Little Helpers

My little helpers finally showed up

If you want to grow an organic garden, you will have to enlist your little friends around the garden to join in with their large help.  The birds, bees, ladybugs, lacewings, earthworms, toads… to name a few.  As long as you don’t try to kill them with petricide and load your soil with chemicals they will hang around and give you a hand.  Providing something for them to eat will help even more.  They like us that way.  Would you like to hang out in a place where anything you touch may slowly kill you?  How about in a place bereft of good food?  The answer is “no”, providing that you are not self destructive.  The same goes with friends in the yard.

The only pesticide I use comes from soaking Camel cigarette (non-filtered) overnight then mixed with diswashing soap.  I usually pick the bugs or caterpillars off by hand.  Most of the time my little friends are around ready to offer a hand, actually legs, and happily chow down at the same time.

The Ladybugs showed up a couple of weeks ago despite the uneven weather.  They work hard on checking the top and bottom of rose leaves for Aphids. Even while mating, she still keeps working.  Her ability is really admirable.  I didn’t want to bother them.  I need to enlist their babies (larva) as well. If you see something that looks like it just chased Sigourney Weaver around in a movie wearing black with yellow or orange stripes, don’t squash it.  You don’t want to kill your ally.

Lady Beetle Larvae

One problem is that they work wherever they want to work.  I tried to cup some of them in my hands and move them to a rose bush that had more Aphids, but they usually flew off and either landed on a plant near by or on me.  I gave up.  Just wonder how people who buy them for the garden make them stay in the garden.  We have a lot of them in the garden but they only stay where they feel like.  They don’t take to leashes and we couldn’t find an electronic ankle bracelet small enough.

Cooper’s Hawk

Mr. Shorty

That’s the nickname of our residence Cooper’s Hawk.  We considered other nicknames briefly, Howard Hawks; Hudson Hawk, perhaps Danny Aiello’s least proud film; Tony Hawk, but that last one was definitely beneath him.  ‘Shorty’ fit the best for someone about the size of a loaf of bread.  We can’t tell which gender so we have arbitrarily assigned “he” due to his majestic countenance.  He has been with us since the winter 2008.  I’m not sure exactly what drew him to us that winter, the warmth of the patio woodpile or plenty of food for him in the area.  I noticed him one morning when I looked outside our bedroom window.

Waiting for lunch to come by

There he was hanging out quietly on the woodpile on the patio outside our kitchen.  I guess he knew that he doesn’t look like a turkey so it’s safe to be close to our kitchen.  I first photographed him, then took a video of him plucking a Downey Woodpecker.  Mr. Shorty trusted me enough to let me open the bedroom window, stick the camera out and take his portrait.  He even let me go out the patio door and take his photo with just a three foot wide glass table between us.  It was an amazing experience.  Perhaps slightly perturbed, he put up with me until I threw some ground turkey at him.  Well, I did it with good intention since I saw him miss a few catches… He seemed hungry.  ‘Here, some fresh ground turkey.’  Insulted, he flew off.  Bill said he probably got insulted that the turkey I offered wasn’t as fresh as our organic songbirds.  But, he was back the next day.

This past winter he pretty much lived with us.  As much as we like him and are in awe of his nobility and dignified look, we love our song birds more.  We wish that he would be more discriminating against Starlings, House Sparrow, Cow Bird and Grackles, but Downey Woodpeckers seem to be his favorite…. in a horrifying way.  Bill started to chase him off the patio.  I like playing ‘good cop.’  He flew off annoyed and circled around the house to the Rhododendron in the front.  When he was chased from the front, he would fly to the tree in the back yard.  If we annoyed him enough, he would fly off to the forest nearby.

We discovered leftovers under the rhododendron and realized we’d found his current favored picnic area.  So we took a cue from the Park Service and fenced it off with a slightly smaller gage than we thought he could fit through.  He has adapted, but it did shorten his roosting areas.

Perhaps he has a conscience or just felt sorry for us because lately we’ve found the remains of Blackbirds and Mourning Dove.  We have a surfeit of both so perhaps I should post a thank you note to him since the doves love to sit on my seedlings and don’t do much else and the Blackbirds are among the more annoying pests that rob the feeders and chase out the song birds.  Of course, if he ever develops a taste for squirrel, ..we have plenty of them too.  But that’s another bird feeder tale.

Building competition

Choosey little builders

The building competition  has been going on for the past few weeks.  Today was much more so, especially the House Wren and the Tree Swallow.  A bird house by the vegetable garden is taken over by a loud little singer House Wren since any Swallow that tried to take it were chased away by the old pair.  The House Sparrow tried to take over after the Swallows left but I did my best to make sure that they had no chance.  The House Wren came around a couple of days ago.  Well, his voice came first.  A tiny brownish guy with a very loud chirp. He decided to take the house, who knows may be as a decoy.  Last year, one of the Wrens built three houses but really nested in only one of them.  I didn’t know that Wrens could be so choosey.  He removed some grass that the Swallow put in the house.  For the first couple of times he was nice enough to take it back to the brush pile near by, but later he just dropped it after he pulled it out.  Then he picked some small twigs and started to build his home.

He would fly out and land on his roof each time after putting a new twig in and chirp a recitative.  I have no idea what he was announcing, but I think  more like “It’s my house, don’t even think about it.” or “Here, ladies.. a great comfy house.. you can see sun rise from the bedroom..”

The other choosey ones…Tree Swallows.  For her comfort, he lines the nest with white feathers. Have you ever seen a flying metallic, dark blue bird with a pure white feather between his beak? It was an interesting sight to see.  The only thing that topped it was a Robin flying with a latex glove dangling from his beak.  Once the swallow was done with the feather, he came around with a piece a grass around two feet long.  He gave up after a few tries…he couldn’t get it in the house!  Then he’s back with a shorter one. With a Wisteria next to the house, they won’t need air freshener after the kids poop.

I will let you know whose kids sing first.

What happened to spring??

You can call us … crazy

I had just come home from work at around 9:00 p.m.  The weather advisory freaked me out…. frost warning! Shouldn’t I be freaked?  It was 60 or 70 degree during the day a few days ago and night time temperatures have been in the upper 40’s.  I had put some of the seedlings in the ground, the ones that are hardy enough to deal with 40 degrees at night.  Some of them are even happy with a little cold like the little Sugarsnap peas.  They were fine until tonight.

The wind has been howling all day and seem to pick up even more at night.  The cold front is moving in from Canada and the temperature may drop to below 30 degrees.  We were out with our jackets on and we still felt the chill.  The poor seedlings need jackets!

Yes, at 9 p.m, we were out there with heavy duty garbage bags to cover rows of peppers, celery and sugar snap peas and weigh them down with firewood logs and stones.  The Moonflowers that were just about to reach the trellis went in hiding under tall plastic soup containers that I have been collecting.  Hopefully, they will not freeze to death.

We walked around the yard with a flashlight to make sure that we didn’t forget anyone.  We took the solar fountains in as well, just in case.  It’s better to be safe than sorry since they will freeze only once and not work again after that.

This is love.  Love makes you crazy.  Love makes you care.  And, sometimes it seems it seems a little obsessive.  But, I don’t mind being called “crazy” because I couldn’t let these little guys freeze to death out there.

Well, there is a way to reason this.  I will have to wait a few more weeks before I can eat them, if I let them die.  How’s that?  It’s a good enough reason to brave the cold at 9 p.m. with a flashlight to cover them up.  Oh, I will have to free them for sunlight tomorrow morning before I go to work too.


To Swallow, ..or Not:

They came to our garden for the first time last year, late in the spring.  We got so excited when we saw them checking out the bird-houses we had put up in hope of attracting Bluebirds.  Didn’t expect them to take up residence since they always stayed so high up in the sky. Settling in wasn’t so peaceful either.  The pest, as all the gardeners and birders know, the House Sparrows, tried to steal the house.  Actually the Sparrows were trying to take every single house in the garden.  We, especially I, were never going to let it happen. I kept checking every house like a nut case, after seeing the Sparrow going in and out.  I became a home-wrecker,  demolished every single House Sparrows’ nests that ever built in the birdhouses. We did trap one sparrow, insistent on declaring sovereignty over one birdhouse, by clapping a gloved hand over the opening until the “Havahart” trap could be pushed up to the opening.  He swooped out and into the cage.  We released him 20 miles north.  In the end, the swallows turned out to be feisty enough to defend their own property.  We watched as one day, a swallow grabbed a heckling sparrow in mid-air and slammed him into the ground.  Unhurt but rattled, the sparrow left them alone after that.

They are back early this year, early April when the air is still cold.  Straight back to the same old house they nested in last year.  They didn’t take long to check the other houses on the premises.  Apparently the same house has good memories.  The kids 1st pre-masticated bug.  The kids 1st singing lesson.  The 1st lawn party, ..wait, wrong memory.  There are, by our casual count, at least two pairs of swallows in the neighborhood this year.  We presume the 2nd pair might be last years kids, but they are arguing over property so we can’t be sure.

We did put up a 2nd bird-house about 15 feet away from the currently occupied one.  That was the official ‘bird book’ distance.  But the primary swallows make sure they buzz anyone that tries to inspect the real estate.  We’ll have to move that house further away.

Meanwhile, we await the return of the hummingbirds and hope that the wrens nest again this year in the backyard.  The Cardinal family that nested in one of the rose bushes had a maternal fatality that ended the kids future before they had fledged.  Hopefully they’ll try again this year, close enough for us to watch.

Spooky Encounter

Don’t worry it’s not poisonous

Yes, right!  But, I was programmed to jump every time I see a snake, poisonous or not.  Growing up in the tropics you learn pretty fast not to mess with cold-blooded slithering creatures because they can kill you in minutes.  I learned to identify Cobra, Krait and the lesser poisonous ones as well as the non-poisonous Pythons since I was a kid.  Once we found a Python coiled up in the kitchen at my parents home, that gave me pause for a second before I chased him out.  Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t a pet.  He came in looking either for warmth or food.  We had enough of these guys in the neighborhood that we didn’t need to welcome him in our home.  Why didn’t I smack him and make him into a small purse?  We believe that Pythons are sacred, plus they eat rodents.  They are good, practical protection.

Anyway, it’s not like I am afraid of non-poisonous snakes but it spooks me when I unexpectedly  encounter one.  I was programmed to jump first.  Poisonous or not, they, would coil to strike at you first if they were surprised.

After I realized that we have a little guy, a Garter snake as our full time resident in the yard, I have been very careful to scan the area where I walk.  Bill laughed.  He had a snide comment “Aw, he’s not gonna kill you.  He’s as spooked as you are. The worst he can do is pee on you and that stinks.”  Right!  Thank you. And that should re-program me just like that.

I say one because I usually see one at a time, but I’m not sure exactly how many of them are in our garden since I have seen it in the vegetable garden, outside the vegetable garden, in the wood pile, on the other side of the pool deck, in the flower plot.  I couldn’t tell the difference from one to another.  Most of the time we just jumped back from each other.

I have to accept that he or she  is a good looking fellow.  Look at all those scales, copper eyes and red and black tongue moving in and out to sniff you.  Well, from what I heard, once you have a snake in your garden the eco system is complete.  That’s a nice thought.  I feel sorry for the little frogs and toads who serenade us every night, though.

Nature Lover

I have loved hanging out in the garden ever since I can remember.  My grandmother grew everything from flowers to vegetables and fruits.  We lent farmland to farmers to grow Jasmine rice, so I had the chance to play in a rice field… and mud.  During the rainy season I could hardly wait to run out after the rain to pick wild mushrooms.  Nothing is like the simple pleasure that nature provides.  Nature shows a life cycle being born, growing old and dying within a short period of time.  It became an attachment that I don’t seem to be able to detach from even after many years of living in the city.  Now, I have  a garden again, actually I should say “we”, Bill and I, and it is a challenge.  Not just what new additions to add, but to keep it organic as well as attractive to new winged friends.  We counted over 30 types of birds in our yard last year.  Frogs, toads, bees, butterflies, spiders and the ‘spooky’ (I grew up where snakes are poisonous) Garter snakes have been hanging out in our garden as well.

Spring makes me anxious, my fingers itch to get in the dirt.  I couldn’t sleep and as soon as it is light enough outside I will be up and out the door with a mug of coffee in my hand.  The morning orchestra is always superb plus the rays of light playing across and through the dew at the edge of each leaf.  Anyone else coming up… any new kids on the block?  Each spring is like a race to please long awaited friends, pruning, training and feeding within a time frame, to make sure that your friends are satisfied.  If you are up to par with your friends, the outcome is always spectacular.  I pull every trick I have learned since I was a child, with help from Bill in any way he can, to make sure that they are happy.  What have our friends with little petals and wings been giving us in return?  Simple happiness.  We don’t want to leave the house in the morning.

Backyard Nature Lover's Experience