Grow more veggies - and don’t forget the pollinators

The age of COVID-19 is upon us, marking a time for anyone with access to growing space to step up and grow food. Never done it? ‘Snippets,’ on this website, is a general gardening series I did for the Springwater News a few years ago that touches on some basics of growing, including vegetables. For instance, now is a good time to start seeds indoors, and May 24 is the traditional date you can safely put frost-tender plants outside, although with coverings at the ready, you can do so much earlier. And fortunately… there’s LOTS of help out there on the world wide web. A down-to-earth advisor on growing food in conditions like ours is Maritime gardener Greg Auton, to be found on YouTube and through podcasts.

I find the most productive vegetable in terms of space, deliciousness and freedom from pests is the French filet bush bean. Which despite its Frankish name is a New World native. The homegrown tomato is another list-topper for deliciousness. Also a native, as are corn and squash. A tip: If you’re growing in pots, your plants will do better if the pots are placed on earth so soil micro-organisms can access the roots.

But when growing food, don’t forget the pollinators. They will increase the productivity of your vegetables. Plant some pollen- and nectar-rich natives in your kitchen garden beds to attract the insects that will not only ensure good fruit and pod set, but will also be the predators that take care of some of your pests.

If you fancy yourself as predator-in-chief, do not try to kill all insect larvae and caterpillars that are chowing down on your foliage. Leave the Armageddon spray. Instead, deal with offenders by picking, or washing them off with a jet of water. The plant will survive even if you haven’t eliminated 100 per cent of the pest population and on the plus side, you’ve left some of that insect protein for the frantically busy parent trying to feed a nearby clutch of nestlings. Note: baby birds don’t eat seeds. See If you plant It, will they come?

Anise Hyssop

Which are the best pollinator plants? My view on this changes every year, but the favourite remains Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) which has the added benefit of liquorice-flavoured foliage that can be used in tea. Closely followed by Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), also with fragrant foliage. And Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which when in flower offers a treasure trove of insect life. The top perennial, according to Doug Tallamy, the etymology professor at the University of Delaware who through a series of popular books has focused public awareness of the importance of insects to all the rest of us on the food chain, is the Goldenrod (Solidago species). And then there are the Asters (Symphyotrichum species), a fall essential… Too many “bests” to list, embarras de richesse, take your pick, but make sure you make space for them, either as the main event in ornamental plantings, or interspersed with vegetables. Our planet depends on them.

A moving target: the pollinator-friendly plant list

Purchasing from ROTN

Most plants on my list will be for sale from May 8 onwards (some won't be available right away, that will be noted on the list.)

We wait to see what rules the government will decree. At this point, my feeling is that I will do business by appointment only, with advance orders and curbside pickup. You would place the order, I’d get back to you to advise of availability and price, you pay by e-transfer and arrange a time to pick up. Call 705-322-2545 or email return.native(at) to arrange.

In any case, we will be selling our plants through Turnview Farm, purveyors of honey, bees, beekeeping products and more. They are located just south of Waverley at 6424 Highway 93. Their store is open 7 days a week. Call Turnview Farm after May 8 (when we will have delivered ROTN plants) at 705-627-3378 for more information. Link to Turnview website.


This is the best of times for many dogs - their families at home with them all day and walks always on the schedule. I used to see the same three or four dogs out and about when I drove through Elmvale. Now a dozen or more are putting their people through their paces.

The opposite has happened to my dogs, who used to enjoy an all-out, full-tilt race to the adrenalin finish line on our daily excursion to one of a couple of nearby forest tracts. Seldom did we meet anyone else. When we did, we leashed and passed, not without rude barks from our dogs, for which I apologize, but they viewed themselves as the sole occupiers and the county forest as their exclusive territory. As pandemic distancing measures took hold, there came to be too many people in “our” forest, as well as motorized vehicles which do not contribute to a restful enjoyment of nature.

So we withdrew to a friend’s farm/conservation reserve. It’s lovely and rich in wildlife, and as it’s the season for young creatures to be nestled among the clumps of dead grass, we keep our dogs leashed. Such restraint, for the whole walk, does not sit well. We try to adapt to a dogged rhythm, encouraging detours for interesting smells or stopping for long stares into the distance, listening intently. A walk can be fun on a leash, we tell them. They’re not convinced. But dogs are optimistic and accepting. They’ll adapt.

I feel very privileged to have a private outdoors space and to be close to public forest. My heart goes out to those confined in towns and cities this spring, so different to any other, and yet the same - the birds are collecting nest material, the buds are swelling on the trees, the gentle rain is washing the remnants of winter away. The important thing is that we all keep one step ahead of this virus - read the signs, follow the rules, protect yourself and those you care for.
- 20 April 2020 at 11:42am

hi there. i have a vegetable garden in my yard and would like to add pollinator plants to it that are not too invasive. what would you suggest?
Lynn Short
- 21 April 2020 at 08:11am

I love Anise Hyssop in the garden! The flowers are beautiful and attract pollinators, the leaves when crushed have a wonderful liquorice scent, the leaves make a lovely tea drink and, in the fall, the goldfinches feed on the seeds!
Purple Coneflower has some of the same benefits; flowers for the pollinators and seeds for the goldfinches in the fall!
- 21 April 2020 at 02:03pm

Hi Tanya, I'd recommend Anise Hyssop and Wild Bergamot. Neither is invasive, though they self seed nicely.
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