Stratiolaelaps scimitus

Beneficial bugs
Biological Controls, Photo © Jenn Nash, 2014

by Jennifer Nash

Every farmer or gardener knows, once in a blue moon you are besieged by pests. In 2013 we had our first experience with poultry mites. They’re tiny and move quickly. Mature mites are up to 1 mm in size, so are visible with the naked eye. In 37 years of raising poultry we’ve never had them. Did they come in on the wild finches that sneak into our coop? Did we miss them during quarantine on the new chickens we bought that year? Who knows, but we got them.

Poultry mites drink chicken blood; almost doubling their size when full. Think leeches! Chickens become anemic, and can even die from an infestation. Sitting hens are at greater risk of a slow blood-letting death. In their determination to hatch chicks, hens don’t leave the nest, where the mites congregate and breed in the added warmth.

Our first line of defence was to rip out all the wooden nesting boxes my father built in 1978 and burn them. Two rows of Rubbermaid tubs that I can easily monitor and semi–sanitize weekly were installed. Next, we scrubbed down the roosts and sealed them with thick white paint. We use the deep litter method in our coop, so we took that back to below ground level and replaced it with inches upon inches of fresh shavings. Finally, we dusted all the birds with diatomaceous earth using Joel’s ingenious method of filling a nylon knee–high like a powder puff; and applied VetRX to everybody’s beak, comb and legs. Phew, everything under control.

I monitored the birds for the remainder of the year with no visible signs of the mites returning. Assuming the bitter cold weather we’d been having that year would keep any orphans in check, I relaxed. Just before Christmas, one of thirteen feral October hatch chicks was looking a wee bit frumpy. Argh! The mites are back. How can that be at minus 20 degrees? I gather the chickens themselves had been keeping the mites warm. I’m losing sleep again, and “those poor hens”. In the presence of even one vampiric mite, my skin begins to ‘crawl’.

Joel suggested I contact Stacey Hickman – our entomologist at Natural Insect Control (NIC) – to see if she has a biological solution. We’ve purchased biological controls for the greenhouses from NIC for years. I procrastinated for a few days thinking I knew there couldn’t possibly be a good bug that would eradicate a bad bug, in this case. I emailed Stacey. She did a little research, and low and behold, one of the predator mites we already use for fungus gnats in the greenhouses is also a natural predator for poultry mites. In fact, Stratiolaelaps scimitus (good mite) feed preferably, and are a natural enemy of Dermanyssus gallinae (red poultry mite). The predator is safe for the birds, is endemic (meaning it’s not a new species into our environment), they adjust to the coop climate, and they are self–limiting. When the primary food source (the poultry mite) is quashed, the predator mite will starve and die.

As soon as the weather warms up to around 20 degrees we release a few bottles of “Stratios” into the shavings of the coop. I’m elated that we now have a biological weapon. We don’t have to resort to harsh chemicals, forcing us to dump perfectly good eggs for weeks following treatment. Happy hens and happy Jenn!

Suzanne’s Joy

Suzanne's Joy
Hemerocallis ‘Suzanne’s Joy’. Photo © Jenn Nash, 2014

by Jennifer Nash

Most of our followers will know that my brother — and business partner — Joel has amassed quite a collection of daylilies here at Prosperity Acres. In designing the gardens at his Richmond Hill home, daylilies became a passion. He’ll tell you, “they are the best low maintenance perennial. The only drawback is the flowers don’t come in a true blue colour.”

We grow out his mother plants to see how hardy they are before dividing and making them available for sale. He has a ‘scientific’ method for choosing new varieties for his collection. It involves a spreadsheet with columns for height, bloom size, bloom time, fragrance, when it was registered with The American Hemerocallis Society, and so on.

Greg, Joel’s former room–mate presented Joel with a division of Suzanne’s Joy some years ago for his hoard. Greg knew Joel would appreciate the story behind the naming of Suzanne’s Joy. Often you never know the reason behind the name of a plant. This gift came with an 11×17 two-sided photocopy of a story written by journalist Paul Leavoy.

Yesterday Suzanne’s Joy started blooming away in our grow–out. Realizing I still didn’t have a photograph of her for my image library, I hauled out the 35mm. Photographing this daylily reminded me I had Paul’s story clipped to my copy board. I contacted him today and he provided permission for me to share excerpts with you. Note: Not sure why the breeder claims that Suzanne is a late–bloomer? She has reliably bloomed mid–season at Prosperity Acres.

~ Jenn

Late–bloomer honours teacher’s legacy

Hybrid flower named after Vaughan teacher killed in 2006 impaired driving crash

by PAUL LEAVOY, Weekly Staff Writer @paulleavoy
July 18, 2007, Vaughan Weekly

+++In Suzanne Mizuno’s likeness it was created, and her memory it will forever evoke.
+++It’s Suzanne’s Joy, a hybrid flower and a new unique species named in honour of Mizuno, a Woodbridge Public School music teacher who met an untimely end last year.
+++Suzanne and her brother Jamie were driving on Islington Avenue just south of Kleinburg on a mid–May evening in 2006 when a Nissan swerved into their lane. Jamie, at the wheel, tried to steer around the vehicle, but it was too late. [The driver] was charged with impaired driving.
+++Students and staff at Woodbridge Public School were devastated. For them, Suzanne had been a light. The young music teacher, who grew up in Kleinburg, had a way with children, and her gift was not overlooked by friends and staff, or by the hundreds of children she left her mark upon…
+++Since Suzanne, who had a background in family farming, was a known gardener and admirer of daylilies, the notion of adopting and naming a new flower was born.
+++As president of the Woodbridge Horticultural Society, Stan Grabowski was charged with the responsibility of finding a new flower eligible for adoption and naming in Suzanne’s memory.

Real Wind
‘Real Wind’. Photo © Jenn Nash, 2012
Strawberry Candy
‘Strawberry Candy’. Photo © Jenn Nash, 2011

+++“It was not going to be an easy feat,” says Grabowski, who knew that the process behind creating a new species was a painstaking six–year journey.
+++Fortunately, Grabowski caught wind of Betty Fretz, a know hybridizer who had a garden shop — memorably named Floral and Hardy — in Moorefield, about 100 kilometres west of Vaughan on Lake Conestoga…
+++“The trick,” she says, “is not just to find a hardy species that multiplies well and makes it through the six–year process. It’s finding a flower that matches some of the attributes of the person it will be named after, in this case Suzanne.
+++But Fretz had something in mind. One cultivar had proved remarkably resilient and was at the end of its six–year journey to official flower hood. It was the child of two distinct dailies: ‘Real Wind’ and ‘Strawberry Candy’. And like all of its brethren, it bore its own unique mark…
+++After chatting with Grabowski, it was clear to Fretz that this new cultivar, which brimmed with potential, would be the ideal candidate.
+++“Suzanne had a knack for spreading passion, joy and love,” she says. “So, it only made sense to have a plant that would do the same thing.”
+++The final battle involved applying a name to the flower. The American Hemerocallis Society, the body charged with cataloguing daylilies around the world, is also responsible for registering the names of new species of daylilies. The students had opted for “Suzanne’s Joy” as the chosen name and it was registered accordingly…
+++Grabowski secured nearly 40 plants which were handed out to students, staff, friends and family…

The ‘Good’ in Growing A Good Life

Jenn telling big stories. Photo © Marj Brady, 2012

by Jennifer Nash

The longer we eek–out an existence in the greenhouses, the more I am reminded we are not just local growers with a garden centre. I choose this path because I want to make a cup of tea in the morning, step–out my back door and go to work beside my family and pets. Apparently, I can be unconscious of the greater ‘good’ involved in growing a good life.

For my part, I look forward to neighbours popping–in and –out from Spring to Autumn. After hibernating for the winter, I’m ready to be social. Eddie will tell you, I can “talk, talk, talk”. He’ll also tell you it’s a darn good thing I “work, work, work” in equal measure. Be that as it may, I like to listen too; about weddings, newborns and grand–babies, surrogates, and your trips to visit grown children living around the globe. I especially like getting to know new ‘come from aways’ (to use a Newfie term) in our neck of the woods.

Just days ago I realized a visit to our diamond-in-the-rough for a chat has become a yearly ritual for some folks. Myrna G. dropped–in, but I didn’t recognize her at first. She’s lost 30 pounds and cut her hair short; and she was driving the truck. Oh no, where’s Don?

Tears welling–up in her eyes, Myrna unfolds the heart–wrenching and pain–filled story of how she lost Don over the winter. He had been in ill health for many years. They both have. But, they had each other for support.

Every Spring Don did his best to put–in some veggie plants. This Spring, Myrna couldn’t bring herself to drop–by until she knew she could talk to me without falling apart. She said, “he loved visiting with you”. I gather she meant the opportunity to banter about gardening. We’ll miss our chats with Don; a quiet man, inquisitive, and, as we came to understand over the years, a craftsman.

Myrna is gregarious and jocular, and by the end of our visit, we’re laughing at the life decisions that lay ahead of her. Abandoning vegetable gardening being one of them.

Weekly I serve a customer who only wants to shop and leave – zero pleasantries. These folks especially might want to ‘stop and smell the roses’… in my shrub section.

Happily, I’ve found most people want to belong to something. We belong, here; cup of tea in hand, alongside family and our four–legged staff.

We Love A Good Mystery

Dictamnus albus ‘Purpureus’. Photo © Phil Scriven 2014

by Jennifer Nash

Phil brought–in a cutting for identification, from his Grandma’s garden. He tells us she purchased the plant at a sale a few years back. Now fully established, she protects it from family marauders. The aroma is what her grandchildren are coveting for their gardens.

I have to say, Joel and I we were puzzled. We had our suspicions, but needed to delve into our library of plant identification books for confirmation. Before we could crack a single book, Phil called to say that a more detailed internet search revealed the name of the specimen. Mystery solved!

Let me introduce you to a Gas Plant – no, not the recent Ontario scandal – Dictamnus albus ‘Purpureus’. Also known as burning bush, false dittany, white dittany and Fraxinella. The whole plant is covered in a volatile oil that is supposedly flammable in the heat of summer. I wonder if the new Liberal majority should investigate burning Dictamnus to light our homes?

In the past, I have ordered the seed, and unsuccessfully made attempts to germinate gas plant. In the seed catalogue the flowers were white though. After examining and smelling Phil’s cutting, I’m on the hunt for the same seed strain as Phil’s Grandma’s. Well worth trying to propagate this perennial, again.

Reviving My Artistic Skills

Red Shouldered Hawk
Red Shouldered Hawk © Jenn Nash, 2014

by Jennifer Nash

I loved to draw, and did so all the time, 30 years ago. Last winter I made an attempt at reviving my skills with some herb drawings. That didn’t last long. As soon as we started up the greenhouses in March, play–time went out the window.

I made a decision this January to set aside Friday nights as ‘my time’ at the drafting table, no matter what priority needs attention in the office; at least until I start making the Richmond Hill run to pick up Joel, on Friday nights, in Spring.

Thankfully, my life–long best friend Julie Drummond, a wildlife photographer, is willingly offering up some beautiful photos for subject matter. Last week, my focus was on drawing eyes. Julie had a nice raptor head shot that fit my needs. Here is my pencil crayon version of Julie’s Red Shouldered Hawk.