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If You Grow It, They Will Come

Toronto’s (un)Official Bee, a Bicoloured Agapostemon.

Such an interesting gardening season for me this year — my eye changed again. When I began eleven years ago, it was about aesthetics (making a neglected place “look” better); then, I gradually added edibles into the mix. For many seasons, I focused on exploring and growing fruits and vegetables which are also ornamental. I still care about these elements, but after this year, it doesn’t mean much to me if my garden is not attractive to native wildlife, too. After all, it’s their home. After some research, I focused on adding native plants that offer a succession of blooms for pollinators. So easy to do! For example, the goldenrods and asters are full of different bees — hundreds of them — today. They seed themselves, and if I object to their location, they are easily pulled. I must have watched the bees (including these green ones) for forty minutes yesterday, and I felt like I was transported to another world.

I think I’ve experienced a gradual transition from eye to heart along the way. I still appreciate a visually appealing garden, but without plants for pollinators and berries for birds, I don’t feel very much. I see tweaks, instead — places where wildlife-friendly plants and habitat could be swapped into the design. Otherwise, it feels dead to me, even though the plants are very much alive. We need to consider and discuss the life supported by a garden as thoroughly as we discuss colour, shape, and texture.

You may think you’re growing plants to beautify the neighbourhood or up your curb appeal, but you will grow, too. Gardens teach, heal, and feed on many levels; they have a quiet, sneaky way that grows people, as well as plants. When I first started gardening and building the soil, I found it literally “grounding” — not an insignificant benefit, if you live in a large city.  Then, when I began growing fresh, healthy food, I felt nourished in ways I hadn’t before. Now, watching the land come to life with insects and birds, I feel connection. If you grow it (or just get out of the way and let nature take over a little), they will come.

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I like photographing people.

Two of my portraits can be found on recent BookThug titles Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes by Jennifer LoveGrove and False Friends by Stephen Cain.

Jennifer LoveGrove

Stephen Cain

One of my photos also appears on the cover of False Friends. Love the tilted text by BookThug.

False Friends by Stephen Cain

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Poem at Chaudiere Books

The fine people at Chaudiere Books posted my found poem, “FeMaLe,” as part of National Poetry Month.

Yes, National Poetry Month is in April. Yes, it is now September.

My last author photo was ten years ago, so I made this AlphaSelfie. Will invite others to take their own ABC selfies in it at poetry readings.

Sharon Harris

It has been a busy summer, but I’m really getting back to finishing those manuscripts this fall. Really.

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Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 1.40.30 PM In my post on how to make your garden a safe habitat for endangered native bumblebees, I promised to provide you with a list of garden centres’ policies on neonicotinoid use, as I couldn’t find an updated round-up for the 2017 growing season. Buying plants treated with neonics only negates the best-intentioned bee-friendly garden plans. Many emails, phone calls, and even online live chats later, here are the stores’ responses, which I’ve left in their own words.

RONA
Neonicotinoids are pesticides believed to have adverse effects on bee populations. For a list of plants treated with neonicotinoids, please see a garden centre employee. MORE THAN 95% OF OUR PLANTS WERE GROWN WITHOUT THE USE OF NEONICOTINOIDS. RONA congratulates it suppliers for reducing the use of these pesticides and for helping our customers create bee-friendly gardens. Our suppliers continue to work on ways to reduce the use of pesticides through the use of integrated pest management strategies.

(Email response)

WALMART
The items purchased are free from neonicotinoids. Our partnered local grower Avon Valley does not use neonicotinoids on any plants or flowers.

(FB Page response)

HOME DEPOT
The Home Depot Canada is deeply engaged in understanding the relationship of certain insecticides on our live goods and the decline in the honey-bee population. We’ve been in communication with government agencies, the insecticide industry and our suppliers to understand the science and monitor research. Because we are committed to safeguarding the health of these critical pollinators, we are actively working with our live goods suppliers to find alternative insecticides. In addition to requiring all of our live goods suppliers to label Neonicotinoid-treated plants, our suppliers have significantly reduced the number of plants that they treat with neonicotinoids. We will continue this decrease regulation until we have a complete phase-out of neonicotinoid use by end of 2018, unless federal or provincial regulation requires neonic treatments, or if undisputed science proves that the use of neonicotinoids on our live goods does not have a lethal or sublethal effect on pollinators.

Regards, Returning Plants: We are committed to taking care of our customers. If a customer wants to return a plant as a result of reading a story, we will honour this.

(Email response)

LOWE’S
Lowe’s did not get back to me with info for 2017. Response to my first email said to call the local store or to email head office. When I called the local store, an employee who had never heard of neonics directed my call to a place where it was never answered, without voice mail.  Head office did not write back. In an online ‘help’ chat, I was advised again to call my local store or to contact head office. I gave up.

In a 2015 Friends Of The Earth press release, the environmental organization listed Lowe’s commitments as such:

  • A time-bound phase out of neonicotinoid (“neonics”) containing products in shelf products and plants, to be completed by the Spring of 2019, as suitable alternatives become available. For nurseries, Lowe’s will phase-out neonics for bee-attractive plants, and plants where regulatory requirements do not require the application of neonics (certain states require the application of neonics on certain plants and nursery material). Lowe’s plans to implement this phase-out as soon as is practicable.
  • Redoubling pesticide management efforts and the addition of an application reduction plan with plant suppliers, including the collection and sharing of growers’ best practices around use of biological controls and integrated pest management (“IPM”) practices, and research into best alternatives. Nurseries will be required to disclose to Lowe’s the amount of pesticides used per acre, or a similar metric.
  • Increased focus on consumer education initiatives including in-store distribution of EPA and Pollinator Partnership pesticide brochures and product tags which will highlight the health of bees and other pollinators.
  • Funding of pollinator gardens through the company’s philanthropic and volunteer programs.
  • Disclosure of these efforts in its 2014 Corporate Social Responsibility Report.
  • Continued dialogue with Domini, Trillium and Friends of the Earth focused on implementation and public reporting of these commitments.

LOBLAWS/NO FRILLS
“There is no generic info…growing information is different from plant to plant. Call us and provide the barcode. We can look it up.”

(Phone conversation, after two unanswered emails)

CANADIAN TIRE
“Every store is individually owned and sources plants from local growers. You have to contact each store.”

(Phone conversation with head office, after unanswered email)

Local store manager had never heard of neonicotinoids. When I said I was writing a “round-up” of garden centres, he replied that they have Roundup™. He said they source from 25 different nurseries, from Florida to Niagara, adding that they’re “earth-friendly.”

 

Information presented in this post is not an endorsement for any particular garden centre. These policies apply across Canada, but next, I’ll do a round-up of Toronto’s independently-owned nurseries.

 

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Urban Edibles Chat at the Green Living Show

goji

If you’re heading to the Green Living Show this weekend, I’ll be part of a garden chat about growing food in urban spaces at Alternatives Journal‘s booth. Above are goji berries cropping for the second time last fall in the guerrilla/community garden.

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The cold frame finally came out of storage yesterday to shelter some alpine strawberries, blueberries, loganberries, cranberries, and strawberries that taste like raspberries called ‘framberries.’ Every plant (except for a weird little Japanese Maple) in this pic is edible – just ask the dog, who eats all of it if I’m not careful! 

I’ve been growing food in different urban conditions for the past ten years: shady backyards, sunny allotment gardens, various types of containers indoors and out, school gardens with kids, and even guerrilla gardens. To discover what grows best and easiest in Toronto’s climate and conditions, I’ve been studying and testing fruit trees, berries, and vegetables.

Please come by and tell me what you’re growing. And if you’re into permaculture or forest gardening, we really have to talk!

Date of Chat: Sat, April 8, 2017

Time of Chat: 1 PM

Topic:  Growing food in your yard or community.

Location of the show: Metro Toronto Convention Centre, North Building (on Front Street)

Booth:   Alternatives Booth #1338

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sixstoryIG

While redesigning the uniforms for my son’s baseball team, we coaches discovered that someone in Toronto – the 6ix – had registered a trademark on”six or any variation of six (6).” We couldn’t believe it!

How do you copyright a number? I reached out to the Toronto Star because the story was bigger than our team uniform – it was a story about Toronto and its newest nickname.

Edward Keenan did some excellent sleuthing, contacting copyright experts and a couple of corporate legal departments. I won’t spoil the story for you, but he found that the copyright does not belong to Drake.

sixstorypic2a

I’ve been in baseball immersion since January, as I’m coaching rep for the first time. Forty hours of coaching courses, stacks of baseball books, and countless hours of internet research (and watching too many World Baseball Classic games) later, I can’t wait to get outside. Still posting baseball photos at @fieldsofdreams.toronto on Instagram.

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Creating Habitat for Native Bees in Toronto

bee

 ”Bumble bees are dying off, vanishing from our farms, gardens, and parks, where they were once found in great numbers.”

-Rebecca Riley, Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Attorney, in a statement regarding the Rusty-patch Bumblebee’s new endangered status in the U.S. In Canada, it was listed in 2012.

It is thought that some of our native North American bumblebee populations are declining due to loss of habitat, use of pesticides, pathogens, climate change, and competition from non-native bees. With a few tweaks, even the smallest pesticide-free urban garden can be transformed into a safe habitat for Toronto’s native bumblebee species.

FLOWERS

  1. Many gardens contain “easy-care” foliage plants as a result of recent landscaping trends. But flowers, especially natives, are not difficult to grow.
  2. A variety of flowers that bloom from early spring t0 summer to late fall provide a constant source of food.
  3. The nectar in native plants and heirloom varieties is generally more accessible than hybrids. Simple, single, open flowers are usually better than double or densely packed petals.
  4. Flowers of a single species planted together in clumps are easiest for bees to locate.
  5. Plants should be sourced from neonicotinoid-free nurseries.

There are too many bumblebee-friendly plants that grow in Toronto to list, but the following are widely available:

nativeplants

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bee2

HABITAT

  1. If some parts of the garden are a little “wild” and undisturbed, bees create their own nesting sites.
  2. Small bees overwinter in plant stems, so it’s best to not cut back in the fall. Stems can be removed the following spring, and placed in a “wild” spot of the garden.
  3. 70% of native bee species overwinter in the ground. To prevent disturbing bees, worms, and other beneficial insects and fungi, it is best to disturb the soil as little as possible. If you use mulch, leave patches so bees can access bare soil. From the Xerces Society:
    • Bare ground. Simply clear the vegetation from small patches of level or sloping ground and gently compact the soil surface. These patches can be from a few inches to a few feet across, but should be well drained, and in an open, sunny place. A south-facing slope can be a good location. Different ground conditions—from vertical banks to flat ground—will draw different bee species, so create nesting patches in different areas if you can to maximize the nest- ing opportunities.
    • Sand pits and piles. In a sunny, well-drained spot, dig a pit about 2’ deep, and fill it with a mixture of pale-colored, fine-grained sand and loam. Where soils do not drain well, a pile of the sand/loam mixture can help, or make a raised bed. If space is limited, you can fill planter boxes with the sand/loam mixture.
  4. Bee houses can be built from a variety of materials. Many sources of instructions are available on the internet.
  5. Do not use pesticides anywhere in the garden.

 

Sources: David Suzuki Foundation, Toronto Master Gardeners, Cornell University’s Department of Entomology Outreach, The Xerces Society, Savethebumblebees.com, North American Native Plant Society. Huge thanks to the Toronto Gardeners FB group for workshopping these ideas with me! These are not definitive guidelines as I am not an expert; I am offering Toronto-based info which was collected for my own garden design.

UPCOMING NATIVE PLANT SALES IN TORONTO

High Park Native Plant Sale: May 7, 2017 at the greenhouse (11 am-2 pm). TTC/walking/cycling is suggested as there will be many people in the park; the cherry trees will likely be in bloom. Cash only.

Toronto Botanical Garden Plant Sale: May 11-14, 777 Lawrence Avenue East. “We’ll be expanding our native plant category by partnering with St. Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre who will be bringing uncommon specimens and high impact native plants.”

North American Native Plant Society Native Plant Sales: East end ~ May 20, 2017 at Artisans at Work, 2071 Danforth Ave. (11 am-4 pm). West end ~ May 28, 2017 at Christie Pits (south end), Bloor & Christie (12 pm-4 pm). Debit/Credit & Cash.

 

NATIVE PLANT NURSERIES

I do not see a dedicated native plant nursery listed within Toronto’s boundaries, but most garden centres allot a section to native and/or “bee-friendly” plants. Many of the plants listed above are widely available, but must be free of neonicotinoids ( list of garden centre policies for 2017 coming soon).

Evergreen Garden Market ”Toronto’s widest selection of Ontario native flowers, plants and trees for gardens of all sizes.” Evergreen Brick Works, 550 Bayview Ave.

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Spacing Magazine named me of of “12 Extraordinary Toronto Women Changing the City’s Public Realm.” Such an honour, and a surprise! Thanks to Amy Lavender Harris for writing a thoughtful article about my work.

 

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Summer Update

Such a summer it is.

I read poems and took part in a panel with Andy Weaver and Stephen Cain at the Canadian Writers Summit next to Lake Ontario, at Harbourfront. After the reading, my shoes melted.

As part of above/ground press’s 23rd anniversary, I read more poems, setting a few on fire (literally, not figuratively), and managed to not burn anyone.  Will add more pyrotechnics to the Fun With ‘Pataphysics show because it is hella fun to perform.

In love graffiti news, I photographed a lot of it, as there is more now than ever (can’t be a bad thing, right?). I’m excited by two new series, “Crushed Toronto” (featuring the word, “crush” hundreds of times), and “All the Feels” (featuring “feels”). Planning new shows.

I spent most nights this summer on baseball fields. Late in the season, I started photographing different elements of their landscapes, often with sunsets or sunrises. I fell in love with chain link, field lights, and lines of chalk. The project is tentatively titled Fields of Dreams.

fieldsofdreams

Also working on four manuscripts – two non-fiction, two poetry. The poetry is almost ready to leave the house.

Two more days until fall. Will try to squeeze a few more things in.

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Raw Optimism in Chris Hadfield’s Generator

Chris Hadfield’s Generator
Massey Hall, October 28, 2015

Chris Hadfield's Generator

After a great math class in eleventh grade, I wandered through the halls of Northern Collegiate, awestruck. I realized I was learning the same lesson in my music and art classes.

“It’s all the same!” I thought. “There is only one subject.” But I was never the same after that day.

As a poet, I’ve presented a series of faux-scientific lectures which are ridiculously fun for me because I get to pretend to be a scientist and wear a lab coat. So I was excited to attend Chris Hadfield’s Generator, a variety show featuring scientists and science-based artists. They seemed like my kind of people.

The show opened with an “elite squad of rock stars from the future” named Tupperware Party Remix and their friends, Ninja Sex Party. Appearing as spandex superheroes in KISS armour and miscellaneous Halloween costume bits, they led us in a cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” In other words: futuristic funkadelic 80s sing-a-long perfection.

After we recovered, MC Robin Ince introduced himself as a “Renaissance idiot,” explaining that he had “read enough about a lot of things to be wrong about everything.” He was partly joking, partly serious, but extremely modest, as he is the host of BBC science series The Infinite Monkey Cage and has taken part in many science variety shows. In fact, Generator was modeled on his own work. His infectious enthusiasm (and “irreverence”) for science put those of us who are non-scientists at ease.

When Robin Ince introduced the man of the evening, Chris Hadfield, the crowd, so skillfully warmed, cheered loudly. Before the show began, I overhead conversations that indicated many audience members travelled far to see Generator. One student took the train from New York City and returned the same night.

Chris Hadfield shared his boyhood astronaut dreams, taking us through the non-linear career path of hard work it took to fulfill them. His voice quickened, rose, and broke at the pinnacle point in the narrative: the story of his first space walk.

Larger than life on-screen, we watched him traverse head-first through the airlock, like a birth, and then he froze – half inside the ship, half outside in space. Next, in a Road to Damascus sort of moment, he was blinded. The loss of sight was temporary (due to de-fogger in his eyes), and when it returned, he said he experienced a “raw, completely optimistic view of the world.”* I got the feeling that the reason all of us were here was to hear this message.

There are many possible paths which lead to the same revelation. But Chris Hadfield’s story is literal: he looked at Earth with his own eyes, and observed.

Throughout the evening, guest performers revealed they were asked to “tell a personal story,” a “story about what motivates me,” or to “share an anecdote as a metaphor that explains what you do.” Generator was billed as a science-based variety show, but it was also designed to inspire. To remind us of the power of human imagination, which seems to “get lost in the bad news of the day.”

Not surprisingly, the audience swooned when the band and Chris Hadfield performed David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” – a song rich in history and lore, the latest being that it has been to space and back. His re-write of the lyrics changes the song’s story: instead of ending in disaster, it ends on an optimistic note. No longer a work of fiction, it becomes an intense personal story. Again, the experience moves from metaphorical to literal.

“Inspiration” and “motivation” are important words that can be diminished by empty New Age quotes, the kind that well-meaning friends pair with photos of beaches or puppies and share on the internet. These words seemed to re-gain power as the presenters told their stories of science-based dreams and accomplishments.

Data artist Jer Thorp makes large amounts of information understandable and accessible with beautiful visual representations, giving it meaning and narrative. “Data holds story,” he said. He shared an anecdote about a project in Africa for which he collected data as evidence that an ecosystem there was worth saving. Some of my visual poet friends might enjoy checking out his work (his TED Talk was heavily shared in that community).

Planetary scientist Marianne Mader explained the motivation behind SteamLabs, “a non-profit makerspace dedicated to empowering kids and adults to create and innovate.” Throughout childhood, she watched her brother, a tech-oriented learner, struggle through school. The experience inspired her to create a space where kids with similar talents could thrive. She shared a heartfelt letter of thanks by a mother whose son’s life was changed by his experience at StreamLabs.

Engineer and host of YouTube’s popular Smarter Every Day, Destin Sandlin, demonstrated his Backwards Brain Bicycle experiment, showing that it takes perseverance and focus to truly change our behaviour. We can easily acquire knowledge, but it doesn’t equal understanding. It was also a reminder to be aware that our views —on absolutely everything we encounter—are always biased, whether we’re aware of it or not.

Comedian Mark Little parodied a TED Talk and reminded us not to take ourselves and our sincerity too seriously (as comedians should). He also played an amusing role in an onstage interview between Chris Hadfield and NASA systems engineer (“Mohawk Guy”) Bobak Ferdowsi. Ferdowsi told his story of becoming a media sensation after his mohawk was seen on NASA’s live broadcast of Curiosity’s landing on Mars. Sketch comedy troupe Templeton Philharmonic made us laugh, too.

One important role played by poet Marshall Jones: he strongly reminded us to question everything (as poets should), and that technology is a double-edged sword. From his poem, “Touchscreen”:

iPod iMac iPhone iChat
I can do all of these things without making eye contact
We used to sprint to pick and store blackberries
Now we run to the Sprint Store to pick Blackberries

Mitch Bragan, who was paralyzed after being hit by a drunk driver, demonstrated his self-balancing exoskeleton suit that supports him so he is able to walk upright. The robotic suit “allows paraplegics and other wheelchair bound individuals the ability to rehabilitate and to walk.” If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

If you’re lucky enough to have a moment in which you experience a “raw, completely optimistic view of the world,” you can’t un-see it, you can’t un-do it. It changes you, and it alters the path of your life. For most people, it’s a metaphorical moment – an event occurs which causes us to draw similar conclusions.

Chris Hadfield’s gift to us is that, as an astronaut, he literally viewed Earth as a whole, leaving nothing to the imagination. When we hear such a clear first person account, we can’t un-hear it. We’re changed, too.

Raw optimism based on pure observation is sometimes difficult to come by on this planet, but on this night, 2600 people at Massey Hall believed. For a few hours, our attention was directed towards inspirational stories told by thoughtful people who are doing their part to co-create a much bigger and brighter future together. Generator, indeed.

 

Notes and Shout-outs

*I would like to factcheck this sequence of events as I understood it. The details were confirmed in another talk, but the order was not. If I’ve made a mistake, I apologize.

Best wishes to the young woman with astro-biologist aspirations who sat beside me. It was great to meet you.

Truly magical moment: when one of the Ninja Sex Partiers took the mic, made a plea for beauty, and gave an epic rant on Higgs Boson calculations and the pros of supersymmetry. Turns out he is theoretical physicist Brian Wecht.

Prediction: if you want to see the next Generator, you’ll probably need to buy tickets early. It will sell out due to favourable word-of-mouth reviews.

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