I attended a free seminar today on Stewardship: Caring for Your Land, put on by the Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation and the local Conservation Area authorities. It wasn’t enough to overcome my discouragement at being able to stave off suburban sprawl and pollution in our currently idyllic Caledon, but it was educational. Here are ten things I learned, lessons that, at some scale or other, all of us can use to make the piece of land we call home a little more natural, more inviting to wildlife, and a healthier place to live:
- Plant trees: Find out what species of trees are native to your area and plant lots of them. In many places you can get them cheap from conservation authorities, especially if you plant them small, and native trees require relatively little maintenance to thrive.
- Create a low-maintenance native garden: There are lots of native flowers and plants that look quite lovely, some of which can be harvested as herbs and medicinals. Native species don’t need watering or (much, if you use wood chips and mulch) weeding or fertilizing. Some are especially attractive to butterflies, birds (native berries particularly) and other wildlife. So you work less and have more to enjoy than planting high-maintenance ‘imported’ plants.
- Get to know your land and the land in your community: Find out what the area looked like before it was settled. Learn to recognize trees and plants in parks, fields and wetlands, and which are native to the area. Discover and help protect areas near you that are kept in their natural state. They are not ‘idle, wasted’ spaces — they are an integral part of the history of your community.
- Teach your children: The education system rarely takes the time to teach us about the land we live on — even biology is textbook, abstract learning. Appreciation and understanding and respect for the land is a critical life skill, and because it’s live and hands on it’s fun to learn.
- Avoid fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and watering as much as possible: Not only is this a lot of work, expensive, hard on the environment, and in the case of herbicides and pesticides, bad for your health and that of other living creatures, the need to do it indicates you have too much non-native lawn and plants. Look for types of grass and plants that don’t require fertilizing, watering and toxins to thrive in your area.
- Don’t get spooked by ‘standing water’ type warnings: Ponds and other natural areas do allow mosquitos and other pests to breed, but they also attract birds and other creatures that eat mosquitos. When they say to eliminate standing water to combat West Nile, they are referring to water collecting in e.g. wheelbarrows and clogged eavestroughs, not ponds.
- If you like woodwork, research how to make and maintain birdhouses and nesting boxes for different species, and take this up as a hobby.
- Use native conifers instead of fencing for windbreaks and property line markers.
- Ask the experts: In many jurisdictions, authorities on natural landscaping, permaculture, native species and gardening are more than willing to advise you, often without charge. Take advantage of them.
- Do nothing!: In many cases letting nature take its course is better than well-intentioned intervention. I learned for example that all the branches that blew down in the recent wind storm are better left in a pile down by the pond than carted away — they provide habitat and nourishment for many creatures, and will soon return to the soil andbecome part of the natural ecosystem.