photo credit NIGEL CATTLIN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Nitrogen is an essential plant nutrient and a limiting factor in plant growth. The nodules on the soybean roots in the picture above contain special bacteria from the genus called Rhyzobia. An incredible exchange takes place between them that benefits them both, allowing both of them flourish. Plants are unable to use nitrogen from the air. Algae and bacteria are the only organisms capable of changing the nitrogen gas in the air into nitrogen compounds able to be used by the plants. It takes a huge amount of energy for the bacteria to break the bonds of the nitrogen gas. So within the nodule attached to the plant root, the plant supplies the energy and nutrients to the bacteria and the bacteria provides the nitrogen compounds to the plant. This association between the rhyzobium bacteria and the legume plant is an amazing example of mutualism.
Each type of legume needs a specific species of rhyzobium (1)(2)
For instance, the species of rhyzobium that can fix nitrogen for the soybean, cannot fix nitrogen for the pea plant.
In agricultural settings, innoculants of rhyzobia are mixed with legume seeds to induce nodulation and nitrogen fixation by that legume. For instance,
Alfalfa and sweet clover can be nodulated with Rhizobia meliloti
True clovers can be nodulated with Rhyzobia trifolii
Soyabeans with rhyzobia japonicum
Peas and True vetch with Cr leguminosarium etc
Soils are the most complex part of an ecosystem and and least well studied and least understood. For a nitrogen fixing plant to function its best in its specific ecosystem, it needs its own specialized rhyzobia. As well, each species of rhyzobia need a specific legume to function its best. Nitrogen fixing plants that grow on the prairies are specialists…able to survive extremes temperature fluctuations from harsh winters to hot dry summers. The rhyzobia bacteria are also specialists for our climate and conditions. These plants and their associated bacteria are part of a prairie grassland ecosystem that produced rich, thick and fertile soils called black chernozems. These incredible soils, so rich in organic matter, produced cereal crops of high yield and quality. These soils were so valuable for farming, that less than one percent of these grasslands now remain intact. (3) All the rest were ploughed and utilized for conventional tillage farming.
Learning about ryzobia and their interactions in the prairie ecosystem, will help us appreciate the importance the prairie legumes plants and all the life forms(plant and animal) that depend on them for their survival. Allowing prairie legume plants to grow, increases and maintains the fertility of our soils.
People must feel that the natural world is important and valuable and beautiful and wonderful and an amazement and a pleasure.
Today I have planted milkweed seeds that I collected from the prairie restoration in the park behind our house. I only took a few seeds. But look at the floss! It so light and fluffy and soft. No wonder it is used as a down substitute. General Henry Dearborn gave this account of milkweed use in the Massachusetts Horticultural Register in the late 1820’s:
“The silk, when taken from the pods, and being freed from the seed, is hung up in thin bags in the sun, and when perfectly dry may be used without any further preparation, instead of feathers, horse hair, wool or cotton, for cushions, bolsters, pillows, mattresses; and coverlets. From eight to nine pounds is sufficient for a bed, bolster, and two pillows. It is lighter and warmer, when used in forming coverlets comforters than cotton, or wool, and nearly equal to eider down.”
Grow little seed and provide food for the Monarch Butterfly caterpillar. And nectar and pollen for bumble bees and all the other pollinators and insects that can benefit from an abundant nectar source. And floss for lining the humming birds nests.
How sad is it that in the foolishness of man, and in the greed of corporations, that this amazing plant is included in The Noxious Weed Act of Manitoba to be destroyed with poisonous chemicals! Please read about this plant and then read The Noxious Weed Act of Manitoba. And if you agree that we need to treasure our wonderful flowers and plants of Manitoba….and not poison our land and water with toxic chemicals, please call your MLA and the Minister Kostyshyn
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
Nitrogen Fixating Plants
These amazing plants are responsible for the the the abundance of nitrogen in our soils. They create fertility of our land and support an abundance of life. We would only have a fraction of the vegetation and wild life without them. So lets take the time to learn about them and treasure them.
photo credit www.prairieoriginals.com
"When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world."
― John Muir
Despite most of the trees around here having shed their leaves, my Honey Crisp apple tree does not seem to know it is fall…its leaves are still a bright green colour. It suffered last year from a weed whacker"s blow with a loss of one third of the circumference of its bark and after the harsh Winnipeg winter, it looked dead in the spring. It was only a bare stick after all the trees had leafed out and the crab apples in the park were in bloom. So I was sad at the loss. We had already been without an apple tree for 3 years waiting for fireblight to loose its infectivity…our Goodland apple tree had succumbed to that disease after over 20 years of yearly production of hundreds of apples. So I expected to unearth that darkened stick and replace it.
Then the wonder of nature manifested itself with greenery about two feet from the ground….it was alive and it was the grafted tree not the root stock growing. And today another miracle….a small lady bug perched on the top of the tree that almost died. How incredible and amazing is that? I am proud that my garden is a haven for beneficial insects including ladybugs, lacewings and pirate bugs. I have seen them all. There are no chemical pesticides or herbicides in this sanctuary.
I had read about the amazing ability of beneficial insects to reduce pest insects in the garden and on crops in books about permaculture. I had also read about companion gardening. To attract these garden helpers, you need to provide plants and conditions in your garden that they like. Most people know about ladybugs and their help in reducing aphids. But there are many other insects that kill and control pests in a variety of ways.
If you don't use poisonous pesticides and herbicides and you grow a wide variety of plants you will have armies of tiny warriors killing and parasitizing harmful insects. Pollen, nectar and organic matter covering the soil provide our hard working friends with food, water and cover. We need to provide these provisions throughout the season for them.
In my garden the early nectar and pollen sources are grape vines, dandelions, welsh onions and our linden tree. Later wild climbing roses and chives bloom and are welcomed by my insect friends. Then Russian Sage and Goldenrod and the mints take over. I allow weeds such as climbing vetch and Asters to grow because I have seen many bees and other insects arriving at those plants. When oregano, basil, thyme and coriander grow and start to produce flowers, I usually allow them to continue even though I know the leaves will loose their flavour when these spices develop flowers. But I love to see the many bees and other insects visiting them. Without the use of pesticides, my small garden produces over 200 pounds of portuguese kale , huge boxes of tomatoes, a huge box of squash, many cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, swiss chard, lettuce, beets and onions. We have cherries, grapes and gooseberries. There is so much abundance.
Conventional farming, with its reliance on poisonous chemicals and its emphasis on monoculture with a lack of a wide variety of flowering plants has resulted in a drastic reduction of these beneficial insects. It then becomes a vicious cycle. Pesticides killing beneficials. Lack of floral resources for beneficials resulting in decreased populations. Then there is a need for even more pesticides. This results in even less beneficials and the cycle continues.
Yet what many organic and permaculture farmers have learned is that nature in its marvel will take care of these pests for us. And provide us with ample food. And reward us beauty and fragrance . And the garden that gives us our food is a wonder filled safe haven for birds and animals and children, and so importantly free of toxic chemicals.
Lets make that world for our fellow creatures and for our children and their children's children. When we are selfish and greedy, we always get less. Lets be generous…it is not all for us and was never meant to be. When we care for the earth with the reverence it deserves, we will receive so much more in return.
These are some wonderful resources about beneficial insects and the plants that support them
Below is a video discussing organic pest control
"Extravagance of desire is the fundamental cause which has led the world into its present predicament…..Humanity must stop indulging the desire for material possessions and personal gain and move instead towards spiritual awareness. Simply Serve Nature and All is Well" Masanobu Fukuoka
It was the time before the television and a time of innocence. My mother would send us outdoors with neighbourhood children on the block where we played in the fields behind our house. A row of willow trees stood along the North side of our front and side and backyard and there was a field beyond that as well. Across the street was a gravel road and ditches.
The grass was a deep green and the lawn was soft to walk on. It was in the fields with other children where we learned to love the natural world and delighted in the wonders of nature. My sister and her friend Kelly would collect tadpoles and frogs and Daddy long legs. There were so many monarch butterflies, magnificently large with dramatic bright orange and black colouring. We were enthralled by the bright yellow colour of the dandelion and even more with the seed heads which we loved to blow after making a wish. There were so many dragonflies and really I don't even remember mosquitos then…not like now. We played "hide and seek" and "it" and "statues" on the fields then down on our knees searching for the four leaved clover. At night, the crickets song intermingled with the croaks of frogs
I don't need any studies to tell me that the natural world has changed dramatically in and around Winnipeg during the last few decades. It is with a growing horror that I notice the lack of tadpoles, frogs, crickets, Monarch butterflies and robins on my own property and in the park behind it. And the ditches around Winnipeg are mostly devoid of cattails and normal marsh vegetation.
But most alarming is the blindness most people have for this loss. I believe these changes are "the canary in the coal mine". These changes are the harbingers of ecological disaster. And we need to take notice and yet most people I talk to about this seem unconcerned. It was then I realized how much we need to learn and to appreciate what we have. If we do value and treasure what nature offers then we have a chance to save what is left and in the end save ourselves.
So join me in this pursuit of knowledge, appreciation and gratitude
Manitoba is where I was born and where I have spent most of the five and one half decades of my life. I lived on the outskirts of the town of Portage La Prairie at a time when tadpoles and frogs inhabited the ditches and ponds, when there were many Monarch butterflies each summer along with dragon flies and grasshoppers. Redwing blackbirds perched the cattails of the ditches. As children we picked dandelions for bouquets and made wishes before blowing dandelion seed heads. We searched clover for lucky four leaves and rolled on the grass…there was no concern of poisonous herbicides. The grass was thick. Wherever we dug…there were earthworms