Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Stewardship in Action

I will admit that I was pretty excited when I received a referral from one of our Watershed Steward Award winners that put me in touch with the owners of Weir’s Lane Lavender.

I have a great job, and one of the best parts about my job is the experience of getting to see how people use their properties in different ways. During our on-site visits to properties our goal is to assist the property owners in learning more about the natural areas on their properties and if applicable, assisting them with completing projects to create new, enhance existing, or protect natural areas. The property owners that live in this watershed are so diverse and I have learned a great deal from their experiences of living on, and working their lands. My visit to Weir’s Lane Lavender was no exception.

It’s a story that I never tire of hearing.

Kevin Beagle was working for a software company in downtown Toronto. His wife, Abigail Payne, commuted long hours between the couples Toronto home and her job at McMaster University. Six years ago they decided it was time for a change in their hectic lifestyle, and they made the move to Weir’s Lane.

Since 2010 Kevin and Abigail have been growing and harvesting Lavender, and the property features 5,500 Lavender plants on-site, with plans to add two to three thousand plants per year to the western edge of the property, eventually converting all of the current cash crop rotation to lavender fields.  An apiary was a natural addition to this site, and there are presently approximately 250,000 bees on-site with plans to add more hives. They opened a store on-site which features a variety of their own lavender products, including lavender infused honey and locally produced giftware. In 2012, Weir’s Lane Lavender & Apiary was recognized as the Agri-Tourism Business of the Year by Tourism Hamilton.

Kevin and Abigail were more than happy to educate me about Lavender. Lavender has no known natural pests, requires no fertilization and no spraying occurs to protect the health of the honey bees and other pollinators on-site. Their interest in educating the public is what prompted our visit. By the end of our visit, the plan for a native plant garden that would serve as forage for pollinators and a demonstration site with interpretive signage was underway.

On June 16, 2013 Kevin and Abigail, with the help of friends and family, some McMaster University students and the Hamilton-Halton Watershed Stewardship Program, planted 936 wildflower plugs in 3 newly dug gardens near the apiary in record time. Species planted include:

Brown-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirtaLance-leaved Goldenrod Euthamia graminifolia
Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca
New England Aster Aster novae-angliae
Flat-topped Aster Aster umbellatus
Sweet Oxeye Heliopsis helianthoides
Dense Blazing-star Liatris spicata
Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa
Foxglove Beardtongue Penstemon digitalis
Virginia Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum virginianum

There is a great little rhyme with perennial plants “In the first year they sleep, in the second year they
creep, and in the third year they leap!” I was invited back to the farm to act as a resource on native plant gardens during the 2013 Farm Crawl and I was pleased to see the plugs holding their own. In addition to the native plant/pollinator friendly demonstration garden, Kevin and Abigail also began letting areas of the property along a watercourse quietly begin to naturalize, creating a riparian buffer which will provide habitat to wildlife, help cool the watercourse by providing shade, and filter runoff from adjacent areas.

The Hamilton-Halton Watershed Stewardship Program was pleased to be able to offer technical and financial support to this project. While small-scale to start, it provides a large-scale opportunity in reaching out to the over 800 annual visitors to the farm. I look forward to revisiting the site in 2014 to see the plants grow and installing the interpretive signage that is currently in development. We look forward to working with Weir’s Lane Lavender in the coming years to ensure the success of the site, add new species, and potentially expand the native plant garden to new areas.

 Are you interested in establishing a demonstration project on your property or at your businesslocation? Feel free to contact me to discuss your ideas. I can be reached at celwell@conservationhamilton.ca.

Cherish Elwell
Watershed Stewardship Technician
Hamilton-Halton Watershed Stewardship

Interested in learning more about Weir’s Lane Lavender? Visit their website at http://www.weirslanelavender.com/ or like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/weirslanelavender. The farm store remains open up to Christmas (see website for hours) before Kevin and Abigail take a well deserved rest for the winter.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Christie Lake From Above

Over sixteen thousand people know Christie Lake as the Christie Antique Show place. Over seven thousand more know Christie Lake as the Greenbelt Harvest Picnic venue and even thousands more know and enjoy Christie Lake for the swimming, boating and picnic facilities. Few people see Christie Lake when it is waiting for winter to arrive, and even fewer get the chance to see it from above.

On a sunny calm day in late November, I had the unique opportunity to fly over Christie Lake and get a wonderful birds-eye view. The lake had just reached its winter elevation (six feet lower than what it is in the summer swimming season).
Looking from the southwest, the beach and Beach House Pavilions are in the center of the photo, Lakeside Pavilion is in the bottom left and the Marina and McCoy Pavilions are just visible on the right side as the Spencer Creek winds out of the frame.

Directly over the beach, the fields await the next Antique Show, vendors filling the grass around the beach pavilion and spectators parking on the other open green fields.

The Christie Lake Dam located at the south east end of the park was completed in 1971 and is the largest flood control structure in the Hamilton watershed. Built to reduce flooding in Dundas, it also provides low flow augmentation in dry summers and creates a vibrant habitat for recreation and wildlife. The McCoy Pavilion and soccer field can be seen below the parking lot at the top of the photo. As the Spencer Creek passes through the dam, white water of the Darnley Cascade are visible before the creek reaches the Darnley Mill ruins.

The opportunity to view  Christie Lake from above is an experience that very few get to have and is one that I will never forget.

Bruce Harschnitz
Park Superintendent
Christie Lake Conservation Area

Photos by Bruce Harschnitz and HCA

Monday, 2 December 2013

An unexpected start to the winter of 2014

 When it comes to Canadian weather, what a difference a year can make – let alone a
 decade…it has been a long time that staff have charted the entire Valens Lake reservoir as ice covered inside the month of November.  Plus – the extended weather forecast is also showing good ice holding and making conditions well into December of this year.  2014 is off to a great start for the ice fishing season.

For the ice angling community, this early return of winter and our old friend – Jack Frost, is a welcomed sight here in the banana belt of southern Ontario.  Traditionally, Valens Lake is one of the first water bodies to freeze and one of the first to reach safe ice conditions.

While the current ice conditions are clearly noted as Unsafe – it is a signal of seasonal transformations that generates tremendous interest and excitement for anglers bitten with the ice fishing passion.  Ice fishing today has outgrown its male dominance and stereotypes.  More and more women and children are taking up the sport and tagging along with Dad – spending the day in the Great Outdoors.
The staff at Valens Lake will be undertaking safe ice inspections and reporting their findings over the coming weeks.  Public access will be permitted for all on-ice activities once the reports confirm a safe consistent level of clear ice 6 inches across the reservoir.  Stay tuned to our website for regular updates and announcements.

Ice Fishing at Valens Lake is a “walk on” experience that is close to home for many anglers in southern Ontario,  A “catch and release” policy has been put into effect by the Hamilton Conservation Authority to protect the pan fish stocks from over harvest and to ensure the fishery at Valens Lake remains strong for generations to come.

Gordon R. Costie
Valens Lake Conservation Area