July 16, 2012
This spring I finally remembered to pick up some Agastache (Anise Hyssop) starts for the garden. They’re a known favorite to bees, and boy are they pretty! So far, even the giant variety is doing great in a medium size container, which I have strategically placed just outside the open greenhouse Dutch door. After gorging themselves at the Agastache feeding trough, meandering bumblebees, hoverflies, and tiny black bees drift into the greenhouse where they bounce from cucumber to cosmos to tomato before heading home again to drop off their forage.
I have yet to see many honeybees on the plants, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t hit it. There’s another giant variety planted just outside the front door of one of our hives. And, I put in a few tiny dwarf varieties near our front steps. Certainly, those honeybee ladies are going to discover one of these plants soon.
But, they better hurry up. I think I’ll try harvesting a few flowers to dehydrate for teas and sachets soon. If you have a great recipe for either, please let me know. I’m all ears!
This morning, I even spied our resident hummingbird sipping from this beautiful plant. I can’t be sure, but I think he may have flown into the greenhouse after. Both ends are open, which means he can fly straight through, and I know he would love to take a drink from the Scarlet runner beans traveling the rafters of the greenhouse. If not today, perhaps tomorrow.
May 15, 2012
Finding blooms in May isn’t hard, especially this year. We’ve had lots of warm, sunny days interspersed with rain. The plants are loving it and really showing their stuff.
This makes the bees really happy too. Our bumblers are the size of hummingbirds this spring. And, Ballard Bee Company has installed two new honeybee hives in the garden, so everything’s all a-buzz. May has been light on rain and heavy on warm, sunny days so the blooms are popping early & lasting longer than they often do in our usual, rainy, cool Seattle springs. We’ll take it!
April 20, 2012
One of my favorite Pacific Northwest native plants has to be Ribes sanguineum. In mid-April they’re in full glory, so now’s the time to sing their praises!
This medium size shrub reaches about ten feet tall at maturity. And although it doesn’t get large, it also doesn’t take it long to grow to size in the garden. (Hint: that means you can buy a small one and only have a couple of years to wait until it gets big.) (more…)
April 18, 2012
I have “beware of dog” & “caution: stinging insects” signs outside my garden. Now I’m thinking I may need to add “beware of bird” signs as well. This spring we have a new resident hummingbird, and he isn’t afraid to tell us who owns the place.
If he thinks he’s alone in the garden, he quietly flits from Ribes to Manzanita to Maple sipping nectar and checking for tasty aphids. But, the minute he realizes anyone else is in his garden, his peaceful, charming nature is immediately transformed into that of a warrior sentry.
He chirps and dives at the dog, driving her mad. In return, she barks and jumps straight into the air in hopes of catching him, which of course she never will. Then, when he spies me doing anything in his garden, he focuses his chirping and diving in my direction. And, smarty that he is, if he sees my camera, he immediately flies away or ducks behind a leaf only to return the moment my camera is stashed back into its case and I’ve refocused on pulling weeds or harvesting greens.
That is, until this morning, when he dove into my face as I was photographing rain-drenched flowers. He treaded air just long enough for me to capture a quick snap of him beside his Vine Maple, which will open a banquet of tasty flowers today or tomorrow. And then he was off, headed back to the other end of the garden to begin his daily harassment of the poor, frustrated puppy.
I think he needs a girlfriend. Maybe then he’ll chill out.
Or, maybe not.
March 14, 2012
Now is the time to attract nesting wild birds to your garden. Mated pairs and lusty bachelor birds are busily inspecting shrubs, trees, boxes and baskets for their ideal summer homes where they will forage for food and raise their young.
But, why would you want them in your garden?
Wild birds make fantastic pest predators. The small, perky and ever-singing house wren is known for its love of all things aphid. These light-weight little birdies can easily land on smaller stems to clean them of soft-bodied pests. While robins may be notorious for pulling beloved earthworms from the soil and getting drunk on fermented winter berries, they also turn over duff layers to seek out nasty grubs and caterpillars. Cute little chickadees enjoy seeds, but they’ll also devour small caterpillars and insect larvae too. On occasion, you’ll even see these small birds in hot pursuit of pesky cabbage butterfly flitting through the garden. And although starlings may seems a loud nuisance, they will aerate your lawn as they devour large quantities of grubs. And guess, what? They even have a taste for slugs! And who doesn’t love a hummingbird? They’re beautiful in flight, plus they’ll clean aphids from treetops and pollinate along the way! Swallows will dart through the air, snatching gnat hatches even into the twilight hours of summer.
And, birds tend to leave the bees alone. While they may try to eat butterflies, they’re unlikely to go after honeybees, bumblers or other types of bees.
It’s fairly simple to attract any of these birds to your garden by following these easy steps:
- Create habitat: Add in layers of plants that the birds can hide in from predators. Dense layering of evergreen as well as deciduous plants is ideal. Add in plants that provide flower nectar, berries and seeds the birds love. Just be sure to add some bird-specific edibles that you have no intention of eating.
- Add water: dish stones, bubbling water features or a stream if you have room will attract birds looking for a bath or a drink. Just be sure to rinse any dishes out regularly or keep the water moving at all times, especially in summer so mosquito populations can’t build up.
- Add in birdhouses: Tucking birdhouses into partially hidden spots is ideal. Hang them high and place them where you can view them from a window. And, put them into the garden by late winter when birds begin to look for the best nesting spots around. (Even if your birdhouse doesn’t go up before the first day of spring, you may still get some nesting pairs. Birds may hatch several broods in a single season, and they often nest in more than one spot through the season.) Be sure they aren’t hung in direct sunlight where little eggs might poach in the shell. And don’t hang them near feeders or watering holes. Birds won’t nest near spots where all the other birds eat, drink or bathe. Try to resist poking around the birdhouses once they’re hung. Peeping & poking humans may drive your birdies away. Do spend time in the garden and let your tenants get used to you puttering about. (Here’s how to grow a crop that you can craft into a birdhouse of your own. Or read on for ways you can enter to win one from Aha! Modern Living!)
- Your By-Products as Building Materials: If your dog or cat is shedding like crazy, leave some of the fur around the garden for birds to forage. Same with drier lint & hair from your own brush. I’ve actually seen nesting birds battle for the rights to fluffs of fur floating about. They love this stuff for building their nests. I’ve even found old nests packed with gum wrappers and bits of plastic wrap. Your trash (in moderation) is their treasure!
- Protect your own crops: Beneficial birds will snack on your crops as well as insects. They love to peck at young peas, ripe sunflowers, and they’ll clear blueberry bushes just as the fruit ripens. Fortunately, a bit of bird netting will keep them away from the crops you want to eat.
Now that you’re excited to bring the birds to your garden, here’s how we can help you get started:
The generous folks at Aha! Modern Living have offered to give away a lovely Roost Basket Bird Hut to one of you! These beauties are similar to the twig birdhouses in my own garden, which are shared in this post, in which wrens and chickadees have nested for several years now. Though made out of natural fibers, these suckers withstand weather really well. Plus, the birds do an amazing job patching them up with fresh twigs, fur, spider webs, feathers, laundry lint and whatever else they find floating around the garden. Birds are crazy-good builders!
Here’s how to throw your hat in the ring & try to win one of these Roost Basket Bird Hut: Share your favorite story about gardening with wild birds in the comment area below this post on gardenhelp.org. Be sure you include your email contact information so we can reach you if you win; no way to contact you means automatic disqualification. Entries must be received no later than 5pm PDT on Monday, March 19, 2012 when we will select a winner. Judging will be purely subjective and creativity in storytelling will be rewarded! The winner will be announced here by Wednesday, March 21, 2012.