Monthly Archives: November 2013

Winter Up-date

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One of the perfect things on our planet: the rose bloom.

I told you I’d bring you an up-date on my “winter” biking commitment. (Winter is in quotes there because we really haven’t gotten into the season proper yet.)  Well, today started out cold (“felt like -18C”, according to the weather network) and I just couldn’t face the ride to work.  I’m not giving up entirely, but, with the bike path in NDG closed down for the winter, I’ll have to ride along Sherbrooke St. to get downtown and I’m  leery of that idea. Plus, it’s just plain cold!  I’m a wimp! I admit it! My apologies to my intrepid son, Travis, who is still bravely facing the elements every day “au velo”, and without the proper clothing, I might add.  I’m very proud of him and ashamed that I’m not as badass as he is!

However, just because I’m not as committed to winter riding as I could be doesn’t mean I’m going to get back into the car for every little errand I have to run.  If the weather’s too cold, snowy, rainy , etc. for me to overcome my wussiness, I will be forced to walk or take the bus more often.  That’s okay, too.  I’m really enjoying not getting the car out as often; I don’t really like being in the car.  It’s too easy and it makes me feel too wasteful and “first-worldly”.  Although people in our environment don’t often think this way, I believe it’s important to think twice before taking out a large, inefficient, non-renewable-resource-guzzling machine to go to the drugstore that’s four blocks away.  Thinking differently about this is also good for ourselves, because, even if we take the bus or metro to where we’re going, we will almost certainly be walking more than if we took our car; but if we ride a bike, walk, run, or skateboard to where we’re going, even better!

Gardening is about making our world a better place and when I became more connected to the planet through my garden, I think it heightened my awareness of the negative impact my (and others’) bad habits have on the world. There’s no end to the problems we’re facing, as the e-mails I get from many well-meaning organizations tell me regularly, but, while it’s easy to throw up our hands and say, “what’s the point of even trying!”,  there are a few things that even a single individual can do to lessen one’s negative impact on the world.  Taking the car out less often is one of them, and, as in most cases of taking good care of the planet, there are no real down-sides.  It takes more effort, but that effort rewards you with better health through exercise, and less damage to your wallet.  You AND your car will last longer!

While I’m on the subject of “things you can do”, I want to share one of my pet peeves.  Plastic water bottles.  I play in an orchestra where people buy bottles of water to drink, or they take the plastic glasses provided by the venue to drink from, every day.  When I think of the number of bottles/plastic glasses that are piling up in the recycling centres just from the 90 people in my orchestra, it drives me crazy.  Why don’t people simply buy one re-fillable bottle and bring it everywhere with them?  Fill it up with tap water, because it’s perfectly drinkable in our city.  Why not?  Also, I’ve  never seen a soloist bring a re-fillable bottle on stage with them in all the 22 years I’ve been working there.  I may have missed one or two, but still.  If the soloists would start doing that, think about how much impact that would have!  It would make people think!!  When I see a Youtube video of a stand-up comic, or a singer, or anybody doing something on stage, I notice what they’re drinking from.  It’s almost ALWAYS a plastic, non-refillable water bottle.  What gives??  Why is this such a difficult habit for people to break.  It’s really NOT that hard.  Okay, rant over. By the way, there are a few people who do bring refillable bottles to work (Ginny, I know you’re one!) and I salute them!!

As an apology for my lecture/rant, I am going to give you some beautiful, non-polluting music to listen to and relax with. “Cry me a River” with the amazing Ella Fitzgerald singing.

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Gearing up for the Long Winter

My Japanese Maple

My Japanese Maple

Despite what the calendar says, winter is here.  Though there’s no snow on the ground, it’s cold enough to put on your winter coat and boots, so it’s winter in my book.  The temperature might still spike for a day or two, but pretty soon it will be sub-zero, all the time.  If you’re like me, you are feeling a little bit down about that.  November has never been my favourite month; it’s grey, cold, wet and dark.  If you haven’t put your garden to bed, well, it’s a bit late now.  Working outside in this weather is not much fun, so if the work isn’t done now, I say leave it til spring.  It will still be there and you’ll feel much more inspired to do it.

For us gardeners, weather is always a subject of interest.  Even now, I wonder whether we’ll get enough snow cover to protect the tender perennials.  Whether we’ll have another freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw type of winter, which is not particularly good for the garden.  Plants like to go to bed and not be bothered until spring arrives in all seriousness.  If it thaws in January (anyone remember 1998?), it can play havoc with all kinds of plants.  On the other hand, I’m not a lover of -30 temperatures and when the thermometer creeps up to anything above zero when it’s not expected, it makes winter more bearable, at least for a few days.

What else makes winter more bearable?  If my skiing/snow-boarding/snow-shoeing friends are to be believed, embracing a winter sport definitely helps.  In my experience,  hibernating inside with a glass of wine, some music and some good friends can also help.  Maybe a little of both, to keep a balance.  This winter, I have the slightly cuckoo idea to keep biking until I really can’t do it anymore, whenever that might be.  This fall I have embraced the bike, thanks to Mr. Money Mustache, who ignited my semi-dormant love of biking. The last couple of weeks,  biking in the colder weather has been quite an unexpectedly enjoyable experience.  I’m still pretty wussy, so whenever the weather’s a little blustery or a little too much below zero or there’s some other excuse I can find, I opt out of biking.  However, when I do it, it turns out to be pretty enjoyable. With the right clothes on, and that is the key to enjoying any outdoor winter activity,  it’s invigorating rather than uncomfortable.  In past years I’ve resigned myself to living my life indoors during the winter, by and large.  Perhaps this winter I will test the idea of living more of my life outside even in the cold, dark months.  The precious daylight hours of winter can be exquisite when the sun is shining and the sky is blue, so why not get out there and enjoy?  I will report back on my successes!

More about Bees

Honey bee hovering near blue-eyed grass flower.

Honey bee hovering near blue-eyed grass flower.

I already wrote a short post on honeybees a few months ago, but I’ve been reading a lot about them lately, as well as watching videos on their incredible organizational abilities . Once you start reading about bees you can’t avoid coming across something about the phenomenon known as “colony collapse disorder (CCD)” since it is a huge concern right now, as most of you know.

The connection between CCD and the use of pesticides known as neonicotinoids (developed by Bayer) is not confirmed and there are definitely other factors involved, such as loss of natural habitat and monocultural farming practices that turn huge fields into green deserts for bees and other foragers. However, neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides, which means the seeds are treated before planting so the chemicals travel to every part of the plant, including the nectar and pollen.  This means that bees ingest it, even if they pick up the pollen in the air via the hair on their bodies.  There is evidence that, in high enough doses, the chemicals affect the bees’ ability to navigate and/or their memory, which could explain why beekeepers are waking up and finding their hives empty.  Proper testing has never been done in the US or Canada on these chemicals and yet they’re in constant use.  Up to 90% of corn and soybean seeds are being treated with them.  It’s absolutely shocking that the pesticide lobby is so strong and public awareness and outcry is apparently so weak that the EPA has been letting this happen.

A lovely late summer bed with cosmos and Japanese anemone

A lovely late summer bed with cosmos and Japanese anemone, this is what our yards should look more like, to welcome bees!

There are several things we can do to help the bees. Buy or grow pesticide-free food as much as you can.  Eating organic fruits and vegetables is not only about doing what’s best for your body, but also about supporting those farmers who are trying to do what’s best for the environment, which includes the bees.  I encourage you to opt for local, organic produce (grow your own if you can!) as much as possible.  In the winter, choose locally grown root vegetables more often over greens that have been flown or trucked in from miles away.

What can we do, as gardeners?  In Montreal, pesticides are more or less banned, which makes it easier to go organic.  It’s been many years since I used any pesticides in the Tranquil Garden, out of choice.  I don’t depend on my garden for my food, but if I did, I would put up with some blemishes on my produce for the sake of the bees that do make it into my yard.  The ones that arrive may not be honey bees, but they are still important pollinators.

If you want to welcome bees, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden, here are some ideas:

  •  plan it so there is something available to them all season long. Check the flowering schedule so as one flower is dying back, another is getting going.  Check to find out which plants are native to your area and choose those over more exotic ones. It will be easier to maintain them!
  • Grass is no use to pollinators, so if all you have is a big expanse of lawn with a few flowers, think about digging out some of that lawn and replacing it with clover (a bee favourite!), or planting a bee-friendly bed.
  • Let some weeds grow in amongst the grass! Even dandelions (Gulp! Not my favourite!) are apparently an excellent source of food for the early spring foragers. Also, I’ve noticed bees really like the small, light blue wild asters that pop up annoyingly everywhere, so I’m going to spot them by their foliage next year and not yank them out so they’ll provide food for the bees in the fall, when pickings grow slim.
  • Some plants that bees love are bee balm, echinacea, daisies, poenies, especially single varieties, columbine, clover, Joe Pye Weed, sunflowers, etc.  There are non-invasive varieties of milkweed you could plant as well, for the monarch butterflies.

I just heard a disturbing piece of agricultural news: that a lot of the bedding plants, (annuals, vegetables and perennials) are raised from seed treated with neonicotinoids or the soil has been treated with them.  Next time you buy some, ask your vendor whether they sell such plants and express your disapproval! This is one more reason to divide existing plants as much as possible and share them with your friends and neighbours.

Bees are definitely in danger and need every bit of help we can give in order to survive. The more I read about them, the more they fascinate me.  I feel more hopeful about their futures knowing they are incredibly resilient creatures that are programmed not to give up. A queen bee lays up to 1500 eggs daily, so the population can bounce back quickly if given the chance.

Studies show that every third bite of our food is the result of pollination by bees.  Think about that the next time you go to the grocery store.

For more on bees, here is an excellent Ted Talk on the subject.