• A New Year Gardening Together

    January 01, 2016

    It’s hard to believe today begins 2016 – get ready for a new year gardening together!

    Sun setting over Oregon coast dunes

    Thank you for making 2015 such a fantastic one for us & for your gardens!

    As we look forward to a bright, shiny new year, it’s time to thank you for growing with us in the past year. 2015 was a big year for Garden Mentors. We designed and installed more gardens this year than in any year prior. We taught more gardeners than ever before — via seminars, articles and one-on-one garden coaching sessions. And, we kept many a vacationer’s garden alive through one crazy, hot, dry summer. So, thanks to all of you for choosing us!

    We loved tracking and sharing the progress of our nesting Anna’s hummingbird family and the bumblebees that moved into one of our bird houses.  Sharing our tasty tips for putting by the long, hot summer’s generous zucchini bounty was fun and rewarding. And, it was a blast being a Living Homegrown PodCast guest to talk about bees!

    Nesting Anna's Hummingbird

    Anna’s hummingbird nesting in our spring 2015 garden. Learn why she makes our garden her home at our 2016 NW Flower & Garden show seminar on year ’round gardening for hummingbirds!

    Of course, not everything was (liquid) sunshine and (blackspot-free) roses. We tried a few things that simply didn’t work out very well — like making dried beet chips & dehydrated green beans (never again), planting a marginal shrub just before spring rains dried up for months (can you say “croaker?”),  and working up a homegrown, low-glycemic sweetener (this will happen someday soon!). You won’t find DIY blog posts on those. These were learning experiences from which we will continue to grow and be able to offer you great advice for what works — and what doesn’t. “Maybe next year” is our on-going mantra in this trial-error-success life.

    Looking ahead, we are thrilled to know that Robin will be speaking at the NW Flower & Garden Show in February and to a number of garden clubs and associations as well throughout the year. Too, we’re already seeing our garden sitting summer schedule fill up — guess that dry summer got folks planning early! And, we’ll be digging into a number of garden installations pretty soon now that the holidays are pretty much over.

    Thank you all for helping us grow and thrive. We look forward to bringing you the best of our gardening experiences in 2016. If there’s anything you’d like to hear from us in our newsletter, on this blog, in our seminars or in our garden coaching or design sessions with you, let us know in the comments below or privately via our contact form. With your input, we can provide more of what you want most.

    We’ll endeavor to offer a new blog article every Friday morning in the coming year, and once a month we’ll send our subscribers timely gardening information plus occasional deals we only offer to subscribers, so sign up already!

    Thanks again & happy new year Garden Mentors readers!

  • Free Nature Apps Reviewed: Birds & Bugs

    December 25, 2015

    As we get ready for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count 2015, we’re checking out nature apps to help us with the count. If you’re interested in learning more about birds or bugs, try downloading these to your smartphone or tablet for quick reference.

    Bald Eagle at Fir Island, WA

    Bald eagles may be easy to ID, but what about other birds? Apps can help!

    Audubon Bird App: This free app is available for most platforms and makes for a great birding field guide. Be sure to give yourself time to download the big ole database of info once you’ve installed the app. Then, when you’re in the field, you’ll have photos, bird calls and much more to help you locate and identify nearly a 1000 birds. Plus, it offers photography tips and ways to share your findings with other birders. This is a must-have freebie for anyone interested in birds!

    Dragonfly App: This free app is (as far as we know) the only app specialized to help users locate, identify and help scientists track dragonflies and damselflies. What we like: the photo IDs. Lots of great eye-candy. And, we like that it shows us what’s been seen recently near us. What we don’t like: having to set up two different accounts to even use the product and the requirement to turn on location services, which drains our phones faster than anything. Suggestion: let us input zip code and map from there unless we’re submitting data. Also, the search tool only manages to crash our phone. For now, we’re turning off the app. Come summer, it should be fun to turn it on occasionally when we see dragonflies we want to ID. Oh, and this app is only available for iOS at the moment.

    Hungry for more flora and fauna apps? We’ve covered several others in past posts here & here.

    And, happy Christmas 2015 Garden Mentors readers!

  • DIY Bird Feeder Recipe

    December 18, 2015
    Putting together our simple DIY bird feeder recipe that follows is a fun family project, especially in winter when bird forage is scarce, days are short and the weather is rough.

    Chickadee on DIY Bird Feeder

    This chickadee hopped from branch to branch, within arm’s reach, as I hung feeders. S/he could hardly wait!

    If you’re participating in your local Christmas Bird Count from home, start hanging feeders well before your count day to lure in a large bird population. Once they know yours is a tasty rest stop, they’ll be dropping by often!

    bushtits on DIY cone feeder

    Bushtits love peanut-butter laden cone feeders almost as much as they crave suet.

    We like to forage for pine cones rather than buy them. However, if you don’t have a foraging option, be sure that any you purchase haven’t been treated. If you have access to big sugar pine cones, consider yourself lucky. On our foraging foray, the best cache of cones we found were from a white pine. They work, but not nearly as well as those big, hard cones other pines produce.

    DIY Bird Feeder Recipe & CraftPrint Print

    DIY Bird Feeder Ingredients

    With just a few simple ingredients, you’ll be all set for a fun crafty day making bird feeders.

    Materials & Ingredients

    3-6 pine cones
    (quantity will vary depending on the size of your cones & size of the openings of your cones)
    6′- 8′ length of jute twine
    1-1.5 cups unsalted peanut butter without added sweeteners or other ingredients
    1/2-1 cup dry cornmeal
    1/4 cup no-waste (hulled) bird seed or raw, hulled sunflower seeds
    1/4 cup unsweetened, dried cranberries (optional)


    From one end of your jute twine, measure about one foot. At that marker, loop the twine firmly around the branch end of your first pine cone and tie it off.  Take care not to loop and tie it so tightly you snap the end off your cone. Do not cut the twine. Measure another length of about a foot and repeat tying your next cone into place. Repeat for as many cones as you wish to have on your garland. Be sure you leave plenty of extra on each end so you can tie the string onto your trees outside.

    Jute tie on cone feeder

    Biodegradable jute twine makes a great tie for your feeder. Be sure to loop it a few times around the branch-end of your cone & tie it or the cone may fall off.

    In a large bowl mush up the peanut butter. Then, begin working in the cornmeal a couple of tablespoons at a time. If your peanut butter is very dry, it will absorb less cornmeal. The cheaper cornmeal will make the more expensive peanut butter go further, but you don’t want it so dry it won’t stick in your cones. Once the mixture is still quite goopy, stir in the seeds and any berries. If your mixture becomes dry, add in more peanut butter.

    Using your hands, squish your mixture into the gaps between the cone scales. Yes, it will be messy! And, be prepared to get some cone sap on your hands. Don’t worry if you aren’t able to fill all the gaps, we usually aim for the middle and call it good. The birds don’t care!

    Pine Cone DIY Bird Feeder

    Laden with food, this pine cone bird feeder will feed a flock!

    Gather your cone garland into your mixing bowl to take outside. Choose one of the ends of the garland to tie to a branch. We usually leave a loop so it’s easy to remove and refill later. Then, loop each cone that follows on the garland onto nearby branches. Tie off the final length of twine to secure your DIY bird feeder garland into place.

    Grab your binoculars or camera. Stand in your favorite viewing spot, very still, and get ready for some birding fun!

  • Herbal Aromatherapy Recipes

    December 11, 2015

    Our herbal aromatherapy recipes blend garden-fresh herbs, flowers & spices to perfume your home and add moisture to our dry, winter homes. Plus, they’re easy to DIY into gifts as well.

    Garden Aromatherapy herbal soaps & sachets

    Give herbal aromatherapy gift combos. They’re easy to DIY with our garden-fresh recipes & tips! Get our no-lye, easy soap recipe here.

    Try making these cute bags of these deliciously scented aromatherapy herb blends to give your loved ones. They make fantastic hostess gifts and wonderful stocking stuffers. Following are several simple, delicious, brewable combos to make in our popular printable format with gift-wrapping tips too.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Bundle these with homemade soaps from our simple, no-lye recipes, and you’ve got a complete gift for anyone!

    (Updated December 2015. Original post follows at the end.)

    Herbal Aromatherapy & Spice Blends for Stove Top HumidifiersPrint Print
    Directions for preparing & making sachets & using these blends follows the list of blends.

    Christmas spice aromatherapy blend

    Fill your home with Christmas fragrance with spices like these in your stove top humidifier. To make this fragrance into a gift, be sure to use dried orange peel & dried ginger so your gift doesn’t mold!

    Christmas Spice Blend
    1 T whole cloves
    1 tangerine, orange or other citrus peel
    1-2 cinnamon sticks
    1 slice fresh or candied ginger

    Three Garden Herb Blends

    Astringent & Calming Blend
    1-2 sprigs fresh Rosemary (even if it is frozen in the garden)
    2-3 Tablespoons dried lavender buds (or garden stem/flower cuttings)
    tangerine or orange peel
    1-2 dried lemon verbena stem

    Dried rose and lavender buds

    Dried lavender & rose buds from your garden create wonderful herbal aromatherapy in your stove humidifier.

    Calming & Clarifying Blend
    2-3 Tablespoons dried lavender buds (or garden stem/flower cuttings)
    1-2 sprigs eucalyptus (optional)
    small handful dried rose petals or buds (about 3-4 Tablespoons)

    Savory Home-cooking Blend
    1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary
    1-2 sprigs fresh sage
    several sprigs of thyme (lemon or lime thyme is especially great!)

    To use on the stove top:
    Add one of the above combos (in a sachet or loose) to a medium size sauce pan or dedicated kettle filled (to a couple of inches below the top-line) with water. Place on warm wood stove-top (according to manufacturer’s guidelines) or cook-top. If on a cooktop, bring the water just to boiling and then turn down to a low simmer, or boil a little higher to release more moisture into the air faster. Add additional water as needed; don’t let it dry out. Occasionally, as fragrance diminishes, strain out the spices, cuttings and fruit peels, add them to your compost and start over with fresh water in a cleaned pan/kettle with fresh spice or herb blends. Don’t let the ingredients stand and get moldy!

    Tips for creating gift sachets:
    When creating gift blends, be sure to use dried ingredients. Fresh herbs, flowers and fruit is likely to rot before you’re able to give your gifts. And, we use food-grade cheese cloth for our bundles since we’re sure this won’t damage kettles and pots on the stove. Pretty, dyed fabrics might look nice, but who knows what they’ll do in a pot of boiling water!

    Dried sachet materials

    Cut a single layer of cheese cloth into about 6-8″ square. Only use dried ingredients if you’re making a gift otherwise your sachet may mold before you give it away. Fresh ingredients are fine if you’re popping them into your own stove top humidifier right away.

    rolled sachet ready to tie

    Simply roll your filled cheese cloth, then gather the long ends of the roll together and tie into a snug knot. Don’t add anything that can’t go into a boiling pot of water!

    rose & lavender herbal sachet

    Once your sachet is filled, rolled & tied, tuck in a few dried flowers or spices to decorate your bundles.

    Original post follows. (more…)

  • Christmas Bird Count

    December 04, 2015

    Since the turn of the last century, Seattlites have been gathering in flocks to count birds for the Seattle Audubon Society‘s Christmas Bird Count. Each year since 1908 novice-to-advanced birders spend part or all of one day in December calculating how many and what kind and (in some cases) the sex of birds they see in an assigned portion of a 15-mile radius area of Seattle. Not in Seattle? No worries! There’s probably a count happening near you too.

    Christmas Bird Count guest: Anna's Hummingbird

    Our resident Anna’s hummingbirds forage in our garden all winter long.
    Join us at the 2016 NW Flower & Garden Show for our seminar on gardening for these wonderful creatures!

    Across the country, birders meet up in parks to count together while others keep a tally of what they see foraging in their gardens and at feeders. And, a few days later all of the data is delivered to local Audubon chapters, and from there it is delivered to the National Audubon Society for use in various studies.

    Juncos foraging seed in snow

    Joining the Christmas Bird Count from home means inclement weather won’t ruin your day.

    Why do it? Well, duh, fun! If you’re looking for a way to burn off all those cookies and gravy, joining a group outside for the day is a great way to melt those calories off your butt. Or, if you’re house-bound or just love your garden’s birds, you can even sign up to count from home with your family. Plus, whatever data you’re able to collect can make a difference in monitoring how bird populations are changing in our city and how climate change may be impacting our bird populations.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    What should I feed the birds? On Friday, December 11th 18th we’ll be sharing our favorite family-fun way to feed the birds using foraged materials and inexpensive feed all sorts of birds crave. Printable recipe included!

    Finch at thistle feeder

    Various house finches are common sites at city feeders filled with thistle seed.

    What if I don’t live in Seattle? This event happens all across the United States each year. Check with your local Audubon chapter or the National Audubon website to find out how you can join in.

    Raptor in tree

    Hawks & other raptors occasionally visit our garden to hunt the smaller songbirds at our feeders. Perhaps one will join us on Christmas Bird Count 2015.

    But I’m busy on Christmas day. That’s no excuse! It may be called the Christmas Bird Count, but (at least in 2015 in Seattle) the count is happening on the day after Christmas. If you’re not in Seattle, your count may be happening on another day — before, after or maybe even on Christmas day.

    robin fledgling in spring

    Adult versions of this fledgling robin may be gobbling fermented berries by Christmas.

    Sounds like a great learning experience for my kids. Well, yes, but check with organizers first. If you have small children, it may be best to hang a feeder and count from home. Busy little cold bodies racing around avid counters may disrupt the birds and negatively impact the count and the experience for others. Late December can bring all sorts of uncomfortable weather, and the day can be long.

    Chickadee at feeder

    Feeders or not, we expect to count several Chickadees.

    But, I don’t know anything about birds. It really doesn’t matter how much you know. The Audubon Society is a welcoming group that invites newbies to learn from experienced birders, so don’t be shy!

    Townsend's Warbler

    A rare sight at our Seattle feeder: a Townsend’s Warbler that wintered here a few years ago. Hope to see another one for Christmas!

    Do I need special equipment? Not really. If you have binoculars or a camera with a zoom, those really help. And, if you have a bird field guide book, that helps too. But, let’s say you’re counting at home alone and you know most of the birds that come to your feeders, you should be able to count fairly accurately. Or, use the online Birdweb site for help; it’s a great free resource. Have a smart phone? Check out all the apps to help in the field too.

    How in the world do I count numbers in a big flock or fast-movers? I spoke with a friend who was counting as the notorious Seattle crows began their evening flocking. If you’ve ever seen that happen, you probably know it would be nuts to count them individually. So, the group began counting averages as best they could. Just do the best you can and look to your experienced leaders for guidance.

    Crow in flight

    If you join a team outside, you’ll probably count crows overhead.

    What does it cost? The Seattle Christmas Bird Count is free, however a minimum donation of $5/person is sincerely appreciated.

    Bird prints in snow

    Step up! Join the Christmas Bird Count – from home or outdoors!

    How do I sign up? To learn more about the Seattle Christmas Bird Count and to sign up now, visit their registration site here. Also, you may want to sign up for the potluck that follows the count. Everyone who participates in the Seattle count is invited — even if you choose to count from home.

    Is past count data available to me? Yep! Audubon.org shares count information, historical information and much more on their site.

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