Sunday, May 31, 2009

Second Floor Sanctuary

Now that the threat of frost has passed (we hope!), Diego and I have been busy readying our sanctuary. We live in a second floor flat and were lucky to find one that has a HUGE deck. Since we moved in 7 years ago, we have made some major changes to enhance our enjoyment of our outdoor living area. We both love being up and away from the neighbours, not to mention in the tree tops, but we were sorely missing some non tree greenery and over the years we have built our own pots to make our patio come to life!
This is what you see as you come up the back steps from the driveway. We added planters both on the outside around the top of the railing and on the bottom on the inside. These go all the way around the deck. you can also see our lovely torches that are awesome at night!
This is the side view of the above picture. They are our newest planters so they aren't filled out yet.
We have a few issues with our deck garden. One is that it is facing south so gets full sun all day and gets very hot. We love petunias because they can handle the hot south sun and flower all summer long. However, lucky for us, the top planters provide some shade for the bottom so we can have some less sun and heat tolerant plants. We also have the issue with perennials. These pots are quite narrow and of course are built in so there is no way we are bringing them inside in the winter. We have had some mishaps...if you look closely at the photo above you will see the remnants of last year's experiment. We planted English Ivy to climb and give us even more privacy but the didn't make it. So we cut the branches from the base and left them as climbing structures, took out the root ball and planted clematis. We will see if they make it!
We have had success with bleeding hearts and have one in each corner (the corner pots are bigger). This one is our oldest (3 years) and has lots of flowers this year. As well as with sedum as a ground cover. They have beautiful yellow flowers and the leaves look great year round!
Our growing season is pretty short in Nova Scotia and we are very much into the instant garden so we packed our petunias pretty tight in the top planters to give a gorgeous show of flowers. As long as we water and fertilize they should be just fine! This year we chose to alternate between fuchsia with a black centre (you can get some with white centres)...
...and deep purple.
Against the house we have a herb garden. I built the container last year to house the herbs as well as have some storage beneath for the watering cans.
I have two types of chives, parsley, lemon thyme, flowering red thyme and rosemary. We also wanted some climbing vines against the house to make it even greener but also to help keep the house cooler in the summer. So you will see in the herb garden above we also have a Boston Ivy and it surprisingly survived the winter!!! We also have another Boston Ivy in a large 1/2 whiskey barrel behind our BBQ mixed in with mint.
All in all we are surrounded with greenery and hopefully our quest to get some more privacy by covering the railing with some climbing plants will be successful this year. It really is our sanctuary, we love having our morning coffee and evening dinners out there.
We even have the occasional visitor join us for a snack!
We just happened to encounter some folks selling perennials for really cheap on the side of the road over the weekend, so we are on a mission to beautify our front yard! We are also putting in a small vegetable garden this year. We share the backyard with the downstairs tenants and they are ok with this so lets see how far we get today! I will post more on my progress...gotta run the sun is beckoning! :)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Coming to an End

The class I am teaching ends tomorrow. It is a small class of 14 students that runs 6 days a week at least 8 hours per day... which means you really get to know each other over the 3 weeks and we had such a great time!

We traveled around the Province to 4 different beaches and mudflats and collected sediment and animal samples.
This is the first beach and mudflat, near Kingsport Nova Scotia. This beach is on the Bay of Fundy, and for those of you not familiar with the Bay of Fundy, it has the highest tides in the world (15m or 32ft)!! Here we have just arrived and the tide is WAY out!! To collect the samples we used what is called a sediment core (aka. a PVC pipe). We stick the core into the sediment the dig a hole around it so we can get the shovel underneath to keep the sample from falling out when we pull it out.
Then we stick it in a bucket, take a couple of handfuls to bring back to the lab. Then, they have to sieve the sample. Which means, pass it through a fine mesh so that everything smaller than the mesh passes through and all the larger andimals and sediment are left behind to be sorted through back in the lab.
We did this at all 4 beaches and mudflats. Two on the Bay of Fundy and two on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia. The second site we went to was called Bear River and was also on the Fundy side of NS. This was a beautiful site. The students had a great time playing in the deep and sticky mud!
We sampled this site early in the morning after camping overnight in a small town called Annapolis Royal, NS.
This town had one of the world's first tidal power generating stations and we got to take a tour!
The third beach and mudflat we visited was on the Atlantic side of Nova Scotia near Liverpool and here the tides are a modest 2m or 6ft. The beaches are beautiful light grey sand and the mudflats are a little less messy!
The last site we visited, is in my opinion one of the nicest beaches on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia. It is called Martinique Beach. It is the closest thing to a white sand beach in these cold waters and it is a Provincial Bird sactuary.
We were lucky to have a local expert with Birds Canada come and talk to us about the endangered Piping plover, a little shorebird, and their efforts to protect and educate about these little summertime visitors.
Although we focused all of our sampling on the sandy beaches and mudflats for their major project. The coast of Nova Scotia is dominated by rocky habitats. So we went out to Peggy's Cove, which is near Halifax to see the different species that are found there.
The rocky shores are dominated by seaweeds which creates a completely different habitat to the sandy beaches and mudflats! Here the 3rd dimension of the habitat is above ground rather than below. So, you get more snails, crabs and the fun things you always associate with the ocean, whereas the sandy beaches and mudflats are dominated by worms and clams and there aren't too many things living above the sediment when the tide is out!

It wasn't all work though! We did have some time to toss around a frisbee and relax in the sun.
Although it is a ton of work, I absolutely LOVE it and am always a little sad when it is all over. I hold a special place in my heart for all of the graduates of Intertidal Ecology and Diversity! You have all done a great job!! :)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Olfactory Delight!

I wish you could smell this through the internet! Such a subtle yet sweet scent, that is not too flowery or overpowering like some perfumes or scented oils and candles that claim to be magnolia. I highly recommend the real thing!!
This is the biggest magnolia tree I have ever seen! I look forward to its blooms every year. It is just right around the corner and I visit it almost every day when it is blooming.
The owner appreciates that I enjoy it so much. It is too bad they are so short lived, but I think it makes me enjoy it even more!! I never tire of my small detour to wrap myself in the warmth I feel when I close my eyes, breath deeply and fill my lungs with the sweet scent of magnolia. I will soon have to say goodbye to the papery white flowers and await their return next spring!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Intermittent Communication.

I am in the throws of teaching an intensive 3rd year undergraduate field course called Intertidal Ecology and Diversity. So for the next 2.5 weeks I will be running around the Province teaching the students about life between the high and low tide lines. We have various day trip scheduled and an overnight camping trip.
Here are some of last year's students working hard collecting a sample on a sandy beach near Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. So I will be quite busy with the organization, trips, teaching and marking for the next little while and will likely not be posting too much. I promise to catch up with all the blogs I follow when I am done! I wish you all a great couple of weeks! :)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Special Birthday!

Today is my Mom's Birthday so I thought I would send her some virtual flowers!

Happy Birthday Mom! I hope you are having a great day! Now you can stop by anytime and enjoy your orchids long after they have dropped their blooms!!
I love you tons!! XOXO

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Eelgrass Story Part I b: Where is it Found?

Click here if you missed Part I a: What is eelgrass?

Where is Eelgrass Found?

There are nine different species of the genus Zostera which span the globe but are notably absent from the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean waters as well as the coast of South America. The most widely distrubuted Zostera species is Zostera marina which can be found along all Northern temperate coastlines and even in some arctic zones like Groenland, around Iceland and northern European countries like Norway.

Global distribution of Zostera marina in purple. From The marine life information network of Britain and Ireland (marLIN)

Zostera marina
is the dominant species found along the coast and in estuaries of eastern North America, from Labrador in Canada to North Carolina in the United States. It occurs predominantly as monocultures called beds, especially in the more northern latitudes, this is definitely true in Canada and some Northern US states but can co-occur with other seagrass species in the more southern latitudes of its range. The green areas in the image are States and Provinces where Zostera marina is present (white = absent) along their oceanic coast.
Taken from United States Department of Agrculture Plants Database (

It can occur subtidally, which means that although the leaves can touch the surface at low tide, the entire plant is never out of the water. These were the types of beds I worked on. But it can also occur intertidally, which means the entire plant is out of the water at low tide, as seen in this photo from a West Coast population.
Image from James Douglas (

Subtidally, they can occur to depths of up to 12 m but this depends on water clarity for the same reasons as variation in leaf length (discussed here). In Newfoundland and Labrador, the water is so clear that eelgrass can get enough light to inhabit depths of 12 m but it is more typically found shallower. In Nova Scotia, it is generally between 2-3 m.

Because they have an extensive root system, these plants live in soft sediment that ranges from mud to coarse sand and cobble. There are some species of seagrass that can attach to bare rock, but eelgrass is not one of them.
The can also live in a range of wave regimes, from very protected like all my sites in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island that were behind barrier islands or more wave exposed like my sites along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia.

They are not typically found very high up in estuaries where there is a lot of freshwater input, they can tolerate a range of salinities (5 to 35 ppt) but grow best in 20 -26 ppt. They can also tolerate temperatures from freezing to 35 degrees C. These are perennial plants, which means that they persist year round and only die back (ie: lose their leaves) when it gets too hot or are physically removed. In many areas in the northern part of its range, the shallows are covered in sea ice that moves around with the winds and tides. This scours away much of the leaf tissue and sometimes even the roots and rhizomes but if there are rhizomes left behind the bed will regenerate!

Sea ice in Nova Scotia. From Nova Scotia Photo Album Blog (

The same is true if it is too hot, which can often happen in the shallows of more southern parts of its range. The leaves will die off but the roots and rhizomes will remain to fuel the growth of the bed when the temperatures return to tolerable levels.

So as you can see, eelgrass is very versatile and resiliant! It can and does inhabit any area where there are suitable conditions (ie: enough light, soft sediment, etc.). This is a persistent and widely distributed feature of the coastal ocean. However, 60% of the world's population (3.6 billion) lives within 60 km of the coast and this is expected to increase to 75% (6.4 billion!) over the next 30 years. Also, 16 of the world's 23 mega cities (> 2.5 million inhabitants) are within the coastal belt and their populations are growing by 1 million people PER DAY (!!!) making coastal marine systems around the world the MOST IMPACTED by human activities.

How does this all fit together? What does this mean for eelgrass? What does this mean for us? Stay tuned for more installments of the eelgrass story!! :)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Belated B-Day Post

It was my Dad's 60th Birthday last Friday. So to surprise him on this special occasion, Diego and I had planned a short visit!! They live in Ontario, so we only get to see them once, maybe twice, a year. They live in the country so it is always pleasant to visit them and be away from any big city.

View from the driveway, they have very few neighbours and most of them are farms!

However, living in the country means that they are 1.5 hours from the airport with no easy access without spending an entire day traveling to get to their door step. So, we decided it was best to get my Mom in on it. Her job was to get my Dad to drive to the airport without knowing we were coming. Impossible right? That's what I thought but leave it to my Mom to convince my Dad they they were going on a helicopter ride for his b-day!! He TOTALLY believed it!!! He was so surprised to see us!! Great work Mom!!

We spent a lovely 4 days with my parents relaxing and eating delicious food. I made my Dad his b-day cake, he loves sweet and tart so I made him the lemon cheesecake I posted here a while back and added some lovely blackberries on top. It is also my Mom's b-day coming on Thursday May 7 so our visit was a gift to both my parents but the surprise was for my Dad's milestone!

Happy Saturday!