Here’s one method for sowing tiny native wildflower seeds without the risk of overseeding. Catherine Fleming, a Mississauga Master Gardener and volunteer at Blooming Boulevards, demonstrates her very effective technique.
Thanks to Jeanne at Blooming Boulevards for providing these videos.
Planning to grow native plants from seed? Here are some tips and techniques for getting off to a good start.
Jumping Worms: The Creepy, Damaging Invasive You Don’t Know
…and they are here in Ontario already.
Disturb a jumping worm and it’s like a nightcrawler on steroids: It violently writhes on the forest floor, recalling a snake in a bad horror movie. Try to catch it, a piece of its tail will detach in your hand — still wriggling as you hold it.
But put aside the creepy factor: jumping worms may be the next big threat to northern forests.
Jumping worms, consisting of various non-native species from multiple genera, have become established in a number of eastern and southeastern states. In 2013, species from the genus Amynthas were confirmed for the first time in the Upper Midwest, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum.
In the forests and prairies of the Upper Midwest, the jumping worm could significantly alter habitats and decrease biodiversity. Why are they so damaging? And is there anything we can do to stop them?
Why Much of What You Know About Earthworms is Wrong
You probably learned about the wonders of earthworms at an early age. They aerate the soil. They help your garden grow. And they catch fish. The humble earthworm is a creature to celebrate.
Overlooked in all this earthworm love is an important fact: in a significant portion of the North American continent, no native earthworms have existed since before the Ice Age. As such, forests and other habitats have evolved without them.
But people love earthworms. They indeed use them by the millions for fishing, and for composting, and to help gardens grow. And so the worms have been spread far and wide. Even areas with native earthworms have largely been taken over by non-native varieties. The common nightcrawler — familiar to anyone who has ever cast a bobber and hook — is a European species.
Earthworms have also spread into the northern habitats where worms have been absent for thousands of years. The hype is true: earthworms cycle through a lot of refuse, and fundamentally change the soil. This may be good in your backyard garden plot, but it’s not in the northern forest.
“Earthworms change the environment to suit their needs,” says Brad Herrick, ecologist and research program program manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. “When they are introduced, they make a host of physical, chemical and biological changes to the soil environment.”
Essentially, worms turn the forest floor — a complex community of plants, invertebrates and microbes – into a completely different habitat.
The jumping worm, if established in the Upper Midwest, brings new threats. “We think the changes to native habitats will be similar to other earthworms but even more dynamic,” says Herrick.
Spread of the Jumping Worm
You probably think of earthworms as living underground. But the jumping worm actually lives in the topmost layer of the forest floor — amongst the fallen leaves and other material that cover the soil. It eats that fallen organic material. And that’s the problem.
That leaf litter provides essential nutrients to the forest. Trees need long-lasting sources of nutrients. When jumping worms quickly turn leaves into very loose soil (resembling coffee grounds), they deprive trees of essential nutrients.
They thus can inhibit the establishment of tree seedlings. The altered soil is inhospitable to many native plant species. And that soil also disrupts the relationships between fungi and trees.
In short, the jumping worm could have profound effects on the overall forest ecosystem.
As with so many invasive species, they’re adaptable and difficult to stop. They’re parthenogenetic: they can reproduce without fertilization. The introduction of a single individual is enough to launch a jumping worm invasion.
The worms have an annual life cycle. They die in the fall, but leave tiny cocoons that spend the winter in the soil.
And they can be spread readily by human habits. Take their preferred habitat of fallen leaves. At this time of year, many people are raking leaves into a pile and setting them by the road to be picked up or converted into mulch. The worms — or their cocoons — are thus transported to new habitats. Compost and potted plants can also move the worms around.
“Unfortunately at this time, there are no good control measures,” says Herrick. “The important thing now is to the stop the spread. Everyone can help.”
What is (garden) Soil?
Soil is so much more than dirt. Soil is a living ecosystem— a large community of living organisms linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Every teaspoon of soil is home to billions of microorganisms — bacteria, fungi, nematodes, insects, and earthworms that play important roles.
And trying to improve the health of your garden soil is not as complicated as some people suggest. Let’s look at some of the important soil components.
Good soil needs to have organic matter. Organic materials are carbon-based compounds used by gardeners to help their plants grow. This includes compost, green manure, leaf mold, and animal manure. If your soil is sandy or has heavy clay, organic matter improves the structure of the soil and hence helps with water drainage. Organic matter also feeds the soil with microorganisms and insects, creating a good environment for soil microbes which eventually enhances a plant’s health and growth. Soil that is rich in organic matter tends to be darker and crumbles off of the roots of plants you pull up. A healthy, spread-out root system is also a sign of good soil.
Soil pH is another important factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Soil pH is the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. It’s a scale that runs from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral and if the number decreases from 7, the acidity increases and if the number increases from 7, the alkalinity increases. Plant nutrients become available or unavailable according to the soil’s pH level. The essential nutrients are most available to most plants at a pH between 6 to 7.5. Soil pH can be measured and altered as per one’s requirements.
Water and air are also important for good soil health. Roots and microbes need varying amounts of water and air and the microenvironments in the soil help with this. Soil compaction and disturbance disturb this balance and hence it is important to minimize soil compaction.
So, the next time when you are in the garden center trying to figure out which bags of soil to pick for your vegetable or ornamental garden, remember that you already have soil in your garden. All you might need to do is take a closer look at it and try to identify what it is missing. Feel the soil. Smell it. Get your hands dirty. You have to understand your soil before you start growing plants in it. And trust me its not that difficult. I am not an expert and I did it, so can you!
Mississauga Master Gardeners
JOE LAMP’L– www.growingagreenerworld.com
Lee Reich- www.finegardening.com
Photo courtesy of National Science Foundation
A friend of mine has spent over $15,000 in the last 4 years on his front yard and backyard- it is but natural to ask “Why?’”
His answer was “To grow a lawn,” or more specifically turf (here, turf is defined as the grass and the surface layer of earth held together by its roots). When I heard this, I was aghast!
Lawns are dead ecosystems. They are equivalent to concrete footpaths when it comes to their ecological contribution. Yet home owners in North America collectively spend billions of dollars trying to perfect the art of turf maintenance. What a marketing success, I must say.
Lawn was historically grown by the elites in Europe- especially in England and France. The climatic conditions there are well suited for the growth of grass. European colonizers (English and French) introduced grass to North America, among other places in the world.
In North America one had to be very affluent to be able to maintain large areas of turf. Before the invention of the lawn mower, maintenance required a substantial commitment of manual labour. Even today, some suburban homeowner’s associations fine homeowners for not maintaining their lawns according to set standards. This, after large academic studies show that that present day lawns are one of the best examples of unsustainable practices.
Lawns are monocultures which makes them biological deserts. Monocultures like lawns support very little in terms of species diversity. At the same time, they are easily susceptible to invasive species, diseases and other biotic outbreaks. To counter them we treat the lawn with a whole horde of chemicals. This clearly shows that the lawn cannot sustain itself and needs constant care- “lawn care”.
Not only that, lawns are the largest irrigated crops, contribute to runoff, consume a lot of energy (gasoline and electricity for maintenance machinery), and require chemical pollutants and toxins to keep them looking their best. Still, after all this work, lawns have very little ecological value.
Our standard lawn growing and maintenance practices are unsustainable and cause substantial degradation to the ecosystem. A study from the University of California-Irvine found that the total estimated greenhouse gas emissions from lawn care –which includes fertilizer and pesticide production, watering, mowing, leaf blowing and other lawn management practices–was four times greater than the amount of carbon dioxide stored by grass. In other words, our lawns and their maintenance generate four times the amount of carbon dioxide they absorb.
So, how do we go about fixing this problem? Well, all is not lost. There are various lawn alternatives that are ecologically friendly and help in creating a balance in the natural environment.
Imagine yourself as a tired insect or a bird and are looking at the landscape from a few hundred feet above. Where would you want to land? On a large green patch of grass that has very little to offer in terms of food and shelter? Or would you like to land on a patch that has cozy leaf litter for shelter, a few juicy herbaceous plants for nectar and berries, and a small watering hole to cool down? I know what I would choose.
This spring, when you step out into your backyard and start planning your garden maintenance program, pause. Take a step back. Think. Think of all the possibilities that you have, all the great options that are available to reduce the amount of lawn. Think of this as great opportunity, an opening to create an ecosystem, to create your own garden of Eden. Think of what you can do to bring nature back to your home, to your very own backyard.
MISSISSAUGA MASTER GARDENERS
Pandemic is providing an opportunity to build better connections with our food by creating edible gardens.
Story from The Mississauga News includes an interview with our own MMG Michelle Wilson.
Our new COVID-19 world has changed the way we as a society live and consume. In just a few weeks since physical distancing and other health regulations were put in place, communities have quickly learned how to adapt and react.
One area that has been impacted most is food, leading to food insecurity.
Since the pandemic was declared nearly two months ago, food bank usage has increased, farmers are having to discard their produce due to closures of large customers like restaurants, and talks of food shortages are everyday occurrences.
But one “hobby” is emerging as a potential solution to our food woes. The interest in gardening and growing your own food has bloomed immensely.
“On multiple levels this is definitely a trend that has happened around the world,” said Joe Nasr, of Ryerson University’s Centre for Studies in Food Security and Toronto Urban Growers.
“People are concerned, and more exposure is making them think of the food and agriculture system in a more tangible way.”
Nasr believes there are multiple reasons behind the spike in amateur gardening.
Not only do more people have time of their hands, gardening can also be a therapeutic release during stressful times. Not to mention potential food shortages or how many people rely on community gardens — which were closed until recently — for their food supply.
“A shortage of food hasn’t happened yet, but it can easily happen. Food coming from Mexico to feed Canada is dependent on access to borders,” said Nasr.
“You’re essentially joining quite a big movement and that is reassuring,” she said.
She also lists giving people a sense of control, self-soothing and calmness as additional benefits of taking up gardening.
“We need to move away from ‘nice looking’ to having something to eat,” she said, explaining that aesthetically pleasing lawns and flower beds are not of such importance.
“These are trying times, if we get a second wave that (growing for aesthetics) is going to disappear, people do need to garden for themselves for security.”
Wilson has spent many years learning the do’s and don’ts of gardening and planting and has provided some tips for those experimenting with their green thumbs.
For the first time-gardener, it’s best to pick plants that are easiest to grow. Vegetables like radishes, herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, kale, swiss chard and squash are some that Wilson suggests.
Growing vegetables from plants instead of seeds is also suggested for beginners.
“Your garden area needs to have good drainage,” says Wilson, adding it will also need access to rain and good light, at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily.
Enriched soils are better for growing conditions and Wilson suggests keeping your food waste to do the job. Crushed eggshells, coffee grounds and banana peels can be mixed in to create organic compost.
A tip that is often forgotten is giving your plants enough space, as Wilson explains, “a lot of times you get excited and plant too much.” Overcrowding will lead to the death of your plants.
If you don’t have access to garden space, Wilson suggests grabbing a pot and start experimenting.
“There’s no reason why we can’t grow things in pots,” says Wilson. “But they have to have deep roots.”
Beets, carrots, kale and swiss chard need pots large enough to home the growing roots, while herbs, lettuce and green onions can be grown in shallow containers.
Pots and containers will need to be placed in a sunny location to get their 6-8 hours of sun.
Wilson cautions that growing vegetables in containers above ground often dry out quickly and will need to be monitored during the warmer months.
In general, Wilson says to keep it simple — have fun and grow only what you will eat.
“Do not expect to learn everything all at once, there will be failure along with the success,” she said.
“This is key.”
For the meantime, there is no denying the impact of growing your own food, but will this practice continue after the pandemic is over? Both Wilson and Nasr hope the answer to that question is yes.
Hayes sees this moment as a chance to “learn how to improve our local food access and our relationship with foods, with farmers and with our fellow community members,” and hopes to see these relationships flourish in the future.