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Beautiful Wildlife Garden

May 10

Native plants support the food web - OSPCA talk

Last week, I was the speaker at a fundraiser for the Midland branch of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (a good cause, and a fun event). My theme was 'Saving the World with Native Plants... and enjoying every minute!"

Saving the world might sound overstated. But if you familiarize yourself with the work of Doug Tallamy, chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the Unversity of Delaware, you will realize that we are moving into a biodiversity crisis. If we carry on, we will squeeze all the species that need wilderness to survive right off the planet. But he believes we, the world's gardeners, can turn things around. We can stitch together a patchwork of rural back yards, urban gardens and private spaces and turn them into wildlife refuges and corridors.

We can begin to rebuild wilderness right where we live.

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Apr 5

Eating native plants with Lorraine Johnson

I drove down to North York recently to hear author Lorraine Johnson speak on the topic of edible native plants and was not disappointed. She touched on plants both familiar and unexpected and has prompted me to plan a whole new dimension for my garden this year.

Johnson, whose 1999 book 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants is a classic, began by cautioning against foraging (gathering food from the wild), which is what first comes to mind when we think of eating native plants. There are too many of us and too few areas left with healthy native plant populations for us to count on foraging for a serious portion of our diet.

(Let me digress and make an exception for weeds, which are introduced, either wildflowers, like dandelions, or invasive species, like garlic mustard. The leaves of both, picked fresh in spring, are good to eat in salads or cooked and there are countless more weeds that are similarly palatable when young. I’ve also been told the early shoots of Japanese knotweed, another invasive, can be steamed like asparagus so I plan to give that a try as soon as they pop up in their annoying way.) Read more
Apr 4

Part 3: From broadfork to bokashi

Are you going to write about EM? he asked. 

Me: EM, what’s that?

He, shocked: You don’t know about EM? And you the expert? It’s the latest thing. Used by gardeners around the world. Prince Charles is a fan.

Me (sigh): Send me the link.
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Feb 9

Part 2: The answer lies in the soil

The more we learn about the natural world, the more we find out about its elegant solutions to problems we labour clumsily to address. Thus it is that unimaginable zillions of organisms in the soil decompose organic matter, sequester carbon and nitrogen, promote porosity and aggregation, prevent erosion, purify water and create fertility.

In Part 1, I wrote about these creatures that make up our “micro-herds” of hidden helpers. In our ignorance, we gardeners and growers disrupt their processes, exhausting both ourselves and the soil. How do we do this?

-We compact. Machinery, as well as human or animal foot traffic, leads to compaction. Soils are most vulnerable when they are wet. Compaction destroys the soil’s delicate structure, decreases its ability to absorb moisture, pollutes waterways by increasing runoff, starves micro-organism populations and increases greenhouse gas emissions. For gardeners, the lesson is, work from the side of your beds, stay on the paths.

-We disturb. The soil’s flora and fauna are organized into very specialized and inter-connected communities, the majority living within a couple of inches of the surface, but a large proportion to be found in the “rhizosphere,” the area around the plants’ roots, which exude proteins, sugars and carbohydrates to attract microbes and fungi that will help the plants absorb nutrients. The micro-communities in the soil aren’t layered so much as “nested,” with multiple interconnections up and down and sideways, between decomposer and recycler, predator and prey. When we dig or till, we wrench the specialists away from their appointed tasks into environments where they can no longer serve or even survive – and it takes precious time and energy for these communities to rebuild.

-We poison. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides destroy the natural balances in the soil. Read more
Jan 12

Part 1: The answer lies in the soil

Soil – it’s there, under the snow, teeming with life, waiting for spring, and it warms me just to think of what it will be like in a few months to hold some rich, humusy soil in the palm of my hand and inhale the scent of the Earth.

I started some weeks ago to do the research for this, my first blog for 2015, that I decided would be about soil. It seemed a logical progression from insects, the theme I chose for 2014.  Then I found out that the United Nations, no less, had designated 2015 as the International Year of Soils and has put together all sorts of statistics and resource materials, many of them depressing - 33 per cent of the world’s soils are degraded, two hectares are being sealed under expanding cities every MINUTE word-wide – but more later about why we also do have cause for optimism.

One stunning fact in the UN material is that one tablespoon of soil contains more living organisms – 7 billion – than there are people on the planet. This is not news. The same information can be found in Pay Dirt, by J. I. Rodale, published in 1945, a book I picked up from a remainder bin in the late ‘70s, and one that always bears re-reading. Rodale was an early proponent of sustainable agriculture and the founder of a publishing empire that would include popular magazines like Organic Gardening.
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