Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is great – you can do it, too.

An updated Point Pelee trip (two, actually) report

Way back in 2011 when I was a beginning birder, I visited Point Pelee National Park for the first time. I wrote a trip report for the group I’d joined. They didn’t end up publishing it, and though I was free to do, I didn’t manage to get around to it — or if I did, it was an afterthought that went away while merging my old website to this one here in 2016. However, I did keep the Point Pelee Pictorial post from my trip there in 2013, and I recently revisited it.

In the intervening years, it’s only had 14 views, some of them surely my own. It also was of a lower quality than I’d like to have thought worth sharing, even given the evolution of expectations and image technology since then. So I just gave it a solid update—because a trip report is practically irrelevant of when it actually happens; what you see is timely for the place and the season.

Every year, migrating birds come in to Point Pelee between April and June, and depart through there again in September. The difference in the place visited is whether people build (or close) a trail, renovate a park building, how much the trees grow, how the vegetation and water ecology shifts, how the roads degrade with disuse and frost heaves and plant life that break them up. Like this, which is not a picture of a river, but of a former road, perhaps from before it became a National Park:

An old park road at Point Pelee, returning to nature
When this announcement has served its purpose, I’ll add this image of the re-naturalizing road (from 2011) into the Point Pelee Pictorial.

Upshot: I compiled my 2011 trip report into the 2013 blog post, and added the 2013 Big Day birding list (new information to the blog!), so it should actually be an interesting read for you now. So please, check out my Point Pelee Pictorial blog post — and make your own plans to go there for either this September’s fall migration, or next May’s spring arrival.

Montréal’s annual garden giveaways

The spring gardening season is upon us with even more speed than it usually arrives, because regardless of what winter does, that’s the way time works: every year accelerates. So it is time that the Ville’s annual “embellissement” campaign (“embellishment,” or rather “beautification”) is coming again to many boroughs in just a few weekends.

Pepper plant from the garden giveaway
A pepper plant I received from the garden giveaway as a seedling, once it matured and produced two peppers!

This annual event gives residents of Montreal a number of floral, vegetable, and herb seedlings for their gardens and balconies. Past entrants have been impatiens and begonias, echinacea (cone flowers), sage, rosemary, basil, and mint, and peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Always included: as much compost and wood chips as you want to take. Bring your own bags, baskets, buckets, and a wagon to cart it all away! Oh, and don’t forget your ID. You have to prove residency in the borough in which the plants are being given.

When? Well, you’ll have to check the website and consult the calendar or the page for your borough, or other community listings, to find out when the “distribution” of plants is (that’s the search word to look for), but it typically happens on the long weekend in May, and for some, the weekend after that, and lastly, the first weekend in June.

I know it seems late for gettting them in the ground (last-frost date seems to be happening in April, if you’re in the city), but frankly, it takes time for the seedlings to grow up and “harden off” (acclimate to the outdoors) before they can be distributed for public planting. Though outdoor plants that are well-established are now as lush as can be, the seedlings I’ve planted are hardly ready for planting; the ones the Ville distributes have been started in greenhouses.

Read on to find out more about Montreal’s giveaways and garden resources:

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Sugar ants aren’t pests – they’re harmless and helpful!

This very popular blog post has been refreshed and updated for Spring 2024 (and thereafter).

Photo caption: A legion (not an army, but part thereof!) of sugar ants committed mass suicide in my bottle of honey. In honour of those that might resurrect – I can see some of them will – I pooled it in the sink and gave them a chance to extract themselves (and several did). A few less foolhardy brothers and sisters are supping from the edges.

It’s spring again— and people don’t know what to make of the teeny-tiny ants that march indoors like school children on spring and summer days (when they should be outside!). They can’t be mistaken for carpenter ants. But, unfortunately for them and all the other ant species that aren’t carpenter ants, all searches end up on results about killing them. As if they were as dangerous as carpenter ants. Carpenter ants won’t hurt you, but their infestations are dangerous to your house – they devour wood.  They’re the only ones you need to be vigilant about. (OK, maybe fire ants too, but usually they’re outdoors, minding their own business).

Common talk, mass media, and the extermination industry has effectively enabled people to think that insects are disgusting and undesirable. This is just flat-out wrong. Bugs aren’t your enemy. All it takes to realize that, is to observe them objectively, doing nothing but watch—and if that isn’t enough, it always helps to do a little research.

Of course, when you try to do some research, you have to get past the “get rid of” them websites. The truth takes lot more digging. So that’s what this blog post is about.

So, those teeny-tiny ants you see in spring, visiting your plants, maybe visiting the fruit on your kitchen counter? The name of this kind of ant is Tapinoma sessile. Here’s the path I took to research it some more:

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Resources to help you design your garden – Newly updated for 2024!

Well, here we are, late, late March! Are you ready to design the layout of your garden and get your seeds started?

For those who have space and haven’t planted a garden before, or for those who planning it anew this year, you always start with a rough plan: what to place where, and how much space and sun it will get. This will give you an idea how many seedlings you should start or have on hand of each kind of plant.

I don’t always start seeds every year, and when I do, I’m almost always late at it. We gardeners always get a little overzealous and end up tending tonnes of seedlings we have to sell or give away. But of course, you start by planting many seeds, because some never germinate, or else germinate and start, but then fail. If you have the space to add a few more good planters, extra seedlings can come in quite handy.

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