Garden Delight

I have new neighbors: the birds moved in.

Flowers, butterflies, lush landscapes under shady trees, and vegetable gardens full of organic heirlooms are what we hope for when we put so much of our time and work into creating our little habitats. Today I noticed a delight I don’t always think about: the birds have moved into the yard. This garden has lots of native plants and trees and a little pond, but I was thinking more about pollinators and bees. But it’s the mating season in the bird kingdom and looking around with an experienced birder I discovered a world I didn’t really notice before because I was busy looking at plants.

Downy woodpecker

One sad part of the yard was the cherry trees mostly dead from harsh frosts the last two years. But a couple of weeks ago, this tiny (less than four inches high) little guy started to whittle a nest from a dead part of the tree trunk. It took quite a while for him to make a perfect round 1/8th inch deep hole but now all I see are his little tail feathers as he pecks and then kicks all the sawdust from his nest that is about three inches deep now. He is the hardest worker and whittles industriously from dawn to dusk. His girlfriend is seen flittering in the neighboring trees but he’s doing all the home building.

Chickadees
Long resident in the neighborhood, a mating pair of chickadees has moved into an abandoned bird house hanging in view of the kitchen window. I’m not sure if mating has happened yet…there’s a lot of coming and going by both the male and female. But they are adorable and their classic “chick-a-dee” song is delightful over morning coffee

 

House wrens

Our city lost many trees from climate fluctuations the last couple of winters so a free Spring Cleanup weekend was announced so everyone cut put all the dead trees and branches in the street and the city would pick them up. The town was looking a little scrappy so we were happy about this. The birds weren’t so happy. About twenty little house wrens were living in the mountain of downed limbs that waited for pick up. I guess these trees had been their homes. Several of them decided to quite literally become my house wrens. They have moved into the eaves of my wooden house, delighting me and entertaining my cats (who have to stay indoors in Spring.) Wrens make their nests from sticks and debris so they collect lots of little sticks and tiny piles of dropped or rejected sticks end up on the walkway from time to time. Next year I’ll put a proper wren house there.

Now I see birds everywhere. Doves (non-native noisy ones) congregate in the neighbor’s tall trees. Little broken robin eggs post-hatching are deposited in the lawn. Hummingbirds flitter around the neighbor’s flowering horse-chestnut tree. A neighbor spotted a bright oriole but I have to figure out how to lure them here. The morning mating calls are beautiful and loud….there’s a lot of mating going on in my neighborhood.

I’m so happy to live in my bird community. Thank you to my native plants, shrubs and trees who help support them. Thanks to the insect pests that I tolerated that now feed the baby birds.

 

Two ways to have more birds in your yard

by Sandy SwegelPurple Coneflower Seeds

I was chatting with a local bird habitat specialist hoping for some tips on what I could plant or build that would attract more birds to my new garden. I was surprised as she struggled to think of flowers that might work. Then she blurted: “The biggest obstacle to birds in the garden is the humans.” If the humans would just quit “improving” the garden, more birds would automatically come.

Don’t deadhead so much.

She elaborated, the first most important thing to do for birds is to quit deadheading so much and leave the seed heads of spent flowers on the plant so the seeds can mature. You can do some deadheading to keep your plants making more flowers, but especially at the end of the plant’s season, you need to leave the seeds on. I used to throw the seed heads into a corner of the garden near a bird feeder, but I learned that birds don’t like to eat off the ground unless they are desperate. They like to land on the top of the seed stalk and bend over and pull the seeds out one by one. Up on top of the plant, they feel safer from predators and can fly off at a moment’s notice.

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Learn to Tolerate Some Pests04.15.16d

The other mistake gardeners make that discourages birds is being too diligent about getting rid of all the pests and larvae in the garden. Leaving some pests may damage a few plants, but birds need caterpillars and bugs in the spring to feed their hungry babies. A pest-free garden is not a healthy habitat. And you won’t have to worry about the pests overtaking your garden in most cases because the birds are going to eat them!

So to attract more birds to your garden, let your garden look a little more unruly. I did get a couple of plant ideas of seeds birds particularly like: coreopsis, sunflowers, coneflowers and cosmos are all seed heads that birds consider especially yummy.

04.15.16

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photocredits

rachelinthegarden.wordpress.com
animalstime.com/what-feed-baby-bird-what-feed-baby-birds/
audubonportland.org/about/events/hidden-habitats
birdnote.org

 

Six Reasons to Grow Borage

Six Reasons to Grow Borage

by Sandy Swegel

  1. Bees love borage

Bees absolutely cover the plant when it is in bloom.  And bloom lasts a long time and repeats throughout the season.  Bees and other pollinators seem to prefer it to other nearby plants.  Must be extra tasty or sweet.

  1. Borage is super easy to grow

My neighbor lets her’s grow along her alleyway against chain link fence.  No water, no fertilizing….just run off from the grass and a bit of shade.  When the plants go to seed, she throws the seed heads a little further down the fence line.  Even in our arid climate, that’s hospitable enough for borage to grow.  No deadheading or fussing…just lots of plants. It’s is supposed to be an annual, but it acts like a perennial….plants grow back in the same place every year.

  1. Birds love borage

Borage makes a lot of flowers and seed heads.  In the Fall, the birds were hanging out on the sunflower heads nearby and I didn’t notice them in the borage.  But this Spring morning, about eight of those little birds that chatter so much in spring were digging and rooting in the borage patch.  Bird food in February is a good thing!

 

  1. Borage is edible for humans

The young greens can be added to mixed salads or steamed. (Older leaves are too hairy and not so yummy.)  The little flowers are adorable in salads. Pastry chefs candy the flowers for decorating desserts.

  1. Borage is medicinal. It has long been a medicinal herb for skin diseases, melancholy, diabetes and heart conditions. Borage oil is an important anti-inflammatory.
  2. And the number one reason to grow borage: They’re Blue!!!!!

OK, that’s the real reason I grow borage.  Blue flowers make me so happy and the blue of borage is one of the most amazing blues in the plant kingdom.

 

Photo Credits:

http://medicinalherbinfo.org

http://shop.gourmetsweetbotanicals.com/

http://kiwimana.co.nz/borage-good-for-bees/

 

Planting Wildflowers

Grow a Wildflower Meadow!

by Sandy Swegel

This blog post is for anyone who wants to grow wildflowers.  It is especially dedicated to BBB Seeds’ friends at the Rockies Audubon Society who have an awesome program called Habitat Heroes that encourages “wildscaping” your garden with native plants that attract pollinators and birds and support wildlife even in an urban area.

  • Deciding What and Where to Grow

Look at the site where you want to grow a wildflower meadow or patch.  An ideal site would have sun and good drainage and not too many weeds. Nature seldom provides what we consider ideal. So the next step is choosing the right mix of wildflowers.  We help by providing mixes for unique conditions such as sites that are dry or sites that shady.

  • Prepare the Soil

TX-OK-1oz

Some don’ts:

  • Don’t deep till!

That’s the number one rule….unless you are planning a year ahead of time.  There are enormous numbers of weed seeds in any soil and tilling up the soil brings up all those weed seeds to the light and they start to grow.  You do have to deal with weeds and you will lightly till/scratch in a shallowly.  But this is time to leave the tiller in the garage.

  • Don’t use weed killer

Especially don’t use the weed killers for your lawn or those with pre-emergents that stop new seeds from germinating. Those will have long-lasting effects that will thwart your wildflower growing efforts.

  • Weeds:

You will have to deal with weeds especially if you have an area that is pretty barren of other vegetation.  People have good success with putting down black fabric or cardboard weeks ahead of time to suffocate the weeds.  For big hunkin’ weeds like dock, it’s good to get the shovel out. You can’t get all the weeds, but after you put your seeds out, you won’t be doing any weed-pulling for a while because you’ll accidentally pull the new wildflowers or disturb their young roots. Replacing weeds with wildflowers will be an ongoing process.

  • Scratch and Rake

You do need to break the soil and rake it smooth, but not more than 2-3 inches deep.  You want little crevices for the seeds to slip into so they have a cozy home.  I’ve had the best success by loosening that top couple inches of soil and waiting a couple of weeks for all the weeds to germinate. I then scratch up those weeds, rake again, and then put the wildflower seed out.

  • How Much To Plant

One ounce of seed (a small packet) plants about 100-150 square feet.  (eg 10 feet by 15 feet.)  Follow this rule of thumb.  Planting more than this makes the plants choke each other out.  Planting less gives weeds free run.

Expert Tip:  Mix some sand with the wildflower seed to make it easier to spread the tiny wildflower seeds evenly.  About four parts sand to one part seed.

 

  • When to Plant

If you live someplace mild and humid, you can plant almost anytime.  The rest of us either plant in the Spring (about one month before last frost date) or Fall.

  • Water

That’s the biggest challenge for many.  If you aren’t living in the above mentioned mild and humid area, you need to be sure the wildflowers get enough water.  One gardening buddy said her secret was to go out and seed the night before a big snowstorm and let the melting snow help.  I personally use row cover over the area to keep water from evaporating.  I also use a soft rain nozzle to hand water over everything.

Our website has a Resources Section with more detailed instructions on seeding wildflowers. https://www.bbbseed.com/wildflower-grass-tips/

 

That’s really it.

Pick an appropriate wildflower mix.

Get rid of the huge weeds and prepare the top couple inches of soil.

Plant.

Water.

Wait for Nature to do What She Does Best: Create beauty for you and food for all the wild creatures.

 

Before and After Pictures are some of my favorite things.  The Habitat Heroes program has awesome before and after pictures that will inspire you:

Photo Credit:

http://rockies.audubon.org/get-involved/habitat-hero-winners

A Parking lot median at the West View Rec Center in Westminster, CO, before and after

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter2

 

 

It’s dandelion season!

by Sandy Swegel

Let them grow, let them grow, let them grow.

Warm sun after a winter rainy day means dandelions arise from the deep and fill the neighborhood with bright yellow cheer. In the olden days, gardeners might panic at the sight and rush out with their dandelion digger (imagine how primitive people used to think….making a tool for the sole purpose of killing one kind of plant).

Kids were the first humans to know that dandelions are our friends. They brought in freshly picked flowers for their moms or blew dandelion puffs all over the yard. But we adults have learned to love, love, love dandelions.

 

Because our friends the bees and lots of other critters love them.

Bees love dandelions.
Dandelion flowers are the first food for bees. There’s not much to eat yet in Spring and a field of dandelions is the bee-equivalent of an all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet. And it’s not just the dandelion nectar the bees want….it’s the high protein pollen that really fills the bees up. Paleo bees.

Birds love dandelions.
Birds love the high protein seeds, especially little larks and finches who will spend hours tugging the seeds free.

Bunnies love dandelions.
At least if they’re eating dandelions, they’ll leave your crocus alone.

 

Humans love dandelions.
Think foraged greens and flowers on salads.

You know who else likes to eat dandelions? Bears do. It’s not uncommon in Alaska to see bears in the meadow eating dandelion heads! Wow.

What a great day. Dandelions are in bloom!

Photo credit: http://juneauempire.com/local/2012-06-19/dandelion-dinner
www.123rf.com/photo_3133074_the-word-bee-spelt-in-dandelions-on-grass.html
www.arkive.org/american-goldfinch/carduelis-tristis/image-G137972.html

 

Who’s in My Garden?

by Sandy Swegel

That’s the question I’m hearing most this week. What is this and what do I do about them?

Grubs and larvae. These big squishy curled-up fat wormy looking things are usually the larval forms of beetles or moths. Lots of cutworms especially. They aren’t your friends because they usually come out of dormancy hungry and start chowing down your plants. What do I do with them? I put the grubs and other unwelcome critters like snails and slugs in the bird feeder. Mama birds who are always watching you even if you don’t realize it will swoop down as soon as soon as you walk away and take the grubs and slugs to feed their new babies.

 

Solitary wasps and bees
When I’m vigorously cleaning up spring debris, I sometimes accidentally unearth a solitary wasp or bee. These are usually still dormant so I haven’t gotten stung. I usually just recover them with debris and move on. Sometimes they are yellow jackets which I really should kill….but I don’t know bees and wasps enough to tell the beneficial ones from the bad ones…I’ll get the yellow jackets in the pheromone traps later this month.

Lady Bugs
I’m happy to say there are lots of ladybugs this year. When I disturb them during cleanup, I just apologize and put them back in place. I know they’re eating aphid eggs and all kinds of undesirable things.

There are the bigger critters naturally. The rabbits and mice and voles chomping on emerging bulbs. Squirrels digging up tulip bulbs. Rat traps will get the voles. Hawks and cats often take care of mice. Squirrels and rabbits: good luck. One friend has trapped 11 squirrels this week and relocated them fifty miles away.

Enjoy the Spring weather and spring flowers….and use this new-life time of year to notice how many critters share your garden space. Birds in the air, and grubs in the soil. It’s all good.

Photo credit bird: Angela Vidrich https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/6167398051
Photo credit grub: http://bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu

 

Early Spring Flowers for Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

Hungry pollinators are starting to wake up. Well, maybe not this week in Colorado if they are smart. We still have a foot of old snow on the ground, but the sun will come out later this week and I expect to see the first crocuses poke out from the melting snow.

The first warm days of Spring bring out lots of our pollinator friends. In a long winter like this, honey supplies are running short and honeybees are eager for fresh food. Wild bees and bumblebees who don’t have honey stores are very hungry. Ladybugs that woke up a few weeks ago and have been eating aphid eggs in the leaf litter are eager for some sweet nectar or pollen. Everybody’s hungry and are flocking to the first flowers to gather nectar and protein. They need to build up their own strength and to provide food for Spring babies.

 

You can spot some of the first pollinators of the season if you look closely at the first Spring bulbs. Plan to plant more of these in your garden if you want to attract more pollinators. You can lure pollinators to your yard by having the first flowers. Then they’ll stay for the rest of the season if you have flowers in bloom all year.

 

Some of the easiest spring flowers to grow are:
Crocus
Snowdrops
Grape hyacinths
Daffodils
Tulips, especially native tulips.

Little bulbs like snowdrops and grape hyacinths re-seed themselves and naturalize a good-sized patch. If you don’t have these in your own yard, it’s easy dig up a few bulbs from a friend’s overgrown patch and transplant into your own garden. They don’t mind the transplanting too much and will bloom as usual…attracting more pollinators to your yard.

So bend down close to those little crocus flowers to see our pollinator friends. Bring a camera. The bees get groggy from gorging on pollen and are often moving pretty slowly, so it’s easy to get a good picture.

 

Photo credits:
Mason bee on crocus: http://www.earthtimes.org/scitech/saving-bees-new-pesticide/2612/

Bee on tulip: http://matthewwills.com/tag/honey-bees/

Bee on muscari and fly on snowdrop: http://urbanpollinators.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/more-early-spring-flowers-for.html

To make your pollinator garden click here!

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Put Down the Shears

By Sandy Swegel

Put Down the Garden Shears.

That’s my mantra when I get out in the garden and start pruning or cleaning-up. I get involved in making a shrub or tree look perfect and pretty soon I’ve cut too much out. So my gardening buddy will use her best police officer type voice and say. “Put down the garden shears.”

That’s my command to you this week. Or as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (birds) advises people who want to help birds survive:

Don’t deadhead. Don’t rake up the leaves. Don’t tidy up.

They explain, “Most songbirds switch from eating seeds to insects during nesting season, then turn back to seeds for fall and winter.” So when you deadhead and compulsively clean your garden beds, you’re removing the food that enables birds to survive the winter. It’s a long time till Spring…and sometimes the bird is on a long migratory journey…they need calories.

So if you want your yard to be a natural habitat, leave the seed-heads on your plants. Birds see the seedhead from the sky and like to land on top of the seed head and then bend over to pick seeds out. On top of the plant, birds are safer from predators. Leave most of the leaves too. You can rake some if you must. But leave a good mulch of leaves to protect the plants, to hide seeds that fall for the birds, and to give beneficial insects a place to nest all winter.

Just be lazy. The birds have spoken.
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/citsci/take-action/2014/09/the-one-thing-you-can-do-to-help-migrants/

Photo credit:
http://www.markcassino.com/b2evolution/index.php/of-finches-and-thistle

http://natureontheedgenyc.blogspot.com/2013/11/nj-state-bird-prepares-for-winter.html

 

 

 

The Ants Go Marching

by Sandy Swegel

Seeds have a big challenge this time of year. They’ve matured and are turning into the hard seeds we recognize in seed packets. Now their job is to disperse themselves near and far so they reproduce their species next year. This is a challenge because seeds have no feet for walking. So they have to get somebody else to do the work for them.

We know some of the most common ways that seeds get around. They get eaten by birds and pooped out in their next home. The wind takes some seeds and spreads them about. And then there are the workers who go a lot of trouble to disperse seed such as the humans who right now around the country are collecting seeds from plants so that we at BBB Seed can send the seeds to you.

Humans aren’t the only servants of our seed taskmasters. All over the world today, especially in woodland wild areas, ANTS are waking up this morning to disperse seeds. About five percent of flowering plants worldwide are dispersed by ants. There is a fifty-cent word to describe what is happening: Myrmecochory or seed dispersal by ants. Myrmecochorous plants coat their seeds with a fatty elaisomes (“food bodies” rich in lipids, amino acid, or other nutrients) that are excellent food for ants to eat and take back home for breakfast.

This is such an excellent survival method by the seed because the ants just eat the outside of the seed and then abandon the seed in the ant nest or under some nice decomposing leaves, slightly buried away from bird predators and covered with composting materials. A perfect place to germinate next Spring when temperatures rise.

So in my little part of the world, seeds on the move. Winds are blowing some. The birds are eating lots for winter. Some are being dispersed by the United States Postal Service delivering our seed packets. Squirrels burying bigger seeds in hidden treasure troves. And out in my neighbor’s garden where little cyclamen grow under pine trees, ants are lifting and pulling or pushing seeds across the yard down into their ant lairs. Right now I’m drinking coffee while little baby ant larvae are slurping yummy elaisomes all food of fats and sugars from the outside of the seeds.

The seeds. They’re enjoying the ride. They love to travel.

 

Best Wildflower Seeds

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Organic Vegetable Seeds

Grass Mixes

 

 

Coming Soon: Grand Finale of Color

Coming Soon: Grand Finale of Color

by Sandy Swegel

Quit tidying up. There’s something you seldom hear. Sanitation in the garden is important year-round, but September is special in that we are slowly building up to the grand finale of Fall Color that changing leaf color brings. You can help make that more spectacular in your garden.

Leave colorful fruit where it falls. Keep the leaf blower locked up. This is the time to let the red hawthorn berries litter under the tree.  Likewise, crabapples and plums can be beautiful fallen amid leaves. In the vegetable garden, pick the huge squashes that are past their prime, but leave a few gnarly yellow gourds or huge white patty pan squashes next to the plant to show off in the crisp fall light.

Plant fall plants. Fall blooming crocus are sending up vivid purple heads now. I’ve spread them around so they come up like wildflowers here and there. I do the same with fall mums at the garden centers. I pick the smallest pots I can find and plant them here and there throughout the garden…like little mushrooms of bright color popping up.

Water if it’s dry. Lots of places had a drought this summer so you need to water to be sure that trees and perennials go into winter well watered. You also want to water so that the last leaves on plants stay in place and turn color instead of just drying up brown and falling off. A fall garden that is too dry just desiccates into brown ugliness.

No more deadheading. Let the rose hips turn brilliant orange on spent flowers.  Leave the finished sunflowers in place for little finches to land on.  Keep picking up diseased leaves and apples so rotten they call every raccoon in the neighborhood to gorge. But otherwise, get out the rocking chair and wait for the show.

Photo Credits: http://shysongbirdstwitterings.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

 

Best Wildflower Seeds

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Organic Vegetable Seeds