Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gone are the days....

Gone are the days in the City of Toronto when you could simply rip down an existing home and with only the building permits in place, build what ever you wanted!!! It is February of 2007 and my phone is ringing with calls for help!

Someone doing a property flip is faced with a possible stop work order because they failed to adhere to the City of Toronto's by-laws set in place by Urban Forestry. Trees over 30 cm in caliper are protected from removal unless a permit application is made for cutting the tree down! This measurement is taken along the trunk of the tree... 4 feet (1.2 m) off the ground... at that height you measure the diameter at the tree's thickest point of the trunk.

So why is my phone ringing? Rules are not being followed by people that should know they are in place. I just came from a site visit where a residential construction project using heavy haul equipment is in the works on an older lot in the Scarborough Bluffs area... there are several large trees on the site and the construction is interfering with the root systems of these trees.

All the trees are over the 30 cm diameter and none of them are properly protected according to the city's requirements! Now what??? A 70 foot tall Colorado Blue Spruce has had 1 major anchor root severed and 3 main feeder/anchor roots severed on the south side. I need to make a tree protection plan for the city and the contractor... and I need to make a report on the tree damage...

Again, now what??? That tree will begin to show visible signs of stress in the next year or two... I expect about 10% to 20% of the branch structure on that side will be lost over the next 2 to 3 years and this once majestic looking Spruce tree will not look so hot anymore.

The saving my honest opinion is that this tree will recover from the damage... but not without scars... it will take about a good solid 3 growing seasons to redirect it's root structure for that was the south side damaged and so in those 2 to 3 years... I just hope we do not get a major windstorm that will carry heavy winds off Lake Ontario and blow to the north... that may cause the tree to lean towards 3 neighbouring properties.


Anyway, the point of my rant??? Thinking about a property flip? A tear-down and rebuild... all in the City of Toronto boundaries?? If you have mature trees (30 cm or greater in caliper) and also if you live in a ravine protected area......... Call Urban Forestry before you even start work!!! As I was on that particular site today, my phone rang...someone else from another project is in the same situation with the City of Toronto over a tree needing protection during construction.

There is only so much that can be done once construction happens... If nothing was done before construction started... The inspectors for the City will be majorly annoyed! Destruction of trees and ravine property is viewed as criminal action and will be treated accordingly with fines and lawsuits by the City of Toronto.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

What Inspires... part 3

In nature, there is a system of checks and balances, which keeps things in proportion. Each plant and each animal have a natural predator or control measure to keep it from over burdening it's area of existence.

It is when we humans step in and start to change the functions of Nature that the balance in place goes out of sink. If a continuous disruption of the natural process to a natural landscape persists, the land can become so damaged that all traces of the wild disappear.

In the above photo, we see a field of lupines growing in Northern Ontario. This area was once part of a 400 acre farm bordered by 2 other farms. Today the land has been divided up and sold off to various cottagers who now enjoy a forested landscape and this lupine meadow.

A few years back, the municipality stepped up some services for fire route access and widened the roadway. The meadow was somewhat disturbed but has since recovered gracefully. Looking at these photos, a trained eye can see young tree growth... indicating a revitalization occurring in the once open fields of farming activity from over a century ago.

Nature has stepped back in to a land once cleared. The trees have slowly crept back in where they rightfully belong and Nature has begun to heal itself. Wildlife now has great cover and space to forage. The seed bank of grasses and flowers feed the local bird populations and the ground is cooler, holding in more moisture along the forest floor.

The lupines create an acidic soil balance that helps other plant species move into the sandy soils where nutrients may be hard to obtain. The flowers are paving the way for another 20 years of land recovery. Eventually this field of beautiful flowers will be a maturing forest again and Nature will once again be in Balance thanks to little guys like these working away at the job Nature gave them....

The way that Nature works is a lifetime of learning for us to study. It is what will always inspire me in my work to push further and learn what I can from my greatest teacher.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Garden Fresh Tomatoes

For those of us that know the difference between a garden fresh tomato and a store bought gas ripened tomato, we all crave the day that we can pluck one off our nurtured vines!

Through the years of digging deep into my Italian roots, I have learnt a thing or two in vegetable gardening. I find it relaxing and satisfying to work at a garden, tend to it, weed it and nurture until you can finally harvest its rewards. I believe that for any Landscape Designer or Landscape Architect, it is a must to be an avid gardener! It will increase your understanding of site soil conditions for various clients.

Anyway, I figured I'd share some tips I have learnt along the way... but not all the secrets!!!

Soil: The Key ingredient to healthy soil is organic matter. Potassium, Nitrogen and Phosphorus must all be present in a good balance...followed by a well drained soil structure and good sunlight exposure.

Watering: Watering tomatoes can be tricky, too much water and the tomatoes can actually swell up and split before ripening. Here's the trick, water only with warm water (let water sit in a pail over night) and make sure the water reaches deep in the soil! Cold tap water can actually hinder the growth of tomatoes for up to 8 hours....they love heat and warm soil but never let the soil dry out.

Spacing: Ensure your tomatoes have proper spacing between vines. (about 18" to 24" inches between each plant should do) This spacing will allow proper light to reach all aspects of the plant, keep the soil warm by allowing sunlight to hit the ground and keep good air circulation around the plants...helping to prevent mold and fungus from developing.

Staking: There are a variety of ways to stake a tomato plant. A straight stick or a tomato cage seem to be the popular choice. My Grandfather taught me to use welded-wire-mesh... welded in about a 6 inch grid pattern, available at most building supply stores. (See picture on right for example)

What is shown in the pictures above and on the left is the stakes tied back at an angle and resting against each other. This allows for a greater walking space between the rows as the plants grow and expand. It also allows for sunlight to keep penetrating the lower reaches of the vines... yes those are the same plants on the left as the ones above. About 3 months later the tomato vines are over 6 feet tall.

As the plant goes from a seedling to about 3 feet in height, it is important to prune the suckers that come up between the leaf shoots. The new leader that sprouts in those spaces will divide the plant's focus and cause it to put more development in it's growth rather then in fruit production. A shorter growing season demands more focus on fruit production!

The "crude" sketch shows the areas that the suckers tend to come out from and the red lines indicate where to cut them...leaving the leaf in place. Pruning should take place until the plant reaches about 2.5 to 3 feet or begins to produce multiple blossom stems. Careful not to mistake blossom shoots for leader shoots!