Friday, April 24, 2015

The Osoyoos Desert Centre

At first glance the semi-arid landscape of the South Okanagan can appear desolate, but on closer inspection this is far from the truth. The South Okanagan is an extraordinary place. It is Canada's only "pocket desert", a fragile and endangered ecosystem that is home to many unique and endangered plants and animals. 

When I first moved to this area I immediately feel in love with the landscape. The dry rolling hills, steep cliff faces and muted colour of yellow, brown and green, make an interesting contrast to the deep and refreshing bodies of waters that run along the valley floor. As I took note of the various features of the South Okanagan I started to noticed signs posted throughout the area. These signs blatantly stated either "yes national park!" or "no national park!". At the time I did not understand the debate, but I am slowly beginning to realize that the rapidly increasing need for agricultural land is resulting in the destruction of delicate ecosystems. In response to this destruction, organizations and individuals are taking action and raising awareness about the need to protect unique ecosystems of the South Okanagan. 

The Osoyoos Desert Society, is one of these organizations. They operate the Desert Centre, a sixty-seven acre nature interpretive facility that is dedicated to conserving native species. The Desert Centre is located at the north end of Osoyoos, British Columbia (directions here). When it is open, the public can become acquainted with the beautiful and endangered ecosystem of the South Okanagan while taking a leisurely, stroller-friendly, 1.5 km stroll over a boardwalk. Our Learning Circle recently scheduled a "school" tour, which my children really enjoyed. The children were fascinated by various animal droppings, snake skins, prickly pear and yellow blossoming antelope-brush. The Desert Centre is open to the public in late April. This year the centre opens on April 26th, and admission is free on their opening day! Their regular operating hours and admission fees are listed on their website

Now that we've seen the Desert Centre in the spring I want to return in the summer and again in the fall. Returning throughout the seasons would be a wonderful way to truly experience and appreciate the plants and species that are protected there. It is a really beautiful place, and I really recommend visiting it if you ever have the opportunity.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Garden Journal (yr 3: vol 3)

The thing about spring is that it is unpredictable. Warm sunny days tease you into thinking that winter is long past and that summer is fast approaching. Then, without much warning, clouds roll in and a cold wind blows and once again I am reminded that this season is reliably fickle. There are still a couple weeks before frost is no longer a threat to tender young seedlings so until then my tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, leeks and basil remain in the safety of my home. They are all quickly outgrowing their pots and slowly taking over the breakfast nook. I have already transplanted the tomatoes into larger containers and the peppers will need to be re-potted soon, I think.

Even though our nights are cool the peas, broad beans, lettuce, radishes and spinach plants are thriving. This past Tuesday I also planted parsnips, swiss chard, carrots, beets and kale seeds, alongside the onions starts I received from my friend last week. Around the rest of my yard the apple trees are blossoming and leaves are slowly filling our various trees, vines and bushes. I was happy to see that my grape vines survived the winter, unlike the previous year, and that the purple and white wisteria and lilacs are beginning to bloom. The flowers are so beautiful!

Two weeks ago: Garden Journal (yr 3: vol 2)
One year ago: Garden Journal (yr 2: vol 3)
Two years ago: Garden Journal (vol. 3)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Nature Notes: Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Here in the sunny south Okanagan it is spring and the hills are blanketed in the bright yellow flowers of arrowleaf balsamroot. Arrowleaf balsamroot, balsamorhiza sagittata, also known as Okanagan Sunflower, is a native plant that has large silvery-green arrow shaped leaves and yellow sunflower-like flowers. It grows in clumps, reaching a half metre tall, and prefers well drained, open, southerly facing slopes. Balsamroot is a perennial, so it returns year after year, and once established it can send out a hardy taproot as long as 2.5 meters long into the ground!

Deer, bighorn sheep, rodents and birds eat various parts balsamroot throughout the year, and it is an important plant for native pollinators. Balsamroot was also an important plant for first nations people that lived alongside it. All parts of the plant are edible: flower, stem, leaves, seeds and even the root if boiled or steamed. The young leaves and shoots of balsamroot are high in protein and can be eaten raw or cooked. The seeds can be ground into flour or pressed for oil. From my understanding balsamroot isn't particular delicious to eat, but it makes a good survival food if there is ever a need. First nations people also used balsamroot medicinally. It was smoked and made into tinctures and poultices, for treating a wide range of ailments. There are thoughts that balsamroot has antibacterial, antifungal and immune stimulating attributes.

You can find arrowleaf balsamroot in the western part of North American. In Canada it grows in the south interior of British Columbia and in Alberta and tends to grow alongside sagebrush and ponderosa pines. It is a beautiful, happy plant, and one that is synonymous with spring in these parts.

Source: USDA Plant Guide: Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Planting Onions

This past week has been somewhat challenging and stressful. Everyone has times of stress; it is not a pleasant experience no matter how you look at it. However, I have found a wonderful stress combatant: planting onions. It was onion planting time on my friend's small family-run organic farm this week and I was most happy to take on this laborious diversion. When I arrived at the farm the morning air was crisp and fresh, the birds were singing and the sun was shinning. It was picturesque and I entertained ideas of having my own farm one day. The work began slowly and I curiously examined the strange contraption attached to the end of the tractor. Soon this contraption prepared the rows by laying down a black plastic mulch and pushing the dirt under and around it. Next, planting holes were punched through the plastic with a rather menacing tool that was made by my friend. Preparing the rows took most of the morning and after a lunch break I started planting onions alongside a farmhand.

Being hunched over, carefully poking in onion starts into the soil was calming and grounding. The simple repetitive motion was akin to a meditation of sorts. It was hard work and my legs and back needed regular stretching but it felt so satisfying to soak up the sun while digging in dirt. I do not know how many onions I planted, several hundred at least. When we were finished it was quite satisfying seeing all those little onions lined up down the row. After spending so much time planting onions I felt connected to them somehow, or perhaps connected to the land, and I left my friend's farm feeling happy, sun-kissed and tired.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Garden Journal (yr 3: vol 2)

Spring is a time of surprises. As the days warm we push seeds into moist soil and wait for them to germinate. There is always great anticipation when seeds are planted. In my impatience I have been known to dig up seeds just to make sure they are beginning to swell. I am often reminding myself to wait and trust. As soon as little seeds begins to sprout there is great delight and surprise in our home. Every spring we get caught up in the magic of sprouting seeds. What is it about spouting seeds that captivate us so?

And then there are those enchanted seeds that are planted by the hands of mother nature. I see signs of her handy work all over my yard. There is lettuce growing in my lawn, cilantro poking out of the soil where last year's cilantro was situated and a small wispy maple tree making itself comfortable in the herb box. Simply magical.

The nights are still cold and we continue to wake to frosty mornings. Our indoors plants, the tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, strawberries, and basil, are growing into healthy seedlings under the steady glow of the grow light. The tomatoes, those crazy tomatoes, have been growing at a rate that baffles me. Soon, I think they will need to be transplanted. The seeds we planted outdoors a couple weeks ago, the peas and broad beans, are sprouting. I have them under a plastic hoop house for added warmth and to prevent pesky quails from rolling over them and snacking on their tender shoots. Just last Saturday I planted spinach, radishes and lettuce, and I just noticed that the radishes are starting to peak through the soil.

Two weeks ago: Garden Journal (yr 3: vol 1)
This time last year: Garden Journal (yr 2: vol 2)
This time two years ago: Garden Journal (vol. 2)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Naramata Creek Park

One thing is for sure. Adventuring with other families is a great way to explore new territory. With three young children, and an old dog, sticking to tried and true trails close to home is what we have been doing lately. However, we do enjoy discovering new places so my children were excited to explore Naramata Creek Park, a new-to-us hike.

Naramata Creek Park is located north of Penticton on the east side of Okanagan Lake. To get there drive north towards Naramata and just before swerving left into the small town of Naramata look for a narrow, easy to overlook, gravel road on the right side. There is park signage at the end of the gravel road. Here is a link to more directions.

The Naramata Creek Park hiking trail follows the Naramata Creek through a gulley that leads to a more canyon-like area covered in beautiful waterfalls. The hike is about 2.4 km, round trip, and takes about an hour. The first part of the trail has several well maintained bridges, a bench and picnic table. The trail is packed dirt with rocks and roots jutting out, so not stroller friendly.The first part of the trail is maintained by the RDOS but at a point along the trail the park become part of the Nature Trust. After this point there are no more bridges so if you want to hike on to see the waterfalls you must cross the creek over slippery logs, twice.

The waterfalls are worth the challenge of crossing the creek. I suspect that most able bodied persons can accomplish the task as I was able to do it while holding on to a toddler and pulling along an old dog. In the moment I felt crazy for attempting such a maneuver, especially when the poor dog got stuck trying to get over a log. After crossing the creek (twice) the waterfalls are just ahead. Once there you can lay on the large boulders and bask in the sun all the while enjoy being misted by the scenic waterfalls.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Rock Climbing with Young Children

We are fortunate that we live close to a world renown rock climbing area: Skaha Bluffs. Climbers come from across the country and around the world to rock climb at the bluffs. Even for the non-climber it is a beautiful place for a hike and picnic. I was introduced to rock climbing as a child. My father started rock climbing when I was in elementary school and so it became a family affair. We went rock climbing as a family often and occasionally I would play hookie and my father and I would go climbing on school days. I enjoyed climbing but lacked the drive and passion to pursue it seriously after I left home. However, my father and younger brother continued climbing, and they were the ones to get my husband climbing and as a result me, once again. 

Fast forward to the present, and now we are introducing rock climbing to our children. Up to now we have only brought our children to the bluffs a handful of times. It is challenging to belay a climber while keeping an eye on three rambunctious young children, not to mention unsafe. Now that our eldest is seven and youngest is three there it seems like we may get out a little more this year.

If you go climbing with young children it helps that the approach, the walk to the rock, is not too long. My three year old, who has exceptionally short legs, was able to walk from the upper parking lot to Daycare (see map) and back with minimal whining. The other important thing to know when rock climbing with children, and with adults, is how to do it safely. Before climbing up rocks make sure that you know what you are doing! Take a course, get the proper equipment and please be safe! MEC has a great harness for little children and you can get child size climbing shoes and helmets from them too.

When you go rock climbing with young children it helps to pack lots of food and not to have high expectations. We have a small bouldering wall in our garage that our children climb all over without hesitation but real rock can be intimidating. My daughter and youngest son were so eager to climb on real rock our first time out this year but the moment they were set up they balked. We didn't make a big deal out of it and we encourage them to simply push off from the rock a couple times with their feet. My eldest son was a bit more courageous and made it up half way. The more often children are taken out rock climbing and shown that it can be a fun and safe activity to do the more comfortable and confident they will feel.