Cold Weather Good for Gardens

cold weather good for gardens

As we are in the grips of a cold snap, I feel the need to remind you that cold weather is good for your gardens. The survival of your plants and the bugs that try their darndest to destroy them depends on just how low the mercury drops and for how long it stays low. Snow levels also come into consideration for both plant and insect survival.

Insects are amazingly resilient, doing whatever they have to to survive. Based on how well they can tolerate cold temperatures, there are two types of insects. Freeze avoidance insects are those that seek a warm spot in which to hibernate, but can only handle a small amount of cold before their bodily fluids freeze, killing them:

Japanese Beetles

Those annoying Japanese beetles that can strip plants bare in one day do not like cold weather. Extensive stretches of cold below -15C not only kills them off, but also destroys the eggs they lay in the soil of your gardens and containers. Reasearch will show you that any season where Japanese beetles were particularly destructive can be blamed on a preceding warm winter.

Fleas

Fleas are not much of a concern in gardens, but they are for your fur babies. Fleas are even more sensitive to cold than Japanese beetles, as their larvae, pupae and eggs can not tolerate temperatures below freezing. For a stretch of below zero temperatures that is, at least ten days worth. The longer the stretch of cold weather lasts, the less fleas can effectively reproduce.

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes try to find a spot to overwinter, but many are killed off by cold weather too. Unfortunately though, many of their eggs are winter-hardy to some degree, just waiting to hatch when temperatures warm up.

Ticks

Unfortunately, many tick species are able to bury deep into piles of leaves and debris, keeping themselves warm enough to survive winters. A winter with lots of snow only adds to their survival as the snow acts as insulation.

The colder the weather, the less chance of tick survival. Extremely cold weather has been known to eradicate some mosquito species, such as the asian tiger mosquito that carries the Zika virus.

Ash Borers

Ash borers are also termed freeze avoidants meaning they seek warmth, but will not die unless their bodily fluids freeze. Research has shown that ash borers can tolerate temperatures down to minus 30C degrees.

Freeze Tolerants

Some insects, such as cockroaches and wooly caterpillars are completely unperturbed by cold weather. These are called freeze tolerants, withstanding even the coldest temperatures around the world.

Fungal Pathogens

Lack of moisture kills off this annoying garden problem. So cold, snowless winters are their biggest destroyers. Unfortunately, severe cold and lack of snow is one of the best ways to kill off perennial plants too. Plants need snow to protect them from the cold too.

Conclusions

A long deep freeze in winter will most likely reduce the destructive bug population in your gardens. Even more damaging to insects is a deep freeze after soil temperatures have started to warm up in spring. At this stage in their reproductive cycle, insects and their eggs will be even more susceptible to a cold snap.

Another reason insects do not tolerate extended winters (late arrival of spring) is because as they “hibernate” they survive on their supply of stored fat and sugar. If these stores are depleted before spring arrives, the insects cannot survive.

Unfortunately, many plants do not handle drastic freeze, thaw cycles well. So, as long as the snow coverage is deep enough to insulate the plants, your gardens will survive cold spells. I have been known to shovel snow onto my gardens to keep my plants protected.

photo credit

Rakuten: Get Cash Back When You Shop!

Rakuten

Is it too soon to talk about shopping? I know many of us have had our fill of shopping with the holiday season so recently behind us, but some things we have to buy anyway, Christmas or not. Not to mention, there are lots of deals to be had this time of year. Check out Rakuten to earn rebates when you shop, it’s that easy.

rakuten

What is Rakuten?

Rakuten is an awesome online shopping site that gives you cash back and rewards when you shop with them. Formerly known as Ebates, they were founded way back in 1998. There are currently over 750 stores to shop from, including Hudson’s Bay, Indigo.ca, Canadian Tire, Old Navy, and Sephora. Instead of shopping on individual retailer websites, you shop with Rakuten. It’s very simple.

Why Shop This Way?

You get paid to shop for things you’re already buying. Why not get a rebate back? Or, things you want that you could get for cheaper; bargains are much appreciated these days. Plus, get a $30 Cash Bonus when you join today!

International Options

Although Rakuten is an international shopping rewards program, I use the Canadian site. For fellow readers inclined to shop from Canadian stores to support our economy, do the same. Anyone else should check out which of the participating thirty countries or regions is most convenient to you.

No Membership or Sign-up Fees!

Joining Rakuten does not require sign-up or membership fees either.

How Do They get Paid?

It works by affiliate links. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know anything technological. Basically, the stores pay Rakuten for these links so you can experience one-stop shopping and get rewarded. Log onto their site, click on a participating store, and you will be notified what percentage of the cost you will be rewarded with. Yes, it’s that simple, I promise.

Rakuten gets paid, the stores get paid, and you get paid.

OMG, I sound like Oprah!

photo credit

Sitting is the new Smoking

sittting

Have you heard? Sitting is the new smoking, in terms of what is bad for us that is. What is really ironic is that this advice comes to us in the midst of a pandemic lockdown where we have been advised to sit on our couch and stay at home.

We (should) all know why smoking is bad for us by now, that is nothing new. Although many people continue to smoke, research has been telling us for years of the damages smoking causes to our bodies.

Why is Sitting Bad for us?

Harvard Medical School reports that sitting is unhealthy for the following reasons:

it relaxes your largest muscles. Even if you’re reasonably active, hours of sitting—whether reading a book, working on the computer, or watching TV—tighten the hip flexor and hamstring muscles and stiffen the joints themselves. Overly tight hip flexors and hamstrings affect gait and balance, making activities like walking harder and perhaps even setting you up for a fall. Plus, tight hip flexors and hamstrings may contribute to lower back pain and knee stiffness, scourges that many people suffer with every day.

So, how can we Flex our Muscles Instead?

We can flex our relaxed and tightened muscles by consciously adding more activity into our daily routines. Many of us working from home are expected to spend the day on our computers. If you cannot remember to do so, set a timer to remind you to get up and move around more. Here are a few suggestions of things you can do to ensure those muscles are not stiffening up:

  • Answer or make your phone calls while standing up. Walk around while you talk
  • If working from home on a computer for extended amounts of time, get an adjustable computer desk so you can stand up while working.
  • Sit on a stability ball, instead of in an armchair while watching TV. This activates your core muscles as you try to stay upright. You might not want to try this while using your computer.
  • If your joints are aching, find exercises to keep the joints loose. Aching joints are a vicious circle, the less you move them the achier they get, but the achier they are the harder it is to exercise them.
  • If you have multiple levels in your home, make a point of using the stairs as you walk around. I used to leave stuff on the steps to take upstairs in one trip, but now I go up every time. Sometimes I forget why I went up, but I do go up!
  • Find online exercise routines to follow if you are used to going to the gym.
  • Take up yoga, starting with beginner poses (find them online too). Work your way up to the more complicated (flexibility required) ones.

My personal in-house exercises are planks, high knees, squats, lunges, and yoga poses. I do most of these on a regular basis in the winter months when my garden business is literally buried under the snow.

Of course, if you can, get outside for your exercise, even in the winter. Fresh air and sunshine are more than just good for your muscles. They are also good for your mental health, immune system, and more.

Nepo Babies: Advantage or Disadvantage?

nepo babies

Have you heard of nepo babies? That’s the current label given to children of famous parents, coined from the word nepotism. Career success, or lack thereof, should have more to do with work ethic and attitude, not whether or not you got a leg up from your famous parents’ name and/or connections.

Whether their parents’ status has any effect on the success of those currently labeled as nepo babies is up for debate. After all, there are two sides to every story. Or should be.

Advantages

The advantages for nepo babies are obvious. Famous last names are magnets in the entertainment, sporting, modeling business, and even politics. A name like Kardashian, Hadid, or Gretsky will at least get you in the door, if not straight to the top of the audition or tryout list.

For example, here in Canada, someone believed they could become Prime Minister, not because they had the qualifications or experience to do so, but because they are the son of a previous leader. The worst (scary) part is that voters were attracted to and blinded by the name too!

Are There any Disadvantages?

I bet it’s not easy being the offspring of famous parents. One only has to look at the media attention swarming around celebrities. That works both ways of course. Sometimes it would have ego-stroking, and fun advantages but it could also be incredibly annoying. I’m sure Prince Harry would agree.

Imagine that you are not interested in or possess no aptitude for whatever it is your famous parent achieved in their career. Would you be coerced or expected to give it a try anyway? Growing up in the lap of luxury, would you learn how to appreciate the luxuries or would you grow to expect them? Either possibility and potentially both could lead to a stressful, mental-health-altering childhood.

Do we Expect More of Nepo Babies?

I think we do. For example, would the biological kids of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie be anything but gorgeous? Although that’s more of a genetic example than what the term nepo babies was really created for, I know you know what I mean.

Nour Kadri for Ottawa’s Mayor

The more I read about him, the more I’m liking Nour Kadri for Ottawa’s Mayor as an alternative to front runners Catherine McKenney or Mark Sutcliffe.

Voter’s Prioroties

CTV has polled voters to determine their priorities in this election. Public transit efficiency, local economy, possible tax hikes, and affordable housing for all residents top the list.

Dog parks, tourism, and millions of dollars for new bike lanes are (understandably) lower.

Catherine McKenney

From what I’ve heard so far in this mayoral race, McKenney seems financially irresponsible, non credible, almost delusional. Accounting basics and common sense dictate you should take the budget into consideration when spending.

For example, does promising free bus fare to anyone make sense when our public transit system is already millions in debt? It sure won’t increase efficiency!

Mark Sutcliffe

While I prefer Sutcliffe’s “look for inefficiencies” approach to McKenney’s “spend, spend, spend” one, he appears too complacent to me. Perhaps that’s just his personality, but he gives the impression his heart is not in the mayoral race.

I do like the fact that Sutcliffe is new to politics, so offers a credible alternative to “more of the same” rhetoric and irresponsible/frivolous spending.

Nour Kadri The Alternative Candidate?

If you haven’t yet heard of him, take a moment to learn. Nour Kadri ticks all the boxes for Ottawa’s mayor in my opinion:

  • Intelligent
  • Well and diversely educated
  • Years of relatable (but not political) experience
  • Great speaker, well versed
  • Financially literate, with budget expertise
Nour Kadri

Unfortunately, Kadri was not invited to debate the front runners. He would have blown them out of the water. This tweet confirms that!

Conclusions

These are just my opinions of course. Do your own research before you exercise your right to vote. You’ve only got 11 more days to decide until the 24th of October election date!

Monarch Butterflies: Who Knew?

monarch butterflies

When I spied this beautiful butterfly enjoying my wildflower garden at our family cottage recently I realized I didn’t know much about this species. Now that I am better educated on the subject, I believe monarch butterflies are fascinating. I bet you don’t know much of this information.

Monarchs are Generational

This means one butterfly produces multiple generations, with each successive generation behaving differently. The last generation of monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico and then reproduce on their way back north when days lengthen and temperatures warm up. Referred to as summer, or first-generation monarchs, these offspring begin laying eggs at a few days old and only live for a month as adults. Each new generation produced from that original migrant travels farther north, taking three or four generations to get as far as the northern United States and Canada.

Monarchs born early in the summer do not move far using their energy instead to produce as many offspring as possible. However, those that emerge later, referred to as generation four, will migrate to and from Mexico. Unlike the other generations, they do not reproduce right after birth. Instead, when days become shorter and temperatures decrease at the end of the summer, they feast on nectar to prepare for their long journey to southern climates. The delayed maturity of their reproductive organs is called diapause, a condition that lasts until the following spring, after which they begin to mate close to the spot they overwintered down south. 

Monarch Joint Venture sums up the generations of monarch butterflies in this chart:

Migration Patterns and Practices

Monarchs cannot handle cold weather. As the only butterflies that navigate a complicated, two-way migration, when the temperatures dip, they know to head south. Not only do they migrate but they follow very specific routes to do so, traveling up to one hundred miles a day, and up to three thousand miles in total. Researchers currently believe that these incredible creatures use the position of the sun as well as the magnetic pull of the earth to navigate their routes and direct them. They also take advantage of air currents to ease their travel.

Monarchs living west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to southern California, while those living further east have several routes that merge in central Texas before heading to Mexico. Traveling only during daylight hours, monarch butterflies cluster together to roost at night to stay warm, sometimes as many as ten thousand in one tree! They prefer cedars, firs, and pines whose canopies offer comfortable temperature and humidity levels.


Male vs Female Monarchs

Male monarchs have two black dots on their lower wings while females do not. Males also have wider black stripes at the top than their female counterparts. Therefore, the monarch in my picture is a male.

Milkweed Plants are Necessary for Monarchs

Each generation of monarchs begins its life on a species of the milkweed plant. First generations depend on Asclepias oenotheroides, A. viridis and A. asperula in the south. The other generations rely on A. syriaca (common milkweed), A. incarnata (swamp milkweed), and A. tuberosa (butterfly milkweed). 

Conclusions About Monarch Butterflies

Well, have you learned anything? I sure did.

Although I have lots of milkweed planted in the two butterfly gardens I recently planted, I have no idea what kind of milkweed plants they are. I will investigate. Wherever you live, find and plant the appropriate species of milkweed to help the monarchs continue their cycles.

I now realize that the monarch I saw this week in my garden was a generation four. My camera and I followed its bloom-hopping trek as it competed with the bees for the nectar on the late-blooming asters.

Safe travels buddy!

Keep Your Fork, The Best is Yet to Come

keep your fork

Funerals always seem to have a spiritual effect on me, a recent one was no different. I went home touched by a story titled “Keep your Fork, The Best is Yet to Come.”

There was a woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her things in order, she contacted her preacher and asked him if he would come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes.
She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read and what clothing she wanted to be buried in. The woman also requested to be buried with her favorite Bible. Everything was in order and the preacher was preparing to leave, when the woman suddenly remembered something very important.

“There’s one more thing” she said excitedly. “What’s that?” came the preacher’s reply. She told him, “This is something very important, I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.” The preacher stood looking at the woman not knowing quite what to say. “That surprises you, doesn’t it?” the woman asked. “Well, to be honest I’m puzzled by the request,” said the preacher. The woman explained, In all my years of attending church potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, “Keep your fork.” It was my favorite part of the dinner because l knew that something “better” was coming …. like velvety chocolate cake or deep dish apple pie – something wonderful, and with substance!

So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then I want you to tell them, “Keep your fork – the best is yet to come.” The preacher’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman good-bye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death, but he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of heaven than maybe he did because she knew that something “better” was coming.

At the funeral, the woman’s many friends were walking by her casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing, her favorite Bible and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the preacher heard the question, “what’s with the fork?” And over and over he simply smiled. As he spoke the eulogy, the preacher told those in attendance of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died. He also told them how he could not stop thinking about the fork and said they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right.

Gospel Snippets

Interests in Common

The dearly departed person we were all celebrating the life of was a former co-worker of mine for many years. Although she was older than me and retired earlier than I did, we had lots in common. Other than working together in a hospital lab for years.

We kept in touch after we both retired because we had many interests in common. We shared April birthdays (two days apart), an appreciation for the beauty in nature, an affinity for sipping tea, loyal support of the Ottawa Senators, a love of wildlife and plants, as well as the talent to brag about and post pictures of our respective grandchildren.

Sharing Branches of our Family Tree

It also turns out we shared ancestors, this fact discovered years ago in a funny story. Way back, when Diana Spencer became the Princess of Wales we were chatting at work about the wedding. It went something like this:

Her: I found out I’m related to Princess Diana

Me: Really? So am I, apparently

Her: how are you related?

Me: My great, great, great, great (I think only 4) grandmother was a Spencer

Her: Huh, so was mine!

A few days later, she pulls out a family tree and shows me her great, great, great, great grandmother’s branch of said tree. It turned out her branch and my branch were sisters! That made us cousins, many times removed, but related nonetheless. This familial connection also helps explain our shared fascination with the royal family. Although we did not share her love for genealogy, my brother does, so I gave her his contact information so they could compare notes.

Keep Your Fork for Dessert

I have heard “keep your fork” many times over the years, in fact, it brought back memories of the farmhouse meals my grandmother used to make. Of course, that was way before the invention of dishwashers when the only variety of those were the two-legged kind. My reason for keeping my fork was based on my love for a good dessert, something else we shared.

Keeping Your Fork in a Spiritual Sense

The spiritual version to keep your fork for better things to come may help those pondering what is on the other side when we leave this world for heaven. This interpretation may be especially comforting for those suffering before their transition as well as for their family members watching them suffer.

Butterfly Garden Success

Last fall, after much pleading on my part (plan approval is a complicated process), I was granted permission to design and create a butterfly garden at the local hospice I volunteer at.  I have also referred to it as a wildflower garden to differentiate it from the more formal garden beds I have designed and planted there. This is my butterfly garden success story!

The very beginning

Although I posted an update this past spring, with details of the planting methods used, the final verdict on the success of my butterfly/wildflower garden was still out back then. These pictures were taken in early summer when things (not just weeds) finally started to grow…

Zinnias
Red flax
Poppies

This week, (late summer) I am thrilled to report that the experiment was a huge success!  The warm and wet weather (and our hard work of course) has created a riot of colourful blooms in the garden…

Butterflies, Birds, and Bees…oh my!

Although I have been calling this a butterfly garden, the goal is to attract hummingbirds and bees to our new garden as well. The variety of plant shapes and flower colours in this garden is akin to a smorgasbord of delectables to attract all of mother nature’s creatures in droves. This type of garden is also referred to as a pollinator garden for obvious reasons. The stepping stones are to permit strolling through the garden as well as maintenance in the form of weeding and watering.

Hospice Garden Team

There are lots of I’s so far in this post. To clarify and assign credit where it is due in spades, (pun intended) this project (and the landscaping at the hospice in general) would never have reached this level of success without the keenness and diligence of our garden team at Ruddy Shenkman Hospice in Kanata.

These dedicated team members are on-site lots more than I am. For example, we have a watering schedule that ensures all the containers, new gardens, and new additions to older, established garden beds get attended to daily. We also have team members (one wonder woman in particular) designated for lawn cutting. With the extensive RSH property, these are huge, behind-the-scene tasks. As a (semi-retired) professional landscaper, my main role on the team is to design and create new projects (garden beds) and identify chores that need to be done to keep the gardens looking as great as they do. I’m getting good at making lists, although I still love getting my hands dirty in the planting stage.

Successes in Butterfly Garden Planning

I learned lots through the experimental process of this butterfly garden and made a few mistakes but my vision prevailed.  Phew!

The mini greenhouses on my back deck all winter were definitely a success and something I would highly recommend! Those plastic clamshell containers from grocery stores come in handy for this purpose. They make for an inexpensive propagation method to sprout seeds, especially those that require cold stratification to germinate.

Also a huge success was the idea to plant seeds under clear plastic cups. On a whim, I did this in the early spring to fill in the blanks between the transplanted sprouts from the greenhouses. Using seeds of annuals from a big box store (poppies, asters, zinnias, cosmos, cleomes, and more) I simply put four or five seeds under each cup, pushed the cup into the soil to keep it from blowing in the wind, kept the soil wet around the cups, and waited for sprouts. I was amazed!

Mistakes Encountered

Sprinkling mixed seeds last fall was (relatively) a bust. These seeds were collected from plants in my gardens as well as from my clients’ gardens. I had a garden waste bag full of seeds. Although the thought was to provide a random dispersion of plants, the randomness was a little too excessive. Especially frustrating was trying to differentiate the weeds from the desired plants.

I also regret succumbing to the complaints about my “stick garden.” In doing so I removed the stakes that showed our team where the “keepers” (as opposed to weeds) were, making it frustrating for us all.

Convincing the Doubters

I think I also earned the respect of my fellow garden team members and hospice staff that were scratching their heads in disbelief throughout. Especially when the weeds were hard to differentiate from the wildflowers and butterfly attractors. I heard the term “stick garden” mumbled a few times when all that was visible was my stakes where the plants were supposed to be growing.

Conclusion

The good news? Everyone is enthusiastically on-board now. And, the most important critics of all, a few monarch butterflies and lots of bees were spotted enjoying the garden last week!

The beauty of self-seeding annuals is that they do just that, produce flower heads full of seeds that scatter randomly in the fall. Left in place, the seeds get buried in snow and pop up next spring as new plants.

I added butterfly-loving (brightly coloured) perennials, such as coneflowers, milkweed, Russian sage, blanket flowers, and many others to the bed to fill in the blanks between the annuals.

Avocado Toast with a Twist

Avocado toast is a currently popular, healthy, lectin-free alternative to peanut butter or jam, or PB&J.  Breakfast, lunch, or an anytime snack are great reasons to give avocado toast a try.

Add Pesto for a Twist

I love avocado toast, especially with my signature twist of homemade, also incredibly healthy, pesto.

Featuring fresh basil and garlic from my backyard garden, my version of pesto can be quickly whipped up by adding parmesan, almonds, and just enough virgin olive oil (for the healthiest version) to create a paste. I use my Pampered Chef blender, love how well it works for this recipe.

Sorry, I never measure the ingredients when I blend a batch of pesto.  Or many other things for that matter.  You could Google a proper recipe for a guideline though.  Although traditional pesto recipes call for pine nuts, I prefer to use always-available-in-my-pantry almonds instead.  Remember, almonds contain healthy fatty acids.

I scrape a batch of pesto into an icecube tray, then freeze.  A few hours later, pop the cubes into a sealable container and store them in your freezer. 

Avocado toast
Cube of pesto

Uses for Pesto

My pesto cubes get added to soups, pasta, sauces, and more.  Just today I had pesto avocado toast with a few pieces of bacon left over from yesterday’s breakfast. 

Avocado toast
Crispy bacon

Pesto also makes a healthier substitute for mayo in a toasted tomato sandwich or a BLT.  I haven’t tried this yet, but can you imagine a macaroni or potato salad with pesto instead of mayo?

Use your imagination! The possibilities are endless. Let me know your favourites.

Grass or Grain-Fed, Free Range and Pasture-Raised

What’s the difference between grass or grain-fed, free-range, or pasture-raised when it comes to beef cattle and poultry? It can be confusing and advertising can be misleading. Read on to learn the difference.

Grass-Fed or Pasture-Raised

Grass-fed is also referred to as pasture-raised. For beef cattle, this means the cows live on grass without supplementation from grains of any kind. In the winter months, they live on hay which is just grass in a dried state.

Grass or Grain-Fed
Pasture-raised or grass-fed cows

Poultry that is pasture-raised refers to those that have outdoor access to scratch and peck at grass and bugs but shelter from hot sun, cold or wet weather. They are also supplied with feed. In other words, they are allowed to roam (somewhat) freely to do what comes natural to them.

Grass or Grain-fed
Free-range chickens

Grain-Fed Issues

Grain-fed refers to the cattle and poultry that are raised on grain alone.

The problem for cows lies in the fact that they (like many humans) cannot properly digest grains which causes numerous health issues. The reason for this is because cows are ruminants meaning their digestion process requires a fermentation stage.

The big issue for massive, grain-fed poultry stations is the lack of space for the birds to spread their wings, literally. Chicken and eggs sold in stores may claim to be “cage-free” but that doesn’t necessarily indicate they are raised humanely.

In fact, large grain-fed cattle and poultry stations are known to support inhumane practices too. Too often cattle and poultry are packed like sardines into a small area.

Animals fed corn as the grain leads to a whole other problem as corn is highly linked to GMO issues.

Then you have individuals like myself who are allergic to wheat. It took me years to figure out why I react to some eggs but not others.

Hybrids

Some cattle start off grass (pasture) fed but then end up receiving grains to fatten them up for market. This is referred to as “finishing.” Done humanely, (without overcrowding) this should not be a deal breaker.

You may not care whether your beef, poultry, or eggs are grass or grain-fed, free-range or pasture-raised. Educate yourself on the difference and you may just start caring.

These pictures were taken at my uncle’s farm where their cattle and chickens are grass-fed or pasture-raised. I love to visit this childhood-invoking farm with my grandchildren.