June 3, 2016
This spring I attended a session in Lanark on the spread of wild parsnip and the county’s plan to spray with Clearview to control it. The protesters, young, articulate women, were there in force, communicated by text, worked in shifts, and generally disrupted the meeting.
They left little time for a reasoned discussion of the selection of Clearview as the pesticide of choice, so I’d like to weigh in on the risks of wild parsnip’s spread and eradication efforts versus the greater risk to the environment of the spread of DSV, or Dog Strangling Vine.
Since 2006 I have become increasingly proficient in the use of Roundup, another post-emergent pesticide. The MNR guy told me outright that my black walnut seedlings wouldn’t grow unless they were protected from grass during the first three years of their life. That was probably an exaggeration, but it did encourage me to take the pesticides qualification course and maintain my certification. Last year’s renewal turned into a one-week online course from the University of Guelph — far from a formality. I kept wondering if I had blundered into a graduate school program by mistake, but I hung in there and survived.
Last year a French study linking Roundup to Non-Hodgins Lymphoma appeared in Lancet. This spooked me a bit, as my father died of that rare disease even though he farmed organically and had no use for pesticides — or even diesel fumes, for that matter.
So you may safely assume that I use as little pesticide on the farm as I can. Over the last three years all of the spraying I have been forced to do has been against the steady encroachment of wild parsnip.
I believe the seeds came mixed in with sand spread on the roads in winter. The first year of the infestation concentrated on township roads where the heaviest sanding took place the previous winter.
Birds undoubtedly find the sunflower-like seeds attractive, and have spread them around to isolated locations on our 107 acres where I have done what I could to battle them back. My neighbour was remiss in weed control for a couple of years and the corner of his field was full of the stuff. Now I see no more parsnip on his side of the fence, but the things are well established on mine.
I have a 12v spot sprayer mounted on my Polaris Ranger, and spray by driving to the area and having at it with a 3% solution, striking individual plants. In cramped areas this is fine, and I’m doing pretty well around individual spruces. It’s the open areas where it’s mixed in with grass that I have failed to control the parsnip. Mowing the stuff just doesn’t work. It just grows back like grass. On the other hand, it never gets to the seeding stage, so mowing every couple of weeks is better than nothing.
Why don’t I rig up a wider sprayer and nuke the plants and the hay I generally mow, or use Clearview? I’m more concerned about airborne DSV seeds than I am the parsnip. I don’t want to leave bare patches of earth, as DSV has spread to within a half-mile of our farm but hasn’t established a foothold yet anywhere that I can find. But it’s a relative of the milkweed, so its seeds blow around.
Why not use Clearview? I don’t know it well enough. Roundup is a crop spray, well known for its herbicidal effectiveness and very short persistence in the soil. I own several thousand little trees which have grown through repeated spot sprayings in their vicinity. The feedback loop is pretty slow when using a spray, so I guess I’m slow to adapt.
On Lockwood Lane last summer there was a 100 sq. foot bare spot in roadside vegetation which clearly wasn’t created by Roundup. It was totally dead. I don’t know for how long Cleaview’s effect lasts, and what can be planted to replace the plant cover, and when.
So my advice to those property owners in Lanark worried about Clearview spraying? Don’t ask for a ban on road spraying. That’s the route to disaster. Ask for Roundup for your roadside and ditches. After the first application you’ll likely need to qualify as an applicator yourself to complete the process. You’ll need to spray more frequently than with Clearview, but you can be pretty sure the crop herbicide won’t hurt your water, or your frogs, and it will beat down the wild parsnip if you keep at it.
That would be a show of true commitment. Waving cardboard signs and disrupting public meetings just doesn’t cut it in the battle against invasive plants.
Update: CBC Ottawa has a story on their site about the dangers of wild parsnip to cyclists and children.
May 31, 2016
Without doubt the thing is the ultimate geezer gadget. With excellent surge brakes the two-ton hoist can be towed behind a small pickup (or positioned by a garden tractor, it turns out), it doesn’t have an hour meter, and recharges its batteries from a regular household extension cord.
It enabled Les and me to climb to unapproachable places on a Victorian house as easily as I did when I was 16, and it was no more terrifying than that wobbly extension ladder my boss assigned me that summer. The beauty of the thing was the 2.5X4′ cage which became our workplace for the Victoria Day weekend this year. It held paint tray, scrapers, nail gun, and whatever else we needed to repair and repaint the windows and soffits on this landmark building on Young’s Hill. Painting became truly a 3D proposition as long as I kept one hand free of paint to span pairs of buttons on the touch keyboard.
The 2013 model’s internal air hose obviously hadn’t seen any use for a while, so I just used a 100′ hose from my portable compressor on the ground. The electrical connection in the cage was fine. It also has an internal garden hose, if you need water far above the ground. It turned out that a compressed air nozzle was at least as effective as a hand scraper in freeing up the peeling paint on the fascia boards.
The photo above shows the hoist at almost its full extension: not enough to get onto the roof of this very high building on a side hill, but high enough to do the job. The unit had to be placed on a driveway well out from the wall and substantially below the level of the basement, about a 45′ lift, in total. It was best not to look down.
World of Rentals in Kingston apparently knows how to deal with customers like me as there were no additional insurance charges or other annoying surprises on the bill. The weekend special normally involves a one-day fee of $295 plus HST for the interval from Friday at 3:00 until Monday at 9:00. On the long weekend it became a 1 1/2 day charge. When I returned the unit at 8:00 Tuesday morning, I paid $500.03 CDN.
May 24, 2016
It took ten to fifteen seconds and ended in a cloud of dust, and it was a sound unlike anything we had heard before, a tearing, scratching, snapping mess of sound, and it went on and on.
And then the old Young barn, a landmark on Young’s Hill, was a twisted wreckage of tin roofing, timbers, and sheeting. One of the nesting turkey vultures circled the heap in dismay.
There are a few thousand feet of hardwood lumber in there, a good Herreschoff pram I’d like to rescue, and a generation’s discarded tools, winter tires and furniture.
May 20, 2016
I have never managed to shoot a deer. They don’t exactly volunteer, it turns out. Before I retired time wasn’t available during the short hunting season: for some reason school administrators have a big conference that week, and I usually had to run the school in the principal’s absence. After I had retired, I couldn’t be bothered wasting a week sitting still on a deer run when there were far more interesting things to do.
A few friends have stepped up over the years to fill my license for me, though, and there were occasional deer which had been whacked by a passing vehicle. Of the two sources of venison, I’d have to rate the found carcasses generally higher in palpability than those shot with rifles.
I’ll provide a single example and then leave the subject. One evening in early December I was driving down Hwy 15 when I came upon a large yellow truck stopped on the shoulder, with drivers shuffling around at the front of the truck in some confusion. I stopped. A dead doe lay in front of the truck without a mark on her.
The drivers needed to move on, had a long run and nowhere to put the doe. I offered some steaks if they helped load it into the back of my SUV. I drove directly to a guy I knew who had processed venison all through hunting season. He skinned and cut it up for me for $100.
I reported the pickup to the OPP and the clerk concluded with: “Enjoy your deer.”
Clifford told me that the only mark he could find on the large doe was a small hole in one ventrical of her heart, no doubt from the hydraulic shock of impact with a large, flat object, the front of a Hertz truck. The meat was outstanding in flavour and texture.
I won’t tell the far messier story about a rifle-killed specimen which did not taste very good.
O.K., one more story. While commuting from Carleton Place to Smiths Falls I occasionally encountered road-killed ruffed grouse. Just about everybody picks them up. They’re hard to hunt, easy to clean, and flat-out delicious. One afternoon I was in a line of traffic when the Honda Accord three cars ahead of me took out a low-flying male with the tip of its antenna.
Three of us immediately braked for a U-turn. My SUV had rear-wheel drive, so I could power around more quickly than the Golf and the minivan. The grouse had landed on the centre line so I leaned out the door and picked it up. The other two drivers saluted and resumed their trips home. The thrill of the hunt.
Here’s a clever BBC article on why roadkill’s not just for the starving any more.
May 19, 2016
All Hell broke loose in Canada’s House of Commons yesterday afternoon when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left his seat to assist MP Gord Brown, the Conservative Whip, to his seat so that an important vote could proceed.
The subsequent events are well documented on Parliamentary TV, though opinions vary as to the gravity of the Prime Minister’s faux pas. After due reflection, and in the context of the annual Stanley Cup Playoff television marathon, I would like to offer my view.
Now let me get this straight. NDP members chose to barricade a portion of the floor of the House of Commons so that the Conservative Whip could not make it through to resume his seat, thereby delaying a duly-scheduled vote. Whip Brown apparently chose to go along with this coercive act without protest, although this organized and premeditated action clearly infringed upon his parliamentary privilege.
MP Brosseau willingly joined this scrum, offering her physical stature to help form the impromptu barrier.
Prime Minister Trudeau saw the scrum for what it was, and his teacher training cut in. Over my 33 years in secondary schools I have broken up many situations like this, plunging through the crowd, nabbing the perpetrator (or in some cases the victim of a beating) and drawing the individual none-too-gently from the scrum.
Foremost in Trudeau’s mind would have been that Gord Brown had the right to move to his seat, and these individuals were taking that right away from him. Gord in this case would be no different than a grade nine girl on her way to the washroom, blocked by a gang of grade 12 boys in the smoking area.
Trudeau would have been furious with the ringleader/bully in this case, Tom Mulcair, who in his mind was clearly out of line. This outrage piled on top of the humiliation last week of a near-defeat in a vote because of Mulcair’s mischief.
So far everyone played his role in a classic schoolyard confrontation. But then Trudeau’s elbow struck MP Brosseau, and the NDP yeoman, the physical shield, suddenly went all girly, complained to Mulcair, and fled the House. This move by Brosseau was definitely not part of the classic confrontation model. Girls in brawls are if anything tougher than the guys.
CBC hockey analyst Don Cherry is going to love dissecting this play. Up until now he’ll agree with the many media analysts as to the statement of events, but here he’s going to turn on ex-hockey player Gord Brown for a gutless play in his unwillingness to go into the corners. Then he’ll defend Trudeau against Brosseau’s dive. He’ll show on video how the NDP stalwart had silently moved into position to get hit, and then went into a rehearsed dive, communicating with her captain, then rushing for the dressing room, missing a shift, but returning to the bench in time for the TV interview.
So Cherry will conclude: “Does Trudeau deserve a suspension for that elbow? No, the two minute minor was more than enough. But lemme tell you, from now on the refs will be watching Mulcair, and I’m disappointed by Brosseau. She’s been a promising call-up, but I don’t know about this. And Gord Brown, my buddy? I don’t know what got into his head.”
Here’s a video analysis of the incident:
The Beaverton has a great take on this, but I think their site has gone down because of the traffic. Try shortening the link until it works:
I predicted CBC’s Don Cherry would do an analysis of this film. Turned out it was retired NHL referee Kerry Fraser for MacLean’s Magazine. It’s pretty good, worth enduring the commercials:
May 13, 2016
Before his encounter with the roto-tiller this morning I’d only seen Freddy once, and that was two years ago this summer when he came out to watch my tractor mow around the seedlings in a stand of pine and walnut next to the woodlot. Accompanied by a much smaller coyote with an identical brown coat, Freddy spent an hour hunting mice in the lee of the tractor, deftly stepping out of cover to nab food disturbed by the bush hog.
At the time I was glad to see the pair. We’d been more than a year without a resident coyote following the disappearance of Emily, the old alpha who had set the rules around the farm for six years. Emily had become very tame as she studied our habits, and so she and her offspring often visited the orchard and garden, producing a few startled visitors and the odd photo-op.
Not so with Freddy. Apparently he had checked me out and found me wanting, because I just never saw him again. The tracks were there: huge paws accompanied by the delicate footprints of his mate. Our spaniel took great delight in their scat, so we were reminded they were around on every walk.
This morning the landscape waited nervously for the promised rain. Since 4:00 it had tried and failed to let loose. I paced the back deck, revelling in the sudden warmth but a bit nervous about Friday 13th and the coming rain.
Freddy appeared suddenly. He needs a good brushing to get that long winter hair (faded almost blonde) off his hips and shoulders.
While Emily used to enter the orchard with a confident swagger, Freddy skulks. The tall, rangy coyote floats lightly over the grass. This morning he spent much of his time looking over his shoulder, which made it harder than ever to tell where he’s going. I had a momentary surge of adrenaline when he took several steps directly toward the stairs to the deck, but he suddenly veered off toward the garden.
The scent of the freshly tilled soil obviously intrigued Freddy, but then he caught sight of the rototiller and jumped back. He stared, thought it over, and retraced his tracks out of the garden, disappeared behind a row of wild grapevines, and re-appeared one field over to complete his transit to the mouse-rich patch of seedlings on the knoll beyond the barn.
So that’s Freddy, a no-nonsense coyote mousing to feed his family.
May 1, 2016
Notice the new wheels on the old lumber trailer? I added two which I bought in 1980 or so and then forgot in the haymow. The mission to recover them from the now-derelict building was a bit more fraught than I would have expected. The floor of the upper level has separated from the rock foundation by almost two feet and settled, so I had to squeeze in through a pair of doors trapped by a foot of stone and find my footing on an unsupported floor inside.
As I gathered my wits after that endeavour, one of the resident turkey vultures decided not to sit through my intrusion and leaped into the air from the bare floor of the hay mow to my right. She looked HUGE in a confined area as the startled bird struggled up above the main beams, then glided down and out through the open door at the far end.
Now I have a pair of turkey vultures with a grudge hovering even lower over me than usual whenever I go outside.
Earlier in the day a mystery egg turned up on the grass below the barn. It had obviously been transported there, but only partially eaten. The egg was larger than a chicken’s Grade A, and seemed a bit “squarer” than the ovoid domestic product.
Logic indicates the egg was likely purloined from the nest of the neighbourhood wild turkey, though the lack of spots suggests a duck, but I’m pretty sure if a mallard were nesting in the barn I would have seen her flying in and out. But maybe that vulture was feeding, rather than tending a clutch of eggs in the abandoned building.