Inviting Orioles for Summer Dining

Inviting Orioles for Summer Dining

by Sandy Swegel

This is the best time of the year.  Summer Harvest is coming in strong.  Cherry tomatoes and grilled marinated zucchini make wonderful summer suppers followed by fresh cherries and peaches.  A bottle of cold Prosecco and French brie and a couple of friends make for lovely summer evenings.  The only thing needed is the entertainment.  Hummingbirds are a favorite to watch buzzing in as dusk falls.  Mind you there is a garden full of flowers planted just for hummingbirds, but the little darlings are just like humans…who wants good healthy food when you can have dessert: some fresh sugar water in the colorful plastic feeder.  We put the feeder quite close to the picnic table so we could see the hummers coming to feed.  But last week there was a big surprise.  Something had pecked out the cute little openings on the feeder and drained it dry.  At first, I had unkind thoughts about the neighborhood squirrels, but then, the evening’s star performers appeared, a pair of bright orange Orioles.  What a perfect accompaniment to dinner with friends.

Now everyone wanted their own Orioles.  Turns out they’ve always lived here in the big cottonwood trees along creeks. But we learned what every midwesterner apparently knows.  If you want Orioles, you put out orange pieces and grape jelly.  The grape jelly is the guaranteed winner.  We heard stories from Wisconsin cousins that they can’t even buy grape jelly in the store right now because everyone is buying it for the Orioles.  Ahhh, our songbird overlords.  But they are lovely dinner companions.

Enjoy the summer harvest and invite friends over.  You’ve worked hard all season for this.  Lean back and watch both human and avian friends dine on your deck! Life is good.

photo credit:

http://www.duncraft.com/Oriole-Fest-and-Orange-Swirl-Guard

 

 

 

 

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Morning Garden Meditation

by Sandy Swegel

Yesterday afternoon the musical ditty stuck in my head was a new rendition of “Grandma got run over by a Reindeer.”  The music was the same but the lyrics were “I got dive bombed by a Hummingbird.”  I was minding my own business weeding a lovely rock garden bed of yellow columbine and tall red Firecracker penstemons when I heard a loud motor coming down suddenly from the sky nearly skimming my head, and then accelerating up straight into the sky.  It was like one of those old war movies on TV where the fighter pilots zoom down on their targets.  I actually jumped up and moved because I have been dive bombed by stealth crows before who actually hit me in the head when I had the nerve to walk in their territory.

An “Ah Ha” moment washed over me when I suddenly saw the garden from a bird’s eye view.  If I were a bird flying 200 feet overhead, I would have spied the beacon of bright red spires of the penstemon sticking up inviting me for lunch.  Then at the last moment before reaching the delicacy, a big old ugly human 1000 times my size was in the way who needed to be removed before a meal could be enjoyed.  Hence the effective tactic of dive bombing.

Still, it was all rather odd…so naturally I Googled “dive bomb by hummingbird” and found this was quite a common phenomenon. Male hummingbirds fly 100 feet up into the air and then dive down easily reaching 60 mph.  As they pull up just before hitting the ground (or me) they experience 9 Gs, a force of gravity that would make human pilots black out.

Wow.  It was a good thing I got out of the way. About three minutes later I saw the hummingbird happily visiting all the penstemon blossoms, eating away.

So my garden meditation for today is once again “Look Up!”  My garden isn’t just the patch of land I see at my feet.  It reaches hundreds of feet above my head where birds and trees and insects dance in the wind.

Photo credit:

drdanslandscaping.blogspot.com/2012/05/our-favorite-spring-annuals.html

 

 

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How to get your Neighbors & Friends Interested in Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

You have finally come to understand how important pollinators are and why we need to protect them.  One of the challenges we who value pollinators face is how to educate other people to care too.  Unfortunately, we’ll start to ramble about how bad chemicals are or how GMO crops harm the environment and if we pay attention we’ll notice our listeners’ eyes are glazing over and they’re looking for a quick exit.  Even with other people interested in the same topics, it’s not long till people get that bored “You’re preaching to the choir” look. When you’re passionate you want other people to be passionate too, and maybe take to the streets in pursuit of your cause…but that rarely happens.

So what can you do to educate others about protecting pollinators?  I’ve learned a lot from watching Niki, a member of our garden group, over the years.  Over time she had inspired many people to put in pollinator habitats or at least to stop pouring chemicals on their lawns.  And she did it without preaching.  So taking inspiration from her over the years, here’s an action list on how to gently inspire others to protect pollinators and the environment.

Make a demo garden in your front yard.  It was a slow start for Niki.  She lived in a typical suburban neighborhood and her decision to turn her front yard from perfect green grass to a xeric native habitat caused some upset in the ‘hood. At first, people thought she was bringing property values down with all those weeds.  But she kept the garden tidy and explained every plant she grew to anyone who stopped by.  She invited the kids over to watch butterflies.  She explained to people who asked why she was doing what she did.  Her friendly attitude and a “come pick out of my garden anytime” attitude built relationships.  Neighbors on their mowers noticed they were out doing yard work every weekend and she wasn’t.  Then she started to tell people how much money she was saving by not watering the lawn and using chemicals.  That changed a few people’s minds. She added in the info that you could protect your trees without the expensive sprays the tree companies wanted to do. Soon the whole neighborhood was just a little more pollinator friendly.

Teach the kids
Kids have open minds.  Have an inviting garden with butterflies everywhere, and kids will stop to look around.  They’ll ask questions and they’ll tell their families about the cool stuff they learned today.

Give away free stuff.
It’s pretty easy to collect seed from native plants or to put seed you have in little envelopes to give away.  People in the neighborhood learned they could get free seeds for lots of low-water flowering plants if they stopped at Niki’s.  They also learned they could get free plants.  She started seeds in her living room or dug up self-seeding plants and put them in tiny pots and gave them to anyone who would learn how to take care of them. Soon, that’s native food sources up and down the block.

Offer Free Public Classes
Soon the neighbors had all the free seeds and plants they could use.  So the next step was to offer free classes to the public. Our library offers meeting rooms for public groups for free so soon Niki was offering 2-hour Saturday classes on “Chemical-free gardening” or “Make your own natural cleaning products.” Another 2-hour Saturday project was the free Seed Swap in January which invited everyone to bring their extra seeds and swap with one another.  Gardeners meeting other gardeners is often all it takes.  Lots of people came to classes because they wanted to save money or have a safer environment for their kids.  They all left with that info and with an understanding of why chemicals can really hurt bees and other pollinators and how there’s an easier way to do things.  Not preachy…but well-researched information.  A heartfelt story about the impact of pesticides in Kansas on monarch butterflies all over the world helps people want to do the right thing.

Be generous with your time to talk to others
Soon gardeners and community members learned Niki and now her gardening circle friends would come to talk to their neighborhood association or school about native bees and butterflies.  Or they’d look at your suffering tomato plant and suggest a natural home-made remedy.  Everyone got on an email group together and ended up teaching each other about natural gardening and making homes for pollinators. Local media people saw the library classes and now had someone to call when they needed a radio show or newspaper article.

Photo Credits:

www.huffingtonpost.com

www.valleyviewfarms.blogspot.com

 

 

 

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Hooray for Hummingbirds!

by Cheryl Soldati Clark

Hummingbirds may be cute little-winged creatures, but really they are tough as nails! These extremely important pollinators have the highest metabolic rate of any other animal on earth. They also have a high breathing rate, high heart rate and high body temperature. Their wings flap up to 90 times per second and their heart rate exceeds 1,200 beats per minute. In order to maintain their extremely high metabolism, hummingbirds have to eat up to 10-14 times their body weight in food every day for fuel. In preparation for migration, they have to eat twice this amount in order to fly thousands of miles.

A huge portion of a hummingbird’s diet consists of sugar that they acquire from flower nectar, tree sap and hummingbird feeders. They also have to eat plenty of insects and pollen for protein to build muscle. Hummingbirds cross-pollinate flowers while they are feeding on nectar because their heads become covered with pollen and they carry the pollen to the next bloom as they continue to feed. Several native plants rely on hummingbirds for pollination and would not be here today if it wasn’t for these efficient pollinators.

Hummingbirds are found in several different habitats, including wooded and forested areas, grasslands and desert environments. They also occur at altitudes ranging up to 14,000 feet in the South American Andes Mountains.

The male hummingbirds are usually brightly colored while the females are dull colored in order to camouflage them while nesting. Female hummingbirds rely on males for mating only and after that, they build the nest and raise their young as single parents. They have been known to fearlessly protect their young against large birds of prey, such as hawks and have even attacked humans that get too close to their nests. They usually lay up to two eggs which hatch within a few weeks. Hummingbirds can live 3-5 years in the wild, which varies by species, but making it through their first year of life is a challenge. Fledglings are particularly vulnerable between the time that they hatch and the time that they leave the nest. Larger species may live up to a decade.

In order to conserve energy at night, because they lack downy feathers to hold in body heat, hummingbirds enter a state of semi-hibernation called “torpor”. This allows them to lower their metabolic rate by almost 95% and also lower their body temperature to an almost hypothermic rate. During this time, hummingbirds perch on a branch and appear to be asleep. When the sun comes up and starts to warm the earth, it takes about 20 minutes, but the tiny birds will awake from their torpor state and start their feeding rituals.

Planting a lot of reds and purples in your garden and hanging hummingbird feeders around your yard will attract and help feed these little pollinator friends. In fact, BBB Seed has a Hummingbird Wildflower Mix specifically designed with these little guys in mind.  Please help to support these amazing creatures in your own backyard!

Hummingbird Favorites:

• Penstemon
• Columbine
• Delphinium
• Autumn Sage
• Four O’clock (Mirabilis jalapa)

• Scarlet Monkeyflower (Mimulus spp.)
• Texas Sage (Salvia coccinea)
• Chuparosa
• Ocotillo
• Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca)
• Baja Fairy (Calliandra californica)
• Bottlebrush
• Desert Willow

• Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata)
• Lantana
• Agave
• Lily of the Nile

FUN LINKS:



Video on Hummingbird Tongues

Hummingbird Coloring Pages for Children

 

 

 

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Pollinator Week 2014

Seven years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of this week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, etc.

Often overlooked or misunderstood, pollinators are in fact responsible for one out of every three bites of food that we eat. In the U.S. bees alone undertake the astounding task of pollinating over $15 billion in added crop value, particularly for specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables. Beginning in 2006, pollinators started to decline rapidly in numbers.

BBB Seed Company (Boulder, CO), The Colorado State Beekeepers Association, Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association, Boulder County Beekeepers Association & 16 garden centers/stores from Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver & Colorado Springs are teaming up to celebrate National Pollinator Week! We will have a Pollinator Table set up at all 16 locations during Pollinator Week June 16-22nd with pollinator literature, brochures, pollinator wildflower mixes and more. On Saturday, June 21st from 10am-2pm, some of the garden centers listed below will have a beekeeper there to answer any questions adults & children may have about pollinators, planting for pollinators, protecting pollinators, etc! Come help us Celebrate, Honor & Protect our Precious Pollinators!

So visit your local nursery or garden center during Pollinator Week, pick up some seeds or flowering plants and learn about the vital role of bees and other pollinators!

Locations in Larimer County include:

• Fort Collins Nursery, Fort Collins
• Bath Garden Center, Fort Collins
• Gardens on Spring Creek, Fort Collins
• JAX Ranch & Home, Fort Collins
• JAX, Loveland

Locations in Boulder County include:
• Flower Bin, Longmont
• JAX, Lafayette
• McGuckin Hardware, Boulder
• Harlequin’s Gardens, Boulder
• Sturtz & Copeland, Boulder

Locations in the Denver area include:
• Country Fair Garden Center- Colorado Blvd

• Nick’s Garden Center & Farm Market
• Tagawa Gardens

Locations in Colorado Springs include:
• Phelan Gardens
• Rick’s Garden Center

 

A Wild Thicket

by Sandy Swegel

When it comes to our gardens, we Americans are of a divided heart. Deep in our ancestral memories are the manicured gardens of Europe.  We swoon over the groomed roses and delphiniums of England, We admire the orderliness of rows of Tuscan poplars. We see the almost mathematical grid of Versailles echoed in Jefferson’s Monticello. We use raised beds to confine our vegetables just as the medieval cloister gardens were enclosed.

 

 At the same time, we Americans are a frontier people, dazzled by the wildness and grandeur of raw untamed nature.  Grassy plains and dense woodlands and mountains majesty tug at our hearts even as we tend our suburban plots.

 

To fill the needs of our wild nature souls, I think it’s always good to have a wild area in our yard. One that manages to thrive only on what nature provides and provides a haven for small wildlife.  Generally, there is some place in your yard that already refuses to be tamed. Someplace wild plums keep sprouting and sumacs come unbidden.   This is the area to encourage in your yard – your secret garden, if you’d like – or just the area you see from your kitchen window reminding you that beneath the dishes and chores and children and jobs, you have a wild spirit too.

 My favorite thicket started with the wild plums that kept coming back. Over time, a couple of chokecherries worked their way in, and the patch of lemon balm appeared all on its own.  Birds planted wild roses. Squirrels brought in nuts. I decided to play along with nature and seeded an unruly pollinators’ hedge filled with the nectar and pollen-rich flowering plants that bees and butterflies crave. I let the wild queen anne’s lace have some space in the back and I didn’t pull the dandelions. I did plant one of those tall dark purple butterfly bushes for structure and I seeded a buffer zone of grasses and wildflowers to create a neutral zone of sorts between “The Lawn” and “The Thicket.” 

 I don’t really “garden” the thicket but over time I’ve planted some naturalizing crocus and daffodils and a handful of seeds a decade ago that keep the spring display stunning.  About the only care I give the area is water during really dry spells and a birdbath of water because butterflies and birds and bees need something to drink.

 I am proudest of my tended garden…the showy beds of vegetables and annual flowers, the elegant stretches of roses and flowering shrubs and tulips in Spring. But deep down, it is my thicket that I love the most.

 

Bring More Color to Your Wild Areas

by Sandy Swegel

At this time of year when we’re mired in cold and snow, I yearn for two delights of Spring:  when the daffodils and tulips bloom and when the meadows burst with wildflowers.  One thing about wildflowers though, especially in our suburban gardens.  A few years after planting it seems that just a few wildflowers start to dominate.  Often it’s the bachelor buttons and California poppies, both beautiful flowers, but we need diversity and variety and wild color to really shake winter off.

The secret to a lush wildflower area (besides good rainfall) is to over-seed the area every once in a while with some of your favorite flowers.  I usually take the easy way and just throw out a packet of our mixed wildflower seeds to get an overall refreshing of the original mix I planted years ago.  But for one friend who has created a “hot colors” theme of red and orange in her garden, we throw out packets of red wildflowers.  This year we just did a search for Flowers by Color and picked out the flowers we liked with the truest red colors.  We settled on red columbines for Spring, red firecracker penstemons for early summer and red gaillardia for mid-summer.

Finally, my absolute favorite reseeding in the Spring is to seed the Parade of Poppies mix.  There just are never enough poppies of any sort in my mind.  This year I’ve slipped a seed packet in my coat pocket for some guerilla gardening during my sunny day walks along old abandoned properties and ditches that grows lots of weeds.  Poppies will brighten my path this year!

This year I’m also going to try taking a baggie full of our new StrawNet (pellets of straw) when I do my wild area guerilla gardening.  The biggest problem with just throwing seeds out onto abandoned land is that I can’t water them every day.  StrawNet absorbs water and helps create a little moist barrier for new seeds so I expect it to help more seedlings survive even if we have a dry Spring.  Sometimes nature needs a little help to be as beautiful as she can be.

Photo Credit: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/columbines/images/aschockleyi/aquilegia_schockleyi_habitat_katewalker_lg.jpg