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 Clearview’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.


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.

Deadhead at 12:00!

April 19, 2016

The first cruise of the year is always an interesting trip, even if the weather is fine and the fish aren’t yet interested.  The highlight of yesterday’s expedition on Opinicon Lake (at Chaffey’s Locks, Ontario) was the huge deadhead below.  Because it was unmoving in the wind and waves, I suspect that it is rooted in the silt 26′ below.



I posted the photo on Facebook (Opinicon Lake and Chaffey’s Locks Rocks) and a comment provides a rather precise location for the log.  It’s a long way from the channel between Davis and Chaffey’s.

This picture is taken more in the middle of Opinicon Lake in front of Weatherhead’s cottage looking across the Lake at Bachenburg’s, Langlois’s and Burbank’s and Randall’s.

Dave Warren’s comment on Facebook leads me to believe that the thing may well be a local landmark.  I hadn’t ventured up to Deadlock Bay for a couple of years, and things change on a lake over time.

Yesterday afternoon I noticed that a black cherry seedling transplanted to the front yard last year had not wintered well, so I casually looked around for a finger-sized hard maple to replace it.  Maples of this age seem to hide in places where they are hard to dig out, but I persisted in a casual search until a hen turkey meandered past me through the pine-walnut stand as I sat quietly in the cab of the UTV.  The large bird worked her way west and was on the verge of entering the woodlot when she suddenly spotted food at the edge of the mowed area and frantically pecked her way around for a couple of minutes before continuing on.

With renewed resolve I searched two fence rows between the house and the woodlot. Every transplantable tree smaller than my thumb was a black walnut. In 2006 when we began the walnut project there were no volunteers in these areas.

Young black walnuts are now even growing in what I would have considered inhospitable terrain a half-mile north of the seed trees, across a stretch of open field.  Gray squirrels are amazing seed propagators, and the local climate has changed enough that black walnuts can now grow in exposed areas of the drumlin where they had no chance of survival before.


May 24, 2015

Friday night (May 22nd, 2015) the temperature dropped below freezing for several hours. The next day was cold and very windy. The frost, or the frost combined with cold, dry winds, did considerable damage to the foliage and flowers of various trees and seedlings scattered about the property.

The most obvious victims were young green ash saplings. By Saturday afternoon the five-year-old ashes beside the brook had turned completely black, stems and all. The damage in a stand of green ash and silver maple planted in 2006 was entirely restricted to the ash. They showed moderate defoliation on some lower branches. All maples seemed to hold up well to frost.

White birch seedlings planted two years ago (2013) showed little frost damage despite rapid growth this season. Their escape might have to do with their height.  Seedlings under a foot of height were hardest hit.

Shagbark hickory leaves on 2010 seedlings showed extensive damage. Pin oaks varied: the more verdant the recent growth, the more leaf damage. Slightly older red oaks showed red leaves, but no shriveling.

Black cherry saplings transplanted to the front lawn showed no damage.

Mulberries on the lawn have shriveled leaves, but the undeveloped seeds seem intact, if slightly discoloured. This applies to both the red mulberry trees and the hybrid which produces freakishly sweet, mauve mulberries.

2012 black walnut seedlings were whacked by the frost. That’s no surprise, for I looked at 7 acres of 2005 walnuts and only the most sheltered have the bulk of their leaves intact. One relatively exposed plot of 2006 butternuts will have to grow new leaves, a trick these trees do anyway in response to insect attacks. The adjoining black walnuts planted in the fall of 2005 have heavily damaged foliage, as well.

The real question remains whether the apples, pears, and the producing black walnut tree which lie in the shelter of the house will bear fruit this year. I suspect that the presence of two furnaces running nearby on the night of the frost may have created a micro-clime to allow their flowers to survive. Time will tell.

A note about weeds might be in order. Buckhorn seems impervious to frost. I detected no frost damage to the dreaded wild parsnip which I spent Friday and Saturday spraying. Wild cucumbers and the more verdant climbing vines suffered greatly in the frost, but the robust climbing vines soldier on.

Apart from the green ash, the showiest sufferers were 2013 Norway Spruce seedlings. They had been having a great spring, but the new growth is now brown and dessicated. White spruce and white pines, like maples, seem to have suffered not at all.

The rumoured rock barrier at the Marina Road failed to materialize, so we cruised in comfort across the side-roads and beaver ponds which make up the landscape on the stretch between Little Lake and Chaffey’s Locks.

When we came to the bridge over the canal with its planked deck and chain link sides, I regaled the crew with a long and windy account of trying to follow my 15 year-old son across the railway ties while he took advantage of his new, suspended mountain bike.  He’d torn across the bridge at full speed while I was reduced to hopping over one tie after another  while gazing at the Rideau through the wide gaps below my wheels.



Then it was Doug’s turn to tell us about the livestock culvert through the railway bed and how it had become impossible to maintain due to shifts in the rock and gravel above.

When we came to the gate at the road which leads in to The Two Doctors, a black SUV pulled in quickly behind us while Doug puzzled with the key.  The Queen’s Biology Station prof showed Doug how to fit the key, and then asked if he could go ahead because he had a student with a broken ankle a mile and three-quarters down the trail.  Away he went.

I had built up the bird watchers’ expectations with wide-eyed accounts of the great blue heron rookery just off this section of the Trail.  I should have remembered that dead trees don’t stand indefinitely in a beaver pond.  When we finally got to the large marsh which stretched out far below our vehicle, it was treeless, and thus the heron nests had to be somewhere else.  Undaunted, Lloyd and Dwayne kept up their search for songbird nesting sites.

This stretch of the railway line runs through very rugged territory, so we saw quite a few isolated lakes, the most impressive Garter Lake (or Carter Lake; Doug’s map wasn’t clear on the first letter).  It’s a deep lake a couple of miles long which fills the gap between opposing ridges.


I called a halt at one point to photograph a huge mud beaver dam which maintained a pond at least four feet above the height of the road bed.  If it ever broke, the trail would be inundated with silt cascading down to another pond about 30′ below on the other side of the road.  Rough country.



Eventually we came upon the band of Queen’s biology students and the guys helped carry the injured woman out a boggy trail to the prof’s SUV.  They loaded her across the rear seat.  She had slipped while stepping over a log on her way to the beaver pond to work on the water snake project.  The rest of the crew dumped waders and other extra equipment into the back of the car, then cheerfully began the hike back to “QUBS,” their pet name for the Biology Station.

As the landscape began to level out Doug called a sudden halt and asked Lloyd to back up about a hundred feet to a trail marker dangling from a sapling.  Then he bailed out and scuttled down the bank to the entrance of what looked like a large cave.  “Take a look at this!”


As we assembled at “The Grotto” Doug explained that the builders of the railroad faced a unique drainage problem here.  They needed to provide a route for a lot of overflow from a swamp above, so they drilled a tunnel through the granite ridge.  The makeshift culvert looked to be about fifty feet to the light at the other end.  A placid stream bubbled through the ridge and joined a smaller stream at a conventional concrete culvert under the railway bed.


Soon we came out at another gate a couple of miles short of Perth Road village.  We opted to return by road from there while Doug told us about Opinicon Village, though we were unclear about the location of Postal Gate, which apparently guards the trail to the mythical town site.

Time will tell what the impact of the trip will be on bird house placements, DSV containment strategies, or local history tours, but the ride through the Cataraqui trail before the bugs of summer was well worth the effort for its scenic value alone.

There’s a fascination with forbidden spaces which strikes deep to the heart of every owner of an off-road vehicle, so as soon as my neighbour Lloyd Stone bought a used Polaris Ranger, I was eager for an expedition.  Actually, there was a bit more to it than that.  Lloyd volunteers maintenance services to his section of the Cataraqui Trail, clearing fallen trees and occasionally making a pass or two with his rotary mower.  Such work’s not hard for a retired farmer with an embarrassment of tractors and related equipment still on hand.

Lloyd wants me to take over the section which runs past Portland, but I’m still holding out for the Chaffey’s Locks end.  My argument throughout the winter remained that we need to make a thorough inspection tour so as to understand the challenges of the western half of the trail before firming up the maintenance schedule.

The list of objectives grew as the landscape turned from snow to mud, to wildflowers.  Then it became a matter of recruitment and scheduling.

Doug Good, Chairman of the Cataraqui Trail Management Board, has a key to the gates and his group funds the building of boxes for trail newsletters in my shop, so he became a natural member of the tour group.

Dwayne Struthers is a member of the Leeds County Stewardship Council with a particular expertise in bird habitat, so Lloyd wanted him along to plan the placement of new nesting boxes along the old railway bed.  I got to come along because the trip was my idea, and because of my obsession with the invading Dog Strangling Vine (DSV).

So in best bureaucratese, our objectives:

1. to identify what type(s) of bird houses should/could be installed on the different types of terrain along the trail;
2. to determine the extent of DSV infestation along the Trail, and consider remedial measures, including spraying with Arsenal on the shoulders of the trail;
3. to examine lines of accountability and finance to facilitate objective #2 (above) before the seeds take to the air like milkweed fluff in September;
4. to allow Doug to show other participants points of interest and historical significance along the Cataraqui Trail.

Enthusiasm for the use of UTVs for the trip wilted quickly. Lloyd said, “We’ll take my truck,” and that was that. I didn’t quibble because I had recently broken my gas-pedal toe, and was pleased to be a passenger.

Equipment for the safari consisted of Lloyd’s four-door Nissan Titan, an assortment of birdhouses, a few fence posts, a driver for the posts, and three Dewalt cordless drills and a jar of Robertson screws. Lloyd produced one 5/8″ wrench to tighten u-bolts.

Precisely on time we joined the Trail through Lloyd’s private entrance and proceeded to the site of the old Forfar rail terminal where the crew leaped into action to install a bluebird box.  Then we crossed Hwy. 15 and encountered the first gate.

Doug managed to unlock the gate, but had to tie the heavy barrier shut with baler twine because the needed sledge hammer or 1″ wrench to adjust the barrier’s alignment with its post had not made the trip.

Off we went to gawk at the surprising beauty of Little Lake and gaze with growing consternation at local DSV infestations.


-More later-