon, a ‘Birds and Climate Change Report’ has evolved highlighting dangerous bird population trends and the need for conservation action.

 

It is easy to participate. Simply contact Bird Studies Canada to find a count near you. Counts may be done from the warmth of your home while watching bird feeders or hiking in the crisp winter weather observing fields for bird activity. Don’t forget to take photos and submit them to the Christmas Bird Count photo contest.

I’ll be donning on my favorite warm socks and traveling the trails.  My assistant, Runabout, will keep me company on our walks. It is a great way to enjoy the Christmas season.

THE RED CEDAR

Wow, what a seed collection year it has been! Species of trees such as beech, black maple, ironwood and musclewood that create seeds every 5 to 7 years decided that this was their year. Giant seed crops for some species but the wetter weather was not favorable for some species, such as oak. But, it is time to celebrate with the last species being collected this week – the red cedar.

Common names can be so confusing and it is no different for this tree. Commonly known as red cedar, it is not actually a cedar but a juniper. 2 types of juniper grow in this region but the Juniperis virginiana is the juniper we collected.

The beautiful blue berries are not actually berries but scales tightly packed. Reference books actually refer to the fruit as cones, not berries. The cedar waxwing bird, named after this tree, do not really care. For these winter residents the tree is essential as a food source through the long winter months.

CAN TREES TALK?

Trees and plants communicate to each other, and their community, above and below the ground. Above soil level, when trees are being attacked (stressed) they release volatile organic chemicals (VOC). These VOC are picked up by neighboring plants and forewarn them to defend themselves. These same chemicals can also attract help in the form of predators to feed on the attacking pests. Each chemical is a ‘word’ and these words are combined to make a specific sentence – this allows plants to chatter. A well known VOC is the aroma generated by freshly cut grass.

Below the ground, when trees are attacked they increase their defense against the invaders by revving up their defensive genes and increase their production of defense enzymes. They send these chemical signals down their roots to the mycorrhiza network, where neighboring trees detect these signals and trigger their own defense mechanisms. This can happen in as little as 6 hours.

Turns out, trees can’t live without their mycorrhiza. Under a simple footstep there are 300 miles of fungal highway. This connectivity is not just between same species but between all species and works like our internet. This forest connectivity is vast and is world wide. But why have this co operative between tree and fungus? It is quite simple; the fungus can’t photosynthesize but can pick up nutrients, especially Nitrogen and Phosphorus, and exchange these nutrients with the plants for their photosynthetic product of sugar.

The biggest users of the fungal network are the Hub trees. These are the mother trees which are nurturing the young in the understory. The hub trees send extra Carbon to the shaded understory young trees. In this way, the survival rate of the saplings increases 4X. It has been discovered that hub trees have kin identification capability where they can distinguish the difference between strange and kin trees. Mother trees have bigger mycorrhiza nodes and networks with related trees vs. strange trees. When a mother tree is injured or dying it will pour out excess Carbon into the fungal network but also defense signals.

So the next time you take a walk out into the woods – see the trees for the interwoven community that they are.

 

FIREFLY WATCH

One of my anticipated events in June is the nightly, blinking light show of the fireflies. This year did not seem as spectacular as other years and it lead me to wonder.   Had the wet and cold spring adversely affected the firefly? It turns out to be a more complicated issue than just adverse weather conditions. As far back as 2010, scientists from around the world knew our beloved firefly was in trouble. During the International Firefly Symposium, 13 nations documented noticeable population declines and declared an urgent need for conservation of their habitats. Just conserving habitat is not enough.

So how can we help this amazing beetle? Here are some recommendations you can implement in your own backyard.

1) TURN OUT THE LIGHTS

Fireflies communicate through their flashing lights and especially to attract mates. Human light pollution disrupts their flashes making it harder to find mates and breed. Even drawing blinds at night for inside lights will help dim your surrounding outside yard.

2) HABITAT, HABITAT AND HABITAT

Have logs and leaf litter handy. Some species of fireflies grow in rotten logs and leaf litter. Create water features. Most species of fireflies thrive around standing water and marshy areas. Ponds, streams and rivers can also provide good habitat. Even a small ground depression full of water can cause them to congregate. Fireflies eat the smaller insects, grubs and snail that live near these water landscapes.

3) NO PESTICIDES, NOT EVEN LAWN CHEMICALS

Fireflies and their larva may come into contact with other pests that have been poisoned, or they may ingest poisons from plants that have been sprayed. Remember – firefly larva eat other undesirable insects, so they are nature’s natural pest control.

4) USE NATURAL FERTILIZERS

5) DON’T OVERMOW

Fireflies mainly stay on the ground during the day, and frequently mowing may disturb populations. Consider incorporating some areas of long grasses in your landscape. Fireflies prefer to live in long grasses.

Some very simple changes to your gardening and landscape can be of great importance to this beetle. I’m hoping we will all try these recommendations so that we can continue to witness the amazing firefly display on a summer’s night.

 

 

IN SEARCH OF THE ANCIENTS

THE HILLBORN WHITE OAK OF CAMBRIDGE

Today was the day we found the beautiful Hillborn White Oak of Cambridge.  Seed collecting has been ongoing with it being a, ‘ bust or boom ‘ year for trees and shrubs.  Unfortunately, it is more of a bust year for oaks, in general.  The odd oak is producing acorns, but at minimal amounts.