This is a busy time of the year for us as well as the birds. We are busy with garden chores-cleaning up, pruning, feeding and planting. The birds are busy building their new families. The Bluebird’s eggs have hatched and the parents have been making endless trips feeding five chicks. They are growing up really fast. It will take around 15-20 days for them to fledge after hatching.
A pair of Tree Swallows have finished building their nest and started to lay eggs. The second pair was chased out of the garden by the first pair every time they checked that nest box.
While the House Wrens are still picking, choosing and building decoy nests in any empty boxes they find, two pairs of Chickadees have already laid eggs. One on each side of the yard.
Having made the destructive & nasty house sparrows unwelcome in the yard, we’ve become home to the colorful & friendly. Now the yard lights up daily in a delightful symphony.
Spring is finally here or should I say summer is finally here. The temperature was over 90°F for a couple of days which broke the record. I’m not complaining after months of snow and freezing temperature. The plants in our garden are not complaining either. They’re pushing out shoots and buds all over the garden. Dragging on as winter did, spring is still giving us a very promising new life especially after the recent rain.
After we successfully fended off the deer for the last two years, and relocated the last rabbit last year, we decided to grow tulips in the garden again. I’ve been planting tulip bulbs I rescued for years but only a few of them survive the animal raiding parties. But as I didn’t spend a penny on them, it didn’t feel very wasteful. Last autumn, I picked tulip bulbs from the catalogs for the first time and they’re looking good so far. Hopefully these beautiful flowers will come back up next spring.
We cannot be certified a ‘Wildlife Habitat’ since we’ve fenced off most of the four-legged locals around here: deer, rabbit, woodchuck, raccoon, skunk, fox and coyote. We would’ve welcomed fox and coyote but once the deer net went up, that was it. Access to the garden is limited to birds, insects and small rodents. Any gardeners who have a problem with deer, I would recommend a deer net. It’s the only thing that works. I no longer have to spray a mixture of garlic and rotten eggs in the garden or use other methods only to find that they aren’t effective. The fact is there aren’t any plants that the deer will not eat.
Anyway, we have colors and the scent of perfume in our garden again after a long wait.
It’s nice to see colors again. It’s even nicer to see not just our honeybees but many local bees getting busy looking for pollen and nectar.
We installed a cold frame in our vegetable garden in order to have some fresh vegetables in winter. We did get some cold loving vegetables like Chinese Broccoli, Swiss chard, kale, carrots and mustard greens. Several times the vegetables inside wilted from the cold when we couldn’t get access. In the middle of winter when snow piled two feet up the frame, we couldn’t get the door open without a lot of digging. But it still gave us a good head start for spring vegetables and we get to have fresh vegetables early in the season despite the seesaw weather.
The seeds I sow in November like spinach, Bok choi and mustard greens, sprouted early and became our first salad crops.
Then I sow more cool weather vegetables like Mizuna, Shungiku (Tang Oh), Chinese broccoli, Corn salad, arugula and more of spinach and mustard greens in March when I got access to the inside. These will become our second crop.
Since the cold frame has no ventilation, early spring is when we have to be careful. We need to leave the door open on hot days otherwise the vegetables in there will be cooked. I devote this patch under the cold frame for growing leafy vegetables because it provides shade during the summer months. Once the plastic is cover removed, I grow Bitter melon and beans and let them climb up the frame as they provide shade for the vegetables below.
With a couple days of heavy rain other vegetables in the garden double their size. Asparagus shot up a few inches a day with rain. We were supposed to cut them when they reached six inches high but…
After it was fed and with plenty of rain, our garlic, both Siberian and Rocambol garlic, got much bigger very fast. We had a good garlic crop last year and still have some left in the basement. So far this year should be good too.
The temperature is still seesawing, but most of the migrating birds have reached us on their usual schedule. The Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) have finally settled in one of the bird boxes and have started building their nest despite harassment from the House sparrows. We really have to keep an eye on this one to make sure that the sparrows don’t rout them.
The Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) came back as soon as the flowering fruit trees like cherry and pear here blossomed. One of them was waiting patiently at the feeder station for the welcome mat. We promptly cut a few oranges and put them on a tray for them. It didn’t take them long to dive in for the juice, they must be hungry from their long flight.
Gray Catbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Chipping sparrows are also here. The first two still play hide and seek with us; every time we took the cameras out they flew off. The Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), the smallest sparrow around here, are not camera shy. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird haven’t reached here yet. Only the Bleeding heart flowers have start to bud and the Columbine still have a long way to go. We use the blooming of these flowers as an indication of the arrival of the Hummingbirds. The Columbine is a more reliable reference.
In the mean time, the resident Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) took no time in starting their family. So far she has laid five eggs and any day now we’ll will see the first chick.
The Black-capped Chickadees (Parus atricapillus) have almost completed their nest construction. It looks very comfortable with moss and a fine hair lining. It will be a couple of days before we see the first egg.
We are only missing the Ruby-throated Hummingbird but they should reach our garden soon. A flight from down south on their tiny wings takes a little longer than the others.
As much as Mother Nature doesn’t want to let go of winter weather, birds in our garden don’t want any part of it. Their songs are much louder now and they chase each other around in the garden a lot more too. There are a couple of things indicating spring has arrived: American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) are molting and the arrival of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor).
American Goldfinches are gregarious birds. They flock together and never stop chirping. Sometimes we have 20 or 30 of them crowding around the feeders. A male Goldfinch has very bright yellow feathers with black and white stripes on the wings in summer but he’ll molt to a greenish brown in winter. He’ll put on his brown winter coat in autumn. Many of them have that ‘rolled in the soot’ look now.
Many birds like the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) and the House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) have already paired up. The Northern Cardinals are still chasing one another around, claiming territory and mates.
We heard and saw Tree swallows that flew back from the Carolinas and only to be hit by snow the next day. They haven’t come down to check on the nest boxes yet. Hopefully they nest early enough and will not to be chased out of their usual nest box by the Bluebirds.
I see the spring light at the end of the tunnel, a little dim but still a cheerful light of hope. Snow still covers the majority of the garden but in the bare specks there are colors. Crocuses in the front yard bloomed nicely this year. Last year they became deer food. At least deer left the bulbs alone so they came up with a variety of colors. We planted a lot of crocuses in the previous two autumns to provide early spring food for our honeybees. Many of them became food for squirrels, chipmunks, deer and rabbits but the survivors continue to come up in spring before disappearing underground again.
Our back yard is still covered with snow but it’s melting fast with high daytime temperatures. Some tulips and daffodils braved the cold pushing themselves up above it.
And, look at the busy girls. Yes, we call them girls because the worker bees are all female and they’re like our children. The weather is warm enough for them to go out foraging and most of them came back with baskets full of pollen. They’ve also taken in water from the birdbaths.
Spring is here after all. Thank you Mother Nature for giving us a break from the Nor’easter in the last few weeks.
Today is ‘officially’ the first day of spring. That’s what it says on the calendar but in reality our garden is still snowed in. The temperature is hovering a little bit above 30°F and there will be more snow coming down tonight and continuing until Wednesday night. We expect a foot of wet snow accumulation added to what we already have on the ground. That’s why I say ‘officiallythe first day of spring on the calendar‘ only.
Plants in the little plot right next to the house have started to come up. Daffodils and irises the previous owner planted next to the garage are sprouting leaves. The Siberian garlic are braving themselves in the cold next to melting snow and will be buried again tonight. But they are Siberian, they should be fine. Rocambole garlic that I’ve been growing for many years are still staying comfortable underground.
Inside the house is another story. Amaryllis ‘Red Lion’ that one of my colleagues gave me many years ago welcomed spring with its bright red flowers. Still one more set of flowers from this bulb is just about to bloom. I moved them up from the basement as soon as the flower buds came up.
Hibiscus ‘The Path’ also senses the warmth of spring and welcomes it with a bright yellow flower. I found that the color is paler than when the plant is outside but it’s still beautiful and cheerful as all hibiscus are. I left it in the basement though, since it’s too big to be in the bay window with the other plants.
But, …darn, We’re still waiting for reality spring.
We’ve been bombarded with snow storms every week for the last three weeks and still have plenty of snow on the ground as a result. The temperature dropped back to winter levels again after a warm stretch in February. But it’s time to start germinating seeds for a new season, especially those that need more time to grow, bear fruit and ripen. I started our tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings last week. The tomatoes have already sprouted up. Chili peppers will need a little bit more time to sprout.
Aside from the usual tomatoes we have been growing, Brandywine, Cherokee purple, Mortgage lifter, Nova, Indigo cherry drop…among them, this year we will try two new varieties. I ordered True Black Brandywine and Dark Galaxy tomato seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, one of my favorite plant and seed companies. I have never been dissatisfied with their seeds.
This year we also picked a new variety of pepper to try, also from the same supplier, ‘Buena Mulata’ peppers. The description is impressive and hopefully we like it enough to keep it on our long list of chili peppers we grow.
I also started varieties of kale and Swiss chard this week. By the time the last frost date comes, hopefully in mid April, they all should be ready to settle in to the garden. We agreed that the ‘Dazzling Blue’ kale we tried last year is worth growing again. If you like ‘Toscano’ or ‘Nero Di Toscana’, you will probably like this kale. It has similar leaves but with purplish/pink midribs and I find it’s a little sweeter.
We grow organic and love to try new kinds of vegetables so we’re a little choosy about where we get our seeds. Below is a short list of reliable companies we use for our vegetable seeds and plants:
It was nice to go from bone-chilling cold to warm and humid weather and be among a variety of very bright, colorful and beautiful tropical flowers. Now, back to the cold climate and inches of snow on the ground, the longing for the site and the scent still lingers. Working on photographs I took during the trip helps a little. Here are a few to share with you.
Sala (Couroupita guianensis) or Cannonball tree has quiet beautiful flowers that look like anemone. The flower has very sweet fragrant. I wish I could grow it here.
As much as I don’t really like Bougainvillea, I have to accept that the color combination of this plant at the place we stayed, is really something to be seen.
They look fake but they aren’t. Waterlilies comes in so many shades and colors here, some are even fragrant. Talking about fragrant tropical flowers, Plumeria is one of my favorites. It also comes in a variety of colors but I love the nuances in the white variety the most. The one below is from the rows that grow in front of the resort we stayed at, between us and the beach.