What is a Pollinator Pathway?

Pollinator habitat is becoming increasingly diminished and fragmented, due in part to the growth of human communities, transportation corridors and industry.

Almost 90%. Flowering plants across the globe that are dependent entirely or in part on animal pollination.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, the creation of pollinator habitats can be quite complementary to these landscapes.

pollinator

By working together, private and public landowners can create pollinator pathwayspesticide-free corridors of native plants that provide nutrition and habitat for pollinators and help them to disperse into new habitats in response to climate change.

Pollinator pathways restore and create a diversity of permanent, high-quality, wildflower-rich habitats. They can be created by connecting multiple features: blossoming pastures on farmland, boulevards planted with pollinator-friendly plants in towns and cities, backyard gardens, and transmission lines blooming with native wildflowers.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The goal is to connect properties at a distance that is within the range of most native pollinators in the area. For example, if local native bees have a range of about 750 metres, properties would be no farther apart than that, and ideally corridors of native habitat would connect these properties.

Definition: Pollinator Pathway is a pesticide-free corridor of native plants that provides nutrition and habitat for pollinators and helps them to disperse into new habitats.

Creating pollinator pathways requires a lot of coordination and planning, but the benefits are plentiful. Not only do they bolster the number of pollinators and the services they deliver, but they also provide habitat for other wildlife and an opportunity for people to participate in the planning and to interact with nature in a meaningful way.

Corporations Can Create Pollinator Pathways

Natural gas pipelines, electric transmission corridors, solar arrays and wind farms occupy millions of acres of land across the country. For safety reasons, many companies must maintain vegetation under a certain height on their fields and right-of-ways – the long strips of land under power lines, over/beside pipelines and along roads. Most pollinator-friendly plants are a good fit for these restrictions, making them a good option for managing vegetation on corporate landscapes.

Right of way

Companies can foster pollinator habitat on their land in a number of ways:

  1. Restore the disturbed landscape with natural, native vegetation – preferably with flowers and shrubs that are in bloom from early spring through to fall to ensure continuous pollen and nectar sources.
  2. Maintain vegetation in a way that minimizes harm to pollinators where possible. For example, cutting back on harmful herbicides, mowing only at the end of the summer once pollinators have finished using the plants, and removing invasive species.
  3. Companies can enhance pollinator habitat by planting flowers and shrubs that provide pollinators with nesting and overwintering sites.

Farmers can contribute to Pollinator Pathways

High-clearance sprayer working a canola field in Canada.
High-clearance sprayer working a canola field in Canada.

Farmers can help recover pollinator populations in a number of ways. They can create and maintain a greater diversity of natural habitats, for example by planting native flowering plants along the edges of croplands. The maintenance of hedgerows and woodlots also helps support wild pollinators, as many species nest within these habitats.

Farmers can decrease the exposure of pollinators to harmful chemicals by reducing their use of pesticides, seeking alternatives for pest control, and taking measures to reduce pesticide drift from crop plants to other areas. If using Honey Bee colonies for pollination, farmers can press for better pathogen control coupled with better regulation of trade and use of commercial pollinators.

In doing all of the above, farmers can protect the pollinators using their fields, contribute habitat to pollinator pathways, and boost the number of pollinators in their habitat overall.

You Can Contribute to Pollinator Pathways

Parent and child gardening

Do you have property? A backyard? A balcony? A community garden? You can be an integral part of creating national pollinator pathways.

Make a difference for Canada’s wildlife and sign the Ban With A Plan petition! There’s still time!

Give Butterflies a Place to Drink

Interest in butterfly gardening is on the rise.

It’s a good thing, too, as it is an important way to help butterflies and other pollinators.

But did you know that some butterflies also get their nutrients from damp sand, compost and manure (behaviours called “mud puddling”), as well as from tree sap and moist organic matter like rotting fruit, dung and carrion?

Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF Caption: This swallowtail is feeding on washed up organic matter along a river
Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF. This swallowtail is feeding on washed up organic matter along a river.

While some of these food sources are not so appealing or feasible for us to recreate, we can help butterflies get their minerals by adding a mud puddling area near flowering plants.

Garden Mud Puddles

gardens as mudpuddles
Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF. Place your mud puddle in a sunny sheltered location.

Creating a mud puddle can be as simple as leaving an area of soil in your butterfly garden exposed. In other words, leaving an area mulch-free. Natural non-dyed mulch like straw or finely shredded bark or leaves is very beneficial because it keeps weeds down, keeps root temperatures more even, retains moisture and slowly adds nutrients to the garden. But if you leave the edge of the garden as bare soil, then after the garden is moistened from rain or watering, it can attract butterflies more easily.

Photo: Shelley O'Connell, QC, Photo Club Member Include native plants in your butterfly garden like asters, milkweeds, Joe pye weeds and Echinacea.
Photo: Shelley O’Connell, QC, Photo Club Member. Include native plants in your butterfly garden like asters, milkweeds, Joe pye weeds and Echinacea.

Of course, you can leave a patch of bare soil even if you don’t have a butterfly garden – any flower or vegetable garden will do. Ensure the ground is level or dips a little in one spot, rather than sloping away – slopes cause water to run off more easily, which means more work and water usage on your part to keep the area moist.

Dish Mud Puddles

Alternatively, you can place some sandy soil (not sterilized sand) in a dish, such as a plant saucer or bath. You can even use an old kitchen bowl or glass baking dish if you add enough water to dampen it. Keep an eye on rainfall to see how often you might need to moisten the dish, although don’t feel you have to keep it moist 24/7! If you have periods with lots of rain, you might also need to tip out excess water.

If you want to support other beneficial insects, add small stones to part of the dish so the insects can perch and drink water.

Additional Tips

mudpuddling
Photo: Shannon Roberts, Photo Club Member, B.C. A swallowtail mud puddling in a British Columbia garden.

You can encourage butterflies to find and use your mud puddling spot by adding fresh compost or manure. This is especially important if the mud puddling spot is part of your garden and your soil is deficient in minerals. Your plants will benefit, too.

Butterflies tend to prefer areas that are sunny and sheltered – a factor to keep in mind when situating both a butterfly garden and mud puddle area.

This Question Mark Butterfly was feeding at a dirt-filled crack in the CWF parking lot
Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF. This Question Mark Butterfly was feeding at a dirt-filled crack in the CWF parking lot.

Remember that while most adult butterflies need flowers for nectar to feed on, they also need plant leaves to eat when they are caterpillars. The plants that caterpillars eat are called “larval food plants.” Notice the butterflies in your area and see if you can determine their host plants (check out our Gardening for Butterflies handout). Next, see if you have any of those trees, shrubs or herbaceous plants on your property. If not, consider adding some!

While it is helpful to increase butterfly habitat with food and water, it is imperative that the area is safe for butterflies to live or visit. Avoid pesticides as much as possible to keep your butterfly (and other pollinator) neighbours safe.

Learning Along the Way

mudpuddling
Photo: Krista Melville, CWF Photo Club.

Encourage children to watch and notice which butterflies go to your flowers and which go to your mud puddle. Do some butterflies (like swallowtails) visit both or do some (like Question Marks and White Admirals that rarely visit flowers) only go to the mud puddle? Some butterflies that don’t normally mud puddle, like Monarchs, might end up visiting your muddy oasis if the summer is excessively dry and hot.

You can experiment with your mud puddle by filling half a dish with sand (non-sterilized) and the other half with compost or manure and seeing which side is most popular!

Learn more about Gardening for Wildlife with the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Pollinator Recovery? A Critical Step When Banning Neonics

Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, moths and flies, play critical roles in ecosystems and in the production of our food.

If you’ve eaten an apple or worn a comfy cotton t-shirt, you can thank a pollinator for transporting pollen between those plants’ blossoms.

40%
Percentage of invertebrate pollinator species – particularly bees and butterflies – facing extinction.

Despite the important services they provide, the populations of many wild pollinators are declining, largely due to changes in their habitat, intensive agricultural practices and pesticide use, invasive species, disease and climate change.

Bumblebee
Bombus tenarius | Photo: Wendy Riley

The good news is that much can be done to bring pollinator numbers back. We can create habitat by planting pollinator-friendly plants along roadsides, in parks and along utility corridors. We can support sustainable agricultural practices, such as crop rotation and retaining hedgerows. We can ban the use of harmful pesticides.

These actions promote “pollinator recovery” and require attention from industry, individuals and governments at all levels.

It is imperative that we invest in initiatives to reverse the effects that pesticides and habitat loss have had on our pollinators. Together, we can do something about it and that is why planting a pollinator pathway across Canada and building a national monitoring program are key initiatives to stem the decline and build the numbers back up.” ~Carolyn Callaghan, CWF Senior Conservation Biologist, Terrestrial Wildlife

 What can the Governments of Canada Do?

Syrphid Fly | Photo: Allan McDonald
Syrphid Fly | Photo: Allan McDonald

Governments urgently need to provide the leadership necessary to recover pollinator numbers and diversity.

Through legislation, policy, strategies and plans, they have the power to enshrine pollinator protection and recovery into our society. Here in Canada, many municipal, regional and provincial governments are taking action.

For example, the cities of Vancouver and Montreal and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario have all implemented bans against or reductions in the use of harmful neonicotinoid pesticides. The city of Calgary has launched several pollinator-friendly projects, including a bee and butterfly boulevard consisting of wildflowers and a variety of nesting habitats. The city of Toronto released a Pollinator Protection Strategy that, among many initiatives, provides grants to community members to create pollinator habitat. Ontario has a Pollinator Health Action Plan committing the provincial government to monitoring the health of wild and managed bee populations.

Lagging Behind

Monarch Butterfly | Photo: Brenda Doherty, CWF Photo Club
Monarch Butterfly | Photo: Brenda Doherty, CWF Photo Club

While municipal, regional and provincial governments lead the charge in pollinator recovery across the country, is the federal government keeping pace? As a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada has committed to support the development of national plans and strategies for the conservation of pollinator diversity. The CBD’s draft Pollinator Initiative Plan of Action for 2018 to 2030 encourages governments to consider four objectives when tackling protection and recovery. Canada has taken steps toward some of these objectives, but on others has a long way to go.

You can help, too! Sign the Ban With A Plan petition and tell government that we need a National Pollinator Recovery Action Plan.

Hatching a Turtle Recovery Plan

Turtles are in serious trouble.

All eight species of freshwater turtles in Canada are listed as Species At-Risk. This makes turtles one of the most endangered groups of wildlife in Canada. Turtles face many threats, including:

  • Habitat loss
  • Being hit by cars and trucks on roads
  • High rates of nest predation

In 2018, the Canadian Wildlife Federation began collecting and incubating Snapping Turtle and Blanding’s Turtle eggs in eastern Ontario to help turtle populations. The eggs are carefully collected from wild nests and incubated at CWF headquarters. The hatchlings of each nest are then released at the wetland closest to the nest site.

Last year we collected over 400 eggs. More than 95 per cent of the fertilized eggs hatched out, allowing us to release almost 400 hatchlings. This year, the CWF Turtle Team acquired a second incubator that allowed us to collect and incubate more eggs. After many late nights of hard work, the Turtle Team collected over 500 Snapping Turtle and Blanding’s Turtle eggs.

Why is incubating eggs so beneficial to turtle populations?

CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator.
CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator
  • In many areas, nest predators such as raccoons are very abundant. Raccoons have adapted to human ways and increased their populations. It is common for raccoons to destroy more than half of turtle nests – in some areas, they may take 80 per cent or more of nests. That is a lot of lost reproduction.
  • If it is a cool and wet summer, there may not be enough time for the eggs to hatch before fall arrives. In central and eastern Ontario, turtle eggs may only hatch in years when temperatures are average or above average.
  • Some nests along roadsides will be missed by predators, but these nests still face other risks. Regular maintenance along roadsides can include grading the road shoulder, which can accidentally dig up nests. And in some areas, roadsides are sprayed with herbicides to control unwanted plants, which can also affect nests.
  • The eggs that do hatch are still not necessarily safe. Hatchlings often emerge from the nest in late summer or early fall. If the nest is on the roadside, hatchlings may disperse onto the road, only to be run over during their first day out of the nest.
  • Hatchlings that avoid being run over must still find their way to water. Some roadside nests are only a few metres from water, making the trek fairly easy for the hatchlings. Other roadside nests we’ve found have been more than 100 metres from water. This is a huge distance for toonie-sized hatchlings to travel – assuming they go in the right direction!

Collecting and incubating the eggs avoids these and other threats. The eggs are protected from nest predators such as raccoons. The temperature and humidity are controlled so the eggs hatch out on time. The hatchlings can avoid being run over by cars and making the lengthy trek to water.

snapping baby turtle

The vast majority of turtle eggs never result in hatchlings entering the wetland. By incubating the eggs and releasing the hatchlings at the nearest wetland to the nest, we are giving turtle reproduction a huge boost. The hatchlings still face many threats after being released, but they will have overcome some of the biggest hurdles in a turtle’s life.

Learn more about how you can HelpTheTurtles.ca

Recipe for a Native Meadow

The meadows and prairies in southern Canada are blooming!

At the Canadian Wildlife Federation we’ve been busy experimenting by creating native meadows for pollinators at three sites in eastern Ontario.

All our sites are on roadsides or right-of-ways. These locations offer ideal low-growing places to provide additional habitat for pollinators. Together with our partners  HydroOne, Lanark County and the National Capital Commission  we wanted to share with you the following recipe for a native meadow:

Step #1: Select a site

Native meadows thrive in full sun. Sites can be anywhere from dry to moist, but thanks to all the rain this year, we’ve discovered that it’s easiest to work with sites that are at least dry by late spring! Sites with very few invasive plants (e.g., Wild Parsnip and Reed Canary Grass) are also easier to prepare for seeding.

Step #2: Prepare the site

Warning: This can be very time-consuming! To give native plants the best chance of survival, we needed well-prepared seed beds that were as weed-free as possible.

Alexis Latemouille preparing a pilot project site near Green’s Creek, Ottawa, managed by the National Capital Commission.
Alexis Latemouille preparing a pilot project site near Green’s Creek, Ottawa, managed by the National Capital Commission.

As part of our project, we’ve experimented with a number of methods for removing the competition:

  • Tilling
  • Planting oats to shade out the weeds
  • Spraying herbicides

We are also planning to prepare some sites over several seasons. By later this year, we hope to report which method was most successful at reducing weed competition and allowing the native species to thrive. We’ll continue to monitor this over the long term.

Step #3: Order native seed

Wet vs. Dry Ingredients

The “ingredients” for a meadow differ depending on each site. At our moister sites, we included the seeds of pollinator plants that like “wet feet,” such as Joe-Pye Weed and Boneset. For drier sites, the mix included plants like Pearly Everlasting and Woodland Sunflower.

Common Ingredient

We included Common Milkweed seeds at every site because this species can grow in a wide range of areas and is the host plant for Monarch Butterflies. It’s also an excellent nectar source for many insects.

Grasses to Wildflowers Ratio

Carolyn Callaghan collecting Common Milkweed seeds.
Carolyn Callaghan collecting Common Milkweed seeds.

All our mixes include around 40 per cent native grasses (which add nest sites for pollinators) and 60 per cent wildflowers (for a range of nectar and pollen). To find a seed supplier, consult CWF’s online database of native plant suppliers. We also collected several species locally last fall. This is a really fun activity and brought our mix for each site up to around 50 species. For more information, the Xerces Society has an excellent free download on collecting native seed.

Step #4: Weigh and mix

Weighing coarse native seeds, including native grasses and milkweed seeds.
Weighing coarse native seeds, including native grasses and milkweed seeds.

This part really is a lot like baking. Because native seed is expensive, we wanted to use exactly the right amount for each site and no more. The correct amount of seed was weighed according to the area of each site.

Mixing native seed with millet, a cover crop.
Mixing native seed with millet, a cover crop. | Mélange de semences indigènes et de millet, une culture de protection.

In the field, we mixed the native seed with a cover crop (either oats or millet). The cover crop has two functions. First, it thins out the native seeds and helps to spread them more evenly. Second, the crop will come up and help shade the young native plants for the first year, before being killed by frost. By next spring, the native seedlings will be ready to survive on their own.

CWF and Hydro staff survey the pollinator project.

Step #5: Add a crew with enthusiasm

CWF staff and volunteers (Samantha Reynolds, Emily Armstrong, Paul Wityk, Carolyn Callaghan, Kira Balson) seeding a HydroOne pilot project site in Ottawa.
CWF staff and volunteers (Samantha Reynolds, Emily Armstrong, Paul Wityk, Carolyn Callaghan, Kira Balson) seeding a HydroOne pilot project site in Ottawa.

This is the fun part. Order some sunshine and gather a crew. While it can feel somewhat daunting to arrive at a large site, we were surprised by how quickly we finished seeding. With eight keen staff and volunteers, we seeded a 1.5 hectare (three acre) site in just a couple of hours. We walked grid lines in both directions, flinging our mix widely.

Our goal was not to coat our sites in seed, but to “seed the seeders” – that is, give enough space to each plant to flower and fill the meadow over the next few years. We seeded in late spring, but fall can also be a great time to plant native meadows.

Step #6: Add patience in large quantities, and stand back

Just as with baking, waiting for results might be the hardest part. In this case, we have to wait months and maybe even a few years to see some species. For the time being, our work is done.

The rest is up to nature.

monarch restoration sign

We are proud to announce that over the past month, CWF and partners have followed this recipe and planted acres of roadside and utility corridor native pollinator habitat at different sites in eastern Ontario. A huge thanks to staff at HydroOne, Lanark County and the National Capital Commission who have worked so hard to make this pilot project possible, and to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for providing funding.

Watch for updates as the season unfolds!

Learn more about the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s work in Agriculture & Habitat.

My Answer to the Age-Old Question

“So, what do you do?”

My barber asked me this common enough question a few weeks ago. In the spirit of small talk, I boiled it down to the most basic idea of what I’m doing for the summer; I look for turtles.

He gave me a look, a chuckle, and a feeling that he didn’t take it seriously. I couldn’t blame him. It sounds too silly and whimsical to be actual work, and some of the time it is.

But I’ll explain it a little better for you than I did for the barber.

Turtle Team

Chris crossing a creek

I am one of the four proud members of the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Turtle Team, led by David Seburn, CWF’s Freshwater Turtle Specialist. Our work is focused on the conservation of Canada’s threatened turtle populations.

This involves public outreach and education, reducing risks to vulnerable populations through:

Looking for Turtles

Looking for turtles in the wetland

The wetland surveys are carried out on Crown land or the private properties of landowners who are interested in turtle conservation. Once we arrive at the wetlands, we strap on our wading boots, don our bug nets, sling our binoculars around our necks and wade out in search of turtles.

Our focus is the Threatened Blanding’s Turtle. Our goal is to protect the precious habitat in which these turtles are found. To do this, we need to find a Blanding’s Turtle, take a photo of it and record where we found it. At this point, the wetland is officially protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Easy enough, right?

Well, what if I told you that endangered is usually synonymous with rare and hard to find. Also, wetlands are usually associated with biting insects – a lot of them.

Some days we spend six hours waist-deep in muddy water surrounded by legions of blackflies and mosquitos — all trying to get a bite out of us. The sun is beating down on our heads, but there’s no way of cooling off because if we remove any clothing at all, we just provide more banquet for the bugs to munch.

And that’s not to mention the ticks. It’s been a few weeks and one of us has already been bitten by a Deer Tick, which can transmit Lyme Disease (thankfully she was fine – always immediately seek medical treatment if you have been bitten by a tick!).

© David Seburn | CWF Staff
One of two Blanding’s Turtles that we found during an outing on May 10.

Even after all of that, many times we don’t actually find a Blanding’s Turtle. It can be exhausting and extremely frustrating work, especially when you know they’re likely there, we just can’t find them. But when you do find one of these remarkable creatures, the effort is completely worth it.

The Journey’s Not That Bad, Either

Tiptoe-ing through the cattailsThe places we go to survey are undeniably beautiful, ancient and teeming with a variety of plant and animal life.

I’ve seen a community of nesting Great Blue Herons, porcupines climbing trees, a family of coyotes, a ball of mating snakes, prehistoric-looking snapping turtles the size of manhole covers, and even multi-storied beaver dams! These places are magical, diverse and incredibly important, which makes the stakes for us to find Blanding’s Turtles and protect these ecosystems even higher. Upwards of 70 per cent of southern Ontario’s wetlands have already been lost.

Although most people have a romanticized view of fieldwork, at times it can be incredibly stressful, labour intensive and uncomfortable. It’s tough and dirty work. But it is paramount to turtle conservation, and someone’s got to do it. This summer it got to be me.

upload observations to inaturalist.ca
upload observations to inaturalist.ca

You can help too! If you see a Blanding’s Turtle please report it on iNaturalist.ca. You can find out more about our turtle work at HelpTheTurtles.ca.

16 ways to protect your garden in a drought without being wasteful

I vividly remember the first drought I ever experienced.

It was in 2012 with what seemed like a never-ending heat wave in Ontario. It was also the year I decided to plant my first veggie garden on my own. Spoiler alert – it did not survive.

I remember the grass being the first to go; it dried up completely and felt burnt to a crisp from the sun. Then the cracks started forming in the soil. It was so dry that the ground turned hydrophobic – meaning that the soil repelled all watering attempts the way a dry sponge does when water is poured on. Then *sob* my veggie garden died – it didn’t stand a chance.

We were on a drilled-well so we had to stop watering the veggie garden and flowers to not waste water. Next up, natural ponds and marshes started to dry up completely in our area. It was something I had never seen before! It’s been a few years since this drought and I’ve learned a few things that I will surely implement in my next garden. Fingers crossed the next veggie garden fares better than the last!

Do’s and Don’ts

Here are some dos and don’ts to keep your garden green without using too much water in a drought!

  1. Do prioritize established plants. Existing plants root systems are more established under the soil and will require less water compared to freshly planted plants.
  2. Do plant and prioritize native plants and wildflowers. Native plants like Milkweed, Echinacea and Purple Prairie Clover, Rattlesnake Master, Brittle Prickly-Pear, Hoary Vervain, etc. tend to be more drought-resistant. It also provides crucial sources of food and shelter for pollinators, beneficial insect and critters, who would be in dire need in a drought.
  3. Do check up on your plants. Cut away dead flowers and leaves from plants to help conserve energy in drought conditions.
  4. Do water deeply and frequently. Avoid hydrophobic soil in your garden by practicing long, deep watering until soil is hydrated then ease up. It does seem counter intuitive to slowly water the soil for longer periods in a drought. You will reduce water waste over time by watering more deeply and slowly and using a drip irrigation to provide maximum moisture with minimum waste.
  5. Don’t get too attached to your lawn. Lawns are more decorative. Reconsider your need to water the lawn. It may go brown during extreme heat but this is usually a period of dormancy rather than a dead lawn.
  6. Do start with good soil. Work in compost every year to give it some extra nutrition and to help retain moisture.

spreading mulch in a garden

  1. Do add mulch. Add mulch to exposed areas throughout the garden to reduce evaporation. It will also maintain a healthier temperature for plant roots during hot summers so plants can better withstand periods of drought. As a bonus, mulch also prevents erosion and suppresses competing weeds.
  2. Do help pollinators. Add a small bowl of water in shaded parts of garden with rocks to allow beneficial insects and pollinators to rest on while getting a sip of water.
  3. Don’t fertilize your garden during an active drought. Fertilizing encourages your garden to grow and this requires water.
  4. Do use rainwater. Set up a rain barrel to capture any rainfall from eaves troughs to use for watering.
  5. Do repurpose wasted water (gray water). Rinsing grapes or potatoes? What about letting the water run for a few seconds (or minutes) waiting for it to get hot? Use sink basins to collect this water for your garden! Alternatively, installing a gray water systems make double the usage of the water you use to wash the dishes or clothes. A win-win!

irrigation

  1. Do water in the early morning. This will help reduce evaporation and prevent leaf scorching from water droplets in the sun. Morning watering also gives the plants a chance to dry before night sets in. This helps prevent pests that are attracted to very moist environments, like slugs and fungi.
  2. Do pull out the weeds. It’s especially important during a drought because weeds roots can steal valuable moisture from the soil.
  3. Don’t plant during peak drought as these plants will need more regular watering to become established.
  4. Do direct watering. For a plant that needs more water, try sticking a water bottle with the base removed into the soil near the plant and water through the top of the bottle. Using this technique, water will be channeled specifically to that plant’s root system.
  5. Do prepare for next year. We can’t predict what kind of weather we’ll experience in upcoming summers but we can prepare for a potential drought from digging in compost in the soil in the fall, planting specific drought-resistant native shrubs, plants and wildflowers in anticipation of a drought.

Did we miss any gardening tips? Tell us your tried and true tips!

Ixnay On The Nics, Eh?

Is it time for an official Canadian ban on neonicotinoids for their devastating effect on bugs, birds and humans? Most experts say yes.

When neonicotinoid insecticides came into wide-spread use in the 1990s, farmers in Canada and around the world saw them as a godsend. Older pest-killers on the market weren’t working too well because bugs had evolved to evade their killing mechanisms. Plus, those older classes of chemicals were causing worries about toxicity to landscapes, water systems and other creatures that weren’t the targets.

In the decades since, neonics have become the most popular insecticides on the planet. Popular not in the sense of beloved, but in their extraordinary reach.

It’s not just that the chemicals are sprayed on crops as needed — although they are. It’s that seeds are coated in the stuff before they’re even planted, whether there’s the threat of a pest infestation or not. That goes for corn, soybeans, canola, wheat, bedding plants, vegetables, fruit and even tea plantations from China to India, from Africa to the US and Canada.

An exception is Europe, where most types of neonics were banned a year ago. Last year, an international group of more than 200 scientists from the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides called on Canada and other countries to follow suit. In April, Health Canada opted not to. Instead, it is cancelling and restricting some neonic uses and allowing the chemicals to be used on canola seeds and greenhouse vegetables, among others. The department is still assessing risks to aquatic insects. Meanwhile, Ontario has ordered cuts of 80 per cent to neonic use. The issue is that they are systemic pesticides, meaning the chemicals infuse every cell in the planet’s body, right down to flowers and pollen. So far, the highly publicized concerns are over what that means for birds and bees, collateral damage to the pests that eat up farmers’ crops.

The effect on bees is direct. Neonics are a potent neurotoxin that interferes with the pollinators’ (and other insects’) ability to think, killing or injuring them. Birds — some of whose numbers are already in steep decline — are mainly being affected indirectly, as the University of Saskatchewan ecotoxicologist Christy Morrissey and others have found. Many are going hungry because the toxins are poisoning the bugs they need to eat.

That’s scary enough. But now, another eyebrow-raising study has come out from the University of Saskatchewan. Biologists Rachel Parkinson and John Gray studied the effect of the neonic formulation Imidacloprid on locusts. Bad news, as it turns out. Locusts dosed with small amounts of the pesticide couldn’t figure out how to avoid bumping into things. Many forgot how to fly.

Worse, though, was that two of the chemicals produced as the pesticide degrades — called metabolites — were at least as toxic to the locusts as the pesticide itself and sometimes far more toxic. But when regulatory agencies tot up the concentration of neonics in the environment, those metabolites aren’t counted. Nor is the longevity of metabolites considered in overall toxicity.

All of that is alarming. But then there’s the line at the end of the study that waves even more red flags. It’s about something called “conduction velocity,” which refers to how fast connections flow across nerve tissue in the brain. The neonic and its metabolites interfered with conduction velocity in locusts, “which corresponds with effects measured in humans exposed to agricultural neonics,” the authors write.

Snap.

Just how much research has been done on how neonics affect the human brain? A 2018 overview survey of about 100 studies said humans are being exposed to the pesticide in multiple ways, including by both air and mouth with unknown consequences. Another found that the chemicals have been detected in human urine, blood and hair.

A 2014 Harvard University study found neonic traces in every single fruit and vegetable tested, apart from nectarines and tomatoes, and in 90 per cent of honey, according to a review for the Ontario College of Family Physicians by Dr. Marg Sanborn. Six in 10 groundwater wells in potato-growing parts of Quebec had neonics, she said.

Those indicators are alarming enough for some scientists to call for large-scale studies on how the pesticides are affecting human health, particularly brain development and function.

What bothers me is how inexorable the unfolding of the problem feels. First, a pesticide is the brave new saviour for food crops. Then, there might be a few unwanted effects on other bugs. Then, lo and behold, bees are dying off. Birds are starving. Locusts are befuddled. And now there’s some evidence that these powerful, now omnipresent brain toxins might have the ability to affect human health.

All of this follows the pattern of every broad-scale industrial pesticide we have created. The conundrum: How do we grow enough food to feed us all and still honour the fact that insects are critical to the way our planet functions?

Learn more about neonics at BanWithAPlan.org

Would You Ever Live With Bats?

Have you been hearing squeaks? Seeing bats flying around your roof?

You may have bats in your home. This news might freak out a lot of people, but don’t put your house up for sale just yet. It’s easier to cohabit with bats than you’d think.

Why Are They Even There in the First Place?

In a word, roosting. Female bats scout out spots to roost and raise their young way back in the spring. Those babies are usually born between June and August. So if you’ve got bats in your attic at this time of year, there’s a very good chance that there will be babies too. Bats seem to return time and time again to the same maternity roost each year.

I Want Them Gone!

So what happens if you evict bats during the summer? You’re not going to like the answer. When you evict female bats during the summer, you may very well be leaving helpless pups behind to die. If you absolutely must evict bats from your home, the best time to do this is September and October. Whatever you do, don’t send them packing between May and August or over winter.

Is There Another Way?

Yes. Live with them. And here’s why it’s so important that you take a step back and really think about it. So many of Canada’s bats are at-risk. The Tricoloured, Northern Long-eared and Little Brown Bat are all listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as Endangered.  The Pallid and Eastern Red Bat are listed as Threatened. While the Fringed, Spotted, Townsends Big-eared, Western Small-footed, Yuma Myotis, and Free-tailed Bat are considered species of Special Concern.

They are at-risk for many reasons, but a big one is habitat loss. They simply don’t have enough places to call home. And considering that their survival relies less on high birth rates and more on high survival rate and they only have one or two pups a year, it’s critical to their survival that they find shelter so that those pups can survive.

How in the World Would I Ever Live With a Bat or … Eeeeep…Bats?

Living with a bat doesn’t mean you have to share a bathroom with it. In fact, you really shouldn’t notice that you’re living with a bat at all. Bats can be relegated to the attic (that’s likely where they’ve been hanging their hat anyway!). By retrofitting your household, you’ll be providing bats with a safe roosting spot. Blockages, partitions, and specific entry/exit points are a few simple retrofits that encourage bats to hang out in a specific area of the attic.

That said, you’ll want to take some precautions to make sure you do this safely. Usually the biggest concern is bat guano. Place a drop sheet down in your attic to capture the guano and clean the sheets one or twice a year to make sure their poop doesn’t affect your health.

Learn more about how you can HelpTheBats.ca

8 Cool Facts About Wasps That’ll Make You Love Them!

Wasps don’t have the best reputation.

They’re not exactly a welcome sight at BBQs or outdoor picnics, are they?  Studies show that, as you might suspect, wasps are more disliked than their fuzzy bee relatives. Unfortunately, the negative feelings toward wasps are very likely due to the fact that there is significant lack of knowledge and education regarding the substantial benefits wasps bring to the planet’s function, health, and sustainability.

However, these hard working critters are actually one of humanity’s most economically and ecologically essential organisms.  Wasps play a role in pollinating crops and flowers. They are also incredibly proficient at managing pest populations.

Wask on flower @ Martin Tampier | CWF Photo Club
Wasp on flower @ Martin Tampier | CWF Photo Club

The next time you cringe at the sight of a wasp zipping past you at a pool party, instead of getting out the fly swatter, try thinking about these very cool wasp facts instead:

  1. Wasps can be found everywhere except for Antarctica.
  2. Wasps can recognize another wasp by identifying the individual from their unique facial patterns.
  3. There are 30,000 identified species of wasps.
  4. Wasps can create their own paper to build their nests with by chewing and spitting out pieces of bark.
  5. Social wasps use their stingers as a defence, whereas solitary wasps use their stingers and venom for hunting.
  6. Only female wasps have stingers, and the stingers are actually a modified egg-laying organ.
  7. Wasps come in any colour imaginable including red, orange, green, blue, and, of course, yellow and black.
  8. Wasps have proven to be capable of using logic. They can use two separate pieces of information to draw a conclusion. This is believed to be the first suggestion that invertebrates are able to use logical deduction.

Learn more about how the Canadian Wildlife Federation is helping our pollinators at BanWithAPlan.org