Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lovejoy, Sharon. A blessing of toads. Hearst: 2007.

Over on the book blog, I review garden columnist and lecturer Sharon Lovejoy's book A Blessing of Toads. This book's a great one to read when I need to be reminded to relax in the garden, and take time to watch. She makes a great argument for it. As well, she provides numerous fascinating tips on attracting wildlife to the garden, with practical, easy-to-follow advice. She gardens in both California and Maine, so some of her California stuff is less applicable to us northern gardeners, but anything from Maine is very applicable here. Recommended!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

summer birds in the backyard

I stepped out to read in the backyard -- I've been trying to do this more, because what's the point of having an amazing garden if I can't enjoy it? -- and immediately stopped to watch one of our young robins going to town in the bird bath. I have never seen a robin clean himself (herself?) more thoroughly than this one. Then he stopped to preen, and I swear he was at it for three minutes while I stood perfectly still so as not to disturb him. There's something wonderful about that kind of spontaneity in a wild animal -- that bird was definitely enjoying himself.

Then I sat down on the steps, and less than ten minutes later an unfamiliar commotion caused me to look up again (I think I've figured out why my reading pace has slowed significantly in the past couple weeks). This time it was the downy woodpecker, landing on our oak tree. I was pleased -- haven't seen them since early spring -- and then a second swooped in after her. They were clearly gleaning something off the oak; I hope they keep coming back, too, for whatever they were eating.

Even better, though, every once in a while, the female would make a peculiar noise, and the other would come in from whatever branch he (she?) was working on, and open his mouth to be fed. The young wasn't begging for food -- the mother was calling him over to feed him. Or at least, that's how I interpreted that particular interaction. After feeding, the young one would fly back to where he had left off and keep working away at whatever he was trying to eat.

Other birds in the back yard this week have included:
  • a nighthawk soaring over (hooray! first one of the season for me, I've been waiting),
  • the ubiquitous chimney swifts,
  • a very, very territorial cardinal (he never stops singing),
  • young crows begging their parents for food,
  • chickadees for the first time in weeks,
  • goldfinches,
  • house finches,
  • grackles,
  • starlings and English sparrows,
  • and a long-winded red-eyed vireo.

If we widen our net to the entire neighbourhood, my neighbour and I saw a great-blue heron land on the roof of the church at the end of the street when we were coming home from a walk the other day; on that walk were also pewees and indigo buntings, over in the local park.

Especially now that things are starting to cool down a bit, it's getting noisy out there again. It was so hot today, the middle of the day was pretty devoid of birdsong. I'm going to go out and fill up the bird bath again in a few minutes, because I'm pretty sure that robin used up more than his fair share.

Friday, June 19, 2009

progress update: a little bit of everything

Hello, green blog. It appears I have been neglecting you something awful lately. It's not because nothing is happening in the garden -- it's because there's too much and when it's a choice between weeding or writing, I'll be weeding every time.

Today I'm trying to figure out how best to deal with the basket-of-gold (Alyssum saxatile) in the front garden. It's nearly done blooming and I know from experience that it looks like hell if I don't clean it up, but I don't want to damage the plant because it really does wonderfully. I don't know that I have any pictures of it blooming -- I'll have to get some next year -- but it's been absolutely spectacular every year, no matter the weather. Everything I've seen suggests pruning back hard after flowering -- cutting back 3 inches of growth -- so I think I'll try that this year and see how it goes. I do worry that though they seem to like the neglect, they might get sick of it after three years and up and die on me at any time now.

My other major garden task for today is compost maintenance. I tried to do it last week and it poured all day Thursday, so today looks good. The vermicomposter is going to be emptied entirely, and about 2/3 of the worms placed in new homes in the various compost piles. The rest will get new bedding in the vermicomposter, and "fresh" food from the veggie crisper in the fridge (yum!) and then hopefully they'll be good for another year. The castings I'm going to use in some of the house plants, but most of it will go into the composter to enrich the compost there. Castings dry out into extremely hard pellets, so they don't make great mulch. I don't think.

The other composters need to be turned, and I'm hoping that some of the leaf mulch from the new yard waste bin is going to be ready for mulching the garlic bed, which will be another plan for today if it is ready. Um, and re-potting tomatoes into their big containers. If I can find the soil. And transplanting the asters. And the pepper.

And since I've been saying I'll post photos of the square foot bed (which is really working very well so far):