Last weekend, Mark and wife Mary had three grandchildren over the weekend. 
It was an adventure. At least, it sure was exciting for the grandparents. It helps to entertain a 3, 4 and 5-year-old when you live in a 10-acre garden, especially when the weather cooperates. 

Mark had some projects planned for the occasion: they built insect hotels, worm farms and a bonfire using leftover wood scraps. At one moment, while walking through the veggie garden, Claudia pulled on Grandpa’s coat and asked, “Can we plant potatoes Grandpa?”

It takes a little explaining for a 5-year-old mind to understand that there is a time and a season for everything. Planting potatoes now would not work because…. The frost of winter would kill the seed potatoes before they grew. BUT come spring we can plant more, as the days of summer, that follow spring, are bright and warm and perfect for growing potatoes.

Simple, right? Claudia accepted the explanation and then asked why all our egg laying chickens are girls. Mark left that one for Grandma. 

We find this little story most encouraging.  It means that at least one kid is beginning to understand that food does not just get banged out in some factory. That it takes time and that there is a time and place for each crop. You prepare the soil, sow the seeds, pull some weeds, water, nurture and voila, one warm late summer day you harvest potatoes.
Dalhousie University recently published the results of a survey that they conducted with Canadians wherein 17.4% reported that they grew their own food this year.
Of those who grew their own food 67% said that the pandemic influenced their decision. 
Just over half of those Canadians who garden, 51.8%, say that they grow their own food because it is safer than what they can buy in store.  
As we write this newsletter, there is much in the news about how many of us will be allowed to gather over the Christmas season. December, especially late December, is “family and friends” time. The news generally is not very encouraging. So, we think about other ways that we can celebrate, other than the usual face to face, kissy/huggy gatherings this time of year. 

And we are mindful of the many people who are stuck somewhere, away from home with no hope of a Christmas reunion. That can be people who work in a remote place and live on their own or a senior who is living in a senior’s residence, isolated from family.

We have no solution for loneliness this time of year. But we do have a suggestion: consider giving a living gift this season. A reminder that we live in a complex world of nature that often lends itself to bringing indoors. An amaryllis bulb, small pots of herbs, a flowering or tropical plant that oxygenates a room and brings it to life. 
Consider some seeds for sowing in winter on a window sill, grow lights to maximize the performance of indoor plants during the long dark days, not to mention magazine subscriptions, books, membership in local horticultural clubs or specialty clubs like the Canadian Orchid Society.

You can see we are just getting started.  

With a little imagination you will come up with all kinds of gifts for the gardeners on your list.  You might even convert a non-gardener to pick up a trowel and get their hands “dirty” with good, clean earth.

We are learning the importance of what we do as gardeners, more now than ever. A pandemic is a destructive and highly restrictive thing, we have learned. But just as there are cloudy days there is also sunshine.

May the sun shine on your Christmas season. With blessings from our family to yours.
Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants and Beauty and Beans
Kids loves worms. 

Help them create a home for worms that allows them to view worms doing their work. As they move through the soil consuming organic matter, they leave nitrogen and microbe-rich worm castings (poop) behind. 
Worms are the foot soldiers of the garden. They never stop working, though they bury deep for winter and do not do much during the depth of cold mid season. 

They need to be cold so enjoy your worm farm indoors only for a week or so. Then release your worms back onto the soil. 
Using a large, transparent pop bottle, cut the top off and drop layers of soil and sand into the bottle.
Place two or three worms from your garden onto each stratum of soil or sand and tape the top back on.  
Do not use the screw top as air is needed to keep the worms alive. Add moderate amounts of water, just enough to moisten the soil and sand but not enough to drown the worms. 
Enjoy the view through the transparent bottle, as your pet worms travel through the various levels of soil and sand. 
CULLEN'S FOODS - Great News!
Now Available in Lobaws, Superstore Ontario & Atlantic, Sobey’s Ontario and great independents across Canada.
Look out for Cullen’s chickpeas launching in January.

Visit CullensFoods.com for more info.
Many dedicated people have been working hard to preserve a wonderful, magnificent 250-year-old Red Oak in the north west corner of North York, on Coral Gable Drive.

Due to its size, age, beauty and cultural significance, this magnificent 250-year-old oak is recognized as a heritage tree under Forests Ontario’s Heritage Tree Program.
Following Council’s direction and in conjunction with generous support from donors, the funds have been secured to purchase the property and establish the space as a parkette, to preserve and showcase this beautiful living example of our natural heritage.
Thank you to everyone who donated to help save this magnificent tree.

On November 26, 2020, Toronto City Council joined over 1,300 donors in committing to the preservation and celebration of this mighty oak. Council authorized the purchase of the property for the creation of a parkette, with a commitment to pay the fundraising shortfall.

Watch this short video to learn more about the historic Red Oak’s story.

Donors still have the opportunity to get behind this initiative. Any donations received before December 12th, 2020 will be applied to the purchase costs. As of December 12th, 2020, any donations received will support enhancements to the parkette, helping to create a setting befitting of this magnificent tree.

GREEN FILE Episode 14
This week on our podcast Green File, we are inviting back Jody Allair of Birds Canada. Jody is an enthusiastic expert birder and promoter of Bird Canada’s Project Feederwatch, among other citizen science initiatives.
Jody talks to us about the explosion in popularity for birding and ways to enjoy the past time as the weather turns cold.
Find Jody @jodyallair on Twitter, and learn more about project feederwatch at www.birdscanada.org

Tune in - now available on Apple Podcasts AND Spotify!
-       Order seed catalogues. We received our 2021 Veseys catalogue this week.  Or go on line and order early as many seeds sold out early in 2020 www.veseys.com

-       Save your real Christmas tree to stand in your garden for the winter. Hang suet on it and let the birds forage.

-       Apply Wilt-pruf to broadleaved evergreens like boxwood, holly and the like, to prevent winter desiccation (apply when temperatures are above freezing). Use Wilt-Pruf on your Christmas tree to help it retain moisture longer.

-       Drop by your local Home Hardware for many great gift ideas for the gardener and birder, on your Christmas list.

-       Pick up a poinsettia plant to brighten your holiday home. Poinsettias may be popular in the winter, but they cannot stand cold temperatures or drafts. In the walk from the store to the car, be sure to wrap your plant.  Most retailers will provide you with cold protection, no questions asked. Choose a bright room in the house but do not place the poinsettia in direct light. Allow the soil to become dry to the touch between waterings.

-       Remove the decorative wrapping (it looks good but it hinders proper air flow and water drainage).  Do not allow your poinsettia to sit in water in the saucer or plastic wrap

-       Relax, enjoy and indulge. Christmas this year will be different, but we hope that you enjoy connecting with loved ones in new ways.  
Birdseed Mixes
We created these tasty combinations of quality bird seed that appeal to the broadest possible pallet of bird taste buds.   

Mark's Choice Sunflower Plus is Exclusive to Home Hardware.
(Home Hardware item# 5453-365)
Also available in the Mark's Choice line of birdseed:
Bird Feast Songbird Blend - the  best-selling product in the entire line up of Mark's Choice quality products. (item# 5453-067 4kg, 5453-072 8kg)
Deluxe Blend with Berries and Nuts - Lots of protein for wintertime bird feeding.  (item# 5453-362)
Nyjer Plus with Sunflower Chips - not just for finches and nuthatches, though, they love it too! (item# 5453-364)
Finch Blend with Sunflower Chips - the perfect variety of seed for the perfect little wintertime birds.  (item# 5453-363)
Congratulations to the team at Vineland Research and Innovation- Aurora Borealis has been named 2021 Plant of the Year by @canadablooms.  
Aurora Borealis will be available in gardening centres and greenhouses throughout Canada in time for the 2021 growing season.
It follows Chinook Sunrise®, released in 2019 and Canadian Shield®, the inaugural release in Vineland’s 49th Parallel Collection that was unveiled for Canada’s 150th anniversary.
We write a weekly column for the New In Homes & Condos section of the Saturday Toronto Star.
In case you missed it, these are the exciting gardening/environment columns we wrote in November.
Black-capped Chickadee
By: Jody Allair
The cheery, familiar Black-capped Chickadee is well known by birders and non-birders throughout its range. The most common and widespread of Canada’s chickadees, the Black-capped can be found in or near forested areas right across the country, with the exception of Nunavut. But let’s be clear about something: there is nothing common or ordinary about these wonderful denizens of our backyards and local parks.
Black-capped Chickadee
Photo credit: Jody Allair
Black-capped Chickadees brazenly co-exist with humans and human-altered landscapes in a way that most other native songbirds cannot. They visit our feeders year-round, nest in our tree cavities and nest boxes and will routinely scorn you if you leave the feeder empty for too long. And to clarify something I get asked quite often – the answer is no, birds do not become dependent on the seed we put out for them. They’re just smart and take full advantage of an easy meal. In fact, Black-capped Chickadees will take food from the feeder and stash it in crevices in tree bark (or the window siding of our house!) so that they have a steady supply of food for the winter months.

One of my favourite facts about Black-capped Chickadees is that they are one of the few birds in the world whose call (chick-a-dee-dee) is longer and more complex than their song (feeeebeeee)! Typically a bird’s call is a short contact note, whereas a song is a more elaborate pattern of sounds.

The quintessential aspect of Black-capped Chickadee behavior that I think is most remarkable is how engaging they are with people. It doesn’t matter who you are, chickadees will always come in for an inspection. These close encounters are so vital for building connections to nature. I’ve spoken to countless people over the years who have told me stories about how these types of experiences with Black-capped Chickadees have helped shape their appreciation for birds and nature. And frankly, that is something we all need a lot more of these days.
Good Birding!
Jody Allair
Director, Citizen Science and Community Engagement
Connect with me on Twitter at: @JodyAllair
This month, Mark had a great conversation about native plants with Wayne MacPhail at Harrowsmith Radio. 
Ben and Mark have been fans of native plants for years now.  
They’re a favourite of indigenous bird and pollinator species, take advantage local conditions and help keep ecosystems in check.

Mark chatted with Wayne MacPhail about some of his favourite native varieties and they disagree about lawns.
The current issue of Harrowsmith Magazine features great recipes from various chefs.
Chef, TV host, and cookbook author, Laura Calder, is a fan of all things fancy and French, but at Christmastime, she craves her mom and dad’s stuffing.

Calder Family Stuffing
Make this stuffing inside the bird or in its own pan. For the best stuffing, make good-quality bread crumbs. Break up dried bread slices and pulse in the food processor.


4 cups large, dried bread crumbs

½ cup melted butter, plus more as needed

½ tsp salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 large onion, minced

1 tbsp dried summer savory

1 tbsp dried sage

Toss bread crumbs with butter until they feel slightly moist and sticky. Add remaining ingredients and toss to coat.
Spoon into baking dish and cover with foil. Place in oven for about 25 minutes, while turkey rests, until heated through.
Makes 4 cups

For more recipes, click here