Perhaps it was the talk of Canadian tarts that inspired Railguy to do some baking. Butter tarts! Awesome!
A few weeks ago, Railguy and I drove out to the Alfred region, about 70 km south and east of Ottawa, to check out the Alfred Bog. The current Alfred Bog encompasses about 10,000 acres, a remnant of the original wetland that once covered more than 30,000 acres. Intensive land use, including drainage for agriculture and peat extraction have greatly reduced the original wetland, but what remains is still the largest and highest-quality bog ecosystem in Southern Ontario. To reach the Bogwalk, you drive up a long road, through a flat, agricultural landscape, and you would never guess there is a bog anywhere close by. The above photograph was taken from the Bogwalk parking area.
At the entrance to the Bogwalk, a sign features information about the bog and the logos of the groups involved in preserving the remaining wetland. The Nature Conservancy of Canada became involved in conservation of the bog ecosystem in 1986 and worked with many partners, including the South Nation Conservation Authority, the Alfred Bog Committee, the Ottawa Field Naturalists, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, the Vankleek Hill Nature Society, Environment Canada and the Ministry of Natural Resources. Today, about 90 percent of the Bog is under conservation ownership.
The sign reads, in part: Alfred Bog is a domed peat bog, which is rare this far south. It includes three wetland types: bog (85%), swamp (12%) and marsh (3%). Peat depths range from a metre (3 feet) to 7 metres (22 feet) in the interior. Many of the plants and animals that live in the bog are rare and some species are at risk. For instance, this is one of a few isolates sites in Ontario where the yellow race of the Palm Warbler regularly nests. In addition, Alfred Bog is home to a moose herd representing one of the most southerly moose populations in Ontario. If you look closely during your stroll along the 272 metre boardwalk, you may see bog plants such as the Northern Pitcher-plant, Pink Lady’s Slipper, and Cottongrass. The peat in this bog is the result of thick layer of moss that have built up over time. The most common moss in Alfred Bog is sphagnum moss, which can be seen along the boardwalk.
After driving through a landscape of flat agricultural fields, and then following the boardwalk through a line of forest, it is startling to come out into the open and view the grand panorama of the bog spread out before you. Protected by a screen of trees from the surrounding farmland, the bog seemed quiet, peaceful, even a little other-worldly.
I think we were a bit early for Lady’s Slippers or Pitcher-plants, but we did see Cottongrass (Eriophorum sp.), actually a sedge. There was also, of course, moss. Except for a few puddles near the edge of the bog, no water was visable. The brownish coloration of much of the vegetation made the bog look deceptively dry. However, by gently pushing down on the moss, you could see the true state of the surface as water immediately appeared in the opening.
You can buy big bags of peat moss at most garden centers and I used to use it as a soil amendment for heavy soil. However, since learning more about bogs, I have stopped. There are other things that work as well or better and don’t involve sensitive wetland habitat. The peat moss industry has been working hard to defend their industry as responsible. It is claimed that peat bogs can be renewed in as little as 5 to 10 years. I remain sceptical. Probably, just as a forest plantation is not the same thing as an undisturbed forest, a reclaimed bog is not the same thing as an untouched bog. Given the easily replaceable nature of peat moss for garden uses, why take a chance? There is a good discussion of the peat moss issue at Natural Life.