Damselflies chase water striders

Water striders

I could sit for hours on the dock at the cottage, just watching the water glide and nature unfold. On calm days (and most mornings are calm) water striders spark across the surface of the bay. Dragonflies hover, defend their airspace, hunt and mate. But this summer for the first time I noticed these two insect group interacting in a particular way.

Water striders have always entranced me. Their community looks like a negative image reflection of the multitude of stars in the same still water at night. Each one moves like a jerking vector with quick strokes of its little legs. They seem to bounce off each other like molecules in Brownian motion. They vanish when wind whips up waves, but sometimes they pile onto lily pads. Here are some interesting facts about water striders:

  1. Their hydrophobic legs allow them to walk on surface tension. The middle pair of legs is specially adapted with extra hairs for rowing.
  2. Their front legs detect water vibrations, allowing them to locate prey and declare individual territory.
  3. Water striders prey on other insects, preferring live victims that fall onto the surface.
  4. They are true bugs (Hemiptera), so they have sucking mouth parts. They feed by puncturing prey with their claws, then sucking out their meal.
  5. Water strider nymphs are left to fend for themselves and often cannibalized by adults. North American species do not recognize their own kin, so they may eat their own young.
  6. Outside of mating season, they seldom cannibalize. Large cooperative groups may form to feed on large insects.
  7. Some generations of the same species do not have wings and others do, allowing them to disperse to other areas or bodies of water. Most individuals inhabiting stable bodies, such as lakes, do not have wings.
  8. Cannibalism and flight dispersal control population size.
  9. Scientists have identified more than 1,700 species worldwide, with 10 percent living on seas and oceans.

Water strider movements

This summer we had a big, healthy crop of water striders on the bay. This caught the attention of little bluets. These damselflies are one of nine Enallagma species found in Ontario, all difficult to distinguish. They’re no bigger than a darning needle and make no sound as they fly.

Bluet (damselfly)

Bluets hovered over the crowd, causing a commotion. Wherever they flew, a path cleared like the waters of the Red Sea as water striders scrambled to escape. However, the damselflies spent less time over the large groups than scattered individuals. They looked like sharks confused by a swirling school of fish, waiting to pick off stragglers. Occasionally one would duck down to the surface for a catch.

Water striders can also fly to escape predators. I couldn’t tell whether these ones were wingless. But even in the air, presumably they would have a hard time evading such an agile hunter.


Why I write

My morning ritual: tea and journal

I have contemplated few mysteries as much as, “Why do I write?” It’s right up there with, “Why are we here?” Recently my pal Toni Radcliffe invited me to participate in a blog hop addressing this very question.

My first response to the challenge was, “I’m too busy writing.”

Wait, but why am I busy? I relaunched a freelance writing career two years ago. I’ve never had so many assignments, but it’s still a struggle. I need to work even harder to make it sustainable. There are far easier ways to make a living, but I’ve never been more content with how I spend my days. I write mostly because it makes me happy.

But being happy is not the same thing as leading a meaningful life. I want to strike a fine balance between getting what I want and doing the right thing, which involves generosity, hard work and sacrifice. If I continue writing without making enough money to pull my own weight in the long run, that could be a selfish choice. Now is a good time to take stock, and look at how my internal engine of creativity and productivity has improved.

What am I working on?

Few books have affected my life more profoundly than Carol Lloyd’s Creating a Live Worth Living. It’s a self-guided, 12-week course in career design for creative people, and I’ve worked through it several times, either alone or with a buddy. It’s far more practical and less pseudo-spiritual than the more well-known The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It has helped me sort out what really matters, and how I operate differently from other people.

For example, Lloyd asks students to figure out their work style. Last time I worked through the exercise several years ago, I didn’t believe the “whirling dervish” fit, but as I come more into my own strength, this metaphor manifests.

The whirling dervish has turned out to be a popular model for many of my students who cannot imagine focusing on less than three full careers at a time. What is important about the whirling dervish is that the three careers are interdependent on one another. They don’t pull you in three different directions, but spin you inward!

Besides the fact that photography, fibre craft, gardening and cooking have become more integral to how I live, my work as a writer spins inevitably on different courses.

Two years ago I hired a writing coach, Jodi Helmer, and began focusing on freelance journalism. This has begun bearing fruit, and I now contribute regularly to several magazines. Two I am most proud of: Edible Toronto and Gluten-Free Living.

I have an assignment for each of them currently in the oven, but look online for my recent essay: Nettles, Better a Bite Than a Sting. Look in the October 2014 issues of Gluten-Free Living, which should hit news stands soon, for my update on what is known about non-celiac gluten sensitivity. For the same magazine I also write a column, “Study Sessions”, surveying the most recent scientific research about celiac disease, related disorders and the gluten-free diet.

I expected freelancing to absorb all my writing creativity for a while, especially because a history of depression, anxiety and inattention has curtailed my energy for most of my life. But the reverse has happened, like the centripetal force that propels a dancer. The more I write, the more I write. Improved self-confidence partly explains this.

Apart from journalism, there is one thing more than any other I want to accomplish in this life: to write a novel. I dabbled in fiction throughout my early life. At times it became all-consuming. I started working in journalism in my 20s, but then I had small children and no time for additional projects. Then personal trauma in my early 30s utterly changed my self-concept, initiating major depression. My writing became fragmented and unfocused. Fiction fell by the wayside. I kept journals to figure everything out. Writing helped me survive, but seldom could I follow through on anything.

A breakthrough came during National Novel Writing Month in 2003 when I sketched the first draft of a novel. I did it again in 2004. This work related to some of the trauma from nine years earlier. Then I struggled to revise and get it off the ground, but my concentration, memory and self-confidence were still inadequate for the long haul of writing a novel. Then I had major writer’s block that went on for years, possibly related to my mother’s death in 2008. But despite setbacks, my life was getting better.

Last January, I broke the writer’s block by setting aside time every day and starting a series of exercise to write about the same characters and situations from the 2004 draft. My enthusiasm grew. I am happy to say a more thoughtful, mature manuscript is finally in process.

Besides paid assignments from magazines and work on the novel, I have non-fiction essays and occasional poetry underway. I blog regularly to build a platform for my paid work. None of this feels like too much. At the age of 50 I am writing harder than I ever thought possible, until recently. Old distractions and mechanisms of avoidance keep falling away like the shell of a chrysalis. I haven’t experienced so much energy and focus since my teens.

How does my writing differ from others in this genre?

So I’m working on a novel and writing about food, none of which identifies how I see myself professionally as a journalist. I have a bachelor of science in wildlife biology, minor in ecology. Natural history has always been another passion, and in university I was groping toward becoming a naturalist. Hopefully I will have more opportunities to write in that vein.

Take a look at the main sections of any major newspaper or information website and you will not find a nature section. Environmentalism may relate vaguely to the majority lifestyle, but only tenuously with the business and economy that govern our society. How can something that surrounds and sustain us be left so far out of the equation?

I felt this alienation personally during the years I lived in a small apartment, under-employed and well below the poverty line. Nature inspired and fed my soul, but was easy to neglect. I tried planting seeds in a small garden behind my building, but someone else saw my fresh-tilled soil and planted potatoes. Disappointed, I withdrew my roots even further. I had not been raised to cope with landlessness. Deprived of opportunity and self-sufficiency, I entered the paradigm affecting the majority of Earth’s human population, where no one expects to be able to improve themselves.

When the planet barely sustains you, it’s hard to care about the environment. Unfortunately, true sustainability probably will require us to drop our expectations about wealth and comfort, and adopt a much simpler, more difficult standard of living. The only way to achieve it will involve developing a consensus in society. We must learn to ascribe value to simple living, rather than equating it with poverty. Most people cannot endure the constant barrage of images promising big houses, fast cars and abundant leisure. Whether or not we can negotiate a global shift in beliefs and desires will determine our survival as a species.

I’m nowhere near that place myself, but these ideas launched a journey of rediscovery. As with all life’s major problems, I wrote about it. And so this blog began: Speed River Journal, an urban naturalist’s progress.

Why do I write what I do?

Environmental scientists debate about the state of wilderness, and about humanity’s intervention in climate change. Is nature something pure and remote? To save the Earth, do we need to preserve something pristine where mankind does not interfere? Do such places even exist any more? Is nature equipped to protect itself? Since our species has become so intelligent, have we the responsibility to use our technology to make things better, perhaps lift the world to a higher state? Or will we only make things worse?

These questions are akin to the mystery, “Why do I write?” Humans are congenitally self-interested. History shows we never clean up our worst messes. This does not come from a failure of ideas, but lack of genuine altruism. Overall, it is not in our nature to make the necessary sacrifices.

I write about nature because we are embedded in it. It is our meaning. I hope that some people by reading might become a little more intimate with it, relating to it as something not out of reach or accessible only on long weekends. Earth, air, soil, water and living things are here and now, wherever we are.

Journalism is meant to inform. It is more intent on giving people all the facts than persuading them one way or another. It tries its best to be truly objective. The best I can do is be aware of my biases and try to see the all the sides of an argument.

The most compelling vehicle for information is good storytelling. In this regard, good journalism and good fiction are kin. Neither form should try to sell anything as much as make you think. Fiction is sometimes better at scraping away our expectations of what the characters should do or say, uncovering ideas that are universal and sometimes unspeakable.

How does my writing process work?

I used to eschew routine. Wanting complete freedom, I expected inspiration to drive me. If I waited long enough, it would come.

This is a futile approach, although we must put ourselves in the path of inspiration and be patient, working hard all the while. Muses have a magical, unpredictable quality, but you can’t reach them by wasting time or avoiding unpleasant emotions. The mind must be engaged. If you want inspiration to write, you must be writing.

Writing is a way of being. It’s an immersion in words and ideas. To achieve this I’ve built more rituals into my life to keep me in the path of oncoming light.

Rituals make life predictable. But that’s the point: I know what comes next, without having to talk myself out of doing something else. This would have seemed monotonous to me even two years ago, but it has become compelling and powerful.

Some variety is necessary, of course. For example, I break from routine by going to a quiet writers’ meetup on Monday mornings.

To establish new habits, I give myself incentive. Sometimes bribery works. For a week of good habits I reward myself with points to download music from iTunes. No writing means no new music. A system of rewards and penalties reminds me of the priorities, and they are becoming second nature.

Such stratagems might not work for everyone. Natalie Goldberg says the mind is the writer’s most essential tool, and we must become expert in its use. Everyone’s works differently. Get to know your tool.

So here’s my ideal day, not a rigid schedule, just a structure to hang things on and keep me focused:

7:30 am. The alarm goes off. In the bathroom I play a game on my phone for a few minutes.

7:45. My morning ritual includes a sun salutation (energizing yoga stretches), working in the garden for at least 15 minutes, and making a pot of tea and a nutritious breakfast.

8:30. I arrive at my desk ready to work. Recently I started filling out a journal first thing, to track certain habits and moods, be more mindful of my well-being. At the bottom, I write three points of gratitude. Next I read and clear my email inbox. Then I use GQueues productivity software to identify my tasks for the day. Things get checked off as I go.

9:30. Read the news and a few blogs using Feedly.

10:30. This is my first block of writing time. The morning’s priority is finding new work opportunites: story ideas to pitch to editors, essays written on spec, and blog posts to build a platform for my work. It’s hard to think about advancing myself, so I’ve set marketing as a morning priority, unless I have an assignment due within three working days.

11:30. Exercise, shower and lunch, ideally a salad. I usually eat lunch while looking at online forums or social media, but taking a longer break from the computer might be preferable.

1:00. Second writing session of the day. This is devoted to a current assignment, if I have one. Otherwise, the afternoon sessions should be devoted to more marketing. If I’m having trouble focusing, I might use a timing application on my phone to set a reasonable time period to work on one thing, usually 90 minutes, without glancing at email, social media or other distractions. This technique has improved my work habits significantly.

2:30. A break to do some fibre craft, usually handspinning.

3:00. This is time to connect with clients and colleagues, send email or visit work-related forums such as Freelance Success.

3:30. Third writing session devoted to current work assignments.

5:30. I pour a glass of red wine and write fiction for two hours. I find alcohol in moderation is useful in letting the creative mind make unexpected leaps. It is not beneficial when I need to absorb information or write accurately. I would never drink while researching, revising or proofreading.

7:30. Work ends and I make dinner

8:00. Dinner with Danny. We usually watch a movie or TV.

9:45. Clean up the kitchen.

10:00. To combat insomnia I avoid social media and computer games for two hours before bed. My evening ritual includes manual creativity such as spinning or knitting, a moon salutation (relaxing yoga stretches), herbal tea and a bedtime snack, and finally reading in an armchair. Internet is only permitted if I want to use my phone to look up something on Wikipedia or a dictionary. I used to read in bed, but my brain didn’t have a clear association between bed and sleeping. Now I avoid the bedroom and getting horizontal until it’s time to sleep.

11:45-12:30. I’m usually drowsy by the time I go to bed, and fall asleep within 10 minutes.

This has been working well. If it needs to get better, that’s another question to tackle as time goes on. For now I’m focusing on the abundant positives.

Why do I do all this? My greatest hope is that something I write will benefit someone else. That would bring a glimmer of immortality.

Pass it on

Part of this blog hop is to tag three more writers to answer these questions.

Tom Franklin at Franklin, Ink is a fiction writer I’ve known online for probably a decade. I’ve appreciated his dedication to the writing process. I learned from him an important principle.

Discipline means remembering what you want.

Tom has told me that idea lacks something for him: a call to action. But with my history of depression, problems with concentration and short-term memory have done more than anything else to curtail my energy and hopefulness. Learning to know and remember what I want has aided my recovery immeasurably.

Michelle Rafter of WordCount: Freelancing in the Digital Age has served as a role model and unintentional mentor for me the past two years. As I’ve guest-blogged for her, Michelle’s Blogathon allowed me to see the writing I was already doing as a stepping stone to launch the career I always wanted. But I’ve never asked Michelle what motivates her as a writer, so I invite her to respond.

I’m also tagging two other writers I got to know through the Blogathon. Jennifer Willis shares some of my passions: science and fiction writing for starters. We have exchanged guest posts about the intersection between environmentalism and spirituality. Meanwhile, Barb Freda is a fellow food writer and we have exchanged guest posts about foraging in Bermuda and Ontario. I wasn’t able to connect with Jen or Barb about doing the blog hop, so I hope one of them will. How other writers work and what inspires them are fascinating insights.


A handful of herbs for tea

A handful of herbs for tea

I know few better ways to start the day than by wandering into the garden on a misty August morning to collect herbs for breakfast tea. This is a pleasure I discovered one long summer long ago in the first herb garden I planted as a teenager. Adult responsibilities can push youthful sensuality and mindfulness out of the way, but with maturity these rituals return. This year, for the first time in many, I have a growing, healthy collection of herbs to support this habit.

Often I pick only one or two sprigs to add to a morning pot of green tea. Sometimes I collect a handful to blend their varied flavours. In the photo above (centre, then clockwise from left) are lemon verbena, lavender, anise hyssop, peppermint, wild bergamot, pineapple sage and lemon balm.

None of their flavours require explanation except perhaps the bergamot. Many gardeners are familiar with its close relative, bee balm (Monarda didyma), with scarlet flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds. This M. fistulosa is a native species with pale lilac flowers. It was the first wildflower I ever grew from collected seeds, but that also was long ago. The seed for this plant came from Richters Herbs last spring. It’s a perennial and won’t bloom until next year. It would make a good addition to a meadow garden.

Members of the Monarda genus are called bergamot because their flavour resembles the bergamot orange, a Mediterranean citrus fruit used to flavour Earl Grey. Tea made from these herbs bears a good similarity.

Pineapple sage tastes more pine than apple, but its fruity fragrance adds a slightly, pleasantly bitter character to an herbal mixture.

Lemon verbena, lavender, mint and lemon balm can also grow well in containers. Anise hyssop and pineapple sage are shrubby and need a lot of room for their roots. I’m trying to grow wild bergamot in a pot this year, and so far it’s doing well.

Here’s a bonus August morning photo of our neighbours’ lovely back deck and planters.

Deck planters

Caterpillar in my houseplants

Tiger moth caterpillar

If you grow it, they will come. A tiger moth caterpillar is feeding on my indoor succulents. Burro’s tail sedum might not be included in its preferred diet, but this bug is hungry for anything.

We spotted it in our houseplants several weeks ago. At first pale yellow, it shifted to rusty orange.

It’s making a mess, too. We can usually locate it by the pile of frass on the tile floor. Once, when I disturbed the larva, it immediately began producing bright green poop, an alarming if innocent defence.

I hardly know any caterpillars on sight, but this appears to be Spilosoma virginica, or Virginia tiger moth. At this stage it is known as the yellow woollybear, resembling its familiar relative, the woollybearPyrrharctia isabella. They’re members of the tiger moths, named for the bold black-and-white blotches or stripes on the adult wings of some species. But the family name Arctiidae comes from the Greek word for bear. Our visitor, if it keeps eating its breakfast, is destined to become a fat-bodied white moth.

How it got into my houseplants is no great mystery. They’re situated in our breakfast nook. The door onto the deck sometimes stands open for a few minutes. At night while we slip out to look at the moon, a moth might slip in.

These caterpillars are generalists, feeding on grass and groundcovers. Ours prefers to be on the ground. Sometimes it drops to the floor and gets lost for a while. While I’m happy to see it growing and enjoying my succulents, this indoor existence is doomed to misfortune.

Sometimes regular woollybears manage to get into the house. Supposedly they are not difficult to raise. I tried it once last winter. After feeding on greens for a few days, the visitor spun a fragile, half-hearted cocoon, then died.

It’s high time I moved this voracious critter into the garden where it stands a chance of completing its life cycle.

Come for a walk in the woods

Will you come for a walk in the woods with me? We’ll see a rare white form of red clover, some hummingbirds close up, a gartersnake, an Atlantis fritillary and more beauty.

Click the photo to view a gallery of eight images. Click an arrow at the margin of each photo to navigate. Use the back button on your browser to return to this page.

Dew on maple leaf

We visited the cottage on the weekend. These photos were taken on a walk along the road. Thanks to the neighbours who invited us to watch the hummingbird feeders on their deck overlooking the lake.

Who’s to blame: reversing pollution trends in Lake Erie

Lake Erie

In a recent post about a visit to the beach where I grew up, I mentioned Lake Erie had responded well to international efforts to clean up pollution. Such was the case in 1990s, but no longer, as current news and debates are headlining. Earlier this week, a severe bloom of poisonous algae left 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio, without safe drinking water.

I haven’t kept up-to-date because I don’t live there anymore. It’s easy to go back for a few hours, see things looking the same and assume they haven’t changed. Still, my ignorance is inexcusable. When I flush my toilet, the water ultimately goes to the Speed River of this blog, and, via the Grand River, drains into Lake Erie.

The lake’s water quality has been declining (again) for the past decade or so. A severe algal bloom caused problems in 2011, and one municipality in Ohio lost drinking water last summer. People have called for action, research has been done and recommendations have been made, but now many people are wondering why this hasn’t led to more action, and who is to blame.

Pollution in Lake Erie in the 1960s and ’70s resulted largely from sewage effluent. That problem has been addressed, and led to cleaner water 20 years later.

This time there’s a different culprit. As reported by CBC News, the International Joint Commission released a report in February, blaming farmers. Fertilizer makes runoff rich in fertilizer, which feeds an overpopulation of algae.

Before we return absentmindedly to our garden parties and barbecues, let’s think about who eats the farm produce. Or more to the point, who needs the energy that had boosted corn crops for ethanol production? And while agriculture produces the majority of pollution, a lot also comes from lawns and golf courses.

We need to reduce our dependency on phosphorous fertilizers.

As for the zebra mussels, which I speculated had helped clean up the lakes with their filter-feeding activity, apparently they release additional nutrients into the water, increasing the problem. And while they remove suspended particles for clearer water, sunlight penetrates deeper, increasing the growth of water plants, fouling beaches. Essentially, they’re changing the ecology of the Great Lakes, and it’s no improvement for native species. So there’s no reason to like these toe-slicing invaders.

zebra mussels

Remember, Lake Erie is a relatively shallow lake and all the water flushes through it in about 2.5 years. That means we can clean it up quickly, which is lucky for people living around it. But as far as the rest of the Great Lakes are concerned, Erie is the canary in the coal mine. If we don’t address these problems now, things will slowly get worse throughout the other lakes, which take decades or centuries to flush. This problem won’t go away fast.

Playing on that beach may be a thing of my past, but it shouldn’t be for millions of other people who live around these lakes.

Guelph artist Sue Richards has died

Poppy posted Blog Guelph July 2008

Guelph artist Sue Richards has died. She had a huge impact on cultural life in Guelph, including myself. Sue’s initiatives in the 1980s helped start Hillside Festival, one of Canada’s most important summer music events.

In 2002, she launched Breast of Canada, an art calendar containing black and white images of women with breast cancer, to promote women’s health. The project lasted until 2007, when Sue was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

In 2006 Sue started Blog Guelph to chronicle life in the city and showcase the work of local photographers. Several sets of my photos appeared there. The poppy above was part of the first set in July 2008.

That was the first time anybody else published my images. It boosted my self-concept as an artistic photographer with a unique way of seeing things. I’m grateful to Sue and our mutual friend, Lynn Broughton, for the introduction.

Sue left the world a changed place. She died on Saturday, age 56. A tribute appeared yesterday in the Guelph Mercury.

July insect gallery

Click on the image to view the gallery (six photos), then click arrows at right or left edge of photo to navigate. Click the back button on your browser to return to this page.

July insects

These are a few insects I found on a walk last week through Hanlon Creek Conservation Area (Preservation Park) behind our house.

The ruby meadowhawk, Sympetrum rubicundulum, is the dragonfly I see most commonly in these meadows. The female, which I posted here last summer, is golden.

Ruby meadowhawk

Skippers are Lepidoptera with characteristics that distinguish them from both moths and butterflies. Their antennae are backward-hooked, rather than fine and club-shaped like those of most butterflies. Moth antennae are varied, but commonly feather- or comb-shaped. Skippers have relatively small wings and large, compound eyes. Like moths and unlike most butterflies they have a plump thorax to house strong wing muscles.


They are traditionally classified in their own separate superfamily. However, recent research indicates skippers are closely related with other butterflies.

They are often drab. Species can be difficult to tell apart. One of these is too damaged to work out, but the brassy iridescence of its scales is quite attractive. The other is plainer but in good shape, a member of the genus Erynnis, duskywings.

Common eastern bumblebee with a smaller bee

A bumblebee, probably the common eastern Bombus impatiens, shared a flower with a smaller bee. The robber fly is an agile flyer and effective predator on other winged insects.

The common red soldier beetle, Rhagnonycha fulva, found in a Convolvulus arvensis flower on our back fence, is a species introduced from Eurasia.

Common red soldier beetle

They are predatory on other insect and can often be found on top of flower clusters looking for pray. This individual seems to be drinking nectar, and is covered with bindweed pollen.


Eight ways to celebrate Food Day Canada

August snacks

Saturday, August 2, is Food Day Canada. The event was founded by Anita Stewart in 2003 to promote Canadian farmers, fishers and other food producers. Let’s celebrate by enjoying the diversity and quality of local and Canadian-grown food. Here are some ideas.

1. Do a Canadian dinner date

Go out for dinner at a restaurant featuring local fare. In Guelph and Wellington County, Farmalicious runs until early October, each week spotlighting an eatery with a featured local dish or full menu. It begins Food Canada day at Enver’s of Morriston offering a table d’hôte menu, $50 per person. Among the local items are quail eggs and honey from Chassagne. The Food Day Canada site can point the way to restaurants in other areas.

2. Visit a farmers’ market

Find friends and regional food at your farmers’ market. Tomorrow at Guelph Farmers’ Market we’ll look for local raspberries, cucumbers and Niagara apricots, maybe even peaches.

3. Preserve it

Throw a canning fest. It’s hard to maintain a local diet in Canada through the winter. We can improve the situation by freezing or preserving fruits and vegetables while they’re in season. Now is the time to buy local sweet corn and berries to freeze, cucumbers and other vegetables for pickling, and fruit for preserving jams, jellies and chutneys. The Danish Schnapps website has ideas for flavouring vodka with fruits and herbs, and brandy also works well.

4. Throw a party

Host a games day or barbecue and invite a few friends to share the bounty. It’s easy to assemble a plate of crudites from local vegetables like zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and snap peas with dips like hummus or guacamole. Include some Canadian artisan cheeses, smoked salmon or trout, and Ontario or other Canadian wines.

5. Grow your own

Make it even more local using produce from your own garden.

6. Forage

Now is the season when resourceful city foragers can find ripe mulberries and rosehips. Read my post about foraging for summer fruit on the Japan Farmers Markets blog. If you’re new to foraging, start by learning the ethics. Attend a workshop or talk to an expert in wildcrafting, like Guelph’s Scott Reid.

7. Try these summer harvest recipes

Here are some more ideas for ways to use those local vegetables:

  1. Try one of my midsummer harvest soups: tomato chicken soup Provençal, borage soup or gluten-free New England clam chowder.
  2. Vegetarian lasagna takes advantage of this season’s harvest.
  3. Have an abundance of summer sqaush? Mine are barely starting, but I can hardly wait. Check out my six great ways to use zucchini. My favourite is the slightly decadent basil margarita shrimp.
  4. Speaking of basil, here’s a recipe and some ideas for how to use basil pesto.

8. Tell others

Go to the Food Day Canada page on Facebook to share your ideas and experience of the day. The Food Day Canada website has more information about Canadian products, restaurants according to region and numerous recipe suggestions. Stop by here, too, and let us know. But most of all, enjoy eating.


Tomatoes at the heart of summer; four varieties reviewed

Heritage tomatoes

It’s such a pleasure to go outside each morning at 8 a.m, still tottering on sleep legs. My brain starts opening like a book as sunlight breaks over the pines. Sometimes I dig a few potatoes, or run and grab my camera to photograph dew on the dill.

We’ve reached the very heart of summer in Ontario. Hard work and patience are reaping benefits in the garden. A few days of cooler weather don’t seem to be bothering the tomatoes, which have started coming on fast and furious. The more heat units, the better for them, but apparently we have had a good overall mix of sun and solid rain this season.

This is my third year vegetable gardening here, and the first time I’ve had such a satisfying crop. Last year, as I recall, we had cherry tomatoes in July, but no other varieties before mid-August.

We’ve already tasted four varieties, shown here with some shallots and a red onion from the garden.

Cosmonaut Volkov (centre) is Ukrainian, apparently good for cool climates. Ours are not as large, colourful or tasty as they’re reputed to be, and the plant is the only one affected by blight so far. It’s a good early tomato, but not my favourite.

Sun Sugar (bottom), on the other hand, is super sweet, flavourful and large for a cherry. It might be less productive than other cherry varieties, but with tomatoes I prefer quality to quantity. This hybrid I will grow again.

Purple Plum (left) is a repeat in my garden: nice colour, flavour and productivity. My only regret is that I only bought one plant this year, as it’s great for sauces.

Black Sea Man (the big guy) is a Russian heirloom tomato. It’s wonderful to have a big, delicious beefsteak tomato ripening so early in the garden. The colour is even more spectacular when you slice it, a work of art alongside anything from the barbecue. It’s another one to remember. By happy accident we’ll have lots of them. I meant to buy seven varieties, one plant of each, but arrived home with two Black Sea Man and no Earl of Edgecombe. But I could have done worse, and we’ll fit the earl in next summer somehow.

Even the Brandywines (below), a later heritage variety worth the extra wait, are ripening nicely and will be ready in another day or two. Coming along slowest of all is the Black Cherry, which is supposed to be ready 15 days earlier than the Brandywine. It’s just starting to ripen, so we’ll soon find out whether it’s worth the patience. Cherries are supposed to provide quick gratification while we’re waiting for the beefsteaks.

Brandywine tomatoes

Many tomato fans consider Brandywines a touchstone of tomato flavour, practically a meal in themselves with a little salt and fresh basil. I grew some many years ago and they were the best I had ever tasted. They were pink, gnarly and ugly.

There seems to be a lot of variety in Brandywines. Last year I had a plant, but the fruit didn’t ripen until the cool of September, a disappointing harvest. This year’s plant is doing much better. The tomatoes are more orange and nicer to look at than the ones of memory. Hopefully their flavour will be up to par.

Still the best part of having a garden is just – having a garden.

Dew on Mammoth DillSome mornings I simply stand and watch bumblebees in the visiting the borage and anise-hyssop flowers. A garden is pleasure, and I soak it in. Life is a collection of moments; some we should treat with special honour.

Vegetable garden in July