Birds, Yard and Garden

Last time I wrote I was hoping I’d be able to move my arms and back after all the yard work I’d done. I was able and got a lot done last week. I worked outside six days in a row, followed by a day of rest on Sunday. I’ve worked out there a little this week and still have plenty to do. I want to get as much done as I can before I hear our weather man say the temperature will be 80 by 8:00 and 90 by noon!

A minute ago I watched a pair of cardinals on my feeder. I guess they just got married. (God marries the animals. My mom told me so when I was three years old.) I think when he feeds sunflower seeds to her, that is how they get married. I expect to see the young ‘uns on the feeder in a few weeks. They are always funny. They look like eight-year-old boys whose hair is never combed.

I have at least one blue jay (I can’t tell one from another so I don’t know if it’s the same bird each time or not.) who comes up to the feeder and picks up a peanut, puts it down, picks up a different peanut, puts it down…he does this several times before taking one and flying away. I don’t know if he is testing the weight to see which one is best, or if he’s trying to carry more than one and can’t fit them in his beak. I bet he’s testing weight. I think blue jays are too smart to keep doing the same dumb thing over and over and expecting different results. (Unlike some humans.)

I found out that the goldfinch that I thought was a straggler was part of a different bunch of birds. The ones we had this winter left, but about two weeks later a whole bunch more showed up. Now they are turning yellow. I had two of them on my window while ago. The seed had run out and they were looking inside the house. The only time birds ever cling to my screen or perch on my windowsill and look inside is when I’ve let the seed run out.

The other evening I saw three indigo buntings in my next door neighbor’s yard. I’d sure like to see a lot of those. I saw two or three last year, but we used to see them in flocks of 20-something.

I’m waiting for an orchard oriole. I forgot I was supposed to take the bee guards off the hummingbird feeder so they can drink from it. I learned that from a friend who says the orioles like her hummingbird feeder (the kind with the pretend flowers) better than her oriole feeder, but you have to take the guards off. I took them off yesterday.

The azaleas have finally bloomed! They were several weeks late. The man at the nursery where I got my milkweed the other day told us they had an Azalea Trail Tour in Houston at the usual time for seeing them loaded with blooms, but there wasn’t a bloom to be seen. I imagine that was a bust. I watched a swallowtail butterfly yesterday who was taking his own tour of my azalea flowers. I hope the swallowtails find the parsley I planted for them.

Lat year we thought my husband’s Texas Star was dead, but it has a bit of new growth on it this year. It always dies back and new shoots come up from the ground each year. There was no new growth last year. Weird. We still think the freeze got the lipstick plant and it may have wiped out my Lantana. I’ll give it a little more time just to make sure before I yank those out and put something else in their places. Also, a rosebush that I was ready to toss down the hill and into the woods must have heard me say I was going to do that. It’s looking great now. I’m glad because it’s a Seven Sister’s Rose and it’s pretty neat.

My beans are coming up. Something is munching on the leaves. I wonder if turtles eat bean plants? Oh, but it’s not time for turtles to be in the yard yet. They come up here in the spring to lay eggs but it’s too early. I think if it was a rabbit they would just gnaw them down to nubs. The leaves look like they’ve had a bite taken out here and bite out there. I need to put a small fence around my garden.

My cat – who at times like this reminds me of what a cute little black and white rug he’d make – has eaten most of my pepper plants. He got a few bites of the peanut plants, too. I put the peanut plants outside. I’m still working on getting the ground ready; we’ve been moving some bricks so the garden can be expanded.

Well, the work goes on. I sure have a lot of plans for my yard and I’m glad it’s staying cool longer than usual so I can get these things done.

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Birds and Garden News

Here’s a little report on the goings on in my yard. The weather was beautiful today and I was able to go outside and get a few things done. Between the rake and the shovel – and the stooping and pulling – I ought to be on my way to becoming buff. Of course, it will take more than one day of hard work to get the chores done and to get myself in shape. I hope I can still move my back and arms tomorrow.

Got my Kentucky Wonder pole beans planted. I still have some mighty healthy weeds to remove so I can get the rest of the garden in. The herbs are doing great. The marjoram survived the winter along with dill, parsley, coriander, rosemary, spearmint and garlic chives. The green onions are looking good. Tomorrow I hope to deal with the weeds so I can get the vegetables and peanuts planted pretty soon. Peanuts are a new adventure for me. I do hope to get the other two parsley plants that I just bought in the ground tomorrow. Can’t have too much parsley if I hope to have swallowtail butterflies again this year. Something I still need is milkweed for the monarchs. I was told their numbers are down due to weather and loss of habitat, so I sure want to be able to feed any monarch caterpillars that may show up.

I saw a gold finch today at my feeder. I guess he’s a straggler. The rest of them left 2 or 3 weeks ago. My buff-bellied hummingbird left the second week of March. We hope he comes back next winter. I won’t let my husband mow the part of the yard that I call our “meadow” until after the wildflowers bloom, but there are a few things that come up that we don’t want growing out there. So, today I was pulling them and I saw the first ruby-throated hummingbird for this year. Well, the first one for my yard. I have a friend who had her first – two in one day! – on March 15. We put a hummingbird feeder out near the back of the yard hoping for a visit from the orchard oriole. He was in the woods behind our house last year, so we hope to entice him to come a bit closer. Anyway, that’s where I saw the hummingbird. It may be my imagination but he looked pretty worn out and hungry to me. I need to get some food in the other two feeders tomorrow so I’ll be ready for the rest of them.

I sure hope I can move my back and arms tomorrow.

Yard, Gardening and Bird Adventures

Well, here’s a bit of an update on the yard, gardening activities and birds. You know a while back we had a pretty deep freeze for this part of the country and a bit of snow, too. Right now the only green on the lawn is clover (love it!) and weeds (got work to do there). The grass is still brown. My freesias are blooming but they are surrounded by brown fern, so they could be looking better. I managed to get some of the damage out of the flower bed but I didn’t quite make it over that far.

My husband’s used to be really tall cactus that we cut damage off of after the freeze flopped over a couple days ago. Well, part of it flopped over. The part that is still standing is just as dead as the part that fell though. I told him the Portulaca seedlings I have going will look really nice in place of that cactus.

We’re not sure about the satsuma tree. It has no buds on it at all. Neither does my father in law’s.

The other day I transplanted – up to bigger containers – 32 tomato plants. I put them deeper in the soil than what they were growing so they can develop more roots. I want to plant them the week after Easter and I want some good roots going first. Our average last frost date here is March 15th but I don’t trust it this year, so I’m giving it a couple more weeks just to be safe.

Gotta’ tell you the other day when I went out to the garden shed to transplant the tomatoes I put my hand up inside of some brown paper that my dill is wrapped in. It’s hanging to dry and when I did that, I thought it’s probably getting a bit late in the winter to be doing that – putting my hand where I can’t see what might be there – so I better not do that again. Might be a wasp in there before too long. Then I looked over at the window and saw a snake skin looped over a fishing rod that is stored horizontally above the window. I don’t reckon I will put my hand where I can’t see – probably ever again. Oh, it looks like it might be a baby rat snake’s skin. It looked pretty cool just like it was so I didn’t want to take it down and count scales and all that to try to identify it.

I have bell pepper seedlings and eggplant seedlings to put in bigger containers in a day or two. And, the coolest thing! A friend gave me some peanuts to plant. It was a little kit thing with a pot and the planting medium and the peanuts. I have a sprout! I can hardly wait to see how this little adventure goes. I’ve never grown my own peanuts. (I can see my grandpa smiling. He grew up on a peanut farm in Mississippi.)

I ran across an old email the other day where I was telling a friend about some baby hummingbirds on our Lantana. That was in June of 2006. Sure would be cool to see that again. Right now the goldfinches are on their way to their summer home. I haven’t see one in a couple days. Yesterday five of them were spotted at a feeder down the street but only two of them were there today. I haven’t seen the little buff-bellied hummingbird today, but I was gone most of the morning. I only saw him once or twice yesterday. I’ve learned that blue jays have a really pretty sound they make. It sounds downright melodious. I thought they only squawked, so this is a neat discovery. I wonder if it’s their spring song, to attract a mate? Oh, I’ve started putting crushed shells from boiled eggs out on the feeder so the birds can get some calcium. They need it so their eggs will have good strong shells.

Well, that’s my report for this time. And it’s time that I get outside in this sunshine and get the rest of the weeds out of the flower bed so the freesias can shine. I hope things are going well in your garden and yard.

Plants, Hummingbird, and Frozen Pipes

The South froze. Leaves on some plants that stay green all year are dark green and drooping. One of our cactus plants looks OK, another looks iffy, and the third…Well, yesterday it was about 8 ft. tall, and today it’s about 7 ft. tall. The paddles are all flopped over. We may have lost the satsuma tree, but won’t know for sure till this is over. We tried to insulate the bottom of the trunk. We piled up dirt, leaves, newspaper, more dirt, more leaves and wrapped the whole tree in a blanket but it still might not make it. It’s a young tree with a thin trunk. The county ag man told us to put dirt if we had it, and leaves if not,  around it and make sure it covers the graft near the bottom of the trunk. He also said that some fruit trees aren’t going to make it through these temps in the 20s. He looked really funny when I told him that other than that tree, and bringing in a few potted plants, whatever makes it makes it, and whatever doesn’t, just won’t. We’ll see how that works out.

The Buff-bellied hummingbird is still here. His food was frozen this morning so I fixed up some more for him. It was about time to change it anyway. In winter, it should be changed about every six days. Since we will hit 20 F. again tonight I’ll have to bring the feeder in when it gets dark and put it back out at daybreak tomorrow so he will have some breakfast that he can drink. Instead of one cup of water and 1/4 cup of sugar, I’m using one cup of water and 1/3 cup of sugar and then about a spoon more of sugar. I want him to have extra calories to help him keep warm. I sure wonder where he’s sleeping at night? My husband wanted to let him in the house yesterday evening, but couldn’t figure out how to manage that. Plus, we’d have to hide him from the cat. We start thinking crazy in the South when it gets cold, don’t we?

Some of our pipes froze, but later thawed out. However, my neighbor was outside working on some things in his yard and he came over and told me I had a busted pipe while ago. We looked and it’s broken just above the ground. It’s at the outside edge of the house, so it won’t be hard to fix. Don’t know what will happen when we turn the water back on though because there is another pipe that was still frozen when my neighbor turned the water off for me. Husband will be home from work early today. Hope he’s ready to go to the hardware store.

We have a couple more nights of this. The weather man says it will be up around 60 degrees next week. We never get a chance to adjust to the weather before it changes again. Another thing the weather man said is that this is not the last of the really cold weather we can expect this year. A friend of mine says even Al Gore is shivering right now. That makes me smile.

My Yard a Week After Snow

A week ago today we had huge snowflakes falling in our yard. The temperature was somewhere around 28 or 30 degrees F last week. Since then it went up to the mid-70s and back down to the low 30s. Today’s temps have pretty much hung around 40-50 degrees, I think.

I worked outside this afternoon, cutting things in my front yard that were done in by last week’s snow and cold. The Turk’s cap and four o’clocks were casualties. The fern is all brown and the elephant ears are just plain icky. I’m still working on those. Everything will come back next spring.

We had some yucca at the corner of the house until one of them bloomed. They die after they bloom but I didn’t expect the whole group of them to crater. I’m not sure why that happened. Now we have this open space…hmm. We could plant more yucca from the backyard or we could put something else there.

Our Lantana didn’t look right this year. The ends of some of the branches seemed to be malformed and the blooms weren’t normal. I think it may be a virus. I read someplace that some bright person thought it would be a good idea to turn a virus loose on Lantana where they are considered a nuisance. The ones in my yard were not a nuisance, thank you! I found a few branch tips that were protected from snow and I plan to take them to the County Agriculture office and see what they think is the problem. I hope these bushes will be OK.

I ripped out all the potato vine that I could find. This plant seed was given to us a couple years ago. It makes a huge vine with heart-shaped leaves and has seed pods look like potatoes hanging on the vine. The way it came back this year had me wondering. It seemed like it had quite a bit of gusto for a plant that is easy to control. I have since found out that is because it’s not easy to control! I think I won’t let that one grow next year but will plant moon flowers and morning glories instead.

My husband wants to plant another fruit tree. He has a satsuma and wants to add a peach tree. I don’t want to give up any more garden space to a tree, but it would be nice to have peaches off our own tree, so we are looking for a good place to put it. I thought I could move one of the lantanas (if they survive whatever is making them look funny) but that spot is not protected from the north wind. However, at the corner of the house where the yucca was might be just the perfect place. Away from wind and squirrels, too.

A few days after the snow I wandered out back to see how things looked. My banana tree is a mess. It ought to come back. I’ve never tried to grow one but I’ve been told they are hard to kill. That’s the kind of plant I need. They aren’t a true tree either, but are technically an herb. That sounds weird when I think of what most herbs look like.

My husband’s lipstick plant was so pretty with bright green leaves and red flowers and snow falling on it. It’s not so pretty now; just sticks with dead leaves and flowers hanging on. In most places in the US, the lipstick plant is a houseplant. It’s a type of hibiscus and we grow those outside here in Southeast Texas. We should have protected it but forgot. I was so excited about snow I forgot to do anything for the plants in the ground, but I did bring the ones in pots inside. Oh, the pansies are loving this cold weather! And my buttercrunch lettuce looks great.

I really hope to get the peach tree site chosen soon and get one planted. Also, I want to rearrange my front yard. I think it will be a much bigger job than just moving furniture!

Early November Birds and Garden

I saw my last hummingbird a few days ago. I think it was on Monday (November 3). I have a friend who lives a few miles north of me and she had three in her yard on Tuesday. I am still hoping for a Rufous Hummingbird so I’ll leave my feeders out for at least a couple more weeks. I’ve never had a Rufous in my yard but you never know. Some birds have been showing up in unusual places the past few years. We are supposed to leave those feeders out for a couple weeks after seeing the last bird anyway for the stragglers.

My friend also saw her first White-throated Sparrow of the season this week. We get those in the winter so I’ll be watching for them. There is a bird that I’ve seen a couple times lately that I have not been able to identify. I think it’s an Eastern Kingbird but I’ve not gotten a good look at the tail feathers. I need to see if it has that white bar across the bottom of the tail.

Today I heard a Catbird and a Pileated Woodpecker. I’ve also been hearing the Blue Jays. I’ll never forget the first time I heard a Catbird. I was hiking the Woodlands Trail in the Big Thicket and I’d gone off by myself. The bird was in a bush near the trail and I wasn’t sure if I was hearing a Bobcat’s kitten or not. I didn’t know whether to hang around or get out of there. Later I learned what the Catbird sounds like and I knew that was what I heard. The Pileated Woodpecker sounds like a tropical bird. I love to hear them; makes me think of tropical jungles.

Well, it was sort of like a tropical jungle in my back yard today. I was wrestling weeds while feeding mosquitoes. (Feeding: they were biting me!) It’s always mosquito season around here. It’s been worse this year because we had Hurricane Ike last year. Hurricanes bring them in from the marshes so we have marsh mosquitoes in addition to our usual swamp and field and city mosquitoes.

The frustrating thing is the mosquitoes but the neat thing is the really long garden season we have here. I planted herbs Monday. Fall is the best time to plant the herbs that like cool weather if you live in South Texas or along the coast. I planted parsley, dill, cilantro and spearmint. I’d like to make dill bread later on. And I use the parsley to help with asthma. It’s an expectorant and an anti-spasmodic; it helps me with very mild asthma. I wouldn’t use it for a bad attack! I’m looking forward to using the spearmint in tea and cilantro goes great with Mexican food.

My husband planted a Satsuma tree last winter and he got a few satsumas off it already this year. The man at the nursery told him he will get more next year and by the third year he will be giving them away. I hope to make some marmalade or something in a year or two.

I sure am looking forward to the New Heavens and the New Earth so we won’t have to wrestle with mosquitoes and weeds. In the meantime I’ll just have to keep at it and do what I can to create a bit of beauty and order around here.

Of Wasps and Worms, Pt. 2

I wondered if the lack of wasps this year  – fewer than ever! – had anything to do with the worms in my garden that were chowing down on the tomatoes.  Oh, they were eating leaves, too. Anyway, yesterday I saw a wasp on a tomato plant and guess what HE was chowing down on? A worm! Yea, wasp!

Now, I wonder if the lack of wasps this year has anything to do with the extra spraying the county has been doing to kill mosquitoes? They are spraying more because when Hurricane Ike blew in last year it brought more mosquitoes to our area. One question always seems to lead to another.