Friday, May 28, 2010

The birds

One of the wonderful things about technology is I can occasionally work from home.  And my favorite spot for doing that is in the West Wing, where I can keep an eye on the goings on in my backyard.  This past week, the birds provided their share of entertainment.

A lot of birds love to perch in the tulip tree, usually on their way to or from the bird bath.  This year I hung the wren house from a shepherd's hook next to the tree.  (The tree branches are not bird house ready yet.)  Some of those birds in the tulip tree take an unusual interest in the wren house.  I have seen a pair of cat birds checking it out, as well as a blue bird (why doesn't he chase the sparrows out of the blue bird house?!?), and a persistent sparrow that was bound and determined to squeeze through that little hole.  I finally rapped on the window to scare away the sparrow, and as he flew off, the wren swooped in from nowhere, landed on the house, and started his mighty song, as if to say, "And stay away!"

The other day a mourning dove was sitting on the wren house, just kind of hanging out, probably waiting his turn at the bird bath.  But the wren did not like his visitor one bit.  When scolding did not work, the wren dove past the dove and pecked him on the head!  Said dove dropped to the ground, where the wren continued to harass him until he finally vacated the premises.

In the make-love-not-war category, we have a pair of cardinals who never seem to nest anywhere that I can determine, but who flit about the yard, always together.  The other day they landed in the tulip tree and kissed!  Actually, I think the male was feeding the female, but it is more fun to call it kissing.  And tongue was involved.

Don't get me started on the randy sparrows!  They are just finishing up one brood in the blue bird house and they are already starting family number 2.

But what I really want to know is, Why do robins build their nests right next to human passageways?  This one is in the clematis by the front door.

I took these pix while cleaning out the gutters.  The parents are never far away, and are quite vocal about their disapproval of my comings and goings.

And the junipers have been in situ for just a short time, but one already has its very own robin's nest.

This one is about four feet off the ground, and every time I pass through the nearby gate, the nest's owner scares the bejesus out of me by exploding from the bush.  I'm sorry to disturb her, but hey, I live here too!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hat trick, and a broken covenent

On Monday I visited Menard's, Lowe's, and the Home Depot, and scored at all three.  I arrive home with tomato cages, blood meal, bone meal, a Fiskars weeder, seed starting mix, and chicken wire.  Lots and lots of chicken wire. 

While I was standing in line at HD, burdened with two 50-foot rolls of the latter, the man in front of me eyed my purchase and said incredulously "You don't have rabbits, do you?"  Why, yes.  Yes I do.  "Where do you live?"  I told him the street names of the nearest major intersection.  "That's where I live.  We used to have rabbits, but they're all gone now!"  Well, they all must be over at my house, having a bunny party.

And not only are they frolicking and reproducing and leaving piles of "treats" for my dog (who, despite her Beagle heritage, has no interest in actually chasing them), those damn furry creatures have crossed the line. 

From past experience, I know what garden plants the rabbits favor and those - the snap peas, the beans, the greens - I protect.  And the rabbits still avoid things like garlic and onions. 

(I'm guessing they are leaving the parsley alone because it is right next to the chives.)  

I turned a blind eye to the decimation of the basil plants and choose not to worry about the occasional damage to the lilies.  I also have a lot of crap growing in my lawn, like clover and plantain and dandelions, so it is not like there is not already a smorgasbord for them to choose from.  But when they top a pepper plant and strip a few branches from a tomato plant, they have broken the unspoken promise from years past. 

Now my garden resembles a fortress.  Each pepper plant is surrounded by a cylinder of chicken wire, and after finding those cylinders upended one morning, the whole bed is wrapped in a mini-picket fence to hold the cylinders in place.  The tomatoes are enclosed by tomato cages lined with chicken wire.  And I have plans to build a chicken wire enclosure for an entire bed, so I can plant green beans, turnips, rutabagas, and other items that no doubt would tempt those buck-toothed rodents. 

I am guessing that one reason I am seeing more rabbits than usual is my next door neighbors are now the proud owners of two yappy dogs that have cleared their property of vermin.  It occurred to me that maybe what I need is something similar, so last night I dragged my indoor cat outside, to keep me company while I constructed chicken wire ramparts.  Fern loves to watch the rabbits from behind glass, and has occasionally exhibited an urge to escape the confines of the house in order to fulfill her genetic destiny as predator.  But last night, she freaked out and took cover in a clump of phlox and coneflower next to the patio.  I will continue to try to condition her to outdoor time.  Even if all she does is hide, maybe her scent will provide some discouragement. 

This morning, there were two rabbits sitting in the backyard.  I gave Betsy an inspired pep talk and turned her loose, but she stopped way short in order to snuff rabbit scent in the grass.  So I stepped out, to see if I could do better.  If the neighbors happened to look out their windows, they would have seen the crazy lady next door, clad in mismatched pajamas, dodging poop piles in her bare feet, while tossing a big stick at the rabbits.  (This is why I planted arborvitae.)   

The rabbits' initial reaction was one of disbelief, but after about the third time the stick landed near them (and it's not that I did not want to hurt them, I just did not want to hurt them so badly I would be forced to euthanize them), they got the idea and abandoned the backyard.  I saw them later, with another of their pals, in the front yard.  I tapped on the window and yelled, but they just stared.   

Blankly or defiantly?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

And the river is rising

When I looked out the patio door this morning at the rain gauge, I was shocked to see the floater indicating over four inches of rain fell last night.  The rain gauge is located near a downspout and the gutters were overflowing, so I'm not sure how accurate that is.  The weather sites have not posted today's precipitation yet, although I think most of it fell before midnight last night.  At any rate, it is really soggy out there!

Totally Tomatoes agreed to refund my money for the paste collection.  I am still trying to nurse the poor plants back to health.  I picked off the dead foliage, so now they look like miniature palm trees.  About three-quarters of them have a chance, but there are a few that look hopeless.  We'll see.

Ordering plants online is always a gamble.  Sometimes they arrive in great shape and do well in the garden, other times I can't believe what comes out of the box.  Buying locally usually results in a higher success rate, but not always.  At any rate, now that I have gotten my feet wet with starting seeds myself, I plan to do that in the future.

The impatiens are now in the planter on the front porch.  The yellow onion sets have been planted in the garden. I also transplanted the pepper plants and one tomato in a bed that is reachable by the dog, so I dug out an old crappy mini-picket fence I have been hanging onto, to protect them.  I planted a row of Blue Lake bush beans inside the pea fence because last year the rabbits dined freely on them.  I transplanted the leggy basil plants as well, and while I have never had a problem with rabbits eating basil before, they must like that particular variety (Genovese, I believe) because half of them are gone.  I am sorely tempted to get an outdoor cat to take care of the rabbit population, but for now I will build me some fences.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Look what arrived in the mail:

That is my 16-plant paste sampler from Totally Tomatoes.  Not very pretty, are they?  Some of the plants don't even have leaves.  I am trying to revive them, but it may be a lost cause.  Regardless, I am asking for my money back.

In happier news, I ran up to Huntertown Gardens last Monday and purchased some white impatiens, three varieties of hens -and-chicks, a spike, and some yellow and red onion sets.  Tomorrow is supposed to be a nice 80-degree day, so when I get home from work, it is into the garden with me.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

More pictures!

Blogger is behaving badly re photo placement.  Sometimes it places the photo where the cursor is, sometimes not.

Anyway, here are some blossoms on the Onondaga viburnum.  The outer florets are open but the center ones are just starting.

My only disappointment with this shrub is it does not produce fruit.

The cotoneaster does produce fruit, from these delicate pink blossoms.

I am contemplating moving these from the east side of the house to the west, because the bed on the east side is sandy and dry, which stresses these lovely bushes.

Years ago I planted a half dozen lily-of-the-valley, but the rabbits ate them.  A couple survived.

My SO keeps promising me more from his yard, but the transfer has yet to happen.

Maybe it is the mulch, but I get a lot of mushrooms in my yard when it rains. 

I have no idea whether they are edible, but I find them fascinating in all their variety and complexity.

I can't capture just how stunning the spring phlox are.  They spread like weeds.

Unfortunately, they get rather ratty looking once they are done blooming, but the birds like the seeds.  (A lot of work to be done in the "meadow" there!  If anyone could see into my backyard, they would probably call Neighborhood Code Enforcement to complain about the "weeds".)

In the same lavender color are the chives.

I think these are garlic chives.  Two great flavors wrapped up in one plant.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Some pictures!

As I keep saying, I am still getting used to my new camera, but so far, I like it. Here are some of the pix I have been promising:

The juniper, in situ:

The reason for their location at the southwest corner of the house is, this part of the house is exposed to the most weather, and the corner bedroom is always either too hot or too cold.

The potato patch:

 Most of my garden beds run north-south, but the new potato beds run east-west.  One problem I have already discovered is now I can't dump grass clippings at both ends of the north-south beds.  Not that that is a big deal.

Not a very good photo, but evidence that the asparagus is growing.  Those are the skinniest stalks I have ever seen.

I am really looking forward to having my own fresh asparagus in a year.  Or two.  Or three.  Only optimists plant asparagus.

Evidence that the potatoes in the potato grow bag are growing:

 (Please ignore the whirly birds from my neighbor's maple tree.)

Tomato and pepper seedlings, shortly after unpacking: 

We had a frost last weekend, but hopefully temps will edge up to the tomato-planting range soon.  These guys look puny in this pic, but they are growing fast.  (Those are marigolds to the right.)

And that is all for now, not because there are not more photos, but I am out of time.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

There's always room for Advil

Today my SO and I worked and worked and after he went home, I worked some more.  Now my SI joint is unhappy, but we made great progress in the yard.  Photos will have to wait for another day, because I am too tired to edit them, but I want to record the latest before I forget.
  • The potatoes in the grow bag are poking up through the soil.
  • The asparagus is up!  Very skinny stalks.
  • The tomatoes and peppers from Seed Savers Exchange arrived Thursday.  They looked kind of limp and puny, but I put them under the grow lights and gave them a good drink, and they perked right up.  The night temps are not staying above 50 degrees yet, so they will have to wait a while before being transplanted.
  • I created two new garden beds and "planted" potatoes in them.  I'm using the lasagna gardening method of laying wet newspapers on lawn, spacing seed potatoes 12" apart on the newspapers, then covering it all with straw.  This was last Thursday.  Today I "planted" more potatoes, this time in an existing bed.  Why so many potatoes?  I ordered a potato "sampler" - 2.5# each of eight varieties.  (I get carried away.)
  • After learning that vinegar kills dandelions, I experimented using it on Canada thistle.  The thistle amongst the garlic are a bit robust, so I cut them off and tried injecting vinegar into the hollow stems.  That was Thursday.  I checked the results today, and the stems looked burned where the vinegar came into contact, but the remaining parts of the plants look okay.  So vinegar kills on contact, not systemically.  Damn.  
  • Today my SO dug the holes for the junipers, so those are in the ground.  The other newbies are still waiting their turn.
  • My SO also helped me create a new bed between the tulip tree and the West Wing.  That area had never recovered from the construction, so instead of trying to turn it back into lawn, we covered it with newspapers and mulch.  I haven't decided what to plant there yet, but I might take one of the big clumps of ornamental grass in the front of the house and divide it into five or so smaller clumps and plant them along the house.  Maybe.
  • I planted lettuce and radishes in a box on the patio, where the rabbits can't get them.
  • I transplanted the Italian parsley into the garden, next to the rhubarb.
  • The Keys of Heaven, columbine, and bleeding heart are all blooming, as are the honeysuckle vines.
  • There is a wren in the wren house by the tulip tree, sparrows in the bluebird house, and a robin has built a nest in the clematis by the front door, but no one cares for the bottle house.  I'm wondering if it is in a bad location, too close to my neighbors' barking dogs.  I'll leave it there for this year, but if no one moves in, I'll relocate it next year.
And now I am going to go soak these tired bones.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Like magic

The dead rabbit that was by the electrical meter?  Gone.  Nothing remains but some patches of fur.  It's a shady spot, so I don't think the sun vaporized it.  I'm assuming a scavenger either ate in or took it to go.

Not so magically, the brush pile is gone, and in its place is a big pile of mulch.  I took the day off and my SO came over (with breakfast) and we spent a good part of the day in my neighbor's truck.

While we were in the vicinity of the biosolids location, we stopped at Franz Nursery.  I came away with two 'Wichita' blue junipers (Juniperus scopulorum) to help protect the west side of the house from the weather,

a 'Limelight' hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight') for the shady corner north of the West Wing,

two 'Big Daddy' hostas to keep the hydrangea company,

and four wintergreen holly bushes (Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Princess' and 'Blue Prince') to provide an understory to the arborvitae.

I also wanted a Prairie Fire crabapple and some redbuds, but I am put off by the prices.  I am willing to order smaller (cheaper) trees online, so maybe I will do that.

The mystery of the perch in the bottle bird house is solved:

My SO confessed.  Still no residents.

My new camera is pretty smart, so I took some pix on a windy day, to see if it could steady the subjects.  The results below are very satisfactory.

Blackhaw viburnum:

Sargent viburnum:


My only complaint about the camera is it feels too small in my hand, but I expect I will get used to that.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Robins love baths

Last winter I moved the bird bath closer to the patio door, the easier to manage it.  I meant to move it further away once it was not longer tethered to the outdoor outlet, but I'm glad I didn't.  Sitting at the table, I have a view of the bird bath visitors, usually robins splashing and dunking.  The angle between the bird bath and me is such that the birds can't see me, or at least, not very well.  Others come to visit, but the robins are the most noticeable.

The wren house is also visible from the West Wing, and yesterday a wren was checking the abode out.  But I am much more visible from there, and today I haven't seen any activity going on there.  The wrens have also expressed an interest in the bottle bird house.  Someone stuck a stick in the hole by its lip, as a roost.  At first, I thought some clever bird had done that, but realized it must have been the neighbor who gifted the thing to me.  The instructions said the roost was optional, that a roost would allow larger birds entrance.  We'll see who takes up residence.  Everyone seems to be in nest-building mode.

Another rabbit bit the dust.  It's half-eaten carcass is by the electrical meter, waiting for me to remember to remove it.  If Betsy were the culprit, it would not be half-eaten, plus I think I would have noticed the blood and fur on her.  I'm thinking an owl or a hawk.  While the bunnies are cute and interesting to watch, they do wreak havoc in the garden.

I just mowed the lawn Friday, but already it is swamped by fluffy dandelions.  Again.  I am waiting for Neighborhood Code Enforcement to show up and cite me for the 3B garden, which looks like a rampant meadow right now.  If there weren't a few remaining daffodils and the newly blooming phlox, it would be a total eyesore instead of just a weedy problem.

This has been a rainy weekend.  Every time the sun comes out and a little blue sky breaks through the gray, the weather changes about five minutes later.  It is just enough to discourage any outdoor activity.  I am taking Tuesday off, though, so maybe, just maybe we can get something done.

I was getting close to not being able to park my one car in the two-car garage, so my SO helped me clean it out yesterday.  There is still not room for two cars, but it is much better.  I still have some sorting and pitching to do.

Today I baked a rhubarb-strawberry pie, the rhubarb from my garden, the strawberries from California.  It is a family tradition that I make birthday pie for my kids.  It is also a family tradition that I overload the pie with fruit, thereby guaranteeing the smoke detector will go off once the filling starts dripping over the edge.  Today was no exception.  Good thing my SO and I brought the fans in from the garage - I needed them to clear out the smoke.

No pics today, but for those who wonder, my new camera is a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W330.