Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring Time in the City : Tulip Watch - week 2

Hello boys and girls,

Today was a dreary day in Montreal but nevertheless, I took my hands out of my warm pockets and froze my little fingers to bring you news from the tulip patch. You can click here to check out last week pictures.

Our little beauties are growing peacefully through the bout of cold weather we are receiving this week, nothing is going to stop them from blooming this year, except maybe those pesky squirrels. I'll be showing you proof that squirrels are absolutely nuts, or at least this one squirrel is. I just have to figure out how to post a video onto You Tube and then place a link onto my blog.

Well, onto the pictures.

There is not much difference to be seen by the untrained eye but if you look closer, you'll notice that most tulips now have three visible leaves and are a little taller. I'll try and put a height reference in future pictures and I've found a physical reference point to take a picture of the same individuals next time. You see, I'm improving all the time.

I just love how the leaves are holding on to the water in the last picture. This is also a great shot to realize that new leaves come from the inside and they wrap around each other, this are referred to as sheathing leaves.

I found this amazing picture of pink/purple tulip leaves, check it out by clicking here.

How are the tulips near your place? Send me some pictures and I'll post them along side mine next week. You can send your .jpeg files to emiliedwolf{at}gmail{dot}com. I can't wait to see them!

Take care!
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Monday, March 29, 2010

To Save Water, Eat Less Beef and Chocolate

Fresh water availabilty has and will always be a source of concern for environmentalist and let's face it, every single living thing out there; without water there is no life as we know it. Oh sure, 71% of the Earth is covered with water but most of it is salt water which we cannot really use and I have yet to hear about an effective (inexpensive and large scale) way to transform salt water into fresh water, so we are stuck with what we have. Year after year we are presented with Water Conservation campaigns; we know the drill, take short showers, turn the faucet off when you brush your teeth, use low flow shower heads, faucets, and toilets, etc., but that is just household usage, what about the water that is used to answer all our needs?

Nation Geographic has built this brilliant web resource (for lack of a better word to call it) illustrating the amount of water necessary for the production of various goods. You can compare between meat and grain options, learn the impact of your chocolat indulgence, or just realize just how important water is. Click here to find out more.

I was astonished to find out that to produce one pound of beef, you needed 6810 liters of water (1799 gallons) and horrified to know that one pound of chocolate required 12000 liters (3170 gallons)! On average, americans  use 168L per day, does this estimate include my emergency chocolate bar? Since I don't eat beef, can I forgive my chocolate cravings? What a dilema.

If you are concerned about water usage and availability or are just curious by nature, you can find a free downloadable copy of the National Geographic's Special Issue on Water by clicking here. Check it out fast, it's only free until April 2nd.

Take care!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Time in the City : Montreal 2010


I love seeing signs of spring: birds flocking in overhead, soft green buds on tree branches, little green leaves popping out of the ground, and flowers, oh how I love seeing spring flowers.

Spring came earlier this year in Montreal, especially in the Botanical Garden's little sheltered courtyard. Employees from all over have been passing by the office to get a glimps and a snif of the vibrant and wonderfully odorant Witch-Hazel flowers.

Wikipedia just informed me that Witch-Hazel branches were once used as divining rods to find ground water. The name just reminds me of the bottle of astringent liquid used to tighten up your pores, reducing the appearance of blackheads - not quite as exciting. However, it is still a valid associationg since Witch Hazel liquid is produced from the leaves and the bark of the North-American variety (Hamamelis virginiana).

First used by Native Americans to treat cuts, insect bites, and other inflammations; it's now widely used all over the world. Apparently, you can also use it instead of hair-spray when curling your hair - amazing what you can learn on the internet is it not?

What I really like about this plant, apart from the wonderful smell, is the look of its flowers. They appear before the new leaves, each part comes in groups of four; 4 red cup-shaped sepals, 4 half an inch long, very slim or strap-shaped, yellow petals, 4 red stamens, and a double stigma.

How wonderful. Anyway, this plant is also called Winterbloom because of its early blooms. They make me terribly happy. Another thing that brings joy to my heart are little tulips sprouting out from the still snow covered ground. The Botanical Garden has an intensive tulip display as you walk in the main gate. I noticed the first leaves this week so I took a picture to share with you guys - for once I had my camera and found a subject that doesn't run off before I can snap a picture.
I tell you more about tulips once we can see more of their characteristics. I'll try and post pictures of their development every week, we can watch them grow together.

You can see the main building of the Botanical Garden looming in the background, that's where I work...I think I might have never mentionned that... I must tell you all about my exciting job, but that will be for another time darlings for I am simply exhausted. Until then, keep your eyes open for signs of the coming spring - they are all around you just waiting to be noticed.

Take care!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review : Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

Never Cry Wolf
Never Cry Wolf
by Farley Mowat

Written in the 60s by a Biologist about the year he spent up in Northern Canada studying wolves for the Canadian government, this book is filled with interesting facts and fascinating anecdotes.

The book is well written and is an enjoyable read. A wonderful blend of science and humour. The vocabulary is well researched and in many cases quite advanced. I must admit I learnt more than a couple words over the course of the 176 pages.

Mowat begins his book by explaining what brought him to the Canadian Wildlife Agency in the first place - his love for all things living. After his studies, he chose the path less beaten of field biology and was sent up North to study the Wolf population. At the time, hunters were complaining to the Agency that wolves were the cause behind the reduction the caribou herds. Hunting being a very lucrative pass-time for the state, the government were looking for results and Mowat was the man to bring them. So off he went with half a canoe, a tent, a sleeping bag, and seven axes as part the the official field kit. He flew from Ottawa to Churchill in a military plane and from there was left to find his way to a remote area with a high density of wolves, to set up his base camp. And that was that.
Luckily for him his plane dropped him not too far from a hunting shack belonging to a young inuit hunter and his sleigh dogs. From there, he set out to find some wolves. This was no easy task for although the State's population estimate at the time was one wolf for every two square miles, they remained elusive for quite some time before Mowat caught a glimps of a large male.
He tracked the male to its den and once found, he set up his observation post near by. For many months, he watched, taking accurate and fascinating notes on family behaviour, eating habits, and general ecology of the species.
Throughout his stay, he had to adapt to the ways of the wild, meanwhile performing rigorous science and looking for proof of the link between the declining caribou herds and wolf populations, to support the extensive wolf kull endorsed by both the Provincial and Federal Governement. Although he never truely states it, there is no such proof from the wolves but the list is long on the side of the humans.

This book teaches you not only about wolves, but also about life in Northen Canada, local native cultures, plants and animals of the region, the difficulties of doing research is such remote areas, and the wonderful incompetance of government officials. One of my favorite anecdotes in this book illustrates the later very well. It appears near the beginning of the book and sets the tone for the rest. Shortly after arriving in Churchill, a storm hits and Mowat is stuck in the little town unable to continue onto the research area and the wolves. At this time he telegrams the head office in Ottawa to tell of his misfortunes and ask for further instructions. Not only do they not understand, they remind him that he has a deadline to respect and that they are expecting a first report shortly. With no sign of a pilot and the weather remaining as it was, he turned to what was available in town: ''missionairies, prostitues, mounted policemen, rum-runners, trappers, fur smugglers, ordinary fur traders and other interesting characters'', all of whom became his wolf authorities for his first report. A report that went on to become ''the final word on Canis lupus'' in Ottawa.

A brilliant book, a fascinating story, and a truthful yet depressing look on how the Canadian government managed our wildlife. I strongly recommend.

For those less inclined to read, this book has been made into a movie.

Take care!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What's for supper : Primavera Pesto Pasta

Yes, I am aware that making food has absolutely nothing to do with nature or the environment but I simply have to tell you about this recipe I found in Kraft's What's Cooking magazine (also available online here).
It's easy to make, requires very little ingredients, and tastes FANTASTIC.

I modified the recipe a little so this is how I did it and it served 5 people.

Philadelphia Cheese (about 250g)
Asparagus (5-6)
Olive oil
Pesto (4-5 tbs)
Green Onions (3-4) 
Vegetable broth (1/2 cup)

How to:
Boil your fettuccine and add the chopped asparagus for the last couple of minutes.
In a skillet fry up some garlic in a little olive oil before mixing in the Philadelphia cheese, pesto, vegetable broth, and green onions. Let simmer for 3-4 minutes.
Mix the creamy sauce with the drained fettuccine and asparagus. VOILĂ€! You have a wonderful meal ready to serve.

I figure to justify this receipe on my nature blog, I'll tell you about asparagus.

Let's start by defining vegetable. The term refers to any part of a plant that is grown for consumption. A carrot is a root, a tomato is a fruit, and what we refer to as asparagus is the young steam (shoot) of the asparagus plant.

It has been classified into the Liliaceae family but I have also found it classified in its own family: Asparagaceae. I'll get back to you on this. Other vegetables in the Liliacea family include garlic, onions, and leek.

If left to grow, it would become this tall wispy fern-like herbaceous plant with tiny little white or yellow flowers. It's cultivation is a little different from other vegetables. It's perennial because of it's rhizome (underground stem) which produces shoots. The earliest shoots are the best harvest but depending on your growing season, you can have multiple harvests in the same year.  A Quebec producer, Mr. Phil Quinn, told me that he waited 1-2 harvest seasons before harvesting his first crop to let the asparagus produce nice thick rhizomes and healthy shoots. Once deamed ready, he harvests twice before letting them grow out and produce seeds.  Once they've grown to over a foot in height they don't taste as good so eventhough they are still edible, they are not marketable.
Happy cooking!
Take care!

[Picture credits;]

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Octopuses and HDTV

I stand corrected, the plural form of octopus is not, as I have lovingly believed, octopi but octopuses -which sounds so much less impressive. It has something to do with the word octopus coming from the greek instead of the latin.

Anyway, I found this great little article posted on Observations of a Nerd about scientists that managed to fool octopuses into responding to a video played in HD. The story goes that octopuses do not respond to video stimuli which complicated the study of interactive behaviour, that is until HD came along. Scientists can now observe behaviours towards selected videos. Please read on by clicking here.

She posted a little video to go along with her well written post. I stole it and placed it here for our enjoyement.

Long live Cephalopods!

Take care!

Monday, March 15, 2010

How to Recycle (just about) Anything

I'm always wondering what to do with the random things I collect over the years; at one point they just have to go. When I've exhausted the Second Hand Shop option and I've recycled all that I can, I have a moments hesitation before launching into the garbage something that at one point in time meant something to me or could maybe one day serve again.

Getting to the point now, I found an informative article available, FOR FREE, on Real (Click here)

Here are some that I found particularly interesting :

* Bring your old iPod back to the store to get 15% off the purchase of a new one and get the old one recycled properly.

* Nike recycles old sneekers into courts and running tracks. (I've seen people do it with old tires as well- such a great surface to run on!)

* You can recycle aluminum toothpaste tubes.

Take care!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sparked Wings

My friend made this amazing video for, I'm guessing, a new Doritos flavour. Yeah, I know, that doesn't have much to do with nature and environmental things BUT, he makes the Doritos fly into the shape of a rooster. Awesome! Check it out by clicking on the following link :

Sparked Wings

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