Monday, February 28, 2011

Project: Cork Board

Need a place to pin those special Valentines? Or maybe your favorite seed packets? Cut outs of plants you just have to have? Maybe a "revolving" vision board – whereas you replace vision as it is achieved? Just use tacks instead of glue. (To learn about creating a vision board, please click here to view a previous post.) Please consider a cork board. I admit this is a project I've yet to finish, but once again, I am going BIG. I am using a door (which my dad framed for me to use as a desk top since college – yikes – I used the hole for the door knob for wires). However, I have made cork boards for gifts by affixing gator board to the back of a premade frame (i.e. from Michaels or similar craft store). Here is my project in progress:

I am using wood glue for the corks. This seems to work since I, admittedly, began this project quite awhile ago and these corks are on there like cement! Well, this project has taken awhile because I am drinking the wine for the corks (okay, maybe for other reasons aside from the corks). I hope I have enough to complete this project. What do you think? This bag is full.

Now my family and friends actually save corks for me. Some of mine are synthetic – modernization. If I have any left over, cork only, I can shred them and use them as mulch in my garden. What I would use to shred them with, I am not sure. Perhaps a good chopping knife or old food processor? Or, consider throwing your wine corks in your compost. After all, cork is the bark of a tree and makes for good brown material. Just don't throw them away!

The best part of this project is drinking the wine, I have to admit. So, pour yourself a glass of wine, walk around your garden, look for signs of spring. Then take a picture, print it out and hang it on your cork board!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What's Growing (The Plan)

I spent most of the day yesterday planning my potager as the snow continued (and continues) to fly. I'm going to order seeds to make it a brighter day. So, here's the plan:

Every year I sketch out my plan so that I can rotate crops and also companion plant where I can. Of course, I am expanding some of the beds (where I've marked new).

New things I am going to try this year: broccoli raab, veronica cauliflower, some new varieties of mustard greens, chinese choy and cabbage, scallop squash, dragon carrots, soy bean, tomatillos, and peppers. I have never had luck with peppers so this year I am going to pack them in and really concentrate on them. Both my husband and I enjoy spicy foods and hot peppers add such wonderful flavor. Any advice from you professional pepper growers would be much appreciated.

Now if the snow would just stop flying and begin to melt instead!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Going Native: In the Dark About Nightshade

Once again, I have been fooled into thinking a plant is native! I truly thought the climbing nightshade I have growing on my fence was native. It turns out that while there are some nightshades native to my region, solanum dulcamara, was introduced. It is also known as bittersweet nightshade, climbing nightshade, or European nightshade (that last common name is a pretty big clue).

Well, I am in love with its bright red berries especially this time of year, but they are the reason why this plant has so successfully naturalized here. Birds eat these berries and expel the seeds elsewhere. Crows, eastern kingbirds, mimic-thrushes, thrushes, white-crowned sparrows, and waxwings eat the berries of bittersweet nightshade. In the Northeast, numerous other songbirds, game birds, and some mammals also eat the berries. Gray catbirds have been known to nest in bittersweet nightshade. But most interestingly, it is a recognized major food source for bumble bees and this I can attest to because it is rare to see one of its purple blooms (resembling a tomato flower) without a bumble bee clinging to it during the summer in spite of all the other plantings I have! Also, its leaves are quite "holey" throughout the summer so I believe them to be a food source for some type(s) of insects. The Nature Conservancy has given bittersweet nightshade a national ranking of "low" based on its overall low ecological impacts, but are moderately concerned about its widespread distribution and abundance.

Hmm, yet another native dilemma! A naturalized non-native that offers some wildlife value and a major source of food for bumble bees (who are declining). I think I will save a patch of this climber for now. As my garden matures and I add more berries and pollen sources (perhaps specifically for bumble bees),  I can slowly phase this plant out. I would be interested in knowing what you would do.

Sources for this post include Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the US Forest Service.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wild Bird Feeding Station

I think all the wild birds who regularly visit my backyard somehow knew it was the great backyard bird count last weekend, and hid until it was over! Then again we did have extremely high winds Friday and Saturday, followed by more snow. But nevertheless, I count my backyard birds nearly every weekend for Project FeederWatch. (If you would like to know more about Project FeederWatch, please click here for a previous post.) Describing your site is required for Project Feeder Watch. It includes details such as sea level, nearby areas of land, the presence of cats and dogs, neighboring mature trees, types of bird feeders, neighboring bird feeders, number of fruit bearing shrubs, etc. So, I thought I would share with you the site I watch from my kitchen window. Here it is on a snowy day (taken through the back door so the birds – flocks of finches, redpolls, and sparrows – would stay in action).

I have a total of eight bird feeders on my site within my view. Above are feeders one through five:

1. Niger seed feeder. This is a little bit of a custom job. The sides are mesh screens the birds can cling to, but birds didn't care to cling to this feeder too often so I added the perches on the teak sides from an old tube feeder. Now this feeder gets plenty of action. I love the curved copper roof.

2. Cattail feeders. My mom gave me these as a gift and I was surprised at how much the birds love these! I fill them with black oil sunflower seeds. I love that they are also a wire mesh so the seed airs.

3. Recycled suet feeder hanging off shed. This seems to be the preferred suet feeder for visiting downys, hairys, nuthatches and chickadees. I usually have a problem with starlings raiding this feeder but they have been amazingly absent this year, or they just haven't arrived yet, so this feeder is still up.

4. Caged tube feeder. This I fill with black oil sunflower sometimes mixed in layers with other varieties.

5. Steel magnum feeder. By far the feeder of choice for all birds. All birds love this feeder. If I happen to attract a migrating bird, I'll find it at this feeder. I fill it with black oil sunflower seed sometimes mixed with safflower seed or straight safflower seed if the grackles in the summer get out of hand.

6. Upside down suet feeder. My dad made me this for Christmas one year. I leave this one up year round, away from any main branches and high enough off the ground so starlings have a difficult time with it. Now and then they still attempt to fly underneath it to try to get the suet, but it is not easy.

7. Another suet feeder. A gift from my niece. I love its copper top. The chickadees like this one. I usually don't have it up during the summer.

8. Woodpecker feeder. This feeder does not have any perches and is designed for clinging birds such as woodpeckers. I try to fill it with woodpecker feed or suet nuggets. The house sparrows somehow manage to get at it anyway, but it is starling proof. The nuthatches like this feeder. I only hang this feeder during winter. It is replaced with a hanging bird house in the spring.

I also have two heated bird baths.

This one (marked by the yellow dot) is just a plastic tub with a heater in it under a rock. The birds usually drink at this one.

This one is a self-contained heated tray that came with a stand I could attach to the deck. The birds barely visited the deck last year. I think it is too exposed. This year I ditched the stand and put it on one of my tree stumps. The birds love to bathe in this one as they can quickly find cover in the spruce if needed.

I have had to be creative in my choice of feeders here in the village. As you might have guessed by now, there are some aggressive birds here: grackles, house sparrows, and starlings. Unbelievably, in the summer I have many red-winged black birds but they are fairly mild mannered. They should be here by the second week in March according to last year's calendar – not too far away! I used to have hopper feeders and a tray feeder in Maine but here, they are a grackle magnet. So I have experimented with more tube-style, cage, and perchless feeders. (The steel magnum I could not part with and leave it up with hopes that a cardinal or rose-breasted grosbeak will stay.) While some people like to have all their feeders at one station, I have mine spread out so shy birds have a chance. Those bird stations with all the clip on accessories for hanging feeders, suet, fruit, and trays are nice but wouldn't work for me here. And while bird feeders are nice scattered throughout the garden, I am planting more and more natural food sources. The service berry, winter berry (on order), and pagoda dogwood tree (also on order), will all offer berries. Wild roses should offer hips either this year or the next. Many flowers and grasses offer seed. I find it more enjoyable to watch chickadees hang from the sunflowers and finches pulling out coneflower seeds than to watch them at a feeder. I find that as my garden develops, I am seeing a larger variety of birds and the aggressive birds seem to be more in balance. I hope to attract some year-round cardinals and catbirds this year with more plantings. I did hear a bird meow last year but didn't catch a glimpse.

I would be interested in hearing about your bird feeding site or tips!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Potager (Kitchen Garden)

This post is the second in a series of time lines about the making of my garden. The first being the Bird & Butterfly Garden.

The potager, kitchen/vegetable garden, was the second area of my garden I began making in the spring of 2009. Our lot is an L-shape with a view straight back from the kitchen window, then branching off to the left behind our garage/work shop.

The view (above) from the kitchen window straight back to our property line in early spring of 2008.

The view (above) behind our garage / workshop also in spring of 2008. This is the spot I chose for the potager. Although not ideal – close to the kitchen – this is the best spot in the yard for growing vegetables. It receives the most sun. The plan was to build compost bins in the far back corner from lattice that was left by the previous owners when we moved in.

The compost bins in summer of 2008. We (meaning myself and my favorite brute force aka husband), simply made three open bins. I use the center for mixing, and the two on the ends to store green and brown material. Although above it is filled with sod from the making of the bird & butterfly garden. In the opposite corner my husband built me a shed – true romance. Since we use our garage for work I needed storage for my garden tools, and for the necessary evil lawnmower (until I get rid of the lawn, heh heh). The plan is for the potager to be sandwiched between the shed and compost.

 The view from the kitchen window in the fall of 2008 with the shed completed (above).

In the spring of 2009 we made three simple raised bed frames (above). I want to eventually construct these from stone so they are not built to last forever. I used the sod from the previous year as a base to fill them in, then topped with purchased potting, top soils and compost. I added a couple of flat beds to the left of the raised. I also made a thin bed along the back edge of the property line that backs up with the neighbors bed. She has lilies planted on the other side so I added a couple on my side. Existing wild grape vines grow up and along the fence. (Click here to read my post on wild grapes in my garden.)

The potager towards harvest time in the summer of 2009 (above). We harvested quite a few tomatoes in spite of a bad year, some beans, lettuce and cabbage. In the fall I planted some garlic for the first time. I had not been a vegetable gardener until now, in spite of growing up with a large vegetable garden in WI as a little girl.

In the spring of 2010 we lopped off a large box elder that was leaning precariously over the back of our house. I kept the wood chips and added paths to the potager, expanding the bed along the back fence as well as adding more flat beds. (Click here to read my post on how I created these paths.) The bed along the back fence now includes two dwarf alberta spruce for winter interest as well as a mix of herbs and flowers that are pollinator-friendly. I did add an edible green grape vine along the fence but I'm sure it will take several more years to become established. I figure I will be able to distinguish green grapes from the wild grapes.

Spring 2010 expansion (above). My husband built the trellis attached to the bed the previous season, and I tried to make some tee-pees but have since disassembled these. Also added, a tomato cage built from old tiki torches that my brother-in-law gave me (below).

The goal is to add some structure to the potager and let it withstand the winter.

The potager in summer of 2010 (above) looking down the pathways toward the compost and toward the shed, and viewed from around the corner of the garage / workshop. I am amazed at the amount of insect and bird activity in this section of my garden from butterflies, moths, spiders, bees to beetles and assassin bugs! One afternoon during a sprinkling I watched a hummingbird fly through the water spray repeatedly and perch on one of the tee-pees. Chickadees hid sunflower seeds among my brussel sprouts.

We are really beginning to harvest a lot of food now: radishes, garlic, tomatoes, swiss chard, beets. Each year I plan to add more variety and try new things. Also, we will begin canning and preserving more of our food.

The last thing I made (with my husband's help) by fall of 2010 was this rustic arbor entryway to the potager. This summer I hope it will be draped in scarlet runner beans! Tasty as well as attractive – especially to humming birds. (Click here to see how this arbor was built in my previous post.) This adds some permanence to the potager which my newer garden needs.

The potager in late summer / fall 2010, winter 2011. I hope to keep this post updated as my garden continues to grow. Thank you for joining me in my garden in the making.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What's Blooming (in Puerto Vallarta)

Well, I certainly haven't been deprived of enjoying garden blooms the past couple of weeks! Although it is winter in Puerto Vallarta, the dry season, there is still plenty in flower. I do not know if any of these blooms are native to Mexico. It would be interesting to do some research.

The star bloomer is bougainvillea. Everywhere it climbs balconies and adorns garden gates.

I love the "secret gardens" barely visible through flowering gates, pergolas, and trellises. There is no reason why gardens in the Northeast cannot do the same but it is rare in this region to encounter such gardens. I love to imagine my village using the same techniques, taking advantage of vertical space, creating secrecy (and less snow drift) with gated entrances. Instead of bougainvillea, clematis and morning glory. Each house cloaked in greenery and blooms with mysterious pathways leading to their entry doors.

The potted plants themselves become part of the architecture. Lively plants are tucked into every corner and available space. Imagine this instead of seas of pavement and concrete. Perhaps it is the climate, but I think we can do better in my part of the world. There are now so many hardy miniature evergreens and grasses available. There are so many interesting seed heads that stand up to winter. There are potting materials that can withstand the elements. There can be so much more life to enjoy and view walking down a sidewalk in all seasons.

This was my third year visiting Puerto Vallarta and not my last. I will return. There has been a lot of negative press about Mexico lately and unfortunately, it has hurt the locals who depend on tourist business. I felt perfectly safe in Puerto Vallarta as I always do – much safer than some of our American cities. The native (and relocated) people are some of the kindest, most polite people I have ever encountered. As they like to point out, Mexico is a big country. Would you consider visiting the US Florida keys dangerous if drug wars overran Los Angeles? I wish our media would be more responsible in its reporting.

Garden bloggers' bloom day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens the 15th of each month. Stop by and add your blog to the list – it's blooming somewhere.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Where Sky Meets Sea

The bay of Puerto Vallarta. I have spotted a whale and her calf. Frigatebirds soar overhead. Pelicans dive into the sea. Soak it in the next few days before I return to winter. Fortunately in the north the latest storm passed us by.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Scenes from Puerto Vallarta: Market

Fresh cut flowers at the market in downtown Peurto Vallarta. Most stunning the Bird of Paradise and Ginger.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Scenes from Puerto Vallarta: Constitution Day

Dia de la Constitucion in downtown Puerto Vallarta celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Political Constitution of the Mexican United States on February 5. Here, gathering for a parade.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sun, Sand and Shadows

Last week, snow. This week, sand. It is amazing how quickly we can transplant ourselves.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Scenes from Puerto Vallarta: Plant Sale

We happened upon a plant sale in the parking lot at the commercial (grocery store). How I wish I could buy the whole lot! So wonderful to see lush green plants and flowers in bloom.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sun, Snow, and Shadows

1.29.2011 The sun shines today. It says to me pause, no matter how busy you are, and admire the beauty of this garden. Pay attention, it is not dead. Even though it is sleeping, it is full with life and sparkles in my light. Do you see spring? Stretching shadows, longer days.

Black Eyed Susans
Shadow from Arbor
Sea Holly 'Blue Glitter'
In the Potager
Sedum Maestro
Front Porch
Eastern White Pine
Astilbe Japonica 'Montgomery'


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