{ Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category }

A colourful nesting box for bees

After the recent Garden Writers Association luncheon at Canada Blooms, I came home with new books to read, new products to try and new plants and seeds to plant. However one of the items I was most excited about was this:

Except mine is pink and white. The reason I’m excited about it is a few weeks ago I watched a documentary called The Vanishing of the Bees at the Evergreen Brickworks. It was followed by a panel discussion by three bee experts. I had a great chat afterwards with J. Scott MacIvor, a PhD student studying wild bees. He’s set up nest boxes like this one all over the city so that he can monitor wild bees for a research project. Because I’m moving, I couldn’t really commit to being part of the project, but I’m excited to put this little guy in the garden where I end up. The pollen bee nest shown here is available at Armstrong & Blackbury Horticultural Products. The website explains quite thoroughly how to put it in your garden and maintain it.

Unexpected surprises in the garden

After another little round of rain I went out to investigate the yard and found a few unexpected things. We grabbed the camera to document them for you.

-A Boreal Chorus frog (or possibly a Western chorus frog) in the driveway. The kids pulled out the field guide and identified him before setting him loose in a puddle. Every time this happens I start thinking again about putting in a pond. Because I’m keeping up so well with the rest of the place, and I don’t have any half finished projects.

-At least five different types of mushrooms growing in the lawn and (what was supposed to be) the fallow section of the vegetable garden. If these ones are edible, I’ve probably got enough to stock the freezer for the year. Where’s a reliable mycologist when you need one?

-The peas going to town, blooming like there’s no tomorrow, which there might not be for them–we’ve already had our first snow! I don’t normally grow peas, so this is an extra special treat for me, and makes me wonder, why don’t I normally grow peas?

-The tops chomped clean off one patch of beets. I assume the deer are coming through again; they seem to change their route a couple of times a year and I haven’t seen much sign of them since late winter. I’d have a picture for you of that travesty except meine Kamera ist kaput. (The final unexpected surprise. Boo.)

Mum-ma mia!

I can't take credit for planting them, but I love the dependable, gorgeous colours my chrysanthemums bring to the yard each fall — white, pink, yellow, orange. Still covered in bees, these are not delicate flowers. The frosty temperatures we had last week didn't harm their little faces at all! I haven’t done it yet this year, but I love to snip a short stem full of blooms and place them in water, low to the vase. It’s like a ready-made, elegant bouquet! Just make sure they aren’t covered in little bugs. I made that mistake last year!

Spending the night in a nest


The Nest

My first night in the Lesser Slave Lake region of Northern Alberta was spent at a hostel called The Nest. These accommodations were especially interesting because they are on the grounds of the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation (BCBC). And hostel is kind of misleading when you compare it to some of the more (ahem) squeaky-clean-challenged places you might have experienced. This was more like a comfy cabin. It sleeps 10 in two separate wings with a common area and kitchen in the middle, complete with a big fireplace. Super cosy!

Tracking the numbers: Because of the great weather conditions Alberta had this summer, they didn't get the same numbers they have in the past as the birds kept right on flying instead of stopping!

Tracking the numbers: Because of the great weather conditions Alberta had this summer, they didn't get the same numbers they have in the past as the birds kept right on flying instead of stopping!

The next morning after a walk to the rocky beach for views of Lesser Slave Lake, I visited the centre for some bird education. Charity and executive director Patti Campsall were very helpful in explaining what the centre is all about as well as the eco-friendly aspects of this LEEDS-certified structure.

Lesser Slave Lake and nearby Marten Mountain act as a natural barrier for migratory birds making their annual voyage. The BCBC has provided a haven for researchers to study the birds` important relationship with the Boreal forest. Of special interest are the neo-tropical birds. Some of these tiny specimens travel for thousands and thousands of miles!

Walking through the exhibit and reading about these amazing bird populations was fascinating. Afterwards we headed down towards the lake again to talk to Richard, who is the head bander for the bird banding program. Richard and his team use special nets to catch birds and gather important data about them (such as their age, sex, measurements and muscle development).

Unfortunately it was a very windy day — not great conditions for the birds, so we weren't able to witness the banding. But the BCBC does host a number of educational programs, including the opportunity to tour the banding station and see Richard in action (when he's a little busier). If you're there in winter, the centre rents out cross country skis and snowshoes for free!

This didn't come out very well, but Richard has photos in his research building identifying the birds that are of most interest for the purposes of his studies.

This didn't come out very well, but Richard has photos in his research building identifying the birds that are of most interest for the purposes of his studies.

So what’s the connection to gardening? We can provide important habitats for them in our own backyard! During my visit, I picked up some great tips on attracting songbirds to your yard. We currently have the one article on the site and I intend to talk to Patty for more helpful advice!

(photo taken with a Kodak EasyShare M381 digital camera)

Scary garden spider

spiderAfter reading Tara’s post ‘Does this spider look dangerous’ at The Budding Gardener, I noticed this spider hanging around my front door.

I try to appreciate all of Mother Nature’s creatures, but seriously….FREAKY!

I wouldn’t mind if this eight-legged miniature monster would go hang out somewhere else, instead of living in the euonymus by my front door.

I Googled ‘black and yellow spider’ and discovered that this is a Black-and-Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia). They’re also known as the Black-and-Yellow Garden Spider, because they are commonly found in the garden. Apparently they’re harmless to humans and feast on large insects, like grasshoppers and butterflies. Either way, I’d prefer if this little arachnid keep to himself!

Does this spider look dangerous?

spiderTo me it does. To me this is what nightmares are made of. I know, I seriously need to cure myself of my arachnophobia, especially if I’m going to continue gardening. This creepy thing has spun a web from a tree to my rain barrel and I have to look at it every time I get water. If he’s not going to send me to the hospital with paralysis should I somehow get close enough to be bitten, I will grant him squatter’s rights. If he’s dangerous he’ll need to pack up his web and move.

Gardeners beware of the black widow spider

The itsy bitsy spider crawled up the water spout

Down came the rain and washed the spider out.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain

And the itsy bitsy spider crawled up the spout again.

We’re all familiar with the popular nursery ryhme, but nowhere in the original version does it mention anything about the spider biting an innocent gardener. Joan Brunet was weeding her garden in Oakville, Ontario when suddenly she was bitten on the finger by a black widow spider. She panicked and shock the spider off her hand, but by then the venom was already coursing through her veins. As she rushed into the house to call for help, she began to sweat and her vision blurred. By the time the ambulance arrived, Brunet says her body felt like ‘jelly’ and she’d lost control of her extremities. Doctors were stumped and they had to call in an entomologist to determine that it was indeed a black widow spider bite. After a two week hospital stay, Burnet is only just starting to recover feeling in her legs.

Now I’m a firm believer in coexisting peacefully with the creatures and insects in my garden. In fact, spiders are beneficial because they catch all sorts of annoying insects in their webs. But I never thought that a spider living in my backyard could be so dangerous. I had heard about a view black widow sightings in southern Ontario last year, but was shocked to learn of the effects of the venom.

So how do you protect yourself? Apparenetly wearing gloves will help. As well as being observant. The female black widow spider is the only one who bites. She has a small black body with long legs about 5 cm in length. She has red markings along the top of her abdomen and a red marking similar to an hour glass on her lower abdoment.

Tip to help tomato flowers turn into tomatoes

I was reading advice in our forums the other day and one of the posts piqued my interest. A reader was having trouble with her tomato flowers dying before they turned into little tomatoes. “Beeman” came to the rescue and recommended vibrating the flower stem or spritzing the open flowers with a small hand sprayer filled with warm water to encourage pollination. Ten days later, “Crazy4Columbine” reported that the spraying worked! I thought I’d pass along this helpful tip and I might see if it works on my zucchini plant. Some of the flowers have been dying before I get a mini zucchini!

Bat house for rent

I've become a frustrated bat house landlord. I feel like I need to put up a flashing sign saying `Vacancies` or maybe put an ad in the local newspaper.anjablog2-400

Bat House for Rent
Located in a great neighborhood, this ready-to-move-in bat house is mounted on the side of a two-story home–providing excellent home-protection against hungry predators. The interior of the home has been furnished with unfinished wood, perfect for gripping and hanging around. Painted a stylish shade of black, the house receives ten hours of direct sunlight a day–you'll never have to pay another heating bill. Local gardens provide a smorgasbord of night-flying insects such as moths, beetles and mosquitoes and the backyard swimming pool is a popular destination for late night drinks.anjablog1-400

It's almost been a year and we still have no bat tenants. My husband, Christopher built the bat house after we kept seeing bats flying around our yard at dusk, so obviously they're in the neighborhood. Christopher spent an evening researching how to build a bat house, so we know it meets their requirements. Maybe we need to lower the rent?

If you're interested in learning more on attracting your own bats, check out `Give bats a home in your backyard` on CanadianGardening.com.

My yard is abuzz!

Yesterday during my mid-week holiday (Happy Birthday Canada!), I was able to get out in the garden for several hours. Amid the weeding and trimming and edging I noticed that a few of my tall, yellow wildflowers that seem to have bloomed overnight were a little bent over. As I tried to lift them, not one, but several little bees flew out. This made my day. And as I looked around, I saw bees on my other blooms, as well. I've been reading a lot lately about the importance of bees in the garden and about their alarming decline in Canada. Knowing that I'm attracting these vital pollinators to my garden makes me want to plant more bee-friendly blooms.

Here are a couple of articles on CanadianGardening.com about how you can make your home a healthy habitat for bees:

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