The Gift of Free Trees

Dark skies over London, ON

Dark skies over London, ON on Sep 10th, 2014

It was Wednesday afternoon. The skies darkened the closer I got to the fair grounds. Small drops of rain quietly pattered on the windshield, barely enough to warrant the use of the wipers, but visible nonetheless. I had forgotten my directions. I tried to vaguely recall which parking lot I was supposed to aim for; which building I was supposed to enter.

Of course, I picked the wrong one.

The clock was ticking. We had been asked to arrive ten minutes early to prepare for our shifts. A woman at the gate advised me that I would have to walk around the outside of the entire fair to get to where my complimentary passes lay. With a glance at my watch I knew I would never make it. The raindrops grew fatter, now splattering on my opened umbrella. Back to the vehicle I went to find another parking space. Hopefully.

I shouldn’t have worried about parking. Weather forecasts had been predicting heavy rain all week. The morning had been bright and sunny, but as I parked yet again, those rays were now a memory. I hugged my umbrella closer to my head. My feet were wet before I stepped inside the building. But I made it with a scratch of time to spare.

The quest now was to find my entrance pass. The jangle of slot machines beckoned, but I had sworn to help out. I was to meet Christine Siemens, CLC Tree Service’s Office Manager, at the ReForest London booth in the Community Showcase wing to hand out free tree seedlings. If only someone was at the help booth to direct me. Just as I was losing hope of arriving before my allotted hour, a woman with a trusty walkie-talkie appeared. She swept myself and another tree volunteer directly to our station for the afternoon.

And there were the trees.

Just a few of the many tree seedlings on offer at the Western Fair from ReForest London

Just a few of the many tree seedlings on offer at the Western Fair from ReForest London

There were Hackberries and Choke Cherries, White Pine and White Spruce. Three kinds of Oaks (Burr, White and Black) lined the shelves, plus some Sugar Maples too. A sad little Ohio Buckeye was tucked in a corner that nobody could see, but the trees, there were plenty. And they were all free.

Office Manager Christine adjusts the display

Office Manager Christine adjusts the display

For three hours we stood smiling and handing out trees. The people were scarce due to the weather, but pleased as all can be.

“Free?!” many remarked as we nodded our heads.

Just take them and plant them, and count them as well. You see, we had purpose, and not just to smile. The point was to raise awareness of London’s Million Tree Challenge. The trees are a great gift to take home, but their gift lies more-so in giving back to London in droves. Each tree planted helps to reduce carbon dioxide and air pollution, improve water quality, lend aesthetic appeal and emotional well-being to businesses and neighbourhoods, plus even save you money.

And we were giving them away for free!

A Sugar Maple looking for a home

A Sugar Maple looking for a home

So while the rain discouraged many fair goers, the brave few who ventured out got the lovely gift of trees. Mr J proudly noted that the trees him and his wife were taking home would join many others that he had received in previous years from ReForest London’s generousity. And the sweet little sugar maple that another couple walked away with made a fitting first anniversary present for them. As they walked away, I heard her exclaim as she hugged her hubby, “We have a tree!” That joy was why we were there in the first place.

And CLC Tree Services not only had representatives at the booth on Wednesday (Christine was there Monday too). They also proudly sponsored some of the seedlings to boot.

So as I waded back to my van in knee deep water at the end of my shift, I hugged my own Black Oak seedling tightly to my chest. I promise to plant it, water it and record it on the Million Tree Challenge site. It was my payment for a few hours of my time and I know it will pay me back in droves.

We dig trees. Don't you?!

We dig trees. Don’t you?!

If you want a tree seedling of your own, ReForest London will be at the Western Fair until Sunday, Spetember 14th, 2014 handing out FREE tree seedlings to anyone who promises to love them. Get yours before they are gone!

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RePlanting The Forest City

Fork of the Thames

If not for the fork in the Thames River where downtown London, Ontario sits, this city of over 360,000 people might not exist. For it was the view of the Fork of the Thames that Lieutenant Governor John Simcoe Graves fell in love with in 1793 when he was scouting for a new site for parliament for Upper Canada. It took until 1826 for London to officially house the new government buildings, but once they were established London proceeded to prosper. In 1840, little London was incorporated as a town. By 1855, that status was relabeled as a city.

All that growth meant that the area changed from extensive hardwood forests to an urban oasis. Industries, government buildings, military strongholds, and the people who came with them changed the landscape extensively. Before long buildings replaced the forests that once dominated the area.

London has a long history of tree lovers though. It didn’t take long for locals to realize the value of trees and they were soon replanted in droves. So much so, that by 1980 a stylized tree became London’s official logo. According to a tree count undertaken by the City of London, there are over 120 species of trees on city owned land, which breaks down to 123,359 street trees on city property and 32,101 trees in managed parks (not including unmanaged natural areas)*. We are not called the Forest City for nothing.

The building boom that has seen the city continue to grow, coupled with insect infestations, like the dreaded emerald ash borer, have changed the face of the Forest City in recent years though. By 2003 people were again concerned about our urban forest and took action to do something about the dwindling tree population. The London Community Foundation and the Urban League of London formed the ReForest City Gateway Project. Not only were 150 trees planted around the city, but another idea was born. In 2005 ReForest London was formed and by 2007 it was incorporated as a non-profit, charitable organization.

ReForest London has come a long way since then. Not only have they spearheaded the Million Tree Challenge, an initiative to plant 1 million trees in London, Ontario over the next ten years, but they support many other programs as well. They organize tree sales, giveaways and plantings in the spring and fall, as well as doing follow-up after-care for areas planted. They train and support neighbourhood tree captains to promote tree care in local neighbourhoods. They train tree teachers to speak to the community. They even encourage schools to green their spaces in a new School Community Tree Challenge program.

ReForest London Goals:

  • Empowerment – Empower community groups, businesses, and individuals to plant and care for trees
  • Ecosystem Health – Improve London’s environmental health through planting trees and shrubs in natural areas, parks, yards and along streets.
  • Education – Educate Londoners about the importance of trees and how to plant and care for them.

Pretty impressive we think.

ReForest London at the Western Fair

ReForest London is all about trees and all about London. They want to increase tree numbers and knowledge and have chosen a great place to do that starting this Friday, September 5th, 2014. That’s right, they will be at the Western Fair again this year handing out trees and knowledge to the 200,000 some-odd people who pass through the gates over the 10 days the fair is held. Smiling volunteers will be on hand to answer your questions, encourage people to volunteer themselves for events, and most importantly to get Londoners to plant trees. You will find their booth in the Community Showcase wing of the Progress Building. If you plan on attending the Western Fair between Sept 5 – 14th, make a point of stopping by to say hi and pledge to plant a tree yourself. Help yourself to a native tree seedling and have fun.

Most importantly, plant that tree so that you too can be part of replanting the Forest City! Hope to see you at the fair in support of ReForest London and the Forest City.

*Forest City tree inventory facts as of September 1,2002
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Are You Nuts?!

This time of year farmers get all the glory. Images of plump tomatoes, juicy peaches, and crisp cucumbers ready for pickling fill the media. Once those crops are done, pumpkins take over the spotlight, surrounded by a rainbow of brightly coloured leaves that shine before winter takes the stage. People scramble to freeze, can or dry enough produce to tide them over til spring.

There is another harvest that doesn’t get near the attention it deserves though. When these crops are ready to be gathered, all you have to do is let them fall to the ground and pick them up. A quick stomp and Bob’s your uncle! Have you guessed the crop yet? Am I talking nuts? Why, yes I am!

Ontario’s Edible Nuts

Corylus avellana 0005.JPG

Hazelnut – “Corylus avellana 0005″ by H. Zell – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

You may not realize it, but Ontario produces plenty of edible nuts. In fact, in 1972 the Society of Ontario Nut Growers (SONG) was established by Ernie Grimo, after he had been assigned to report on the state of nut growing in Ontario by the Northern Nut Growers Association (NNGA). While NNGA had been established in 1910, it encompassed nut growers across the US and Canada. With the advent of SONG, Ontario nut growers had their own voice. As we have our own unique climate and growing conditions, most everyone that was approached was in agreement. SONG was established and has grown in leaps and bounds since then.

Sweet chestnuts

Aside from growing its membership, SONG has also grown the nut industry. They started by distributing heartnuts to interested parties and asking for feedback on the success of the trees. Since then they have established 3 nut nurseries, a number of nut groves on public lands, plus they have accomplished plenty of experimentation to see what selections and cultivars work best in Ontario. While it has been found that heartnuts, sweet chestnuts and hazelnuts have a bright future for commercial development, there are other species that can grow here too. Have you considered any of these trees for your backyard?

*Click on any of the links below to redirect to the SONG website regarding these tree nuts
Sweet Chestnut
Black Walnut
Persian Walnut
Butternut & Buartnut
Northern Pecan
Shagbark Hickory
Shellbark Hickory
Nut Pines


If you do have one of these trees or are thinking about a grove on your own, you need to be aware of a few things. As with any tree, first check on the suitability of your site, ie. soil, light, moisture, early frost protection. Once you have assessed the viability of growing a nut tree, then you need to decide what to get and whether it is grafted or a seedling. Now read up on pruning, mulching, weed, pest and insect control.

On to the good stuff – harvesting!


By mid-September to early October most nuts are ready to harvest. As mentioned earlier, an easy way to harvest nuts is to collect them after they fall to the ground. You can also hasten the process along by knocking nuts out of the tree when they are ready to harvest. Once you have gathered your nuts, remove the inedible outer hull or husk. Do this as soon as possible, as your nuts will be susceptible to mold or insect damage if they stay on. You then need to dry your nuts. Once they are dry, get cracking! Nuts can be stored shelled or in shell. Refrigeration or freezing can extend their shelf life by up to 1-2 years. That equals plenty of yummy snacks for your family for a long time to come!

For more information, here is a helpful video from someone just down the road in Hamilton, sharing some handy tips on harvesting black walnuts. SONG is obviously a great place for information, but if you look you also might find a nut farmer at a local farmers market this fall. Bend their ear about how to grow nuts too. With all that new knowledge, why not give it a try yourself sometime. Happy nut harvesting!

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Harvest Time

Get your Plums at Thomas Bros Farm Market


Apples, peaches, pears and plums,
that is what in August comes.
Apricots, Nectarines, and soon hazelnuts
all grace area farmers markets

All good things that come from a tree
harvested most carefully
from willing farmer’s hands to yours
a bounty crop you shouldn’t ignore


The end of summer is a great time of year. Still plenty of warm days, but the nights are beginning to cool off. School bells are set to ring and vacations are something of memory. There is just enough time left to hit the beach once or twice more, and maybe stock up at area farmers markets for school lunches.

In fact, it is a busy time of year for farmers. Harvests are being reaped in just about everything. If you are keen to capture the bounty, now is the time to do it. Freeze those peaches. Can them pears. Eat plenty of apricots before they disappear. Looking to do more than that? How about try out one of these seasonal recipes with some of Ontario’s available fruit tree crops.

Seasonal Recipes from Local Trees

Roasted Ontario Pear, Shallot and Cumin Tartlets

Do you have a favourite recipe that includes fresh Ontario tree fruits?


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From the Mouths of Babes…

Do you like trees? Of course you do! We all know the benefits of trees, but there is so much more to them than the dry, educational facts we read. We have all been exposed to trees since we were little. We have personal connections with them that are a part of who we are. The sight of a tree can elicit memories from apple picking, to tree climbing, to fun-filled afternoons jumping into leaf piles in the fall. If you were to ask a handful of children today, they would surely say the same.

In fact, I did! I took a poll and asked a collection of children if they liked trees and why. What are they good for, I wanted to know. Here is what they had to say as to why they like trees;

Trees are good because;

"trees have lots of leaves."

Trees have a lot of leaves

“… because they give you air”
Michael, Age 5

“… because they help us breathe and give us oxygen”
Rylie, age 7

“The best thing I can think of is that they have a lot of leaves.”
Liam, age 7

“… because they are pretty and they help you breathe”
Paige, age 7

Tree climbing

You can climb trees

“… because they help the earth and humans and animals (breathe). And you can also climb them and hug them. That’s why I love trees. Without them we wouldn’t be alive and trees wouldn’t be alive without us.”
Thomas, age 8.

“… because they produce fruits for us to keep us alive”
McKenzie, age 8

“… because I can climb on ‘em.”
Jack, age 8


Some give you fruits like apples

“… because they help you breathe, are good to climb in, and birds live in them, and they grow fruit. And I like apples and trees grow apples.”
Taryn, age 9

“I like trees because they are pretty and different in every season. They help us so we have oxygen, that’s actually why they’re here you know, not just to look at.”
Jack, age 10

“… because they are green and some give you fruits like apples, oranges, bananas and pears. They also help you breath”
Haley, age 10

“… because they grow apples and stuff.”
Max, age 11

Did you notice anything? From this small assortment of kids, the overwhelming answer was that trees help us breathe. Sure they are nice to look at, fun to play with, and they provide us with food, but these children know what is really important; oxygen. I’d say that trees deserve three cheers from everyone today, kids and adults alike!

Oh, and I almost forgot one last comment from a “kid” many of us might be able to relate too;


They make good camp fires to sit around and drink beer

“They make good camp fires to sit around and drink beer.”
Peter, age 21

Why do you like trees?

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