Amy Quinn

Living in a World Out of Doors

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Eastern Giant Ichneumon

This is incredible and why I love watching what is going on around me when working outside. Last week while working in a garden where we had just pruned off a giant limb on a maple tree, I saw the most incredible sight.

It was a Eastern Giant Ichmeumon female laying eggs. I watched several of them over 2 days do this process. Both days it happened late in the day around 4 o’clock. I was there earlier again this week and watched for them again but it was a no show.

This insect is in the wasp family, looks like a tiger with dragon fly wings and a darning needle attached to it’s end. I saw them in size from 1.5″ in body length and 2″ darner attached,  to a 2.5″  body length with what I believe to a good 3.5″ darner. The darner was huge and considering what I saw it was all quite a feat.

P1170461 When you see something like this, it’s so striking, the colouration, the size of the darner and when they are grouping together you know it’s just a good thing to watch what is happening. As usual in the garden it’s about sex, reproduction and eating. Too wild!

I had no idea what these things were, but I knew I was going to find out, so I took a 10 minute break to watch and photograph them and what they were doing.

What I learned later when I got home and read about them blew me away. They have written science fiction about this kind of behaviour.

I sent the photo’s and description of what was happening to my family to see what they had to say about it. One of my brothers wrote back he did not sleep at all that night thinking about it.

What a riot! Of course he was kidding but this takes me into the Twilight Zone….

The female Eastern Giant Ichneumon when mated flies around from tree to tree using it’s long antennae to sense or feel vibrations of the Pigeon Tremex (Pigeon Horntail), larvae in the wood. They also use their antennae find the scent of a fungus associated with the larvae. Once vibrations and/or fungus are detected with her antennae the female will start to pull up her darner, called an ovipositor and actually curl it up and over her abdomen, bringing it straight down to the wood.

The beginning of the process of laying an egg.

The beginning of the process of laying an egg.

I was mesmerized!

I was mesmerized!

There is still a long way to go!

There is still a long way to go!

Almost there...

Almost there…

We have contact!

We have contact!

She is actually able to pierce the wood with her ovipositor  at a right angle and deposit her egg into the larvae of her eggs host (the Pigeon Tremex). Her sharp tip will cut the wood and penetrate deeper into the wood until she reaches the larvae. Once located the female inserts a slender egg into each horntail tunnel.

Let the piercing begin!

Let the piercing begin!

Once her egg develops into a grub it actually feeds on the horntail host by attacking it, this of course means the demise of the horntail but not before the larva of the Eastern Giant Ichneumon is fully grown. This actually is a helpful biological control of Pigeon Horntails, who I am guessing need to be controlled!









The log on which this happened will be offered to the owner of the property if they do not want it then I am bringing it home to my garden. Logs, now I am bringing home logs!

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Trees & Trunk Flare

Planting a tree is the easiest thing you can do for shade in the summer and a wind break in the winter. I see so many different species of trees and I am easily seduced by their character. For instance young White Pines in the ten to 30 year stage are like teenage boys, somewhat awkward and all over the place, branches are extending out like legs of teenage boys. You know something good will happen as it will grow, all fill out and mature. True, whether you are thinking of  teenage boys or a White Pine.


When planting a tree you want to think about the flare, the transition from the roots to the trunk, think of toes!  Mossy Toes,  a 200 plus year old Red Oak shows what good trunk flare can do for a tree, health and longevity.

Too many trees are planted too deep, for some reason people think I will just bury the trunk by 6″ or a couple of feet and this will help stabilize the tree while it grows. Evolution accounted for the stability of trees by giving them flare at the base of their trunks. All you do when you bury the tree is cause the bark around the trunk to loosen and separate from the tree, therefore basically destroying the vascular system of the tree. The trunk needs to be exposed to develop it’s bark, the bark needs oxygen. Actually roots need oxygen as well, many feeder roots grow close to the surface of soil to gather warmth, water and nutrients with the aid of mycorrhizal network attached to the roots.

The best thing you can do to aid your newly planted tree to get it’s roots established in your soil is to stake your tree for at least the first 4 or 5 years. Then please remove the stake.


Yellow birch will seed on a stump or nurse log and once the stump or the log decays the tree appears to be on stilts or walking on it’s tippy toes. Then sometimes the roots will grow to together, but not always

Here is  a yellow birch on a rotting stump. Decay and rot is part of the life of trees, it all just goes in circles, you will too one day.

So you need to know that your roots want oxygen and your flare needs to flare to support the tree as it grows. It was for years thought that the root system was the mirror image of the top of the tree, this has since been proven not to be true. Yes, you can usually tell whether a tree has a tap root by looking a the top growth, but most of the roots that give the tree it’s daily nutrient intake are near the soil surface.When you see a tree over turned in the forest by high winds the circle of roots that pop up with the trunk is mostly the feeder root system and you see why good trunk flare helps support the tree. Pine trees which have a tap root will snap off somewhere along the trunk, the wood is soft and if frozen during high winter winds it can break anywhere along the trunk. I cannot recall seeing a pine with it’s roots popped up.

P1150326Is there anything else I can say about not planting trees too deep? Yes, here is a photo of a Cobourg street tree that was likely planted properly, but for some misguided reason a home owner has decided to build a box around the tree and fill it with dirt. Probably some mistaken creative idea of some sort of planter box between the sidewalk and street. It’s so sad, I don’t know if anything could be done for this poor soul now. The bark is well separated from the trunk and is starting to fall off, a slow death. Sad, as this tree is just maturing.

Some more photo’s of trees in the woods planted by evolution, which usually gets it done properly.

American Beech – Peter’s Woods


Hemlocks locked in together – Peter’s Woods


Peters Woods is a near virgin forest north of Grafton, a Provincial Park. The family that owned it, culled the woods over the 2oo odd years they owned it, but never deforested it and the soil has never been plowed. Take highway 23 going north of Grafton, at the stop sign in Centreton continue north. It is about ten minutes up the road on the east side. Stay on trail please.


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Sorry about the absence, I fell over the edge of the universe, I have now bounced back, with blueberries!

I love my blueberries and they are easily grown by everyone. It’s not as simple in the beginning as raspberries, but the reward is that plumper, juicy sweet tart flavour that enhances everything from your morning yoghurt to salads and deserts. BTW I don’t give recipes, as really I am not a cook!

Blueberries love an acid moist soil, their roots run shallow and this is all in our favour. Why? You are going to grow your blueberries in a raised bed, shallow roots means lower raised bed. If you have an area with acid soil that is moist, lucky you! I, however live in a sweet spot! My soil is a limestone base and this as I found out, only diminishes the bush. The first year in the ground my bushes actually got smaller. The next year I built raised beds filled with pine mulch & low ph soil, then topped it with more pine mulch and I am ‘singing the praises’ of my blueberries. 😉


My beds are only two boards high and do not require that you become a master carpenter. To create the 3’x6′ frame I used 4 corner posts and nailed my boards to these and put 2 extra posts in the 6′ center. The photo below is from last spring, it shows 3 blueberry bushes and one Saskatoon berry bush which was just put in, it’s just to the right of the center post. Believe it or not I added another blueberry bush last fall, it was on sale and I could not say no!


Here you can see I have added a bamboo frame so I can net my blueberries, I don’t do this until the berries start forming. Last year, the Cat Bird was very clever and would sit on a post in my garden about 10′ away from the Saskatoon Berry bush. He then would fly full speed at the netting while flapping his wings and get his beak in there! He actually ate all of my Saskatoon berries. That was fine, it was it’s first year, that is not going to happen this year and yes, the Cat Bird is back nesting in the same Mock Orange as last year. No one could get my blueberries or Saskatoon berries this year except me.


So after the netting it’s just a matter of waiting for the berries to ripen, then it’s blueberry time! Last summer was the second year the berries were in raised beds, I got 2 cups every morning for over 2 weeks. This year I know I have doubled the yield.

To prepare the site, I weed whacked the grass down to soil level where the bed was going to be built. To build your frame, start by laying your bottom boards on the ground, in a rectangle, so you know where to pound your posts into the ground. I had 3′ posts and pounded a foot into the soil, then I nailed my boards on the outside of the posts. That was easy. Then I lined my bed with a heavy landscape fabric, this is to keep weeds out and hold your soil in. I lined the bottom and sides and held it in place with my staple gun. Now you can mix your soil. Get the wheel barrow out, I placed 2 bags of low ph soil (neutral or acid) in the wheel barrow and started adding pine mulch. Pine mulch will help raise the acid level of the soil, hold moisture and create an organic substance to the soil. Cedar mulch is not acidic, in fact it will have no benefit at all to your project, use pine mulch. I think I ended using 10 bags of low ph soil and 3 bags of pine mulch mixed in it. Now you are ready to plant. Once your plants are in mulch the whole top of soil with one or two bags of pine mulch and then water your plants! You are done. Make sure your bushes get enough moisture as blueberries love moisture. I have found with my raised bed even in the drought I had to water them only a few times, it’s important to mix pine mulch in your soil to hold water.

The first year I planted 3 blueberry bushes and I got berries, I let the birds eat them. At the end of that season I added a Saskatoon berry bush, then last year at the end of the season I added another blueberry bush. So I now have 4 blueberries and one Saskatoon berry bush in there. They are all much larger this year and yikes do I have berries, I ate a Saskatoon berry tonight and it was almost ripe, tasty!

Here is a photo taken tonight when I got home from work.



6 – 8″ x 6′ cedar planks – 2 of which you will cut down to 3′ lengths for the ends.

6 – 2″ x 2″ square posts about 4′ long – one at each corner of bed and 2 placed in the center of the 6′ length sides

Landscape fabric to line base and sides of bed

10 bags low ph soil

5 bags of pine mulch – 3 to mix in the soil and 2 to top mulch the planted bed.

Bamboo poles for framing your bed & netting to cover your raised bed.

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I am busy and it is not going to slow down. My hands are dirty all day and at night I come home and clean up and pick up a couple of good books on soil, it’s composition, and how soil, microbes and life below the surface create nutrients for plants and how they help plants take in these nutrients. Plants also feed these microbes below the surface.

Here is an interesting article by one of my favourite fellows, Michael Pollan and his recent article in the New York Times. It’s all about, you guessed it, bacteria, microbes and all that only they ones that live on us! Of course it’s a small world but these guys are in the millions!


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Out in the Garden

Yesterday I was in several gardens working and got some great shots of spring that has finally arrived and exploding here. I was so happy to finally be warm out there, we had a glimpse of this last Sunday but Monday regressed to polar conditions, maybe it will continue to warm up now.

It was a great day to be out there, everything is either budding up, budding out, flowering and sex abounds in the garden. Get out there and take some garden porn photos, it’s fun and it’s safe! The first photo is of a Mourning Cloak butterfly doing what it does this time of year. It has overwintered in a tree trunk or log somewhere and now is feeding on Willow blooms. The next is 2 lady bugs doing what they do best this time of year. There is no foreplay they just get down to business and that is a good thing for your garden! A native North American Bumble Bee pollinating some cherry blossoms.

Get out there and have fun, see who is having a good time in your garden!

P1130507 P1130511 P1130513

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Weeding & Getting ready for the Plant Explosion

Beautiful weekend and I spent most of it out of doors weeding and preparing the butterfly garden. Stinging nettles are spreading so put them back to their place, I keep several large patches of nettles as they are the host plant for Red Admiral and Comma butterflies. Today I will be thinking about what else I can put in the holes of this garden! I know I will put the sunflowers in there this year as the berry patch is wanting more plants and the sunflowers took up too much room there.

My Dodecatheon alpinum – Shooting Star is coming back with lots of growth, so is my blue Lobelia and my Filipendula rubra ‘Queen of the Prairie’ is spreading nicely. I like the plants that spread and want large drifts!

All of my trees have done well this winter, I am hoping my Carolina Silverbell has blooms this spring, it was just planted last year. I have 4 Ostrya virginiana ‘American Hophornbeam trees, I need only one, so if you want one contact me. Michael Dirr in his Landscape Value says: “Handsome medium sized tree for lawns, parks, golf courses, naturalized areas and possibly streets; the species has performed well in city plantings and very narrow tree lawns; once established it makes excellent growth; have seen it looing tired and tatty in late summer”.  Last spring I was speaking with a woman here in the village, I was telling her I had a pair of Baltimore Orioles pollinating my Dolgo Crabapple. She told me she had at least 15 Orioles on this tree alongside her driveway, it was planted by her father 40 years ago. I went only to discover a beautiful 20’ tall Ostrya virginiana! I gave her the scoop on this tree and she offered me some seedlings. Like Birch you have a narrow time frame to dig this fellow up for replanting so in early April I went and dug up 4 or 5, they are in a pot out back. I know where I am putting one and maybe will keep 2 as I have the room and it’s not a large tree. Here is a photo of the female flower, so you can see why it’s called American Hophornbeam.

Now mOstrya-virginianaost of the beds are in shape, but the weeds will just keep coming so it’s nice to have time to go through it all after a day’s work.

Here is Tip of the Month from Environmental Defence :

Fungi & Life

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These are some of the fungi I have taken photo’s of, all in one local woods. This is not any where near the amount of total different kinds of fungi in this woods. Fungi works in conjunction with bacteria to help plants take in nutrients from the soil. Bacteria is the earliest form of life and fungi came along soon after along with algae. Lichen is a combination of algae and fungi. Science is always studying these organisms as we know so little about what they do contribute to our world. They have been used successfully in medicine, cleaning up oil spills on beaches, beneficial growth to plants in our landscape. For me they are inspiration for art and life.  P1040489P1040474P1040468





Angels Wings

Angels Wings


Thin-maze Polypore

Thin-maze Polypore



This gallery contains 18 photos

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Earth Day

Today is Earth Day!

It’s a day that for me is full of hope for the future, hope for bio-diversity and hope for a world that will change for the positive. We are connected to the terra ferma we walk, jog, drive and play on. The soil is alive with living organisms that help support everything above and it works in reverse as well.

Bio-diversity in our world helps create a whole living organism, which is our planet earth. Bio-diversity follows me every day, I am amazed by the connecting links between what is the soil and what grows and/or lives in the universe above. One of my passions is fungi and for me it is not about eating them, it is about how they support whole Eco-systems that help maintain a just world. The soil is a living organism and it needs to be fed with organic materials that Mother Nature supplies to nourish it. The proof of it’s life is the fruiting bodies of fungi that appear every spring and fall at our feet and they in turn support many microbes and living organisms that all work together to give life to trees and other carbon consumers. The fungi needs the carbon that plants take in to survive (photosynthesis), the plants need the fungi to consume the carbon and the fungi supports the plants by feeding them minerals and other nourishment’s they produce in the process. Tis a cycle, the cycle of life and like all cycle’s it’s requires some good and some bad, but what some may see as bad may not be bad for another organism, it may be it’s dinner.

So instead of trying to kill something like the beautiful fruiting bodies that are about emerge this spring in your soil. Think about the life they are supporting below ground and by doing that they are trying to help you in your existence.









Orange Earth Tongue – Microglossum rufum growing beside a baby Hemlock in sphagnum moss.


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I will write once about grass for the lawn and that is it. To keep your grass lush, sow seed in early spring, April is good in Ontario. Grass likes cool nights to set in soil so this is a good month to sow your seed.  September when nights are cool again is another good time to sow grass seed. If you are trying to grow grass under trees or any area where the soil is compacted then sow oat seed with your grass seed. The oat seed will break through the soil and the grass seed will set in nicely. Once the oats are about 6″ tall then cut it with your mower on high cut and your grass blades will show.
Once grass is growing keep your blades fairly low, not too low as this causes bald spots and this invites weeds seeds to take hold . In July regular grass lawns are dormant so don’t think your lawn has died! Watering your lawn when dormant is a waste of fresh water. Conventional grass lawns are cool season grasses and only really grow when temperatures are low at nights. Usually by August here in Canada nights are cool enough for the grass to start growing again.

Keep in mind when buying grass seed that some areas have banned Kentucky Blue grass as it is considered an invasive in certain areas of North America. I don’t like it as it never stops growing, even when other grasses are dormant. Really who the heck wants to waste time cutting grass, not me. People who water their lawns really need to re-think what they are doing, it’s a waste of water and you really should be looking for a hobby, probably at a homeless shelter so you can really appreciate your grass as it is.

The best grass for low maintenance and drought tolerance are fescues. They don’t need to be cut every week like other grasses.
There is a mixture of grass seed that is only fescues and if you don’t want to you don’t have to cut it at all. Your lawn looks like low gentle waves of grass. It grows in sun and deep shade, you could mow it like regular grass, but I wouldn’t.  I really love the look of this kind of lawn and it is good for your soil. It protects your soil by shading it and maintains life down there.  There is a street in a town nearby where one man planted this seed, now almost everyone on his street has it. There is a link attached so you can read about Eco-lawn grass seed, I am sure that if you are not able to buy this product where you live you will find another company that sells a fescue lawn seed.

People who put down plastic rug lawns should probably leave this blog now as we are in different universes and I can’t help you.

I really am not a fan of lawn mowers, they are ugly, consume gasoline or electricity, make a lot of noise and cause people get fixated on grass, why? I don’t know, but they should be planting trees, shrubs and flowers instead, they are much better for the environment and mental health issues. Lawns do make nice borders for perennial beds, but keep the perennial beds wide and the lawn path narrow. Of course if you are planting native grasses and it’s a wild flower grass mixture, I am on your side. I just don’t like huge grass lawns, except for soccer and other sports that exhaust children.

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Gypsy Moth Egg Mass & Caterpillars



 Gypsy egg masses are easy to detect now, you will see them on trunks of trees, boards, logs almost any where. They are a buff yellow colour and a bit fuzzy on the outside. They contain around 1,000 Gypsy Moth eggs.

These have over wintered from last summer and will be hatching soon, it is easy to wipe out these egg masses now before they hatch.

You can smash it with your gloved hand, that will take care of the pests inside. Gypsy Moths are from Europe and since there are no natural enemies here they can wipe out millions of acres of foliage in North Eastern North America very quickly and they are spreading going west. This egg mass photo was taken in Northumberland County last summer and now no longer exists.

IMG_2024If you don’t see any egg masses, you may in mid May to early June see the caterpillars. They are just leaving the egg mass probably towards the end of May (depending on air temperature) or beginning of June. During this period of traveling, they first leave the mass by floating on silken threads and then continue to develop and grow to the caterpillar stage at left. This is the beginning of the most destructive cycle for these moths, as it is at this stage they seek out to eat the forest canopy. This is a good time to trap them. You want to take a 3′ section of ‘O’ pipe, slice it vertically from top to bottom and place it around the trunk of your tree. On the way to tree top, the gypsy moths will hide during the day and climb at night, they are active at night. Late May to mid June if you go out and remove your trunk coverings you may see caterpillars like the ones at left and these are Gypsy Moth caterpillars. You have conveniently given them a place to hide until they get up the to the top of the tree. They are about 2.5″ long at this stage and you can now take care of the issue. This opportunity will last until mid June, after that they are up in the trees eating and they do eat. We lose millions of acres of tree foliage every year to the Gypsy Moth. Notice the hairy bodies, with pairs of red dots running down their back.

By mid July they have developed into moths and will seek out mates, they don’t eat at the moth stage.  This moth stage only lasts about a week before they die and it is during this period that they mate. Females moths are white to cream coloured with brown spots. It would have been impossible to see a female laying the egg mass on the birch tree above with this camouflage. Males are mottled brown and have large feathery antennae to seek out females for breeding. Both are almost undetectable at  this stage to us at this point.