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Mar 11

Spring: Bring it on? or Hold off, not so fast!

The mantle of snow is slipping and there’s a softness to the air. “I just want it to be over,” a visitor said, navigating the lake of snowmelt that impedes access to my driveway.

But this is sugar maple country. “We could use some frost,” a neighbouring producer told me yesterday, when I dropped by the sugar shack, alerted to the intense activity inside by the smoke and steam rising above the treeline.

The trees are running, have been going well for five days. It wasn’t the plus 14 daytime high that had him bothered as much as the failure of the thermometer to drop below zero the night before.

It’s a balanced temperature cycle that keeps the sap flowing. Ideally, a range of plus 4 Celsius in the day and minus 4 at night. But plus or minus 10 degrees here or there will work; the important thing is to get some freezing action in. Time was when producers could count on the trees running for most of March. Not any more.Read more
Mar 3

Can we help? Assisted migration in an age of global warming

As the planet warms, species are on the move. The phenomenon has been observed in oceans, with fish populations shifting to the poles, and on land, with creatures moving to higher elevations in search of cool. Many species are struggling for survival in shrinking habitats.

And here in Ontario, higher temperatures are taking a toll of an iconic northern bird. The Gray Jay – the friendly Whiskey Jack of the boreal forest – has undergone a 50 per cent population drop in Algonquin Park over the past 25 years. The decline has been linked to spoilage of its perishable winter food caches, once kept reliably refrigerated by cold winters. Areas that in the past supported the Gray Jay are now abandoned.

The plight of some species – the American pika, the Edith’s checkerspot butterfly, the California newt – is so critical that the question being posed is whether they need assisted migration, which means being moved by us to locations where we deem the climate to be suitable for them, now and 50 to 100 years from now.
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Feb 1

Dreaming of ponds... and wetlands

‘Tis the season to daydream… of garden ponds and other summer projects. Although I already have a small pond, I’m planning to dig another one – and there have been some lessons learned since my first venture in 2004.

First lesson: no fish. As my interest is in supporting wildlife – particularly frogs – stocking the pond with goldfish was a mistake. The fish eat the frogs’ eggs. The prevailing wisdom is that you need fish to keep mosquitoes under control. That’s not true, despite dire warnings to the contrary. You need to make your pond attractive to other predators interested in mosquito eggs and larvae, like dragonflies and damselflies (whose larvae are also eaten by fish) and, of course, frogs.

A dragon/damselfly pond should be in sun for at least six hours a day and should have varying depths of water, for submerged plants that will provide habitat for the nymphs (pre-dragonflies) and for emergent plants that the nymphs can climb out on and the dragonflies can perch on. Read more