The Ecology of Canada’s Allbirch Pollinator Garden
Hank Jones, Torbolton Institute
Saturday, June 22, 2013
"Humankind needs to act quickly to ensure the ancient pact between flowers and pollinators stays intact, to safeguard our food supply and protect our environment for generations to come", page 47. In: Saving the Honeybee. Cox-Foster, Diana and Dennis VanEngelsdorp. Scientific American, April 2009 V300 #4 Pp 40-47

CWF Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat at the The APG feeding pollinators

The Allbirch Pollinator Garden (APG) is the homestead garden of Hank and Vera Jones at 374 Allbirch Road, Ottawa, Canada. Inspired first by Columbia University’s Professor J. Russell Smith’s book “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture; 1929” and subsequently planned over many years, it was realized in 2008 as rewilding began on their half acre lot in Constance Bay Village. 'Rewilding' means allowing the site to grow out naturally so as to learn what plants are already there. With this knowledge, the site can be returned to native plants, invasives can be removed, and appropriate domestic plants introduced, so as to keep the site ecologically balanced. Though it may look like property neglect to today's municipal by-laws, it is not. Signing the BannerThere is a movement in Canada to correct these by-laws to enable re-naturalizing non-rural areas. Our APG is a 'controlled pollinator garden', that is, it is a... 'self-organizing community of selected plants & local animals, dominated by pollinators, populated by native & naturalized plants, & controlled for invasive species & noxious weeds'.

The transition from mown lawn to pollinator food gardening is best done incrementally, avoiding charges of neglect. Create 'pollinator patches', and grow them in numbers/size till the remainngg lawn has become 'grassways', sufficient for walking and tending around your garden.

The picture (right) shows children signing the APG banner "Our Ottawa Includes Butterflies" during Earth Month 2011 when Hank and Vera were Biodiversity Community Ambassadors for the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada

Vera and HankJoin us on our APG facebook for all the synergy we all can realize together.

Constance Bay Village occupies a habitat almost unique in Ontario, called the Torbolton Sandhills. The Sandhills are a pure sand peninsula of about 300 hectares jutting out from the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, in the northwest corner of Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. Once a natural savannah and sand barrens, it is now afforested and become occupied by homes only recently, and now has some overburden of garden soils in some areas, such as the Allbirch Pollinator Garden site.

The peninsula is home to both the Torbolton Forest ANSI (Area of Natural Scientific Interest) and many kilometres of wide sandy beaches, it is a Canadian ‘Garden of Eden’. Please visit and learn about this Canadian gem of nature.

Sunflower ForestThe APG applies the twelve permaculture design principles, as they are observed in nature

Applying Smith’s perspective, and the follow-on ideas of Permaculture arising in the last half of the 20th century till today, the APG adheres to the twelve principle’s of Mollison’s permaculture methods

The APG respects natural ecological patterns

The APG is informed by ecological science and its applied derived knowledge, and follows natural patterns of biotic organizations as much as is practicable. Its layers and zones are evident.

The APG and Ecological Layers

The APG is a food forest, too, in miniature, recognizing and accommodating its full symbioses, especially procaryotic and fungal symbionts (such as a mycchorizae). The APG is landlocked without ponds or natural waterways, so it has no aquatic layers. The APG’s seven permaculture layers are as follows.

The APG and biotic guilds
The APG’s seven areas, defined by common shading, are tending towards self-organizing biotic guilds.

CWF Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat at the The meeting of wild and domesticThe APG and the edge effect
The edge effect in ecology creates ecotones which intersperse the adjoining biotic communities. The APG is in itself an ecotone, with high biodiversity, with its consequent high productivity.

The APG and biotic zones
Being an area of only a half acre, the APG does not fit all that well with the formal permaculture zoning. However, it does demonstrate some of the key aspects of permaculture zones.

Zone 0: The APG’s house is undergoing progressive renovation to reduce its carbon footprint. As funding permits, infrastructure changes such a improved heating and lighting technology, are being upgraded. For example, meeting the ‘Dark Skies’ goal is one of the APG’s initiatives. As well, roof rainwater capture in planning.

Lady Beetle on CosmosZone 1:
Much of the APG can be considered as being zone 1. It aspires to assuring adequate flowers all season for maintaining robust wild pollinator populations, as well as tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, rhubarb, zukes, and cukes

Zone 2:
The APG sites its main perennial food plants here in zone 2, those that need pruning, for example. Find here various canes and other berries, fruit and nut shrubs and trees, pumpkins, asparagus, for example. Our composting is done here, too.

Zone 3:
The APG doesn’t have a separate zone 3, as such, with no trades scale crop production on site.

Zone 4:
The APG zone 4 semi-wild area bears foraged acorns, various wild raspberries, wild blackberries, edible invasives and both red and black elderberries. There is no production of timber for construction or firewood as the APG is too small.

CWF Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat at the PAGZone 5:
The APG’s zone 5 is a Canadian Wildlife Federation Certified ‘Backyard Wildlife Habitat’. It is also working towards bringing certified pollinator habitat credentials to Canada, for our Canadian Pollinator Gardeners from coast to coast.

The APG, people and permaculture
The APG reacts to the received wisdom of evidence-based agroecology and permaculture to the extent these are science-informed. It seeks to be a relatively closed system, importing water and sunlight. and exporting oxygen and pollinators. The APG is a landmark inviting visitors to see and learn how one family, in a suburban setting, are applying ecology and permaculture to advance towards a sustainable way of life adapted to the daunting challenges of climate change, peak oil, and economic instability

The APG and domesticated animals
The APG has neither domesticated animals (excluding honey bees, as well) nor pets, though we suffer neighbours’ roaming cats (our strategically placed catnip plants usually disarm these sporting predators.)

Vera and Hank
The APG and agroforestry
The APG favours agroforestry as described in Professor Smith’s book cited above, responding to the subsequent evolution of the basic ideas through ongoing research. The APG seeks to have all Canada’s municipalities come to see their urban forests as urban agroforests instead, achieving high populations of nut and fruit trees therein and allowing the citizenry to harvest these annual crops for their domestic use.

The APG and natural building
The APG is a well/septic site. Any practices that could harm these systems’ natural functioning are avoided. There are no storm sewers, just ditches, allowing water to seep. Rotten-end boards salvaged from replaced, onsite shadow box fencing are being recut as materials for new construction.

The APG and rainwater harvesting
The APG sits on deep sand, with just a thin layer of soil on top. There is never standing water, nor is there runoff. Rainwater immediately percolates. The site is rainwatered except occasionally if rainfall is inadequate, Then spot watering is done from the recharging aquifer that sits at about 10 metres down. This depth is constant, not changing with the seasons.

Our wood Chip mulch from local arbouricultureThe APG and sheet mulching
The APG mulches with saved soy-base-ink newsprint, onsite garden compost and donated wood chips from local arbouricultural activities. No shedding is done to prepare garden surplus for the compost. Five compost piles are maintained.

The APG and managed intensive rotational grazing
As only local wildlife, feral cats and occasional neighbourhood pets visit the APG, MIRG is not an issue nor opportunity.

The APG and keyline design
The APG site is in a hollow, so water movement such as it is flows from the surroundings into the APG, sort of the inverse of keyline. Keyline design is the insight of Australian farmer and engineer P. A. Yeomans and sons in the 1950s, where rainwater is captured at the highest point and allowed to trickle down in a timely fashion, as gravity irrigation.

Bumble BeesThe APG and Pollinators
Canada's Allbirch Pollinator Garden is an urban natural pollinator garden seeking to feed local pollinator animals, mostly insects, of which native Bumblebees (below) is but one group. Generally speaking, pollinators are not faring well across the globe, as their local food plants are being increasingly displaced by exotics, conurbs and agriculture. These animals are starving to death. Natural gardening emphasizes growing local native plants in abundance to help build their populations back up.

For increasingly popular downtown food growing, flowering plant food crops that also need to produce sufficient seeds for next year's planting, need pollinators. Conurbs and the like can be deficient in pollinators. If most gardens, greenspaces and untended areas therein were pollinator friendly, both food and flowers could be abundant and sustainable throughout the conurbations.

Here are the Bumblebees we are looking out for at the APG...
Bombus affinis
B. ashtoni (cuckoo)
B. bimaculatus
B. borealis
B. citrinus (cuckoo)
B. fernaldae (cuckoo)
B. fervidus
B. griseocollis
B. impatiens
B. pensylvanicus (unlikely)
B. perplexus
B. rufocinctus
B. sandersoni
B. ternarius (Expert Sheila Colla thinks we have found this one!)
B. terricola
B. vagans

For more about the APG, see