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My Blog


Helping Pollinators in the Garden

Posted on April 21, 2014 at 2:59 AM Comments comments (280)
Helping Pollinators in the Garden
World wide we are loosing our pollinators – our birds, bees and other insects, and our nocturnal animals such as possums and bats.  And without pollinators we don’t eat.  It sounds bizarre but it is true, that without bees and other pollinators we die. It is a pretty simple equation; everything that goes onto our dinner table relies on bees or other pollinators.  Without pollinators our forests will de-evolve back to ferns, without pollination the high yield, high-energy plants (monocotyledons & dicotyledons) will wither and die.
The decline of larger animals – birds, bats and possums, is mainly due to loss of habitat through land clearing.  The decline in pollinating insects is due to the use of insecticides, and the main killer for these small pollinators are systemic insecticides*. All insecticides they are like bombs, they are non-selective.  And if a contact insecticide acts like a bomb then systemic insecticides act like a nucellar bomb – the residue from its application lasts a long time.
Because of the insular nature of the Australian population the first time most Aussies will notice there is a problem is when the Supermarket shelves start to get bare.  Australians lead by our politicians will rightly blame farming practices.  But what our farmers do is only part of the problem; the predominance of the use of systemic sprays around our houses, on our gardens and in public places is growing.  And there is evidence from overseas that home gardeners over use systemic insecticides (there have been higher concentrations measured in tissue samples from gardens than from farms).  So the general population is also the problem … and can also be part of the solution as explained in the next paragraph.
What gets me is that we don’t have to use them.  When we are healthy we are less likely to get sick.  And like us a healthy vigorous plant has resistances to both fungal and insect attack.  We keep our health up by having a healthy well rounded diet, similarly keep the health and vigore of your plants up by using a well rounded mineral based fertiliser. 
A healthy environment has many checks and balances.  Remember that insecticides are like bombs; they don’t just target bad insects.  Like a healthy environment a healthy garden that has never or rarely had an insecticide used in it will have a good number of predatory insects (good guys) and insect eating birds to keep the plant eating insects in check.  It is to easy, and to simplistic, to reach for the can of insecticide every time we see an insect. 
There is always an underlying problem or weakness when there is damaging insect attack, and using insecticides will further weaken the balance within the garden environment.  So instead of seeing insect attack as a problem, look at the damage as a symptom; it is that the plants are under stress that has led to them being weak enough to succumb to insect attack.  Instead of directly targeting the insects prune the damaged foliage off and give the plant a feed of a well balanced mineral based fertiliser.
I run a nursery that sells ornamental Australian native plants.  I can’t sell plants that have damaged leaves or stems.  Yet it has been over six months (warm months at that) since we have used an insecticide.  I have been controlling insect damage to my plants by keeping the vigore of my plants up through creating and using a superior potting media, selecting and using the correct amount of fertiliser and, if there are problem insects damaging my plants, using vegetable oils**.  In my experience, vegetable oils work as a knockdown for all soft bodied insects and as a deterrent for hard bodied insects.  I also suspect that it acts as a barrier to fungal infection.  I know that I will have to resort to insecticides at some stage but its use will be targeted and for a very short period of time insuring that the numbers of predatory insects are kept up.
So help your environment, improve the health of your garden, be a friend to a bee:
  • Keeping your plants healthy and vigorous. 
  • Improve the population of good insects by not using insecticides.
  • Provide a good healthy habitat for birds by providing food water and shelter.
And year by year the bird a bee population will increase and your fruit bearing plants will provide more food as the balance within your garden and local environment improves.
If enough of us turn away from our dependence on insecticides and use products that improve the strength of the plants within our gardens them Gardens Supply Centres will stop stocking them and promote products that will help improve the garden environment.  And by doing so lessen the use of insecticides as more people become aware of better ways to protect their gardens.  And as more people become aware of the potential problems of insecticide use the governments will respond furthering the discussion … at lest that is my hope.
Nick Hansa
Fairhill Native Plants & Botanic Gardens
* A systemic insecticide is a poison that is taken up by the plants and distributed to every part of the plant, including the flowers and fruit.  Traditionally systemic insecticides are sprayed onto the foliage of the plant but they come in forms that are delivered via the root system.  Systemic sprays can be persistent within the plant for up to four weeks, when applied via the soil it can be persistent for years.  There are many different brands but it is safe to assume that all for them have neonicotinoids as the active ingredient which, in simplistic terms, is a nerve agent.
**There are many recipes for vegetable oil sprays and you can buy them pre-mixed.  The recipe that I use is:  Canola Oil mixed with enough dishwashing liquid to act as an emulsifier (approx. 1 cup of oil to 1 tablespoon of detergent).  This is mix at a rate of 10-15ml. to 1 litre of water.


Birdwatching at Fairhill

Posted on June 8, 2013 at 11:56 PM Comments comments (538)

On the last Wednesday day of every month at 8.00am during winter (7.00am starting August) the Wednesday Day Club spend and hour wondering through Fairhill Botanic Gardens enjoying the huge diversity of bird life that the gardens have attracted before retiring to have a cuppa, talk about their sightings and a chat.  On most outings they identify over 60 different types of birds with the highest number being 85 seen and three heard, that’s a huge diversity in a 10 acre garden.  They have listed over 150 species of birds over the past years.
There is a consensus among the Wednesday Day club members that the best bird watching any where is in the Fairhill Botanic Gardens which is pleasing in many ways but in a lot of ways it is very concerning as is indicates a lack of bird habitat else ware.
In 1974 Fairhill Botanic Gardens was a dairy farm, not one tree or shrub on the place.  It has been interesting to watch the changes in the bird population as the gardens evolved.  Before any of the trees and shrubs the bird life consisted of open field bird, the Butcherbirds, Magpies, Peewees and the odd Kookaburra. 
As the quicker flowering garden beds started to provide shelter the Honeyeaters started to arrive followed by finches and wrens as more seed producing plants started to produce.
Evolving further, the rainforest gardens started to close in and rainforest birds such as Emerald Doves, Catbirds and Whipbirds took up residency. 
During this stage the open field birds declined and the gardens went through a period when they disappeared altogether.  But recently they have started to come back as the trees started to provide a habitat for them.
There are Noisy Miners on the list of sighted birds; they are occasionally seen in the open paddocks on either side but never in the gardens.  This is because the Noisy Miner is an attack bird.  It needs open lines of sight so that it can dominate all other birds.  And because the gardens don’t provide that, the Noisy Miners don’t feel comfortable and stay away.
At the last gathering of the Wednesday Clubbers there was a discussion about the decline of bird life.  The consensus is that there is a lack of corridors (one comment was “that a bird can no longer travel from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast any more”) but also the lack of habitat in private gardens.  Fairhill Botanic Gardens is a great example of how a bird friendly garden can be created.  And it does not need to be 10 acres, there a some fantastic examples of small backyards providing great support for the bird population, we just need more of them.
The morning of the last Wednesday of the month is a really enjoyable time in the gardens and the members of the Wednesday Day Club invite all who has the time to join in.  There are no membership fees, just role up to Fairhill Botanic Gardens and join in.
The next gathering is on Wednesday the 26 of June; look forward to seeing you then.