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Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

Meyer Lemon Tree BlossomsDespite a warmer than average winter, I’ve been going over my gardening plans for the coming seasons as I focus on my indoor garden. It’s rare for me to talk about what I do and my upcoming gardening plans. I currently live in an urban apartment where gardening space is limited, but have learned to maximize the small space available with container gardening.

I base most of what I do with my garden off of gut instinct and luck in combination with the knowledge I’ve picked up through trial and error over the years.

What Worked

  • Mixing My Own Soil

Living in an apartment, my access to soil and compost is incredibly limited. In the past I’ve relied on a popular brand of potting soil with varying results. My goal this past year was to find a more rich soil mixture that required less maintenance. I ended up using a mixture of potting soil, a high quality compost, sand, and soil conditioner mixed in accordance to the needs of individual plants.

Mixing my own soil turned out to be the best thing I could have done for my little container garden—it retained moisture without becoming waterlogged. To cut down on cost, I looked for ripped, discounted bags at garden centers. The potting soil I used was leftover from the prior year and I would recommend cutting it out completely if possible.

  • OrchidsOrchids

During the winter, mold can be a major problem with indoor plants. My apartment has poor air circulation that created a severe mold problem with the sphagnum moss potting medium used for my orchids. The mold caused root rot, so the decision was made to replant them in bark which has completely abolished the mold problem. While still healing from the mold attack a year later, all have stabilized and look to be healthy.

  • Lizard TerrariumTerrarium

After longing for a terrarium, I finally created a large and nearly self-maintaining eco-system plus an additional lizard. A layer of rocks under the soil help create a self-watering system that the plants thrive on. Beneficial springtails help to tidy the enclosure and decompose waste. Can’t wait to add some live moss!

  • Overwintering Herbs

Currently, our mild winter has made wintering over the many herbs and plants incredibly simple. The hardier plants are unmoved since summer while the more tender are housed in a small pop-up greenhouse for protection from the winter nip.

  • Container PondContainer Pond

Mid-summer, I picked up side project and turned a large, cracked planter into a container pond. This was an especially cheap and simple project—the container was clearanced for $6. Easy to maintain, the pond and goldfish within provided a tranquil addition to an already relaxing jungle. The goldfish have adapted well to overwintering in a tank inside

What Didn’t Work

  • Balcony GardenLack of Space

This past year, I grew both lemongrass and tomatoes; however, both plants grow fairly large and take up a lot of space. Since they shaded out many of my other plants, I have decided I will not grow them this coming year in order to make room for new plants.

  • Various Tropicals

I grow many tropicals that rotate between inside and outside depending on the weather. Both last winter and this current winter, I have found molding soil due to my apartment’s poor air circulation. Currently I have been treating with cinnamon to keep the mold at bay, but would like to find a better solution in the future.

After busting the pot on my large White Bird of Paradise, I attempted to repot it on my own despite suspicions it would be a two person job. I was unprepared for the thick, stiff roots that grew straight down and the three plants separated as I loosened the old soil. In the end, I ended up with leaning plants that were growing into one another.

My cats have done a good job of eating the foliage and even killing a few. I have resorted to placing them in odd places so the plants will have time to begin their recovery.

Looking Ahead

  • Seed SproutingSeed Sprouting

The warmer than average winter is wreaking havoc on my gardening plans as I’ve been cautious of planting seeds with worries they’ll sprout too early. However, I have picked up some new seeds to try of which includes fenugreek, cattails for my pond and cat grass in hopes of distracting the cats from my tropicals.

  • Enduring Soil

When I created a soil mixture last spring, I tried to plan ahead in anticipation of this growing season as I wanted the repotting to be minimal. I added plenty of soil conditioner to each pot in hopes that it would decompose throughout the year, leaving another year of rich soil for each plant to continue growing in. I am eager to see how well (hopefully) this has worked out.

  • Meyer Lemon Tree in FlowerLemon Tree

I will endure the continual wait for the first lemons to ripen on my Meyer Lemon tree. I’m also hoping to see the growth even out a little more this year. The tree is currently in full bloom with a scent that fills the entire room; however, I won’t be leaving many lemons to grow as it’s still a young tree.

After a fairly successful year, this coming year looks to be a promising experience with plenty of room to grow and expand my gardening knowledge. So, how did your garden grow this past year? Got any interesting plans for the 2013 season?

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I apologize for the lack of posts on my part. The end of summer always brings a whole host of things that demand my time, some more important than others, but all squabbling for and yanking at my attentions until I give in. For example, one of my roosters has become a little crotchety, so as I collect my daily bounty of eggs, I’m always eyeballed and occasionally bodyslammed by him, and I end up debating his fate. He’s on ‘probation’ as of now – while he’s a beautiful bird, I don’t want him to go after a customer or something.

This past weekend was the peak of the harvest moon. It’s said that this bright full moon was once used by farmers to continue work into the night during the intense harvest period. My own is almost complete here, having mostly ended a few weeks ago. Haying season has been finished for some time, with plenty of bales put away to supply bedding for the chickens for the winter. I dug all my potatoes, beets, and turnips, and they’re now in damp straw-filled bushel baskets in the old stone basement. Only hardy things like brussels sprouts and carrots remain outside, and I’ll deal with them soon (except for the kale, which will be left there – and will probably survive – all winter).

It was a good season, though. After admirable performances on their part, I let the tomatoes go, their vines thin-foliaged and dying, fruit quality suffering from months of early blight and the associated exposure/sunscald. Probably more than a bushel went ‘to waste’, with some of these being fed to my chickens as feed, but it wouldn’t have been worth the trouble to take care of them and cut around their damage when I already have on the order of 6 or more full cases of homemade tomato products to use this winter. You choose your battles.

Just three 40-foot rows of bush beans produced over 300 pounds of beans before I let them go to seed as well, blowing my past years out of the water. I have no more freezer space for them, and lost what remained of my desire to spend the hours required to pick them to sell. I put a 14″ wide head of broccoli in the freezer – the biggest I’ve ever seen, beating my old record by 3″. I also picked the largest watermelon I’ve ever grown here, a 20-pound-plus Jubilee, and have enjoyed (or sold) several other melons in the 15-pound range. Our climate isn’t usually as suited for production of these, but the hot summer this year seems to have helped them, even as it hindered crops like the lettuce (there was still plenty, but it was the sorriest, sparsest looking row of it that I’ve ever grown).

The harvest and transition to fall also brings a number of festivals and other celebrations that conveniently fill the gap between fair season and ‘winter hibernation’. Some are craft shows, others are historical celebrations or giant farmer’s markets, or some may even be a mash-up of all of these. One such amalgamation is one I go to every year – the Busti Apple Festival. Born from the Pioneer Festival that used to be held here, it always happens on the last Sunday of September, rain or shine. This year it happened on Sept. 30th, and though the forecast called for rain, we managed to escape without a drop.

An early 1900s shot of the Mill.

The Apple Fest is held near the old Busti Gristmill. This historic mill, built in the late 1830s, was in neglected disrepair for many years. However, funding from the Apple Fest is used by the Busti Historical Society to restore it while still maintaining period accuracy. Windows and floors all needed replacement – it was basically a start with the bones and building back. They have also purchased some of the buildings around it. This year there were some breakthroughs, with some old equipment being demonstrated, and the once-empty mill channel over the creek being filled with hewn beams and hardware in preparation for a possible return to action in the future.

There are many tents of crafters with things to sell, and there’s always a good selection of fresh produce and other farm products. There are also demonstrations of log hewing, candle-making, spinning, a one-room schoolhouse, antique tractors, traditional music, and more. While I think most people go to this festival for the fair food and other ‘stuff to buy’, and I do like buying certain things myself (ex. maple and honey products, stone-ground flour, cheese), I go primarily to see what’s going on with the ‘old stuff’, and I do enjoy seeing some others who do take an interest in it.

A row of crafters’ tents lines the road, shut down for the day for the festival (Post-Journal photo, article linked).

A particular new thing of note to me this year was a blacksmith that was working on pieces on-site. His operation is called Evergreen Forge, based in Scandia, Pennsylvania – within a half-hour’s drive from my home. He had a number of pieces for sale, most decorative in nature, but a single knife stood out to me from all the offerings on display. It was a fixed-blade damascus hunter. Better yet, it was handmade, and one of a kind by nature. The price tag was intimidating, but it was beautiful, and I kept coming back to it, finally giving in and paying the asked-for sum, which I knew it was worth.

Maybe this knife will one day test a whitetail’s hide, or maybe it will serve me in any number of capacities from a garden vegetable-lopper or a forest mushroom-slicer. Maybe it will not. It’s a hard decision to make after you’ve bought (for a fraction of the price) and used many generic, mass-produced blades for your entire life. I almost always have a knife on hand, though – they’re like an extension of myself, an extra digit I don’t possess on my own – and it’s a new thing to own one this gorgeous that is still so strongly made and could serve well longer than my lifetime if cared for. Given all of what I’ve just said above, it seems almost like a waste and perhaps a denial of its own purpose to simply allow it to sit on display forever.

I could always give it a run with some squirrels. Though some would find the idea of eating them odd or even disgusting, they’re my favorite game animal. They’re abundant this year, probably helped along by the past mild winter. The feast of thickly dropping hickory and beech nuts almost makes up for the fact that spring frosts ruined all the wild apples and other fruit.

Hickory nuts (and some extra heads from my sunflower landrace) spread out to dry.

Cool rains have come, and nippy nights are bringing on the fall colors, along with a host of curious mushrooms and fungi that I delight in foraging for. No great finds so far, just a few blewits and a tiny Lion’s Mane, but there’s time yet. With one season over, and a new one started, it’s time for fall foraging and hunting. Hopefully my downtime will increase as the days shorten, allowing for the inevitable posts that will follow these subjects…

Is this butt a sign of things to come???

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Sitting on an apartment balcony in the early morning, the rising sun awakens birds singing a morning song to be heard; however, there isn’t a single bird in sight. Apartment balconies are notorious for being void of wildlife. With a few simple changes a thriving sanctuary can be created on any balcony.

Attracting Birds

Feeders are one of the easiest and quickest ways to attract a variety of birds. Use tube feeders to attract Goldfinches, Chickadees, and finches that prefer thistle and small seeds. Hopper feeders work well for Blue Jays, Cardinals, House Finches,  Purple Finches, Tufted Titmice and Buntings—a favorite is sunflower seeds and cracked peanuts. Suet cages work well as a companion feeder and will attract Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, and Nuthatches. If wanting to attract Orioles, provide fresh slices of oranges.  Thinking thrifty? Even a shallow dish filled with seed, peanuts, or meal worms will attract birds—they aren’t picky. Any seed mix containing the large, brown, round millet should be avoided as birds do not readily eat it.

The Hummers

A petite, colorful hummingbird is always an exciting and welcomed visitor. By placing a hummingbird feeder on the balcony, you’ll be sure to attract the small bird. The syrup is easy and quick to make at home. Boil 1 cup of sugar with 4 cups of water—the syrup will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator. Change the syrup regularly in accordance to outside temperature—hummingbirds will refuse spoiled syrup. This tiny, flying package will be full of attitude and provide a viewer with countless hours of its antics.

Splishin’ & Splashin’

By also providing wild birds with a source of fresh water, they will be assured that your balcony is the place to be. A traditional bird bath will work, but they also make hanging bird baths. For a more cost-effective solution, wild birds will be just as pleased with a shallow dish filled with water.

Go Natural

By growing certain plants, you can provide a natural source of nutrition for wildlife. This is beneficial as it provides wildlife with the proper nutrition and encourages natural survival skills that are not reliant on people—if you’ve ever had a hoard of House Finches at your bird feeder or would like to find out, then you’ll know what I mean! Plant flowers that are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

A few balcony friendly plants:

  • Petunia
  • Fuschia
  • Salvia
  • Lantana
  • Beebalm
  • Snapdragon

More than Novelty

Enthusiasts of colorful caterpillars and butterflies may also grow host plants for caterpillars. Providing the host plant of a favorite caterpillar will attract not only the colorful caterpillars that rely upon them for food, but also the butterfly looking to lay eggs.

By growing a variety of plants and providing a food source for varying wildlife, your balcony will soon be thriving with its own wildlife oasis. For every garden pest I’ve found, I had a garden predator that preyed upon them—from hungry birds looking for juicy, fattened caterpillars to colorful predatory insects looking for a sticky slug.


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