Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is hip and urban – and you can, too.

Tag: Photo opportunity

“Nuisance” wildlife control strategies in gardening

We have a lot of strategies to attract the animals and insects we want, and repel the ones we don’t. Here I discuss nuisance wildlife that we might want to control, as well as beneficial kinds.

Having food and shelter for insects and wildlife means that if you garden, you’ll have visitors. With some experience, you’ll know which animals and insects are pests, and which are merely hazards of gardening. You might want to actively welcome them – putting a dish of water out for the squirrels will reduce the number of tomatoes and cucumbers they steal, because your vegetables are an easy source of water on a hot, thirsty day. They’ll go for the water bowl, so put it out sooner rather than later, and the birds will benefit too.

Continue reading

It’s Pollinator Week! Let’s build a Mason bee house.

After a brief warm spell in May, we’ve had a rainy June so far. I prefer rain to heat at this time of year, but I’m watching my plants, wondering “why are only the perennials and weeds lush?” So many of my plants have sprouted and stopped. They’re waiting for something. I’d say it’s the sun. Still, with all the transplanting I’ve done, the rain and coolness have helped them take root, rather than die like they did last year.

Even if the blooms have been on time, with fewer flowers to choose from, pollinators haven’t been around all that much.

In the interest of serving bees (and having the bees serve us), I’m celebrating bees because June 17 – 23 [2013 AND 2019] is Pollinator Week! The Pollinator Partnership has tons of information about pollinators and what we can do to be as hospitable to them as possible.

It’s not just about bees: “Birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food.” Even rats have demonstrated a role in pollination.

Bees that pollinate are honeybees, bumble bees, and many solitary types such as Mason (or orchard) bees. Honeybees and bumble bees pollinate cultivated crops; native bees pollinate native plants. To learn more about bees, check out the videos on the Pollinator Partnership website, put together by Burt’s Bees, Wild for Bees, and Isabella Rosselini.

Even more fascinating is CBC Ideas radio/podcast “Dancing in the Dark.” If you want to learn a lot about bees’ variety, language, complexity and sheer sophistication in a short time, listen to this! 

Why should you care about bees?

Because despite their ubiquitous presence, honey bees are suffering from a disease called “Colony Collapse Disorder” and there is no human intervention or cure for it yet. I’m a biologist by training, and so the basic tool I know of to do something that might help is throw numbers at it – and help by buying honey from local beekeepers, and not at the grocery store. We need to drastically increase our beekeeping, even with expected losses, to increase the number of bees that have a natural resistance to the disease. Those that do, survive and go on to make queens and drones that help increase the surviving population.

I’m pleased to be attending an event on June 18th: “Nos abeilles sauvages en ville : une diversité insoupçonnée en lien avec l’aménagement urbain”“Our wild bees in the city: an unexpected diversity in relation to urban development.” That’s in a few days. Members of CRAPAUD will be in attendance at the wild bees discussion, and they have hives of their own at UQAM. (A Google translation of that link can be read here.)

Two years ago, an apiary installed some hives downtown. The Ville is not planning on regulating the practice, so count on seeing more of this, everywhere.


This past weekend, I created a Mason bee house. I first got the idea last year because of an interesting rant on the Montana Wildlife Gardener blog against honey bees (It’s interesting – here’s a link to all of Montana Gardener’s posts on the topic of bees.) I also received a comment spurring me to do it.

Here’s the process, in pictures:

log suitable for turning into a bee house
A good-sized triangular log of wood
Drill bits
Drill bits! Choose 1/4″ or 5/16″ and at least 3″ long, but don’t drill all the way through the wood.
hole drilled suitable for a Mason bee
I drilled rows that cross-hatch along the long sides of the triangle. This is the first hole.
hanging the bee house log
Hung with a cup hook and a chain, with a notch on the triangle, on the tall fencepost in my garden.

The Mason bee house isn’t finished yet, as it needs a “roof.” It also needs more holes (what can I say, except I drilled what I could in my drill battery’s short life). Only half as many holes are drilled on both sides as there will be when it’s done, but already I see activity around it. This is good!

UPDATE: the Mason bee house is occupied, and I’ve also seen it being used as a source of fibre for paper wasps, gathering material for their hive. They chew up the wood and build paper for nesting cells. They’re again succeeding in occupying the upper corner of my garage door. Wasps have a place in our ecosystem, too – so I’ll leave them alone.

Middle hole
paper wasp
and a fibre gatherer

Cutting out corn sweeteners

Each year on the homestead, I’ve made at least one significant change in habit or consumer choice to lower my carbon footprint. It seems that businesses and governments don’t feel like believing science when it implies we have to reduce and change our consumption of resources. Nonetheless, we as citizens and consumers need to do this for the good of our health, wallets, and planet. One thing I’m working on this year is cutting out corn sweeteners.

The things I’ve done to lower my carbon footprint:

  • planted lots of vegetation for shade in summer and for producing food,
  • reduced my use of water  (which requires some energy at the water treatment plant), and
  • changed my grocery shopping habits, increasing my organic and Community Supported Agriculture purchases and reducing  packaged, processed food.

This means I do a little more cooking, I’ll be doing a garden this year, and I only buy processed things I don’t make myself (fake chick’n nuggets, for example – or a certain kind of tofu that’s great with barbecue sauce).

Corn fractions are the starches and sugars that come from corn. There’s a negative health effect from all the refined sugar we eat, and even more of an effect on the planet in farming it. When I think about how much sugar we consume in everything, and if we all consumed less (and a greater variety), it might help with the environmental footprint. I will read labels and try to avoid high fructose corn syrup, and continue to buy food that is less processed.

Did you know? Corn syrup is made from the core of the cob, not from the kernels!

I’m also switching over my refined sugar needs. The world is a small place, and we in North America and Europe are at the top of the food chain. We can buy whatever we need; our ability to pay top dollar means other countries go for cheaper alternatives. So we buy cane sugar (some European countries use sugar beets), even though we can’t grow it, and these other countries buy cheaper corn sweeteners from us, and add to their health problems. I want them to have the cane sugar.

So what can I use instead of corn sweeteners and refined sugar? Take a look at this list, and you will realize just how easy it is. The biggest difficulty is remembering to opt for a substitute:

  • Honey for sweetening tea. Some people sweeten their tea with jam.
  • Barley malt (in the form of Ovaltine, or in the form from the brewer’s, or bulk store – the kind with bins and scoops!) for sweetening coffee and other hot drinks.
  • Red beets and, if I ever find them, sugar beets for cooking and baking. Cook them and mash them in. This is bonus for chocolate cake, as it produces a nice colour. 
  • Carrots and parsnips add sweetness to savoury dishes.
  • Dried fruits – raisins, apricots, dates, and figs – are all naturally sweet and add a nice touch to pies, crumbles, and stews.
  • The Great Canadian Maple Syrup.

I intend to recruit my Dad who has a knack for producing jumbo beets, and I will grow more of them myself (I love beet greens!). I’ll even try my hand at growing barley, though I don’t expect to malt it – it’ll likely feed the rabbits while it’s still green. Though, the Canada Malting refinery is in Griffintown.

Do you have any non-cane-sugar suggestions (other than stevia)? What would be your obstacle in making the switch?

Rewilding is about converting your lawn to groundcover (bit by bit!) to native species. This fosters biodiversity. It also creates habitat for urban wildlife. Finally, you'll only trim it 2-3 times per season rather than every 7-10 days!

The green driveway gallery shows you how you can DIY a driveway conversation using my first model as an example. There are other ways to do it, and things I learned in the process and afterward. Please call me at 514-815-5163 for my landscaping service, or to discuss upgrading your driveway.

The work season is April 1st through June 30th, but I install bird strike prevention (to stop birds from crashing into windows and glass balconies) whenever the temperature is above 5ºC. Call the number above or email. It's important to do this earlier rather than later,  in time for bird migrations in late April to end of May, and late August to mid-October.


Sign up to the monthly newsletter. It'll have even more goodies than the blog (DIY, Q&A, and more!). Bonus: milkweed seeds. This perennial plant will attract bees and butterflies to your yard. 

%d bloggers like this: