Christine’s Walks: Insects found in the 3rd week of October at FWG

The end of summer signals also the end of insect life – or does it?

While summer is the peak season for insect activity, warmish days in late October can be surprisingly good for finding a variety of bugs, bees, beetles, flies and other creatures, including spiders. Over a period of two days I spent a few hours seeing what I might find at two locations, one being the Fletcher Wildlife Garden (20 October), the second (22 October) a much larger site near the Ottawa River in the east end of Ottawa. During this second foray, I was with two friends and three pairs of eyes made searching even better.

Not all insects nectar on flowers, but many do, so I always make a beeline, so to speak, for any clump of still blooming flowers. While at first glance it may seem there is nothing feeding, it is quite surprising what eventually reveals itself the more one looks. I also check under leaves, particularly if the temperature is cool, and I look amongst leaf litter, on rocks, the sides of buildings, wooden fence posts, and a variety of other places, all of which can, with patience, yield various insects and spiders at this time of year.

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Christine’s Walks: Mid-October at the garden

Hi all,

Many new photos have been added to the October photo blog at PBase, recently. The first lot were taken last Tuesday on a cold and grey day, and the rest today, when my mission was to see how many insects I could find at this time of year.

The colours are still vivid and while many trees have lost their leaves, many more are still ablaze with colour. The tamaracks are a bright yellow, soon to drop their needles, but making a great show at the moment.

box elder bug. Photo by C Hanrahan

There are still lots of sparrows around, and today golden-crowned kinglets, some robins, and a common raven. On Tuesday there were both hairy and downy woodpeckers, as well as several white-breasted nuthatches. And now that the feeders are both operating (thanks, Tony!!), the chickadees appear to have multiplied in number! On Tuesday, I was greatly entertained with watching a chickadee eating scores of New England Aster seeds in the BYG. Continue reading

Growing native plants from seed : cold stratification

A damp vermiculite-filled baggie awaiting seed.

In late October, although we’re still waiting for some seeds to mature before we can collect them, others are ready for their winter treatment.

So what is cold stratification? Essentially, it’s a temperature and moisture treatment used to break a seed’s dormancy and encourage germination. In nature, seeds fall to the ground, where they are covered by leaves and other pieces of decomposing vegetation. Snow falls, covering the seeds with a blanket and insulating them from extreme temperatures and drying wind. In spring, as the snow melts and the sun gradually warms the soil, the seeds germinate and begin to grow!

The need for this cold period to break dormancy is an adaptation to winter. Imagine if seeds germinated almost as soon as they fell off a plant; most plants would die as soon as the cold hit, as they would be too small to have sufficient root mass to survive.

Because we start plants for our annual June sale early, we need to be able to control when they go to sleep and wake up. This is surprisingly easy. All you need are small sealable baggies (we use the snack size), a bowl, a spoon, vermiculite, tepid water, and labels.

Note: The following instructions are for cold, moist stratification, needed by most seeds in our area. However, please check a suitable reference, such as the New England Wildflower Society’s  Growing and Propagating Wildflowers, to find out which species need moisture, which should be stored dry, and which need no treatment at all.

1. Prepare damp vermiculite
Pour some vermiculite into the bowl and add just enough water to wet it. Wait a few minutes as the water is absorbed, then add more water until the vermiculite is damp to the touch. There should not be any standing water in the bottom of your bowl, but the flakes of vermiculite should look and feel moist. Stir with the spoon to distribute the moisture. Vermiculite is a mineral that holds a lot of water, making it ideal to keep the seed environment moist over a long period.

Removing fluff from a milkweed species. Fluff gets everywhere!

Removing fluff from a milkweed species. Fluff gets everywhere!

2. Prepare seeds
Remove seed cases and as much debris from the seeds as possible to reduce the likelihood of rot. Some casings contain germination inhibitors, so making sure the seeds are “clean” can be important.

We remove the silk parachutes from milkweed and open all seed pods to release the actual seeds. But we don’t try to pull the fluff off clematis, prairie smoke, goldenrod, or aster seeds.

3. Prepare baggies
Put about three spoonfuls of damp vermiculite into a baggie. Add just enough seeds that every one has lots of contact with the vermiculite. As a rough guide, the volume of vermiculite should be about twice that of the seeds.

We like to shake and then pat down the baggie to maximize contact. Gently push out most of the air, and seal the baggie. You now have a fairly flat, cool to the touch, and moist seed baggie ready for placing in the refrigerator. Don’t forget to label it! We use business labels, because they can be peeled off in spring and attached to our germination containers.

4. Store in a cold place
We have a mini-fridge dedicated to seeds, so moisture levels and temperature are constant (unless someone accidentally knocks the dial). However, your home refrigerator should be just fine, if you place your seeds near the back and away from where moisture tends to collect.

Labeling seed properly is essential. Here you can see our box full of seed baggies!

Now you can forget about your horde until late January or early February!

In early February, remove the baggies from the refrigerator and dump the entire contents into clear sandwich containers. Anything with a clear lid and no holes will work. Label each container so you know what is inside. Again, consult a good reference book to find out which species need light to germinate and which germinate in the dark.

Some seeds germinate almost immediately; others require considerable patience. Keep an eye on moisture levels – keep the vermiculite moist, but not wet. Once the sprouts have at least a couple of mini leaves (they look just like the edible sprouts you buy in stores at this stage) you can begin the next phase which is planting them into a seed starting soil mixture. But that is the subject for another post!

Environmental Studies students take to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden [FASS News]

Dated 9 OCT 2012; Re-posted from Carleton University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences News page.

Written by Nicholas Ward, Photos by T Stanton-Kennedy

FWG volunteer Renate found a way to incorporate learning goals with FWG’s objectives. Over two work sessions, her students helped clear an area by the Butterfly Meadow of invasive species, non-native dying birches and large woody debris. The woody debris will be mostly used for animal shelters – perfect timing given the early cool weather! Native White and Allegheny Birches were planted, adding more biodiversity to FWG’s canopy cover. The soil in this area was a joy to work with as it is very sandy compared to the planting projects in our Ravine – full of that glorious, heavy Ottawa clay! Below is the article as posted on the Carleton University website.

Environmental Studies students take to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

This fall, students of the class Environmental Studies 2000: Nature and Environment crossed the Rideau Canal to help volunteers at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden with some urban wildlife habitat work.

Instructor of ENST 2000, Renate Sander-Regier, organized this field trip as a way of facilitating an important ‘outside of the classroom’ experience for her students.

“It’s good for students to get out of the classroom and get some hands-on experience related to their studies,” explains Sander-Regier. “I feel it’s particularly important for environmental studies students to get outdoors and help a local group with some environmental work. It can be a rewarding and empowering learning experience, and it’s a nice break from sitting in a classroom.”

Second year ENST student and field trip participant, Marisa Ramey, agrees with Sander-Regier on the importance of application.

“Information becomes more solidified when you have a mixture of reading, lecturing, and then actually applying…The experience was very rewarding and informative.”

Fortunately for Carleton students like Ramey, being a stone’s throw away from the Rideau Canal means that a variety of green spaces to study and work on are entirely accessible. Continue reading