{ Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category }

The dangers of sending me to the hardware store

I’d just like to say at the outset that Chris is to blame.

He needed some more 1 1/2 inch screws for his current project. I was going into town. He asked me to pick some up for him. I agreed.

The trouble is, all the fasteners are towards the rear of our local Home Hardware, which means I have to walk past aisles and aisles of temptation in order to fill his request. I managed to ignore the racks of seed packets by the front door. I noticed, but did not stop to examine, the kitchen gadgets on special. I allowed my daughter to raid the paint swatches, as we are planning to fix her bedroom up this spring.

Triumph of triumphs, I got to the back of the store without picking up anything. I located the screws in question without incident. But on the return journey, there was birdseed. I mean, a lot of birdseed. Impressed at the varied selection I thought would only be found at a specialty store, how could I walk on? Such meticulous effort to feed our feathered friends must be applauded. Hence, a new suet feeder is hanging in our biggest spruce tree.

Suet brick holder, $1.99; Suet bricks, $4.97 for 3 (several varieties); both Home Hardware.

It would have stopped there, but I had to wait at the till for just a moment or two — long enough to notice that coir seed starter trays were on sale. And soil mix. And oh, that’s right, I should pick up some extra drainage trays. Two cracked on me last year, after all. And what’s this? Daffodil bulbs, just waiting for someone to force them for Easter? Why thank you, don’t mind if I do. They might not be ready by then, but need I repeat… daffodils.

After several weeks in the attic we'll have some buds!

Not the most grievous of financial infidelities, I know. But I was prepared for, and received, the eye rolling when I returned home with two shopping bags instead of a little plastic bin of hardware.

“Hey,” I said in defence, “Count your blessings. I could have come home with a new set of garden hoses. They were on the shelves.”

 

Christmas for the birds

Monday night was our community Christmas party, an annual event involving hayrides, hot chocolate, tree lighting, and an appearance by Santa. It’s a fun night, and the kids come home with a paper bag full of tooth-rotting goodness from the Head Elf.

This year, the candy bags included a handful of peanuts in the shell. I remember enjoying just such surprises as a child (long before the days of rampant nut allergies) and was disappointed when all of my children, as well as many of the others, turned their noses up at the nuts. They were all about the sugar.

Not being one to let anything go to waste, I insisted the peanuts be brought home. “If you don’t want them,” I said, “I know someone who will.”

That got their attention.

So we sorted the candy from the nuts, and I set a little container of them out on the front steps (the feeder is under a snowdrift). Sure enough, Tuesday morning the kids found it, tipped over and surrounded in delicate bird prints. I was expecting blue jays, as they go (ahem) nuts over this special treat, but I haven’t seen any yet: it’s a big fat flicker helping himself as far as we can tell.

It seems fitting to pass on these castoffs to the birds, as many European Christmas traditions mention Saint Nick and his various cultural incarnations giving special attention to animals. There’s the whole animals-talking-on-Christmas-Eve thing, too, and in Lithuania, grain and peas scattered on the barn floor at Christmas time was said to ensure healthy, productive animals in the new year. So I’m kind of thinking Santa would approve.

This is our Playmobil Advent calendar, a forest scene with Santa feeding all the animals. So far we've got deer, badgers, squirrels, mice, and a crow.

 

 

Bringing in the tomatoes

The time has come, I’m afraid, to end the tomatoes.

We’ve had a few frost warnings already, and I’ve been dutifully covering and uncovering my plants accordingly. But this is not my reason for giving up.

Someone else has discovered that tomatoes will actually grow in my yard. Someone with teeth and very bad manners.

Very suspicious.

They’ve been stealing the nicest, biggest fruit–red or green–eating half of it, and leaving the rest strewn about. Raccoon? Fox? Young deer, possibly?  Anyway, I’ve decided that between the frost and the thief, I might as well bring what’s left inside.

Which leaves me with a bunch of green tomatoes to ripen. Some are too small to mature of course (time to look for some green tomato recipes) but most of them should be perfectly happy to turn red over the next few weeks: they have a little tinge of colour and aren’t rock hard. I’ve got them in a cardboard box in a quiet corner of the pantry. If I get impatient I might throw a banana in there–bananas are super-producers of ethylene gas, which encourages ripening.

I’ve heard you can actually pick your whole plant and hang it upside down, and the tomatoes will ripen nicely on the vine, but I don’t really have anywhere to hang mine that won’t bring me dirty looks from my husband or eye-rolling from my kids. So I went for the middle road: I’ve left pieces of vine attached to the tomatoes in my box, being sure to leave them enough space that nobody is getting poked.

Mostly I’m just relieved that my tomato curse has been lifted. Not sure why I’ve had so much trouble with what is supposed to be an easy plant, but at last, I can hold my head high.

This lovely mess of fruit was all crowded together on one vine, flopped over and unnoticed near the ground. All that red/orange is one tomato!

 

 

The birds prove me wrong

My husband Chris is forever making stuff. He went on a streak a couple of years back making birdhouses out of re-purposed barn wood.

I warned him about getting too crazy with the size and shape of the openings, because I had read that different species of bird could be quite particular about that. He ignored me.

They were very popular and he’s sold most of them now; there are a few in our trees that he put up last year, but I didn’t think of them as anything but decorative because smartypants me knows that no bird would actually take a chance on these crazy things.

Particularly eyebrow raising was an old broken guitar he put up, minus the strings, for a laugh.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, all of these birdhouses have occupants.

Here are the starlings that have taken up residence in the guitar:

I realize these pictures will not have National Geographic ringing me up anytime soon... taken through the glass from the living room.

 

I should probably wash my windows

And there are some camera-shy little yellow finches hanging out in here:

Between these guys, the sparrows, doves, jays and the ubiquitous robins, our yard is downright noisy these days. I couldn’t have been more wrong. And I’m okay with that.

A quick and easy bird-feeder post

When I was a kid, the bird feeder, seen from our large kitchen window provided endless entertainment. Chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, doves, juncoes and woodpeckers (to name a few) were all frequent visitors. A number of birdfeeders have come and gone over the years and all of them used to sit on a metal pole with the requisite squirrel guard that did absolutely nothing to deter the acrobatic squirrel population. I love this bird-feeder post (and its squirrel-proof feeder) that my father made last year. I thought I would share it to commemorate National Bird-Feeding Month, established by the National Bird-Feeding Society.

A closeup shot shows off the fancy bracket.

The instructions are quite simple. Add a post bracket to the bottom of an eight-foot-long 4×4 post (paint it first, if you wish) and pound it into the ground. My dad says you could also use sono tube and concrete post holes depending on how soft or firm your ground is. Screw on a bracket (from which you’ll hang your feeder), top with a fence post cap and voilà. An attractive bird-feeder stand.

Oh, deer!

If anyone happens to let a herd of deer loose on the fourth floor of TC Media, they won’t be coming near my area. It’s not because I’m hiding a stash of deer-resistant bulbs amongst my gardening books and back issues of Canadian Gardening magazine. Rather, our web editorial director, Cath, had a container of Bobbex deer repellent under her desk that was accidentally kicked over by a colleague. The area is awash in eau de putrescent eggs, fish meal, fish oil, meat meal, garlic and clove oils, among others—all very effective, I’m sure, at repelling deer from a large backyard. A backyard full of fresh air that would help the odour to dissipate. That is not the case here.

Cath is stoically working at her desk, but it is pretty stinky over there. We thought we’d ask if anyone has advice on eliminating the bog-of-eternal-stench smell from carpet. Febreze and baking soda have failed miserably. Any advice is great welcome!

Dear deer:

Hello. I don’t know if you remember me; I’m the lady you’ve dodged on the highway numerous times, the one who lives in the big white house you mosey past on your way up into the hills behind town.

It’s been lovely to watch you wander through over the years, and I don’t mind you bedding down in the back pasture from time to time. I have not even begrudged you the chomps taken out of some of the beets last fall. Overall, the unspoken understanding between us has been honoured: I leave you alone, you come and go with a minimum of disruption.

Until this year. I don’t know why you have broken our peaceful truce, but it is clearly over: every single one of my pea plants has had the top neatly munched off. Every developing pod is ending up in someone’s stomach, and it’s not mine.

I haven’t offended you in some way, have I? Is it repercussions from the collision two years ago? Are you against the lilac hedge we put in? Is this a protest?

I know you need to eat. I’m perfectly willing to feed you. There is grass, and buttercups, and lamb’s quarters… heck, have some stork’s bill! It’s abundant, and I have no plans to eat it, as opposed to the peas.

I bear you no ill will, but you must identify the offending Bambi and get him in line or I will be forced to take action. I have netting; don’t make me use it.

Sincerely,

April

Garden eye spy: New perspectives


The great outdoors has always been a magical place for me personally. Ever since I was a little girl, immersed in storybooks of secret gardens and enchanted forests, I have adored spending time amidst pretty blooms, swaying boughs and luscious, thick grass, discovering a whole new world of tiny creatures and wondrous happenings.

That is why I am beyond thrilled to present today a new column here on the Canadian Gardening blog, entitled ‘Garden Eye Spy.’  Each week we will showcase a new photograph and a new perspective from which to view a garden space, once again capturing that childhood sense of wonder that so often becomes lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

This charming snail fellow caught my eye moseying his way around a flowerbed border, an adorable reminder that gardens are not meant for rushing around in, but rather meandering through with care. Who knew a snail could instill such spring garden inspiration? Have a wonderful long weekend everyone!

{Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media.  Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her blog, Acquired Taste or via Twitter.}

Wildlife sightings

It’s been a good year for wildlife.

We had a perfect view of this little guy from a hallway window. Watched him for ten minutes before he trotted off.

We watched a fox bury his lunch in our backyard in February, and played host to the deer more than a few nights. There’s been moose up on the hill a lot this year and the guy I get my eggs from has a raccoon giving him grief. I think we’ve got some little yellow finches nesting somewhere nearby, because they are constantly hanging out in the mountain ash even though there’s no berries or anything yet.

We had two really cool visitors this week. A yellow-bellied marmot was just hanging out on the front walk when we saw him; by the time Chris got the camera out he was hiding out under the front steps so we didn’t get a picture. He was pretty amazing. I’ve never seen one in the wild, much less in my yard.

Then we had a tiger salamander drop in. They are common in southern Alberta, but we don’t tend to see them unless it gets good and wet, which it has been the last few weeks.

Salamanders are good luck charms for me. Amphibians are some the of first creatures to be affected when an environment is disrupted or damaged, so seeing this little guy is like a little signal from the universe that things are okay, that our little corner of the world is pretty healthy and happy. Makes you feel like you’re doing something right, you know?

Then doing the dishes here tonight, we saw a big old jackrabbit bound across the road. That’s a little more prosaic–my parents have a warren in their Edmonton neighborhood–but with all these critters around, I feel like our garden has become a veritable wildlife sanctuary. It’s reminded me I’ve been meaning to build a bat house and a mason bee house to add to all the birdhouses Chris and the kids have put up. Heck, I think maybe we’ll build a butterfly house this summer too… the more the merrier. As long as the raccoons stay away from my compost pile.

A colourful nesting box for bees

After the recent Garden Writers Association luncheon at Canada Blooms, I came home with new books to read, new products to try and new plants and seeds to plant. However one of the items I was most excited about was this:


Except mine is pink and white. The reason I’m excited about it is a few weeks ago I watched a documentary called The Vanishing of the Bees at the Evergreen Brickworks. It was followed by a panel discussion by three bee experts. I had a great chat afterwards with J. Scott MacIvor, a PhD student studying wild bees. He’s set up nest boxes like this one all over the city so that he can monitor wild bees for a research project. Because I’m moving, I couldn’t really commit to being part of the project, but I’m excited to put this little guy in the garden where I end up. The pollen bee nest shown here is available at Armstrong & Blackbury Horticultural Products. The website explains quite thoroughly how to put it in your garden and maintain it.

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