By Sue Chan
I’m sitting at my study window looking over a snow-laden landscape with more snow coming down. It’s February, and it’s a long time until bee season. Still, I’m thinking about bees, about their critical role as pollinators in our food system and in the food systems of many Ontario wild birds and mammals. I’m thinking about all the small berries and fruit in the wild landscape: wild raspberries, strawberries, thimbleberries, blackberries, blueberries, bearberries, winterberries, elderberries, mountain ash berries, Canada plum, wild apples, hawthorn — all are produced by plants in response to pollination. We get that, and that’s why we like bees. But what about food for bees?
Let’s clear up something right now, before I go on. I’m not talking about honey bees here. Honey bees are not native to Ontario, and they really are agricultural animals in this province. That means they have humans that care for them explicitly in exchange for the surplus of honey, pollen, beeswax and pollination services they provide, especially in the agricultural context. Honey bees are not bad, but as I said, I’m not talking about honey bees. I’m talking about the 400-plus species of wild bees that are native to Ontario. These bees don’t make honey, most don’t live in colonies (except for the bumblebees), they don’t swarm, and generally, they avoid stinging.
Many (but certainly not all) native bees emerge from their snug nests in the ground or in hollow stems early in the spring (March or April, depending on the year), a time when few plants in our Ontario landscape have begun to produce the flowers that provide the nectar and pollen critical to bees’ survival. These bees include bumblebees, and nine genera of solitary bees (Osmia, Anthophora, Colletes, Lasioglossum, Halictus, Augochlorella, Agapostemon, Andrena, and Ceratina) — about 225 species in all. These bee species are dependent upon ephemeral spring flowers in forests, early blooming non-native bulbs in gardens (like scilla and crocus), invasive coltsfoot often found on road edges, wind-pollinated deciduous trees such as red, silver and sugar maples — and the pussy willow. The earliest blooming of these are the pussy willows, which produce their soft fuzzy grey flowers at the first sign of warmth. I have two large pussy willows in my garden, and one of them began to bloom in the warm spell that we had in January of 2018 (not so great for the plant and not very useful to bees!).
Pussy willows (Salix discolor) are interesting shrubs for a few reasons. First, they are very adaptable to all kinds of soil and moisture conditions. I have one in a place where its feet are wet most of the year and another in a place where the soil is dry and gravelly. Both thrive and produce flowers that are covered with foraging native bees in the spring. Second, they are dioecious, meaning there are male pussy willow plants and female pussy willow plants. The flowers (also called catkins) of the male plants are different from those of the female plants (see photo) because the male flowers produce pollen whereas the female flowers do not. Both male and female catkins are covered in a silver-grey fuzz, a veritable fur coat that protects the pollen and the ovules (eggs) within the flowers from damage in cold weather. Third, although neither of the catkins look much like the conspicuous colourful flowers we normally associate with bees (think apple, sunflower or pumpkin flowers), what they lack in colour they make up for in scent cues, and nectar and pollen production, that ensure that spring-active bees find them. In exchange for the critical nectar and pollen, they provide to bees in early spring, pussy willows are pollinated by the bees that visit them.
We all love pussy willows for their soft grey catkins, and if you are anything like me, you rush out and cut the lovely stems to put into vases in your house as harbingers of spring. I celebrate this human ritual, but let’s also remember to leave pussy willow catkins for the bees too. A good rule of thumb when harvesting any wild plant is to only take 20 percent and leave 80 percent for other living things. If you see evidence of others having harvested pussy willow stems, move on to another spot to do your harvesting. As many experienced pussy willow harvesters know, many of the pussy willow stems that are brought inside and put in water will produce roots. When you have a chance in spring, replant those stems where you are able to give back a wonderful, reliable source of nectar and pollen for bees in spring.
Male and Female pussy willow catkins
Red Pine Plantation Threatened by Dog-Strangling Vine
By Kate McLaren
The Ontario Woodlander Volume 91
Last summer, my husband, Richard, spent several weeks updating our managed forest plan. Our family has about 800 acres of woodlands, wetlands and old pastures, along with a small red pine plantation, in the Addington Highlands. On a sunny day late last July, we decided to take a look at one of the compartments that consisted mostly of abandoned pastureland that we hadn’t visited for some time. It was overgrown with wildflowers, junipers and raspberry bushes, as well as pockets of immature hardwoods and wild cherry trees.
In the sweep of native plants, we almost missed an unusual plant that had wound itself over the top of some milkweed plants near the base of a wild cherry tree. It had glossy green leaves and slender stems holding several pairs of long, lime-green seed pods.
We took a sample home and looked it up online. To our dismay, it turned out to be dog-strangling vine, or DSV. This invasive plant had arrived in our beautiful old field.
New Resource is for the Birds
By Becky Stewart
S&W Report Volume 89
There is a new addition to the list of online resources on the Ontario Woodlot Association’s website: Beneficial Management Practices for Southwestern Ontario Forest Birds at Risk: A guide for woodlot owners and forest practitioners. To be honest, I have been wracking my brain to come up with an attention-grabbing introduction. But the guide doesn’t lend itself to that. There are no frills, no photos, no graphics. Instead, it is a science-based document, primarily intended for woodlot owners and managers, including Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program (MFTIP) participants, and anyone interested in managing all or part of a woodlot to help species at risk. It is also for conservation organizations and wildlife biologists who are regularly asked to give advice on species at risk.
To our knowledge, this guide is the first of its kind for southwestern Ontario. It is quite short. Using eight tables (one for each of eight at-risk bird species found in southwestern Ontario’s Carolinian forest), the guide describes each species’ local habitat preferences, the natural processes that create their preferred habitat, and their responses to silviculture. This information is then directly linked to potential beneficial management practices (BMPs). What’s unique is that the recommendations also take into account different conservation priorities, helping managers navigate issues such as conflicts between different species and their habitat needs, and recognizing which habitats are limiting, and which are not, within the region.
All of the information in the guide came from peer-reviewed, published research (or from experts, when published research wasn’t available), and the guide was reviewed by members of the forestry sector, biologists, government wildlife agencies and academic researchers. Further, the guide is a “living” document, and will be updated as new research and information becomes available.
The Forest Carbon Opportunity for Woodlot Owners
By Jamie MacKinnon
VP, Environmental Solutions
A carbon cap-and-trade program entered into force on January 1, 2017, putting a price on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with fossil fuel use throughout Ontario. The program will allow for GHG reductions from such things as carbon sequestration from forests to generate offsets that can be sold to entities within the cap-and-trade program to meet their compliance requirements. Between now and 2020, such companies can use up to 43 million tonnes of CO2 worth of offsets for this purpose. With current carbon pricing at over $18 per tonne, and regulated floor prices scheduled to rise, the Ontario market offers a significant new revenue opportunity for forest owners in the province. The Ontario Government is working on developing several forest carbon protocols for recognition of offsets. The most promising for private woodlot owners are Improved Forest Management (IFM) and Avoided Conversion (AC). These initiatives are based on the California protocol, which has been very successful at rewarding forest owners for sustainable forest management.
Lyme Disease — and the Associated Issues with Diagnosis (or no Diagnosis) — Part I
By Don Willis, RPF, Near North Chapter
The bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi is carried by the blacklegged deer tick and can cause Lyme disease in humans. Lyme disease is not easy to diagnose, and the health-care community is struggling to learn more about diagnosis and treatment. Physicians are either aware of the disease or not — and hopefully have the basic understanding of the need for immediate treatment when informed about someone being bitten by a blacklegged deer tick.
By Thom Snowman
Among the many benefits provided by Ontario woodlots is the protection and production of water. While 60–65% of the province’s population draws artificially treated water from the Great Lakes or major rivers, the remainder relies on other surface waters or groundwater supplies that are at least partially kept clean by the 66% of Ontario that is forested. While provincial statistics show that 90% of the forest is in public parks or Crown land, there are 170,000 private woodlot owners who pay property taxes, yet provide protection for drinking water without compensation for that service. Drinkable water is an increasingly valuable commodity, produced for free by forests, yet very expensive to produce through artificial filtering and treatment.
Redheaded Pine Sawfly Neodiprion Lecontei
The redheaded pine sawfly is a common and natural forest pest of red pine forests in Ontario. It can cause serious havoc in young red pine plantations, many of which are located on private land and have received a significant amount of investment on behalf of landowners. Red pine is selected for planting since it is easy to establish in an open field environment and can be effectively managed through a series of plantation thinnings for forest products, such as decking lumber and hydro poles.
Dog-strangling vine in Ontario: Caterpillars to the rescue!
By Naomi Cappuccino, Carleton University
Dog-strangling vine (DSV), also known as pale swallow-wort, was introduced from Europe in the late 1800s. DSV has become a highly invasive weed in the Ottawa Valley, Toronto area and elsewhere in eastern North America. DSV is native to the grasslands of European Russia and Ukraine. Although it is a rare species in its homeland, in North America it forms extensive, dense mats of intertwined stems that choke out other vegetation. It thrives in a variety of habitats including hedgerows, fields and woodlots. Once it has invaded an area, it is extremely difficult to eradicate.
By Peter Hill, Haldimand Chapter
Our little heaven is in Haldimand County, Carolinian Canada country! It’s long and narrow and of the 80+ acres (I still haven’t converted to hectares), some 30 acres at the southern end is wooded. It’s a nice mix of hardwood species with some conifers thrown in. It has vernal pools, wetland and a slightly rolling nature. On the east side it is adjacent to our neighbour’s large 20-year-old white pine plantation, and the total interconnected forest through several properties must run to over 300 acres.
One of the signs that spring has finally arrived is the melting of snow and the emerging green growth that begins to poke through the forest floor. The ostrich fern Matteuccia struthiopteris is one of spring’s early risers. Named after the Ancient Greek struthio meaning ostrich and pterion meaning wing, the common and scientific names refer to the large, feather-like shape of the fern. The curled crosiers that emerge in the spring are fittingly called fiddleheads.
Prior to massive European-style agricultural development, the most productive lands in east-central Ontario were rich deciduous forests. Oaks, butternuts, beech, hickories, black walnuts, chestnuts and hazels were common and were often substantial food resources for many forest dwellers. However, modern Ontarians praise their forests mostly for white pine and sugar maple and have forgotten or do not know all the rest of the remarkable species rarely seen on woodlots and in provincial parks. They almost disappeared from our landscapes and may become extinct if we do not boost the propagation potential of remaining populations or even individual majestic nut-bearing trees.
Wetlands are lands that are saturated with water long enough to cause the soil to become waterlogged, and the growth of water-loving or water-tolerant plants to occur. Wetlands are transitional habitats, often forming the connection between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. They can occur where the water table is at or close to the surface, in low-lying locations, or along the edges of lakes and rivers. Many wetlands are permanently flooded, while others flood only periodically in the spring or fall. You can often walk through such areas in the summer without ever getting your feet wet!
by Lynn J. Landriault
Historically, southern Ontario was covered by forests interspersed with lakes, wetlands, grasslands, and other open areas. The natural landscape has changed dramatically as a result of agricultural practices and urban development. In many areas, private woodlots are the only remaining forests, and are critical for maintaining tree diversity and providing habitat for wildlife that require forest cover. Thoughtful, well-informed management approaches can result in woodlots that provide habitat for a wide range of forest-dependent wildlife species, while providing owners with a host of other benefits, including economic benefits in the form of wood products.
By Paula Vopni and Bruno Pretto
Woodlot owners are familiar with the many colourful and delectable mushrooms that emerge from the forest floor after spring and autumn rains. These mushrooms are much sought after, and wild mushroom gathering and cooking are delightful and rewarding activities. While these “earth” mushrooms, such as chanterelles, morels, and truffles, are ephemeral and difficult to cultivate, there is a whole category of more reliable “wood” mushrooms that grow on trees and fallen logs in natural woodlands. These wood mushrooms can be purposefully cultivated in a controlled manner. This article is intended to give you a basic understanding of how you can cultivate nutritionally valuable, gourmet mushrooms such as shiitake and oyster mushrooms on hardwood logs outdoors under the forest canopy. You will find some valuable references at the end of the article for further learning and for ordering mushroom growing supplies.
By Dick Lalande
Few woodlot owners take advantage of operating a commercial woodlot as a farm, and each owner and their own situation is unique This article will focus on a theoretical woodlot, Harry’s Commercial Woodlot, which is a forested, 400-acre mixed forest, some planted trees, swamp and field mix, situated in eastern Ontario.
This spring I had the pleasure of visiting Kelly’s Blueberry Farm near Bancroft. The blueberries were in bloom, and the bushes were alive with hundreds of bumble bees and other native solitary bees. Notably, the blueberry growing area on the Kelly’s farm is surrounded by forest on all sides. Few insecticides, if any, are used and all manner of wild flowering plants are allowed to flourish on hillsides and natural lands. On a tour of the woods I saw numerous native flowering plants on the forest floor and the forest edges boasted staghorn sumac, virgin’s bower, wild apples, choke cherries, pussy willows, meadow sweet, and many more flowering shrubs, all of which are nectar and pollen sources for bees. The trees themselves, although mostly wind pollinated, are visited by bees in early spring when other pollen sources are scarce and tree pollen is plentiful. My guess is that many of Ontario’s wooded areas are much the same--expanses of good foraging habitat for Ontario’s bees.
A series of case studies were developed to profile examples of responsible long term forest management in southern Ontario. Eight landowners were interviewed to gather their financial and forest information and to summarize the history of activities on their properties. Annual revenue and costs for various products (timber, fuelwood, and maple syrup) were obtained from the landowner. A representative crop model was developed for a typical crop rotation in Ontario using corn, soybeans & wheat. The model was based on crop enterprise budgets developed by OMAF, which reflect agriculture industry average costs and returns. A Present Value calculation was used to estimate the equivalent 2010 value for revenue and costs from the woodlots and agriculture crops. This paper summarizes the results of the eight cases. The results show that, during the time periods covered in this study, sound management of woodlots has provided returns that are complimentary and favourable in comparison with agricultural returns. The overall purpose for this study was to promote and document responsible management of privately owned forests.
To access the full report, click here.