On the subject of organics…

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We grow good, healthy, organic food. And, have been doing so for the past six years. FLASHBACK…After we decided that we wanted to grow food that would be for sale at our farm gate, or at local food distributors, we … Continue reading

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Waiting for the Monarch…

When I was planning and planting the demonstration gardens at Against the Wind Nursery the overriding idea was to develop a setting that people would enjoy being in, and where they could see a wide range of plant species that grow in our climate. With that vague notion in mind I set about making plant selections based on basic garden design principles, and that would serve as a foundation for more specific interests.

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Against the Wind Nursery & Gardens. Summer 2014.

The subtext of most gardens is that they just might serve as habitat for various forms of wildlife. In the case of our nursery and farm gardens we hoped that we could build a habitat that would be for wildlife of the “smaller” variety – such as pollinators and birds. As good luck would have it, after six years of nurturing small plants into healthy specimens there has been a significant increase in that small critter population. In spite of this happy outcome the work continues. As we learn more about the plight that surrounds native pollinators, Monarch butterflies, and honey bees, our effort to provide healthy habitats or way stations continues to grow.

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Some years ago the news of the decreasing Monarch butterfly population led me to do some research about the trouble at hand, and about their migration paths. In doing so I learned that their main source of survival – milkweed, Asclepias spp. – has been under attack for some time. According to monarchwatch.org, the great increase in development, herbicide use and genetically modified crops are the culprits involved in that attack. I also learned that Monarchs have two distinct migration paths – east of the Rockies and west of the Rockies – and that if their flight paths lead them into Southeastern British Columbia at all, they would not likely end up in our mountainous region. Too bad. And then I found a short sentence tucked into all that material I was reading about Monarchs that gave me some encouragement…monarchs will go where there is milkweed. “So.” I said, “let’s plant some milkweed!”

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Milkweed Asclepias tuberosa

 

The small swath of milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, that I planted several years ago is doing very well. It took awhile to get established and each year I wonder if it made through another winter. (It is one of the last perennials in the garden to poke through the mulch.) Each year the perennial clumps increase in size, and I can only imagine that the beautiful orange flowers are awaiting the arrival of the Monarch.

While the monarchs have not yet graced our gardens, I have had the recent pleasure of happening upon a ‘butterfly grove’ (an overwintering site at Pismo Beach, California) where they were literally hanging out. What a serendipitous visual delight! I had not seen any monarchs anywhere since I was a child growing up on the Saskatchewan prairie. If any monarchs were to ever make their way to Southeastern British Columbia they would be descendants from the Western Monarchs that hung in clusters on the eucalyptus trees and flitted about at Pismo Beach in January. I like that thought.

Monarch butterflies at Pismo Beach, California, January 16, 2015

Monarch butterflies at Pismo Beach, California, January 16, 2015

Wild pollinators, numerous bird species, and our honey bees seem to quite enjoy what we have managed to put together for them. Their buzz and song starts early in the morning and continues through the day and into the evening, making for a kind of orchestral background for our seasonal work. The sound and animation brought to the gardens by wildlife of the “smaller variety” is a great bonus and sits well with our intentions. Perhaps the Monarch will add to this one day.

There is much to learn about the Monarch butterfly. Here are some useful links:

http://www.monarchbutterfly.org

http://www.hww.ca/en/species/insects/monarch-butterfly.html

http://monarchwatch.org/waystations/

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Is it really spring?

I have kept a garden journal for a number of years, and as winter draws to a close I read through past entries as a means of stifling my latent and deep desire for the return of spring’s sunshine and warmth…the great forces behind nature’s burgeoning and unfolding life.

On reading my notes from the past I thought we were on track for this time of year. However, when I walk through our snowless gardens (which is quite strange mid-February) I see otherwise. I notice numerous plants wanting to start their season, and that birds which don’t usually arrive until later on are already here. It is somewhat worrisome to see the blackberries sending out leaves, blueberry buds swelling, and jays, woodpeckers, chickadees, and robins cleaning up after winter’s rough onslaught. The worrying sticks with me as I think that we could still get another blast of cold before the new season really begins, and that those seemingly premature leaves and buds could suffer some real damage. And, the worrying part also sticks with me when I think we might be bearing witness to the reality of a changing climate.

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Gardening and farming, for the love of it or for commercial purposes, seems to beget worry. I grew up on a farm and the affect of nature’s wily ways is in my blood. How cold will it get? Will there be enough snow to provide some winter cover? Will there be enough rain? At the right time? Damn, too much rain! Drought, excess moisture, hail, insects, too hot, too cold. All of these factors are at play, except when nature’s forces tread softly on the land and give us near perfect, or at the very least, satisfactory growing conditions. This happens too. Thankfully. Joyously.

At the beginning of each growing season I can only hope that the upcoming one will be as good as the last. The rewards that come from working a plot of land (no matter how small or large) that offers both beauty and bounty go hand-in-hand with good stewardship. If we are indeed bearing witness to a changing climate, I expect that we will be compelled to become attentive and responsible in more ways than we already know.

Is it too early to say “happy spring”?

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Spring time in the gardens…

The snow has been gone for a couple of weeks and all the promise of spring and a new growing season is evident. As we make our way through the gardens, cleaning up after a long winter, the smell of soil wafts through the air. If I was a four-legged animal I think that I just might have my nose in it snorfling around. There is nothing quite like the smell of the earth in spring!

But alas. there is lots of work to be done, dividing perennials and grasses, pruning shrubs, removing plants that did not make it through the cold months or that were badly damaged by the heavy snowfall, and of course weeding out those pernicious weeds that hung on over the winter months. Every task undertaken reveals another aspect of spring life, and all of the small critters that live in the soil – earthworms, beetles, sow bugs, centipedes, millipedes and more.   What I once thought of as creepy bugs have become a sign of a healthy soil environment, or a problem that needs attention.

While all that bug activity is going on in the soil, there is a lot happening up top too.   The delicate blossoms of the Witch Hazel (Hamamelis spp.)are the first sign that winter is on its way out. Starting in March (in our part of Western Canada) the colour and spicy fragrance of the flowers awaken a gardener’s senses after the long winter months.

Witch Hazel 'Diane'

Following in the blossoming tracks of Witch Hazel are spring bulbs. Crocuses, in particular, have a rather anxious habit of readiness in the spring time. As soon as the snow is gone, and with a few warm days, they are ready to burst into blossom. If you have interest in attracting and feeding pollinators early in the spring, crocuses are a fine addition to the landscape. As an early bloomer they are the first plants in our gardens that offer pollen for the honey bees and wild bees.

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It’s easy to be distracted by the bees intent focus and pollen gathering methods, so much so that the cleaning up tasks can be slowed down considerably.IMG_3259

The next plant in line to bring colour to the garden is winter heather (Erica spp.) The evergreen foliage and early blossoms not only offer visual spring freshness, but an abundance of nectar for the pollinators. When in full blossom a clump of heather can have a very audible hum, which heightens our sensory gardening experience even more!

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“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.”  ~Ruth Stout

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