Monday, February 28, 2011

He's Everywhere!

Last evening I packed up Pumpkin and sent her home with Laura. I have too many cats in this house and I really needed to make this change.

I got out the little cardboard carrier to put her in and within 60 seconds, look who jumped in. Smudge was quite happy in there but I had to remove him. He wasn't happy.

So I turn around to carry Pumpkin into the living room and there he is on the little table I'm sending up to Ginny next week. I painted it years ago for Alissa but she's outgrown it and Ginny is just the right age to enjoy it.

So I'm taking pictures to put on my blog 'cause I'm thinking it was kind of cute. Smudge got perturbed and jumped down.

After Laura and Alissa left with Pumpkin, I noticed Mr. Priss Pants had found yet another spot to take respite in from all the flashing lights in his face.

I decided it was time to leave him alone for a while before he really got ticked off at me. He can be a real stinker sometimes.... but he's so pretty :)

The Importance of Insects

I've just read a very informative post over at Native Backyard and I let her know I was going to post it on my blog.

I cringe every time I see commercials encouraging people to spread this poison over their lawns. Not only does it kill the bugs we don't want, i.e., fleas, ticks and grubs, but it is non-discramantory and kills bees and other very beneficial insects.

Plus I didn't know about tall fescue grass and the toll it takes on the soil. You know what they say - you learn something new every day!

What group of lifeforms do we most need for our own survival? I'll give you a moment to think about it.

Ready? Insects. Avid students of gardening probably answered this without need of the white space pause. Here I paraphrase E. O. Wilson, from his book The Creation:

First there are the pollinators, without which flowering plants would cease to be in only a year or two. Other insect-pollinated plants would follow. Then the kicker: "The soil remains largely unturned, accelerating plant decline, because insects, not earthworms as generally supposed, are the principal turners and renewers of the soil."

In my personal quest to find the best combination of plants to create habitat, the lawn question led to more questions than answers, at first. I hope I will include enough information in this post to help you answer your own. My goal is to create lawn space that looks attractive but does not discourage other life forms that are necessary for the success of my "target" life forms (like songbirds). What I found was disturbing, with wide-spread impact.

In municipal and federal landscaping (think DOT), plants are searched out and chosen on the basis of low maintenance and high success rate. Over the years, this has contributed to many unintended consequences, such as the invasive presence in North Carolina (and many other states) of miscanthus. Some of these plantings have been so wildly successful that they have choked out other native species and the other life forms that depend on them. An example of this is tall fescue, which has led to drops in the population of (among other things) quail, which require huge numbers of insects for forage.

Tall fescue is an introduced grass. Around airports, as mentioned before, it is probably an excellent choice because it does reduce the population of potential airplane destroyers. It has a symbiotic relationship with a fungus (called an endophyte) that not only improves the viability of the fescue, but reduces the viability of insects. Without the insects, species like quail cannot survive.

Because of its success in choking out competition (and therefore requiring little if any weed control herbicides), tall fescues have been billed as an environmentally conscious choice for turf grass. So far as that standard goes, the marketing agents are correct. The fewer toxins we use in our landscapes, the better. That ought to be a no-brainer. However, if the goals is to sustain life, rather than just to inhibit it, tall fescues really, really fall short.

Agricultural industry has focused primarily on the "defeat the weed" strategy. So most research is aimed at solutions for weed-free turf or forage. A fine summary of this agricultural research comes from Cornell University. This type of research is not directed at finding which grass species support forage by other species, but rather on what is not required for species success--water, fertilizer and herbicides. Another approach was taken by Stevie Daniels. A Penn State Master Gardner, Daniels has worked to understand the best solutions for native turf grasses. She has selected the fine fescues as one of her lawn solutions, depending on your location. Others are discussed at the included link.

Fine fescues, based on what I can find, do not need endophytes to succeed. This would mean that they would not inhibit insect life the way that introduced tall fescues do. There may still be a threat of allelopathic(linked document has great chart) relationships to consider, but the native clumping red and sheep fescues should be safe choices for turf that won't disturb the balance of life. Mixed with violets like johnny jump-ups and other native, low-growing species, these less-aggressive fescues can help you achieve a lively lawn that allows the bugs (and bunnies...I'm all about the bunnies) to thrive. Which will make your birds happy.

The real point here, however, is that it is not just our songbirds who need bugs. We all do. We need them to pollinate our flowers and crops, we need them to till and aerate our soil, we need them to maintain the smaller life forms that feed us, either directly or indirectly. So in my own personal habitat, the quarter of an acre that I can control, it would be the height of foolishness to discourage my insects. I need to provide them all the sanctuary I can.

Posted by R K Young on Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Flea Market Gardens Magazine

I've had spring fever for a couple of weeks now, but now am practially hyper about getting started. I know it's way too early to plant anything, but the weather is perfect for clean up and preparation.

While at WalMart yesterday at lunch, I picked up a gardening magazine I hadn't noticed before. Turns out it's the premeir issue and boy is it loaded with ideas and inspiring pictures. A lot I've seen before, but there are some new ideas in it as well (new to me anyway).

For all you garden enthusiasts out there - you should check it out.

I'm so excited.....!!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Completed UFO and Bird Count

Well, I had just just about given up even trying to complete anything. The weather has broken and I'll be outide till about August now.

I had actually finished this embroidery right around Thanksgiving, but didn't have time to make it into a pillow. I spent a lot of time making a jacket for my mother for Christmas and it was a priority.

This pattern called for a checkered border, but I left it off. It would have added a lot to the finished piece but I just wanted it finished. It also called for some cross hatching on the pumpkin stem, but I think it looks ok the way it is.

Now it's in the closet and I'll enjoy it this coming fall. Maybe I'll add some ribbon to it to really frame all that stitching.

I participated in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. I didn't get to spend nearly as much time as I wanted to, and my numbers were very low considering the amount of birds that eat at the feeders everyday. Still, I had 12 species visit in the 15 minutes that I timed myself for a total bird count of a little over 20 birds.

If I did it correctly, I had to count the number of birds that were at the feeder in a 15 minute window. I know the feeder was busy all day though because all the food was gone. I'll give it a try again next year and will definitely block out more time to participate.

Spring is springing and I'm ready to sew a table mat or runner or something out of some pretty tea fabrics that my friend, Diane, sent me a few months ago. I'm still trying to decide what I want to make.

I've got a few daffodils in bloom and the forsythia is ready to pop! I'm going to bring some inside to force and enjoy!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Great Backyard Bird Count 2011

The Great Backyard Bird Count is this weekend - February 18th through the 21st. I'm going to participate this year for my first time.

I've been a bird watcher since I was a little girl. I still have a bird book that my grandmother gave me in 1962.

There are so many birds at my feeders and around my property. I have open fields for the bluebirds, killdeer and flycatchers, and I've got lots of woods. Most everything I plant, I keep in mind if it will provide food or shelter for the birds. I feed the birds seed year 'round and sometimes put suet out for them.

There is a pair of pileated woodpeckers near by. They don't come on my property but I can hear them. They need dead trees to nest in. Unfortunately, some houses are being built near me and trees are being cut down. People seem to think that dead trees hold no value, but they are so wrong.

(Bird images from Google search)

I've got several eastern bluebirds that live on my property year round.

I've got some of these guys around too - the red bellied woodpecker.

To find out more information, go here. This would be a fun and educational thing to do with your kids or grandkids!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Another Beautiful Blog

Be still my heart. Through Quill Cottage I have discovered Life @RuffHaven. Not only does Marianne share my love of senior pooches, but she is a real nature lover as well!

If you visit her blog and scroll down a little, you will find a beautiful video from YouTube that will speak volumes through art and music. The message is and has been my mantra for several decades. We are destroying this earth so fast that it makes my heart sick.

I try very hard to live what I preach and leave as small a footprint on this planet as I can. I compost most of my garbage. I re-use cardboard and old carpeting as landscape cloth. I re-use plastic bags for dumping used litter box nastiness into. I combine as many errands as I can into one outing. Even though I am struggling financially, I continue to donate to the NRDC and other nature and animal related organizations. I talk to people about pet overpopulation and the importance of spaying and neutering pets. Just this Saturday there were two pick up trucks of puppies being given away in the WalMart parking lot. I gave the owners information about two low-cost spay/neuter options locally. I use minimal chemicals in my yard and gardens. I eat chicken and turkey very sparingly.

If you do one small thing a day, it will make a huge difference to the world we share.

I certainly didn't intend to get on my soap box, but that video really touched me. I hope you go visit Marianne's beautiful blog. She creates gorgeous pieces of art work.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hard Work and Results

Hi everybody. I hope you've had a good week.

I'm so hard work helping Gail's husband clean up a rental property that was in horrible shape is paying off. Instead of being paid for it, I asked Gail if I could work for merchandise from their garden center. I seem to be able to find money to pay for things I truly need or have to take care of, but not necessarily for those things that I just want.

Well, look what my first items are that I brought home yesterday - these two ginormous concrete pots to put on either side of my arbor. They're really going to make a statement when they're planted.

I have yellow jasimine growing over my arbor. And because my little herd of deer eat everything - even plants that are on the safe list - I want to plant some pretty purple cat mint for the filler plant. Gail suggested I plant the yellow creeping jenny to hang over the edges. Then I'd like to try planting some annual salvia for a bright splash of color.

I learned something new from Gail yesterday, who is a master gardener and expert at putting plants together. She said to remember "filler, spiller and thriller" as the rule for planting containers. Isn't that a neat way to remember? :)

So Laura and Alissa came down for a while this afternoon. Alissa is magical with animals and while I've been working slowly with the little goats to tame them down, take a look at what Alissa managed to do in a few short minutes! They were eating from her hands and they still won't do that for me. They've only seen Alissa twice and they see me every day!

Today I worked for the animals all day again. Lola and Lilly have been jumping over the fence into the small chicken pen that houses Big Rooster and his friend. Even though it's covered with chicken wire, they are getting in and then can't get out. Two times this week I've come home to them stuck in there. Then they knock off the chicken's pop door and go inside their section of the barn and upset Big Rooster (pictured below).

So...I had to move all the 10 foot posts I had out there from when I enlarged Big Rooster's pen last summer. I sunk them around the pen and attached yet another band of chicken wire all around the top. Now there is a wire barrier that stands 8 feet tall and if the goats jump over that...well, I just don't know what else to do. You can see the posts in the background here.

And the geese, Hansel and Gretel, now have the upper hand with the goats. Lilly and Lola gave into the geese's intimadation tactics and are now scared to death of them. The geese have been terrorizing the goats all day and then started in on the chickens. Usually the geese will go after the chickens but allow them to run away without a chase. Not today. Hansel and Gretel were angry and chasing everything. Even tried chasing me but I had a big stick and let them know I wouldn't tolerate that behavior. That only made them even more angry. Then when I saw Hansel actually grab onto Lilly's tail and hang on while she ran towards the barn, I got mad. It was either give the geese away (and they'd be eaten) or somehow separate them from all the other animals.

Well, I had to think and think of how I could move everybody around without having the expense and labor of building yet another pen. I finally figured it out and it took all day to achieve. I didn't realize Alissa had taken some pictures while I was working. At least you can get an idea of what I'm trying to explain.

The geese are now in the small pen where I was keeping two other roosters, Snow White and Beauty. You can see here that I moved the pool into the pen, but I didn't get the geese in there till just before evening. That's me walking toward the pen.

I have rigged up a makeshift pen to move the roosters into tomorrow morning before leaving for work. You can see it in the background here - it's on the outside of the pasture and has a dog house in it for the roosters to have shelter.

I also need to move Big Rooster and his friend into the main section of the barn and put Woodstock (my little bantam rooster) and my bantam hens and silkie in the section where Big Rooster has been.

It's a lot of work, but if the geese can stay cointained in the small pen then everybody but them will be happy. Soon I will enlarge their pen so that they don't feel like they're in such a tiny prison.

I was ready to call my neighbor to come down and take them but am not quite ready for that to happen yet. When I was trying to catch them, I felt sorry for them because they were so afraid.

Taking care of animals is hard when they all don't get along peaceably.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pumpkin Does Yoga

I just caught her in this position last night. She's even leaning against my yoga mat!

I hope you are all well and surviving winter!