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Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

This is a bit late, but if you live in or around Irvine you’re going to want to come by the South Coast Research & Extension Center (SCREC) this morning for the 4th Annual Residential Demonstration Landscape Open House & Vendor Fair (phew – doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue does it?).

Today from 9 am to 2 pm there will be garden industry vendors and water agencies showing the latest methods to reduce landscape water usage. Master Gardeners will be speaking about composting, small space gardening, pest control, and edible landscaping. Plus, best of all, there will be a plant sale (cash or check only).

You’ll also marvel at SCREC, a beautiful rural oasis in our busy suburban/urban environment. Most folks have no idea what a treasure we have here in Irvine. I often do my Master Gardener volunteer hours there pruning in citrus, persimmon, pluot and cherimoya groves. They also have 3 residential landscapes demonstrating different levels of water conservation through landscaping and planting.

I’ll be there as a “seed planter/floater.” So come by and say hi. I guarantee you’ll learn something to improve your home garden.

Event is today 9am to 2 pm at SCREC 7601 Irvine Boulevard, Irvine CA 92618. All lectures and demonstrations are free. Plant sales are by cash or check only – no charges. Click here for more info and a list of speakers, demonstrations and vendors.

 

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…and other news. Here are a few stories that we’ve come across in the past few days that we think you might find interesting.

School Wildlife Habitats

We loved this one in particular. We all know about the life-enhancing lessons that kids take away from school (food) gardens. Well here’s another powerful way to engage them, help them learn, and improve their lives in the short- and long-term.

The Leo Politi Elementary School, in one of the most densely populated areas of Los Angeles, removed 5,000 square feet of concrete and lawn and replaced it with native plants and trees. Amazingly (or not, as most gardeners know), insects, birds and other creatures appeared so quickly that the principal said it was almost as if they were waiting for this oasis to appear. Not only were the kids fascinated with the activity in their new habitat, but the school’s science scores increased six-fold.

Let’s hear it for school gardens, both edible and habitat gardens. They enrich the lives of students, teachers and their neighborhoods by creating green spaces for all kinds of creatures. Read the whole story here.,

Historic Garden Photography

Anne Raver (one of our favorite garden writers) writes in the NY Times about a collection of garden photos taken from the late 1800′s to 1935 by Frances Benjamin Johnson. A catalog of her hand-colored glass lantern slides is available here. It’s a wonderful resource for anyone planning a new garden.

Conservation

Finally, here’s a thought-provoking editorial, Drop That Bog, that appeared in the NY Times on April 11. It’s a pretty convincing argument against using peat moss. We’ll quote it here in its entirety:

“To gardeners, there is something deeply gratifying about opening a bag of sphagnum peat moss. It’s the smell and texture, as well as knowing that peat makes a good ground cover and soil improver. But, like so many other things in our lives, peat moss looks different, and far less gratifying, when you take climate change into account.

What gardeners are buying in those compressed bags of peat is the remains of what was once a living bog. Extracting peat requires a kind of surface mining — laying back the top layer of a drained wetland and digging out the peat. The stuff you’re forking onto your garden is a broken-down version of stuff that has been used for centuries as fuel in Scotland, Britain and Ireland.

Here’s the trouble. Peat results when bog and wetland plants decompose partially in the absence of oxygen. Instead of emitting carbon dioxide as they decompose, they become the carbon in peat. In other words, peat acts as a carbon sink, trapping carbon that would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere. But once peat has been dug up — even before it is burned or dug into the corner of the garden where you’re hoping to plant blueberries — it begins to release its stored carbon, adding to the climate-altering carbon dioxide we are already pouring into the atmosphere.

Compared with the amount of carbon dioxide emitted when gardeners drive to the nursery, the problem may not seem that big. But every reduction helps, and there are easy alternatives. The best substitute for peat in the garden is compost, which you can make at home, unlike peat, which takes thousands of years to form. Peat should stay where it does the most good: in the place where it formed, beneath the complex ecology of a living wetland.”

That’s it for now.

P. S. Yes, we have been on an extended hiatus which was quite a bit longer than we intended, but we’re happy to be back. Tomorrow’s Tuesday’s Tips will be a primer on creating succulent terrariums. It’s super easy!

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We’ve written a lot about Colony Collapse Disorder and the nearly overwhelming problems that affect honey bees, but things are at least as dire for our native bees, most notably the lovely bumble bee.

Bumbles are the stuff of our childhood memories. Who, when remembering walks through wildflower fields, doesn’t see in their mind’s eye fuzzy, funny bumble bees drifting from flower to flower? These pollinators were plentiful years ago, but now, like many plants and animals, bumbles are suffering from loss of habitat, pesticide poisoning, changing climates, and diseases that were introduced along with non-native bees.

There are almost 50 bumble bee species native to North America and many of them are threatened not with just a serious decline in numbers, but with extinction. In a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a study done over the last three years shows a widespread pattern of decline in bumble bee populations. The western bumble bee, the rusty-patched bumble bee and yellow-banded bumble bee used to be very common, but their numbers have decreased by 96 percent and their range shrunk by as much as 87 percent. (This is video Native Bumblebees features an interview with Scott Black of the Xerces Society who’s been tracking the disappearance of the western bumble bees in Oregon.) Franklin’s bumble bee, found in a relatively small area covering southern Oregon and northern California, is now thought to be extinct.

Many other bumble bee species have also experienced serious declines in their numbers and ranges which is a big problem because bumbles are an important pollinator for high-value crops such as cranberries, blueberries and clover. They are also important elements in many ecosystems, pollinating wildflowers and plants that produce seeds and fruits that feed everything from songbirds to bears.

Bumble bees are unique in that they are able to fly in colder weather than other bee species and this makes them key pollinators for native plants in the tundra, prairie and  higher elevation climates. In fact bumble bees are the most effective pollinators for certain plants and seem to have evolved along with particular species of plants — the length of their tongues is exactly what is required to pollinate them. So if that particular pollinator is in decline you can reasonably expect that the plant that depends on it will decline as well. And that’s exactly what appears to have happened in parts of Britain and the Netherlands where native insect-pollinated plants have declined along with bee populations.

There are many ways you can help bumbles survive and perhaps thrive. The most important is DON’T USE PESTICIDES in your gardens. The stuff on the shelf at your local big box stores and nurseries is dangerous to man and beast. Really, this stuff will poison you, your kids, the dog, the cat, the chickens, and any other creatures that happen to be in the vicinity. Make a resolution to forego poisons in your garden this year. (We’ll write a post or two about organic alternatives and how to safely use them in your garden soon.)

Other ways to help the bumble bees:

  • Plant natives in your garden and plan for a succession of pollen and nectar-bearing blooms throughout the season.
  • Bumbles like asters, bee balm, blueberries, borage, clovers, lupines, mints, and rhododendrons to name a few.
  • Bumbles will nest lots of different places like logs, trees, old mouse burrows and grass tussocks. Leave a bit of your land wild if you can.
  • Bumbles are very gentle and won’t act in a threatening manner. If you find a nest move away slowly and walk softly and they’ll leave you alone.
  • Learn to identify the different types of bumble bees. Free I.D. guides can be downloaded here.
  • You can participate in studies that are tracking bumble bees. Athena Anderson at the University of Georgia has developed a nest site survey to learn more about nest site and habitat features for bumble bees throughout North America and make this information available to anyone at no cost. If you find a bumble bee nest, please click on this link to fill out the survey and increase our knowledge of the range of native bumble bees: Bumble Bee Nest Survey
  • The Xerces Society has asked that folks send them photos of yellow-banded and rusty-patched bumble bees and the locations where they were spotted. Email to bumblebees@xerces.org

May the bumbles be with you! Mary Beth and Barbara

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By now most everyone is familiar with Cyber Monday, the official start of the online shopping beginning this year on November 29th. Last year consumers spent almost $890 million dollars online and we’re willing to bet our entire holiday gift budgets that a large portion of those dollars were spent on items that are in the back of some dank closet or in the Goodwill bin.

But what if you could really take your gift giving up a few notches by shopping responsibly this year? Well the good folks at The Nature Conservancy are ready to help you put your good intentions into action with Green Gift Monday. They have gathered a wonderful collection of gifts that will protect and save the wild places on this beautiful planet of ours.

On Green Gift Monday you can help The Nature Conservancy create habitats for hummingbirds, adopt an acre in the Rockies, California, or the Appalacians, or protect a coral reef in the South Pacific. So click this link knowing that whichever option you choose you will be making a real difference in the world.

On a personal note, Mary Beth and I want to say how grateful we are for The Nature Conservancy’s efforts in  preserving open space. Readers of this blog know how much we love Block Island, a magical place has been a part of our lives for more than 40 years. The movement to save open space on the Island was started in the early 70′s by visionary Rob Lewis whose tireless efforts were supported by The Nature Conservancy. To date more than 43 percent of Block Island has been protected and will forevermore remain wild and undeveloped to be enjoyed for generations to come thanks to their work and to other generous Islanders who donated land to the cause.

 

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