We have some good news about the bad news: two items of note.

First, you have heard of invasive plants, no? These are plants that have been deemed evil as they take over otherwise useful and often biologically diverse land.
Right now we are thinking of phragmites (sounds like frag-mighties) which is taking over much of the countryside and our urban green spaces.  It is a tall growing grass, about two to three meters high, with an attractive (we admit) plume head come fall that blows in the wind and showers seeds everywhere.
Photo credit:
We have heard that the roots can extend four stories deep, and that there is effectively no control for it. Then we met Lynn Short, an Environmental Specialist at the Humber Arboretum in Ontario. She says that there really is a smart, not too difficult way to control phragmites using a sharp spade (a flat mouthed shovel).

She has done this many times, after 20 years of working out the bugs of her technique. Lynn says, “I have developed a technique (to control phragmites) that uses a sharpened spade to cut the stalks below the soil surface. The rationale is to prevent the plant from photosynthesizing and, thus, preventing production of energy for the plant. With repeated removals for a period of 3 to 5 years, the plant weakens and eventually dies. This technique can be applied by community volunteers and simple tools.

The rhizome structures under the surface are depleted of energy and begin to rot. It does take perseverance to be successful, however, the removals become easier each year because there are fewer stalks as the plants weaken. In subsequent years, there is still the need to be vigilant because there is a great seed source everywhere, but it is a simple task to remove seedlings before they become established. The beach where I began control methods is basically Phragmites free. 20 years ago, the plants blocked access to the water.”

More good news about bad news: COVID. No, we don’t have a quick fix for the disease, but we do have a suggestion that will make all of us feel better about the sacrifice that many Canadians made over the last three years to help us get through.
You can now say “Thank you” in a lasting and genuine way, by planting a tree to a front-line worker, health care professional, first responder or just someone you love and care about. Trees For Life/Trees For Heroes is a program designed to make it easy to provide a living legacy to someone you care about. For $150, the person you name will receive a certificate acknowledging your gift.

A tree will be planted in an urban area in Canada with your donation. Not a wimpy reforestation tree, but whip or young, branched tree between a meter and a half to a couple of meters high.
Trees For Life only plants in a well-prepared hole and nurtures each tree in its early years. We generally invest $2 in soil preparation for every $1 we invest in the tree.
The organization is a registered charity, so you will get a tax receipt.
It is all very simple, really.

And a great idea, we think, for Valentines Day (week/month?)
Mark is the volunteer Chair of Trees For Life, so he knows a few things about this.
We just couldn’t resist the temptation to put this offer before you while you might be scratching your head thinking about what to buy your Valentine.
There you have it, in the middle of a Canadian winter, some good news about the bad news.
We hope that February is full of good news for you. We are celebrating the arrival of a new baby in the U.K. by Ben’s sister/Marks daughter.
We think we will buy her a tree. That way, if she wants to see it grow, she will have to come to Canada for a visit.

Love is in the air, embrace it!

Mark and Ben
Merchants of Beans and Beauty.
  • Petunias, geraniums, pansies and impatiens need to be started now in order to have them sized up for planting out come spring. If you live in Newfoundland or on the prairies you are allowed a bit of grace - start yours later this month, as your real spring arrives in early June.

  • If you have geranium plants in pots, sitting in a sunny window somewhere, now is a good time to strike cuttings and get them planted up.

  • Check your overwintering dahlia tubers to make sure that they are healthy and firm, ready to plant in pots next month.

  • Start tuberous begonias. In shallow growing trays, lay down about 2 cm of peat moss. 'Screw' the tubers into the peat with a gentle twist, concave side up. Cover the bulbs with peat but just barely. Water and keep in a warm place and put a transparent top on the tray. A sunny window works and so does the top of the refrigerator which radiates heat from the back.

  • Make a plan of your vegetable garden or a list of the vegetables that you wish to grow this summer. Take a trip to the garden retailer and peruse the seed racks. Fresh seeds are now in, and the selection is at its best. Come spring you will be busy with other things in the garden and there is no way that you are going to take your time with this job.

  • Check out your indoor tropical plants. If roots are growing through the drainage holes in the bottom and if surface roots appear it is time for an upgrade in pot size. This is a great time of year to do this as most tropical plants are still dormant, but they will begin to grow in late March through April - just in time to put down new roots in a new pot. Go up one pot size only.

  • Tropical plants: check for insects. If you see something flying away as you brush against your Ficus benjamina, apply Green Earth insecticidal soap every 2 or 3 days until you have it under control.
Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count
February 17-20
By: Jody Allair
*Excerpts from a recent blog post by Kerrie Wilcox in the Birds Canada enewsletter.
No matter what is happening in the world, birds give people the chance to unite around something positive – our shared connection to nature. Everyone is invited to join the 26th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, happening February 17-20, 2023! This global event is our opportunity to observe birds from our own homes or communities and contribute to a snapshot of bird populations around the world. Your participation helps birds, too – your counts will add to a body of knowledge that helps us all better understand and conserve birds.

Everyone can participate
Everyone is welcome to join in the Great Backyard Bird Count – from first-timers to expert birders. It’s a great activity to do together with all members of your household. It’s also an excellent learning activity for students or nature groups. You can find out which birds you are likely to see in your area by using this tool. Resources to help you with bird identification are available on the event website. Learn more and get involved.
Common Redpoll
Photo credit: Aaron Roberge
Free Webinar 
Join our experts on February 15 at 1pm Eastern Time as we answer your questions about how to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. We’ll also touch on how to participate with a group of people, participate with kids, and do a feeder count. This webinar is designed for birders of all ages and experience levels. You’ll leave feeling confident and ready to be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count! Learn more and register here.
Podcast Episode
In a special episode of The Warblers podcast, hear from experts from Birds Canada, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the National Audubon Society about the impact of the Great Backyard Bird Count and how you can participate. Listen to it here.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an inter-organizational effort between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada. Visit to learn more about how to participate and please share the information with anyone else who may enjoy participating.

Good birding!

Jody Allair
Director, Community Engagement
Connect with me on Twitter and Instagram at: @JodyAllair
This Valentine’s Day – Honour the Hero in Your Life
Trees for Heroes are being planted in honour and memory of our military personnel, first responders, front-line & healthcare workers, neighbours, and loved ones.

Make a $150 donation to honour the hero in your life and receive a physical or digital certificate of dedication.

Harrowsmith's Royal Spice Carrot Soup

The best thing about the cold weather is this hearty soup that you can make from simple pantry staples. For this delicious meal, we’ve used a simple list of ingredients and elevated the flavours with the royal duo of spices. Cardamom is the ‘queen’ of this soup, and black pepper is the ‘king.’ Find the recipe at
Don’t miss an issue of Harrowsmith’s gardening, cooking, sustainable living and DIY tips. Harrowsmith’s Spring Issue hits newsstands later this month and features 23 easy recipes with leftover food, tips to set up your home workshop, planet-friendly-activities, Harrowsmith’s Complete Guide to Growing an Organic Food Garden from Mark and Ben Cullen + so much more!

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