Visit to FWG by Ontario’s environmental commissioner

By Ted Farnworth

Environmental Commissioner Dr. Dianne Saxe (right) talks with Ted Farnworth, Sandy Garland, and Diane Lepage at the FWG

On Monday, May 9, the Ontario environmental commissioner, Dr. Dianne Saxe, did a walking tour of the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. FWG volunteers Sandy Garland and Ted Farnworth, along with Diane Lepage (OFNC president) pointed out many aspects of the garden including, the amphibian pond, the butterfly meadow, and the new woods to the commissioner.

Our efforts with dog strangling vine, insect hotels, and some early spring flowers also were part of the tour. The Commissioner was very complimentary about the many things she saw, and the work of our volunteers who make FWG what it is today.

Spring Fling Starts off the 2017 Season

By Ted Farnworth. Over thirty-five people showed up to the Sunday Spring Fling pot luck. Many new faces showed up to join volunteers back from last year. The IC tables were covered with a wide variety of goodies, finger food, and desserts that were enjoyed by all. Short presentations gave everyone a better idea of what we have planned for the 2017 season.  Many people asked questions, and a wide variety of topics were covered that helped newcomers understand what we do at the Fletcher, and how we do it.

Thanks to all who participated and contributed.

The Jungle Never Sleeps

By Ted Farnworth

One of the activities that we carry out at the FWG is to introduce or re-introduce bushes and trees into the property that will maintain and enhance the various habitats we are trying to highlight. A lot of thought, discussion, and planning goes into deciding which plants should go where. This is followed by a bit of grunt work, when volunteers clear chosen areas in preparation for planting.

The actual planting of a bush or a shrub is perhaps one of the more rewarding activities I have done during my short term as a FWG volunteer. Knowing that I have put in place something that will be seen, admired by visitors, and used by bugs, critters, and birds gives me a real sense of accomplishment. So now all I have to do is sit back and enjoy my “job well done.”

Well not really. A recent work session showed me that once we get something into the ground, the work is not finished. In the past, much effort was spent planting a variety of shrubs and trees on the south side of the ravine. Luckily, some marking poles indicate where the plants were placed, because I soon found out that the plants introduced by FWG volunteers have been battling the resident ravine vegetation, and in many cases the battle has not been very successful. Where the marking poles have disappeared, overgrowth soon hides our work.

The two photos below illustrate how quickly our “little darlings” get overtaken and buried. Thankfully, I have not found a planted shrub or tree that has died due to overgrowth and strangulation, but I’m not sure whether I have found all of them. Any that go undiscovered may not survive another year.

It is a good lesson to remember that just getting a shrub or a tree into the ground is not the end of our job. After we have had a good work session at the FWG, and are home warm and comfy, the “jungle” starts silently creeping back. The jungle never sleeps.

Can you see the tree we planted?

Can you see the tree we planted?

Can you see it now?

Can you see it now?

When You are Given Lemons, Make Lemonade

by Ted Farnworth

Since my arrival as a volunteer at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, not a day has gone by when someone doesn’t make mention of dog-strangling vine or DSV. I must admit it took me a day or so to realize that dog strangling vine = DSV = swallowwort. Why, I am not sure.

Usually, the reference to DSV is in a sentence such as “We’ve got to do something about that @$@#%% DSV. Well actually, I never have heard any of the very polite volunteers use the word @$@#%%, but you know what I mean.

In spite of many past efforts, by the end of the season, many parts of the garden are buried in DSV. Literally buried. As a way of giving the appearance of doing something, many volunteers including me have cut back the thick vines in an attempt to let other things grow. This approach may have some merit. What it does do is generate a tonne – that’s the metric unit for a whole bunch – of hacked up DSV vines, some with mature seed pods. The standard operating procedure has been to pile the cut vines up. This avoids moving them any great distance, which would spread the seed.  But there has always been the question of whether we should be composting the cut vines. If the composting is done at a high enough temperature and under the right conditions, the vegetation and the seeds should be decomposed to harmless yet useful compost.

It was Tony D who suggested that we try an extreme composting experiment using a black sealed composter – a separate barrel for DSV so that we don’t cross-contaminate other compost. Black to help keep the interior hot using sunlight and sealed to accelerate the decomposition. So that is what we are going to try.

We have purchased a black plastic barrel that we will fill only with cut DSV, let it cook in the sun, agitate it as required, and, if we are lucky, in the end we will have turned our dreaded enemy into growth promoting compost. The skull and cross bones painted on the side is a signal to all DSV that we are taking no prisoners. Cross our path and into the barrel you go!

Perhaps we can find a use for this unwanted intruder.


DSV vs the Dandelion Digger

By Ted Farnworth

I gave the dandelion digger a test run on the north face of the ravine to see if it would work against DSV in a real-life situation. The plot where I have been focusing my attention this year is actually starting to look like DSV is not taking over as it has done in so many other parts of the garden. But using the dandelion digger in the ravine has taught me a few lessons.

The digger is most effective on smaller plants. The jaws are able to pull out small root balls, especially from moist soil. When the DSV is growing among other plants, it is sometimes difficult to get a good grip on the roots, and so two or three pulls are necessary to get the targeted DSV out. The ravine is slopped and so placement of the digger to take best advantage of the jaws is something I need to work on.

But, for a large number of plants that I attacked on Friday morning, the digger worked very well. The stamp, pull and eject method you use with the digger soon produced a good pile of DSV root balls.

DSV under tarp

DSV under tarp

But I also saw a couple of things that reinforced to me how formidable my enemy is. In the ravine there is a blue tarp that has been there at least since last summer. I’m not sure why it was put down, but while working on Friday I looked underneath the tarp. And what did I see? Many long DSV vines growing under the tarp obviously looking for the sun. The vines were long, large, pale green and yellow, but obviously alive. It was clear that they were headed to the edges of the tarp in search of sunlight. So even covering DSV may not successfully kill them.

The second observation I made concerns plants that I had dug out in previous weeks and left to die on the surface. Guess what? They didn’t all die. It seems that just a little soil and some rain is enough to keep a DSV plant going or bring it back to life. Yes, most of the root balls that I had left on the ground in the ravine had dried up, and there were no new green shoots coming from them. But others that appeared to be sitting on the soil surface had managed to get enough water and nutrients to sprout again. So, it is obvious that cutting up and exposing the root ball is not good enough. Proper disposal to prevent resprouting may be necessary.

re-sprouting DSV

re-sprouting DSV

Let’s Talk About DSV

By Ted Farnworth

As a regular of the “Friday morning  group,” I have become accustomed to the routine. We all work for one and half to two hours and then enjoy a coffee break. Actually it should be called a coffee and cookie break as there are always several tins of tempting goodies – both home-made and store bought. The gathering starts with announcements and updates, and then turns to a wide range of garden-related and non-related topics.

This past week, while we were squeezed down to one end of the table, the topic of tools to combat DSV came up. It was obvious that many people had given this subject much thought – DSV being a common preoccupation for just about anyone who helps out at the garden. Tony said that he was mulling over some sort of tool he could make that would cut the roots sufficiently to kill the plant. Lynn mentioned that a friend of hers had found a garden tool that she thought would be useful. Lynn continued and wondered whether a dandelion digger would work.

It was agreed that mincing the roots appeared to be one way of killing the plant, but getting the root crown out was probably most important. Whether a dandelion digger would do this or not was questioned. I wondered out loud if the stem of the emerging plant would be thick enough to allow the digger to pull up the root ball. I offered to bring in our digger next time to see if it worked.

So the next day, I am in the back of my yard after the rain had stopped and saw something that made my heart skip a beat or two. There was my dreaded enemy. Actually quite a large patch of my enemy – DSV! Now that I have taken such an interest in DSV, there was no doubt what it was. How it got there I don’t know. But here was my chance to try out the dandelion digger method on DSV control.

We bought the digger a few years ago at Canadian Tire and it has done wonders on the dandelion population in our yard. It works best after a good rain. If you are lucky, the whole root, sometimes almost half an arm’s length, can be pulled from the ground. The key part of the digger is the movable jaws at the bottom that close in on the dandelion and allow you to pull it out without breaking the root.

digger and pulled DSV

digger and pulled DSV

The question was: would it work on DSV? Here is what I found.

For just about all of the DSV plants I tried it on – small and some a good size, the digger was able to clamp onto the root ball and pull it entirely out. Because the root ball starts out small and is close to the surface, the jaws have enough to pull on to get the entire root ball out. It was quick and easy, and the amount of soil disturbed around the DSV plant was small. Yes the soil was nice and wet so the root came out easily, and yes most of the plants were still small, but it appears that this dandelion digger may be a good weapon to add to our DSV arsenal.

So the mid-morning break can be more than just a time to relax, socialize, chat, and eat cookies.

jaws of digger

jaws of digger

DSV pulled with digger

DSV pulled with digger

Growing Like Weeds

By Ted Farnworth

023 (2)“They grow up so fast.” I’ve heard that said several times in the past couple of weeks after the arrival of my first grandson, Benjamin Edward. Yes, “our Ben” has been putting on steady weight since his premature arrival, but his growth pales in comparison with the dog-strangling vine (DSV) growing in the ravine at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Just last week there were a few cute green shoots peeking up from the soil (see Delicate green monster). This week, the few have become many, and the green shoots are now taking on the characteristic DSV appearance.  They are growing fast as this photo (right) will illustrate.

Once they get started, the root system explodes, and it is no wonder the plant takes off so quickly.

025 (2)
Hence, the thinking behind the shovel method of control. If the growth of the roots is supporting the rapid growth of the plant, mincing up the roots around the stem with a shovel could hopefully kill the plant. That’s the theory anyway. We will see how well this approach works in the coming weeks.

So, it looks like I will have my hands full just trying to keep a small plot in the ravine DSV-free.

Delicate Green Monster

by Ted Farnworth

So it looks like winter has finally given up and there are signs of spring all around. We are starting to see birds, small animals, and plants at the Fletcher Garden that we haven’t seen since winter descended on us last fall.

DSV spring 2013A quick survey of the ravine showed that some plants are starting to wake up. I then took the time to look a bit closer and saw this (photo).

It looked so green, fresh, and delicate. This is what spring in the woods is all about. As I cast my eyes around, I started to realize that this small sprout was actually not alone; I could see quite a few green heads poking up through the dry soil. And then it hit me. Unless I was mistaken, I was looking at the early stage of our dreaded enemy Dog Strangling Vine (DSV). At this stage it looks so weak, fragile, and vulnerable. How deceiving!!

Since I had “volunteered” to start a small test plot to determine whether the technique of cutting around the base of DSV to kill the roots would help battle this vicious invasive species, I will be starting to patrol this part of the ravine more regularly. The technique of cutting the roots appears to have worked at another site in the garden, although it is very labour intensive and may be only a short-term solution.

So, fresh, delicate, green or not, I’m about to start striking back. My DSV program is about to start. DSV get ready for my DSV – Deadly Shoveling Venture!

Look but Don’t Disturb

by Ted Farnworth

The Fletcher Wildlife Garden is a place to find insects, plants, animals, and birds in a natural setting, in the middle of the city. Sometimes it takes a sharp eye to see some of the critters that visit the garden, and sometimes they pop up where you don’t expect them.

Regular visitors to the Interpretation Centre will remember the mother robin who last year decided to make a nest on the hydro box under the arbour at the entrance to the IC. She was very quiet and didn’t move too much once she had set her eggs, and so many people passed right by without seeing her.  Robins aren’t the only bird that often make nests under awning, or eve troughs or other sheltered areas, even when this means that they are in clear sight, once someone spots them. You have to wonder why they do it.

And of course that presents the dilemma. If you see a nest in a high traffic area, what should you do? I know last year many people in the volunteer groups knew she was there.  I also know that by the end of the plant sale, she was gone. Did she have her babies? Did we scare her off?  Not sure. It’s now May and I haven’t seen her yet.

But again this year there has been a lot of activity around the IC – this time it is a pair of Pheobes. Again they have chosen a spot to their liking, not necessarily the best in terms of human traffic going by. On the south facing wall of the IC there is a security light that appears to be the future site of a phoebe nest.

My main purpose in posting this note is to caution people. The fear is always that the publicity will attract people. Let’s hope that we can find a way of enjoying the birds in the garden without scaring them away. Successful nesting of robins, phoebes and other birds prove that we all understand and practice the policy of “look but don’t disturb.”