Alberta snapshot: Hawk Hill Calgary Sentinels.

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The monoliths of artist Beverly Pepper’s Hawk Hill Calgary Sentinels are an impressive feature of Ralph Klein Park in Calgary.  You can read more about Pepper’s work here.  I took this photo on a stormy, sticky-hot and mosquito-heavy August morning last year – as we walked in the park, we saw a small funnel cloud in the distance, far to the east and travelling away from us.

Ralph Klein Park is actually pretty impressive all-around.  Named after the province’s colourful former premier (d. 2013), the park is part of the massive Shepard Wetland: the largest constructed stormwater treatment wetland in the entire country.  The wetland is 160 hectares in size and can hold up to 6 million cubic metres of stormwater, if necessary. (You can read more about it here). The park also contains a public community orchard and the incredibly beautiful LEED Gold-certified Environmental Education and Ethics Centre, which rises above the water on stilts and has accessible catwalks and decks for visitors to wander. (It’s also home to artwork from Peter von Tiesenhausen and shows off attractive and useful gabion walls, inside and out). All this…and it’s home to a huge variety of bird species!

Alberta Snapshot: Kananaskis River.

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A view of the wide Kananaskis River from the Flowing Water Interpretive Trail in Bow Valley.  This is a really pleasant, short, and easy walk with some fantastic scenery and lots of wildflowers.  There’s even a beaver dam (but apparently the beavers were bunking down in their little log cabins out of the gloom on the day my hubby and I were there.  I would have liked to see some babies, but alas). The trailhead begins in Willowrock Campground and is well-marked and worn.  This is another good hike for young families – there is one section of wooden stairs, but they are not too steep.  The stairs would make it tricky for anyone with mobility issues, but the rest of the trail is accessible.

I’m always fascinated by place names – and as I’ve lived here in southern Alberta for several years, I was familiar with the idea that the word “Kananaskis” meant “meeting of the waters.”  But it turns out that’s an erroneous marketing gimmick – the real truth behind the name is actually far more fascinating and…well…bloody.  Check out the historical account here.

Have you ever come across any “tourist” information that wasn’t really true?  Isn’t it interesting how stories are altered over time (or depending on agenda)?

Water retaining crystals – yay or nay?

I have a confession to make.

Really, I should be ashamed of myself.  It’s time I got it out in the open, however:

I’m not very good at remembering to water my houseplants.  It’s not that I mean to forget…it just sometimes happens.  I like to pretend it’s because I’m doing everything within my power to prevent mould and other nasty humidity-related issues, but really, it’s just because I’m always on the go and certain things get kind of shuffled to the wayside.

Yep, now I’ve admitted it.  Please don’t judge me too harshly!   😉

It’s a good thing I have mostly African violets, which like to dry out between waterings.  In an attempt to alleviate the pain and suffering of my poor beleaguered plants, I’ve occasionally used water retaining crystals (aka hydrogels) in my potting soil.  For the most part, though, I haven’t really had to significantly change my watering schedule for plants with water retaining crystals in the soil versus those without; the extension of time between waterings seems to be a couple of days, perhaps three or four if I’m lucky.  I’ve never tried out the crystals in my outdoor containers, so I’m not sure if they would make a difference in hanging baskets or planters.  I’ve also never used commercial premixed potting soil that contains hydrogels.

Here’s the thing:  it seems that there is a bit of a controversy regarding water retaining crystals.  Many garden experts do not recommend their use, calling them gimmicks and citing their ineffectiveness.  (Plus, potting mixes containing the crystals are more expensive than those without!).  And, even more damaging:   I came across an article this past week which suggests that the common type of crystals made from polyacrylamide may actually be carcinogenic!  Oh boy, that’s not what I want in the soil for my houseplants…and definitely not in the potting mixes I’m growing food crops in.

There are alternatives to the polyacrylamide crystals (besides actually watering on a regular basis!).   The ones made of starch may actually be better at retaining water, and they are considerably safer.  I’m not certain how many studies have been done about all of this, and there is bound to be some continued debate.

Weigh in!  Have you ever used water retaining crystals – or would you ever use them – in your potting soil? 

Something’s fishy….

Okay…so how many of you keep freshwater fish in an aquarium?

And how many of you who are fish owners also use the waste water from the tank to give your plants a nitrogen pick-me-up?

We’ve kept freshwater fish for nearly twenty years.  At the moment we have two aquariums, full of various species of tetras and two very whacky golden Chinese algae eaters (Gynocheilus aymonieri).

We don’t keep live plants in our tanks, although this is something I would dearly love to get into – our algae eaters are very fond of digging, however, and they do enough damage to the plastic plants and ornaments we have.  One day, perhaps, when we get some more laid-back fish, I’ll give the live plants thing a go.

Our aquariums have been in place a very long time now, so we have a pretty balanced system, plus we’re very conscientious about the amount of food and the types of food we give our fish so that we’re not generating excessive waste material in the water.  Too much waste from decaying food and poop = a proliferation of nitrates, which are toxic in large amounts.  To keep our fish happy and our system running smoothly, we do a 1/3 water change and clean the filters once a month, and we change out the filter media two or three times a year.  Because we’ve closely regulated the numbers of fish we keep, this schedule seems to work nicely for us.

Whenever we do a water change, we save back some of the water and I give it to my houseplants.   I don’t add any more fresh water – I just pour it straight out of the bucket into a watering can and then into the pots.  The waste water makes an excellent fertilizer, and because I only apply it once a month, I don’t worry about over-feeding.  In the summer, I also take the bucket outside and dump the contents over my flowerbeds.  Why throw this free fertilizer down the toilet?

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An aquaponic system is a working cycle that highlights fish/plant interaction.  Check out this aquaponic set-up from Milwaukee for a brilliant example of what can be done with some space and expert know-how.  Note the use of watercress as a water filtration aid.

Finally, read about the chemistry of nitrogen cycles from a plant perspective here.  And then check it out from the fishy side of things here.

Related posts:  Chez worms.