Forest City Plants in an urban nursery project in Edmonton that specializes in trialling new tree species and propagating unique local plant varieties.
Supported by the Edmonton Heritage Council
On the edge of downtown Edmonton, on the slopes of the river valley, grows a wild patch of goji berries, descended from seeds imported and tended by Edmonton’s early Chinese community. A few block West, surrounded by asphalt, the chestnut seed that Walter Holowash collected in Vienna stands forty feet tall, casting shade and life onto a back alley parking lot.
Heritage plants are living artifacts with stories to tell about early Edmonton and the community that cultivated them. As beings whose lives can span centuries, trees are intergenerational messengers, and the products of our shared cultural values, geography, and climate. Thus, the City’s urban forest is the product of who we were. We are living in the future they hoped to grow.
Collecting Heritage Stories
I’m fascinated by Edmonton’s heritage plants and have personally visited many of them, have dabbled in mapping their locations, and have hosted walking tours for the John Walter Museum. And still, there are so many unanswered questions: what gives a plant heritage value, and who decides? Where are Edmonton’s heritage trees most often located? How do old trees escape development and damage from disease and carelessness? Can we draw connections between trees and the cultural backgrounds of Edmontonians? Do we have any examples of indigenous heritage trees?
Mapping Edmonton’s Heritage Plants
With support from the Edmonton Heritage Council and a Project Accelerator Grant, I am exploring the question of “what makes a heritage plant?” by researching the history, backgrounds, placement, and defining characteristics of known trees.
As I locate, map, photograph, and collect narratives and samples, I will contribute to a growing inventory of heritage trees and plants. Through this process, I will create a digital herbarium on this website and a pressed herbarium of public access.
What Gives a Plant “Heritage”?
In the second phase of the project, I will identify patterns within the inventory to develop a heritage plant profile to identify new plants. With this updated inventory, I will create and publish self-guided walking tours and host public events to share the findings from the project.
Growing Tomorrow’s Heritage Plants
In the final phase of the project, I will turn my attention to the future of Edmonton’s heritage plants and create a “How to Grow a Heritage Plant” guide. This guide will take lessons gleaned from the first two phases and provide practical recommendations on how best to plant and preserve a tree for the future.
In addition to the guide, I will work with City administration to identify opportunities to protect our living heritage resources and develop policies to increase survivability and knowledge of our growing heritage plant inventory.
Project Timeline and Outcomes
Phase 1: The Past (June – October 2019)
- Curate list of existing trees identified as having heritage value.
- Research history and gather personal and cultural narratives behind individual plants
- Photograph, map locations, and gather samples for a pressed herbarium.
- Create an online herbarium to profile individual plants similar to “Faces of Edmonton.”
- Create a pressed herbarium of heritage plants for long-term storage and identification.
- Share online herbarium via social media, newsletters, and traditional media.
Phase 2: The Present (September 2019 – January 2020)
- Host a public talk on Edmonton’s heritage trees.
- Host heritage-tree walking tours.
- Compare and contrast heritage trees to find commonalities and create a heritage tree and Plant Profile Tool.
- (Completed) What Makes a Heritage Tree? Part 1: Time
- (In Progress) What Makes a Heritage Trees? Part 2: Novelty
- (In Progress) What Makes a Heritage Tree? Part 3: Narrative
- Use the Profile Tool to work with the community to identify unidentified heritage plants to research and add to the heritage plant inventory.
- (Completed) Create Nominate an Edmonton Heritage Tree Form
- Use the Profile Tool to identify gaps in the catalogue.
- Add newly identified plants to online and offline herbarium collection
- Create a series of self-guided walking tours of Edmonton heritage plants for print or download; explore audio or podcast options.
Phase 3: The Future (January – July 2020)
- Create “How to Plant a Heritage Tree” guide with best practices for landscapers and citizens.
- Perform a policy review of how various municipalities treat and protect heritage trees and compare and contrast these strategies with the City of Edmonton.
- (Completed) Development and the Future of Urban Forests
- Work with City of Edmonton Heritage planners to formally recognized plants as heritage resources and create a heritage resource Application to Amend that takes plant material into account.
- Work with City administration to look for possible strategies to protect existing and future heritage plants; City Plan, Breathe Strategy, Zoning Bylaw Review.
- (Ongoing) Consulting with City of Edmonton on Corporate Tree Management Policy and Draft Tree Bylaw
Heritage Plants of Edmonton in the Media
- July 24th, 2019, – CBC Edmonton, Oumar Salifou, “A tree in downtown Edmonton needs a little love for its 100th birthday.”
- October 17, 2019 – Edmonton Journal, Liane Faulder, “Tree-hugging: Dustin Bajer seeks stories about Edmonton plants to root local history.”
Off The Shelf Home Aquaponics System
From 2012-2016 students and I designed, built, and ran an aquaponics system at Jasper Place High School. The aquaponics system was great for a school but way too big and expensive for the average home. The whole project was a fantastic experience, but I’ve been thinking about how to scale its size and design for home use. The goal – to create an elegant, home aquaponics system from a standard fish tank and off the shelf parts for as little money as possible. Here’s are my five design criteria:
Order a Beecentric Hive for the 2020 Beekeeping Season
Reserve a hive by paying in full or placing a $50 deposit. Hive orders should be made before March 1st for early April pick up in Edmonton, Alberta. If you require shipping, request a shipping quote. Shipped hive boxes are unassembled to minimize the cost of shipping.
Each Beecentric Hive consists of one screened IPM bottom-board, three 8-frame medium boxes, one warre style quilt-box and roof, and two entrances with entrance reducers. Boxes fit standard medium langstroth frames (available for purchase).
Place a Beecentric Hive Order
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Extra Boxes (8 Frame Medium)
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Foundationless Frames (Unassembled set of 8)
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Foundationless Frames (Assembled set of 8)
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Deep Frame Adapters (Converts a medium box into a deep box)
Useful for accepting deep frames from a nucleus ‘nuc’ colony.
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Custom Branded Seed Bombs To Spread Your Message
These handcrafted seed bombs are made of clay, compost, and your choice of seeds. Rolled into 1 inch diameter spheres, each seed bomb is hand stamped with a branded logo or message of your choice. Treat your customers, clients, or friends to a uniquely branded product. Add to flower pots for a burst of colour or toss over a fence to green a vacant lot. Perfect for businesses, non for profits, and weddings.
Product is 100% biodegradable, sustainable way to spread nature and your message. Handmade in Edmonton. [Read more…]
The Edmonton YEGpie Flag
The Edmonton YEGpie flag features Edmonton’s most hated (but kind of loved) urban bird, the resourceful and hearty magpie. Not unlike the city it calls home, the magpie is an underrated, under-appreciated animal that we complain about but secretly think is kind of cool. With the YEGpie at its centre, horizontal bands of blue and green represent the mighty North Saskatchewan River and Edmonton’s Aspen Parkland forest.
YEGtrees Map: Edmonton’s favourite unique, historic, and delicious plants.
There’s something simultaneously very personal and completely public about having a favorite tree; it’s an interesting intersection between private, urban, and natural history. Trees are rooted in place and to love a tree is, in some small way, to love where you are – to become a part of it.
For anyone who’s walked around Edmonton, you’ll know that the City’s urban forest is pretty impressive. But trees aren’t just beautiful to look at; they cast shade, store carbon, provide habitat for animals, soak up millions of liters of water, and (yes) some even grow food. [Read more…]
How To Build A Biofilter OR Life and Trophic Cascades
Ever wonder why maintaining a fish tank takes so much work while natural ponds, lakes, and streams require zero human intervention? One word – ecology. So let’s take a page from nature and establish a biofilter to maintain a clean, clear, biodiverse pond. But let’s first look at two ecological principals.
Principle 1: If there’s a niche, nature will fill it
Principle 2: Life creates conditions conducive to life
To understand how these two principals apply, let’s look at the natural cycling process of a typical pond or aquarium.
The Nitrogen Cycle
Stage 1: Fish
You decide to keep fish. Maybe you’re hungry, maybe you’re looking for companionships. In either case, you build a pond/aquarium, stock it with fish, and pick up some chow. You’re careful not to over feed them but every time you do your fishy companions convert most of it into fish poop.
Stage 2: Ammonia (NH3) Eating Bacteria
Unfortunately for the fish, fish waste is high in ammonia – a toxic compound created by the metabolization of protein. Ammonia displaces oxygen, causes organs to shut down, and makes fish susceptible to a host of diseases. Ammonia’s toxic effect is why it’s so effective as a household cleaner. Rub a little ammonia on a countertop and it’ll kill anything living there. It’s not the kind of stuff you’d like to swim in.
If ammonia’s so terrible, why doesn’t it build up and kill everything? The answer is nitrifying bacteria. Some bacteria, as it turns consume ammonia as food (Principle 1: if there’s a niche, nature will fill it). These ammonia eating bacteria are naturally occurring and will find your fish tank on their own, though, you can speed up the process by adding nitrifying bacteria purchased at any fish store. A good product that I have used many times is Stability. You can also add stones or filter medium from a previously established fish tank.
Stage 3: Nitrite (NO2-) Eating Bacteria
Once ammonia consuming bacteria establish themselves, ammonia levels will drop to next to zero. At this point, bacteria are consuming ammonia as fast as the fish can produce it. In a very real way, fish produce food for the bacteria (Principle 2: life creates conditions conducive to life). Unfortunately, our helpful bacteria convert ammonia into a second toxic compound – nitrite. Though just as before, a waste consuming species discovers this food rich resource and sets up shop (Principle 1: if there’s a niche, nature will fill it).
Stage 4: Nitrate (NO3-) Eating Plants
After being consumed a second time, our toxic waste is finally converted to nitrate – a more or less benign compound. With ammonia and nitrite levels at zero, there’s no immediate threat to fish, though, if you’ve kept fish, you’ve probably spent hours scraping slimy algae from rocks and walls – that’s because nitrate makes an excellent plant fertilizer.
Like the nitrifying bacteria before it, algae set up shop to take advantage of this unused resource (Principle 1: if there’s a niche, nature will fill it). In a typical pond or aquarium, this is usually where we stop…left cleaning, changing water, and/or adding chemicals to keep the pond clear. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Stage 5: Plant Eating Animals
Algae are microscopic plants and almost guarenteed to search out and find your nitrate rish fish tank – so why not include plants them intentionally? Ornamental aquatic plants are an obvious choice but there are other options. If your fish are herbatious, grow them food from their own waste – duckweed is a good option. If you eat plants, consider dabbeling in aquaponics – here’s a DIY aquaponics system that sits on top of your fish tank. The bottom line is, if you can encouage plants to live if you’re system, they will naturally remove the nitate so you wont have to. – that means no 1/3 water changes or scummy algea buildup.
At each stage in the process, a new organism was added to take advantage of the waste produces in the previous stage. In a very real sense, the system moves through a type of succession. Not only did each stage bring new life (Principle 1: if there’s a niche, nature will fill it) but it also brought opportunities for new types of organisms (Principle 2: life creates conditions conducive to life). In our aquapic system the fish are a keystone species that enables a whole host of other organisms to flourish. In ecological terms, we call this a trophic cascade. If you remove the fish, the entire system would collapse.
A Tangent On Trophic Cascades
A departure from fish but here’s a fantastic video from George Monbiot (4:34) on how wolves (and the trophic cascades they create) changed the ecology of Yellowstone National Park.
Building a Biofilter for Your Pond or Fish Tank
In order to create an effective biofilter you will need a lot of two things – surface area and water movement… and that’s pretty much it.
The nitrifying bacteria mentioned in stages 2 and 3 tend to form dense colonies growing on any surface that they can cling to. In the wild this means rocks, sticks, plants etc, though, it could also be the surface of your fish tank, the pebbles at the bottom, plumbing, etc. In either case, the more surface area your pond has the more bacteria can colonize it. You can go to aquarium stores or online and buy materials such as bioballs or expanded clay pellets but any non-toxic surface will do. I like kitchen sponges.
Water movement is important to ensure that your bacteria is coming in contact with the ammonia and nitrate it’ll be eating. Adding a pump to circulate water through a biofilter will ensure adequate contact. As a rule of thumb, I like to circulate my entire pond about once an hour – determine how much water your system holds then pair it with a submersible pump capable or pushing that volume of water per hour.
Biofilter From An IBS Tote
In the system below, I filled a 275-gallon IBS tote with sponges and bio-ribbon (purchased from an aquarium store) to create my surface area.
I then ran two 1200 gallon per hour pumps from the pond into the bottom of the IBS tote biofilter. As the water level rises inside the tote, it overflows though a 2 inch pipe I plumbed into the top of the tote. Adding water the the bottom of the biofilter and overflowing from the top forces the water to move through the surface area medium inside the biofilter.