Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The snow is deep, the temperature is low and the wind chill is -31 degrees. So why would I be thinking about bees? Well, I have just finished reading Candace Savage's book, bees. Savage has been writing nature books for many years, including her recent work on Crows (crows, magpies, ravens, jays). Savage's introduction to the book reminds me of my own facscination with all those buzzing insects we see in people's gardens as we work on their trees and shrubs. She reminds me that without all that is abuzz there would be no trees, shrubs or any other plants for us to work on. These great pollinators (along with a number of other insects) are what have kept much of the plant world around for millenia.

Savage's book is written for the lay person. Rooted solidly in science, she translates for us so that we can understand the world of bees with our brains but more importantly appreciate this world of creatures so much smaller and so much bigger than ourselves. She uses prints, poems, art and photography to bring the inner workings of the hive to life.

Even if you don't find the mating and working habits of bees endlessly fascinating (Did you know that a queen honeybee lays about 1,500 eggs per day, and that she decides if it will be a male or female egg based on the size of the cell she deposits the egg into?), Savage's book is a delight to look at. The images and poems are worth the price of admission.

Now I have another reason to look forward to spring so I can go looking for some of the less familiar species she talks about. I may even build a nest box just to see what we get. And all those dried-up curb sides that irritate us because nothing will grow there? Take a closer look...

bees is available at Chapters, Audreys (Edmonton) and local independent bookstores.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Services from Marshall's Tree Services Ltd.

We are offering two new services this year at Marshall's Tree Services Ltd. This winter we are offering snow removal services--from November to February, inclusive.

Marshall's is also offering a year-round cemetery maintenance program, geared especially to small rural cemeteries.

For either service, call for an estimate: 780-987-6230 or email marshalls@interbaun.com.

Protecting Urban Trees and City Hall

Recently, there was a furor in Edmonton over plans by the City's Department of Forestry to cut down a large number of elm trees on the boulevard on Whyte Avenue. Citizen protest was so great that the number of trees to be removed dropped from 70 to 20. It is clear that Edmontonians want their public trees preserved. Now Councillor Ben Henderson wants to know how citizens feel about the protection of trees on private property. (When your neighbors' trees are cut down or harmed, they can affect your property value, as well as the beauty of your neighborhood.) Councillor Henderson would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this important issue. Here is a quote from an open letter by Henderson:

"Concerning the trees on City land, the Forestry Department is guided by its Tree Management Politicy, which requires that Forestry set up guidelines to ensure that City trees are not unnecessarily harmed or destroyed. But what about trees that live on citizens' own property? are there regulatins to which concerned citizens can turn to protect these trees? Over the past couple of decades, many other municipalities in Canada--including Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto--have developed policies and bylaws that restrict the actions property owners can take towards trees ont heir own property. If a tree is of a certain age and value (judged by tree diameter) ownders cannot harm them without first obtaining a permit fromt he city, usually reuiring the visit of an arborist. I am interested in how citizens feel about this issue. Clearly mature trees are a critically important part of our mature neighbourhoods. I am interested in your thoughts on the possibility of a bylaw to protect them. Do you see this as a beneficial and reasonable use of City resources? You can contact me at ben.henderson@edmonton.ca or phone 780-496-8146."

Some Forest Facts

Continuing on the theme of protecting our trees, did you know that Canada has 10 percent of the world's forests? According to Natural Resources Canada (2009 figures), we have 397.3 million hectares of forest, other wooded land and other land with tree cover. Our predominant tree species on forest land are spruce (53.2 percent), poplar (11.6 percent) and pine (9.3 percent).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tomato Blight Alert

Many Alberta gardeners have been reporting cases of tomato blight. Here is the latest Agrinews bulletin regarding this issue:

Late blight has been reported in many areas across southern and central Alberta, with indications that it has been found in some commercial potato fields. The largest number of reports has been from urban residential plantings of potatoes and tomatoes. Due to late identification, limited control options and excellent conditions for disease development, the disease has been largely unchecked in residential locations and has spread rapidly. There is the potential for continued spread of the disease, due to air-borne spores that are being produced. There is also a risk of spread into greenhouse tomato operations.

Late blight is a serious plant disease caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans and is found in most potato and vegetable-growing areas of Canada, although it does not occur every year on the Prairies. It affects potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and related weeds. Late blight is an aggressive disease that, if left unchecked, can cause significant and rapid crop losses, both in the field and in storage.

Initial symptoms are typically noted on older leaves, appearing as dark, water-soaked areas (lesions) that move in from leaf tips/margins, becoming brown and brittle within a couple days. Late blight lesions are not contained by the leaf veins as they are with another common foliar disease called early blight. Lesions may also develop on plant stems and on potato tubers and tomato fruit. Late blight develops most quickly in warm and wet/humid conditions and can spread very rapidly through a planting. Plants may be rapidly defoliated and die. Potato tubers may be infected by spores produced on the foliage. Infected tubers may have irregular, sunken lesions that are often around the eyes with the rot penetrating deeply into the potato. The rot has a reddish-brown colour and the disease can spread from diseased to healthy tubers in storage.

On the Prairies, late blight does not form an overwintering spore type. Instead, the pathogen overwinters on living tissues and the disease is carried forward from one season to another on infected seed potatoes, cull piles and volunteer potatoes. In-season spread is by spores produced on infected tissues and diseased crop debris. Spores can move considerable distances on the wind or will move within the fields by rain or water splash.

Late blight can be managed in commercial crops using protective fungicidal sprays (with rotating chemistries), applied at regular intervals when conditions favour disease development. In home gardens, infected plant materials should be disposed of as soon as possible after detection, either by burying or freezing. Leaving cull piles or diseased materials in the open can lead to infection of healthy plants. Volunteer potato plants and solanaceous weeds, such as nightshade and wild tomato, should be controlled in all situations. If infected crop debris is composted, it should be covered with a tarp or soil until it has frozen to minimize spore distribution. Killing potato tops can help to minimize tuber infection, as this encourages tuber skin set and stops top growth. Tubers can be harvested a couple of weeks after the tops are killed. Tubers should be heavily graded and culled before storage in an attempt to prevent entry of the disease into storage.

As the season progresses into fall, the risk of late blight infection should decrease dramatically because potato and tomato vines will stop growing and begin to dieback naturally, thus reducing the amount of living tissue available for infection and reproduction of the pathogen. If you suspect that you have had late blight, it is recommended that you dispose of all infected material immediately (by burial, etc.). Once the tops of plants are dead or have been removed, the potential for continued infection is reduced or eliminated. Top killing will encourage tuber skin set and reduce tuber infection. Only harvest from healthy stands and do not keep any infected plant material (e.g. tubers). Cull and dispose of infected tubers appropriately. It is always recommended that growers and gardeners purchase clean, certified seed potatoes each season, rather than keeping their own tubers over for seed.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Drought Still Affecting City Trees

Despite the heavy rainfall we've been experiencing in Edmonton recently, the city's trees are still suffering from the impact of the droughts of the past few years. According to Michael Silzer, an ecological planner with the city, 30 percent of the natural areas within the city are experiencing dieback. "Dieback" is the condition in which trees have many dead or dying branches. This spreads over the tree until it doesn't have the strength to combat the problem and the tree itself dies. Pruning can help the tree survive longer and allow it time to recover.

Some of the ways to keep city trees health are:
  • create wells around tree trunks to catch moisture
  • fertilize and water trees regularly
  • don't place rocks or cement near or around the base of trees (use mulch instead)
  • keep road salt away from trees

When trees reach the end of their life cycle and either die or have to be removed, consider planting a new tree. When planting, remember that the tree will not always be small--give it sufficient space in which to grow. Coun. Karen Leibovici has recently been urging city council to encourage the public and businesses to plant more trees since so many Edmonton trees have died because of drought, disease, and old age. This would not only contribute to a richer and more beautiful urban forest, but it would save the city a great deal of money. According to the Edmonton Journal, it cost the city $743 for parks workers to supply, plant, and maintain each new city tree it planted last year. The city has recently embarked on a three year program to replace those trees killed by the long drought. The plan calls for roughly 3,000 trees to be planted.

New Book on the Global Forest

Author Diana Beresford-Kroeger, a botanist and arborist, has recently published a book entitled The Global Forest, in which she describes trees as the most special species on the planet. She points out that 50 percent of the oxygen of the air comes from trees. The other 50 percent comes from phytoplankton and algae, the "invisible forests of the ocean" (also under attack, given recent news reports). Beresford-Kroeger thinks that humans have underestimated trees and their importance and that "if the trees die, we die." Her book is a call for a new, deeper understanding of the importance of trees to global survival.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Welcome to "Branching Out"

Welcome to "Branching Out," an on-line newsletter blog of Marshall's Tree Services Ltd. This blog is intended to provide readers with tips on how best to care for their trees, shrubs, and perennials. Blog posts will appear about once a month with information on the latest issues facing anyone interested in preserving the natural environment around our homes and businesses.

Facing Drought
As most people are aware, over the past few years, our plant materials have been negatively affected by severe drought. We all need to take measures to provide our trees, shrubs, and flowers with whatever help we can, in order for them to survive and flourish. Here are a few tips you might try:
  • when plowing or shoveling snow, be careful not to damage trees and shrubs. Use less salt when de-icing your walkways (salt can damage and even kill trees)
  • as soon as the snow melts and ground thaws, water your trees, especially where there has been little precipitation
  • mulch your trees as soon as the snow melts. Mulching retains moisture and provides nutrients.
Invasive Plants
Invasive plants can cause environmental and ecological degradation. We find them in natural areas, watersheds, and rangelands. Many can be found in urban backyards, as well. This spring and summer, don't encourage plants such as creeping bellflower, oxeye daisy, and common tansy in your garden. Avoid planting ornamentals with invasive tendancies. Avoid "wildflower mixes." Many contain non-native, aggressive plant species. For more information on what plants to avoid and what to substitute, see the Alberta Invasive Plants Council website (link provided below).