Wildlife Gardening at the Parkallen Community Gardening

Wildlife gardening means providing the conditions in your green space that are attractive to animals such as birds, butterflies, and bees.  All animals need food, water, and a safe place to raise their young. Insects, which we need to pollinate our plants, and bats which pollinate and control pests, are not exceptions. Over the past several years, the Parkallen Community Garden has been adding feeders and nesting boxes for beneficial animals.

foodshelterwater

Above is a wren house (yet to be occupied), a watering station for birds and insects, and a large bird feeder with mess-free birdseed.  Food + Shelter + Water = Wildlife Gardening.
The Parkallen Community Garden neighbours our outdoor community hockey rink.

Bat House by Bob Danner

16 feet high on a lamp post that lights our rink in the winter, we’ve hung a bathouse.  It’s been constructed especially for this location by a local bat enthusiast and conservationist, Robert Danner.  Little Brown Bats (our local species) are mammals and need a safe place to nurse their newborn babies in the spring time. A bat house serves as a nursery for moms and pups.  There is a roof over-head but no floor — they enter from below and hang on to the rough interior surface with their claws. They huddle together for warmth and companionship. Bats only occupy a bat house in the springtime. Bat colonies over-winter elsewhere.  Little Brown Bats eat mosquitoes, among other insects.

To answer some FAQ’s – No, the house doesn’t come with bats.  After discovering the house, if they like it, local bats will move in next Spring or the Spring after that. Bats and people have been peacefully co-existing for all of human history, and bats have only recently developed a reputation for being scary and unclean.  Little Brown Bats are extremely shy and would never attack humans or pets.  They are wild animals though, and belong outside, not in our homes.  Common sense tells us to never approach a sick or dead bat, and not to handle it’s feces.  Learn more about bats in Alberta from Alberta Conservation.

the owl house

This is our owl house, which we hope will be attractive to a Saw Whet owl.  We’ve seen Great Horned owls in the neighbourhood, but they wouldn’t nest in a house like this.  Great Horneds like the crotches of trees.  Note that this nesting box has a large, owl-sized opening.  If a local owl likes this home, she may lay her eggs in it next Spring.

wood shavings

We’ve lined the inside with wood shavings.  Thanks, Robert! And hung it as high as possible under the eaves of our Community League, facing South.  It’s a warm, protected location with a fairly clear view and a good swoop zone.

seth installing owl house

Thanks, Seth for installing it!  We know that’s an unlikely an owl will use this home, but an owl house was high on a list of must-haves according to Parkallen School kids.  You might like to see a baby saw whet owl on You-Tube.

Bee hotel at the Parkallen Community Garden, or Bee Condo

We’ve also created a nest box or bee hotel for wild bees.  Unlike honeybees, wild bees are solitary.  They don’t swarm or sting, they are most likely to flee or retreat from a human.  They’re very safe and are, in a healthy ecosystem, all around us. A wild mother bee would occupy a single tube (like the hollow stalk of a flower) to hatch her babies in.  She needs a shelter to house her young, who she fetches pollen for all Spring.  Like the other nest boxes, this one would be inhabited only when the mothers are raising babies, and not throughout the year.  It doesn’t come with bees — but if they like it, they’ll use it to keep their babies sheltered and safe.  Our garden needs pollinators to make food for us.  Diverse pollinators and a diverse, stable food-supply go hand in hand. Learn more about building a bee hotel and about solitary bees from the National Geographic Society.

house with restrictor

This nesting box may be a home for a native songbird, such as a a wren or a chickadee.  Sparrows (a non-native species) are very aggressive nesters and good at crowding out native songbird species in Edmonton.  Sparrows are like the dandelions of the bird world.  This birdhouse has a restrictor over the hole.  The hole-size restrictor will hopefully make the nesting box unattractive to sparrows, and perfect for chickadees or wrens.  Native songbird species could really use a leg-up in YEG.  When you’re building or buying a birdhouse or nesting box in Edmonton, remember, the hole-size matters.  Do some research to attract the right bird to your yard.

chickadee house

Above is another nesting box for a native songbird hung high in a pine tree at the Parkallen Community Garden.

Wondering how we got these boxes up?  We had a little help…

city cherry picker

Thanks to the City of Edmonton for a lift when we needed one.  And…

Brent in Pine Tree

Thanks to all the Parkallen Community Gardeners who helped with the installations and especially to Brent Flesher (above) who will continue to monitor the nesting boxes.  Thanks to the World Wild Life Fund for purchasing the nesting boxes as part of a Green CommUnity Award to Parkallen School.  Thanks to Linda and Kathy at Parkallen School for their help administering the grant money.  Thanks to the Parkallen Community League for supporting these projects in our community, and especially Anne Pratt for leading our community consultation.

These wildlife gardening projects and this blog post were created by Marlene Wurfel, Parkallen Community Garden Director. These nestboxes will not save the environment and the species they are meant to help out.  But to build, install and maintain these nesting boxes for wild wings, I’ve learned so much about what wildlife needs in our urban landscape. It’s my hope that these projects will continue to teach Edmontonians about what our urban wildlife needs to survive and thrive.

Drop by the Parkallen Community Garden where visitors are welcome any time to see our “Nesting Boxes for Wild Wings” projects.  Check out our bee condo for solitary bees, bat box for nursing moms and pups, owl box and bird houses for native songbirds.

interpretive_signage_nesting_boxes

Gentlegardeners: Start your seeds

It’s that time of year: watering Parkallen Gardeners: Start your seeds! puckerbut Brent has special-ordered seeds from North Carolina where the PuckerButt Pepper Company claims to have cultivated the hottest pepper ever grown in the history of the world. Of course we’re willing to swap seedlings this Spring. What are you growing?

growingineggshells
Carolina Reapers started in eggshells. Grow little peppers! Grow!

We’re on eggshells over here waiting for them to germinate… corny Hope it’s not too corny of me to ask… but will you grow some extra of whatever you’re starting this year for the Parkallen Community Garden?  If everyone grows a tomato plant or two, we won’t have to buy any. And, if you’d like to try something exotic like eggplant or … canteloupe … the PCG has sunshine to spare.

Yield by Marlene Wurfel

In my last “from the permaculture patch” article I asked you to evaluate your relationship with your garden and with our community garden. In high summer do have a garden full of flowers but can only see the few weeds? Are you grateful the snow is concealing the state of your front yard? When you spot a garden gnome, does his look strike you as smug and reproachful? If your relationship with gardening could be summed up by: “Ugh, I just haven’t been doing enough in the garden,” I asked you to stop sewing those particular seeds of shame and regret. Instead, let’s think of a garden as something that is for people, that gives more to people than it demands, and that should give more than it demands. If a garden is taking more than it is giving, we’re doing it wrong.

“Yield” is an important concept in permaculture. In order to design a green space with intention, we need to know what its purpose is. We need to know what we want our garden’s yield to be. Carrots? Beauty? Renewal? Fresh air?

What do you want from your green spaces?

If you want a private place that smells like spice lilies and sounds like wind chimes, where you can sit and sip sangria with your best friend, then make one of those, and don’t feel badly that you aren’t also growing enough turnips in that very spot to feed a monastery.

If you want to fill a root cellar with carrots and potatoes, plant carrots and potatoes, and don’t feel badly that you’re not also growing a row of every type of vegetable ever cultivated by man, including lemongrass, eggplant, and quinoa.

If you want a spot where the kids can make mud pies and kick a soccer ball, or where the dog can chew on some rawhide, don’t worry if wedding parties don’t tend to crash your back yard for photo ops.

If you’re just learning to garden or are new to Zone 3, and you want to experiment with growing cantaloupe, try growing cantaloupe, but be content that both cantaloupe and the knowledge that cantaloupe doesn’t grow very well here are a type of yield.

Do you really just want a quiet and private spot to feel the sun on your shoulders? A place to notice the seasons changing? Something pretty to look at out your kitchen window while you do dishes? One really beautiful tomato to make the best sandwich ever each September? Someplace that renews and recharges your senses and your spirit? A physical challenge?

The really empowering thing about knowing what we want our gardens to yield is that it allows us to perform the essential calculation of yield – investment = profit. Taking the time to calculate how our green spaces are benefitting us or not can help us make good decisions. We may need to repurpose our spaces and recalibrate our relationships with them. Making intentional choices can help us remove ourselves from the grim soldiering through of gardening as a chore, something we do because we must, because that is the way it is done, because that is the suburban dream dreamed up before we got our particular chunk of it and that is the way it has always been dreamt. What is important about a garden to you? Is it how it looks to neighbours and to passersby? How it looks to you? How it feels to be in that space? To spend as little time as possible working outdoors? Any of these are valid but knowing what we want our “yield” to be helps us make good decisions about what we invest. In many ways, yield is such a simple, obvious, basic concept that it’s easy to overlook.

Is there a yield you want from the Parkallen Community Garden? Is it kale? Is it basil? Connections within your community? Solitude? To learn from more experienced gardeners? To teach what you know to less experienced gardeners? Fresh air? To put some food on the family dinner table whether you are 4 or 44? The wherewithal to look the next smug and reproachful gnome you meet in the eye and say, “Look here, lil’ buddy, I helped make the Parkallen Community Garden awesome.” If there is a yield you want from the PCG, I encourage you to go and get it. Take it. Plan to take more from it than you give. Manage your time commitment – guiltlessly – to produce a positive yield.

E-mail sustainability@parkallen.ca at any time of year to be placed on the Parkallen Community Garden mailing list and to receive communications about all ages workbees and gardening events.