Category Archives: Creatures

Suds for slugs

Slug-damage

Slug-damage

Slugs – slimy blobs of goo that feast on hosta, lettuce, and other leafy vegetation such as the horseradish leaf pictured here – are perennial problems for many gardeners.  The moist spring weather we’ve had in Connecticut has been a boon for the local slug population, but for an effective, low-cost method to reduce slug counts, think beer.

Slugs love beer.  Sink a saucer, adjacent to slugs favored plants, so the saucer rim is level with the surrounding ground, then fill the saucer with beer to “invite” slugs away from plants.  Fill the slug pools in the evening and awaken the next morning to – ewww – a dearly-departed saucy soup.

Another sure fire slug-depleting method is to sprinkle them with common table salt.  In reality, it’s not quite as touchy-feely as depicted in the following never-made-it cartoon, but it is effective.

I have to be pushed to use the salt-eradication method, but  I will happily reach for the salt shaker when I consistently find patios and decks slimed with slug trails or when slugs manage to position themselves exactly where my bare foot just landed – double ewww!

Still, I prefer the thought of them enjoying their last hop-enhanced moments, naively floating in a Bud- or Duff-filled basin, maybe singing along with Homer …

Oh yeah, use cheap suds for slugs … like Homer they don’t seem to have a discerning palette … save the good stuff for human’s with more discriminating taste.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Creatures, Gardening, General, Techniques

Shabby-chic nesting

I love the look of hanging wire baskets filled with seasonal blooms … to the point that I use these baskets during all seasons.  During spring and summer these baskets hold blooming plants.  In autumn, I replace spent plants, but retain the liners and fill the baskets with gourds.  For winter they hold pine cones and evergreen sprigs, and catch seeds that fall from the suet feeders I hang over the tops of the baskets – this keeps seed from falling into my perennial beds.  Smaller birds feed from the seed drops, but their daily pecking severely frays the basket liners so that by spring the liners can look pretty shabby.  This year, my admitted tardiness in replacing the frayed liners brought an unexpected benefit … tattered basket liners seem to be just the thing female birds look for when building their nests.  I like to think of my oversight created an avian shabby-chic depot.

Female Baltimore Oriole? collecting nesting material

Female Baltimore Oriole? collecting nesting material

I first noticed lady robins filling their beaks with coir strands as their men-in-waiting chest-butted for control over the front yard feeding ground.  Then I spotted a pair of house finches harvesting coir fibers in their nest building pursuits.  I was ready to remove the unsightly coir when I caught a glimpse of a female Baltimore Oriole – at least I think this shaky photo is a female Baltimore Oriole … they don’t pose well for photos.  She too pecked and tugged at the coir threads, carting them beak-full by beak-full, to an as yet unidentified location high in a neighboring tree. 

female goldfinch grabbing nesting material

female goldfinch grabbing nesting material

A female goldfinch flew in for her share of the nest-building supplies as soon as the oriole vacated – and she proved to be a better model.

birds like basket liners - old or new - as nesting material

birds like basket liners - old or new - as nesting material

Watching these feathered feats has been as visually pleasing as peeking out at the neighboring basket of pansies, plus following the birds’ direction of flight helped identify their nesting locales. 

Robin eggs that hatched two days later

Robin eggs that hatched two days later

One robin built in the rhododendron next to my front porch which allows observation of her brood from an adjacent window.  I quickly grabbed this shot of her eggs while she was out feeding.  They have since hatched into pretty active little chirpers.

Knowing my tardiness helped my feathered neighbors’ home-building plans has given me a good excuse to further procrastinate with my own container planting plans.  Maybe I can even procrastinate until annuals go on sale?  Now, if only I can spot that oriole nest hanging high in a neighboring tree …

Leave a comment

Filed under Creatures, Gardening, Techniques

Froggy-Toady Thinking

Back on April 28, in my post on Save the Frogs day, frog-pondI shared how my brother and I made a temporary home for Mr. Toad and, in doing so, what we learned about toads and their habits.  But I don’t advocate regularly removing toads, or other creatures, from their habitats and turning them into house pets.  It’s much better to do what we can to make sure our outside spaces are toad and frog friendly.  After all, they do people a huge favor by helping to keep the insect population in control.

Frogwatch USA, a National Wildlife Federation program that enlists volunteers to monitor frog populations, lists easy steps to make your yard attractive to frogs and toads.

However, thinking beyond our own yards is also vitally important.  Many frogs and toads survive simply because they have access to vernal pools – low lying depressions that fill with water from spring rains and snow melt, then dry up with summer’s heat.  Yet, as explained in the video below, many vernal pools are disappearing due to development or a misunderstanding of their value.

We can minimize our impact on our amphibian friends by remembering how sensitive frogs’ and toads’ permeable skin is to pollutants and chemicals.  We can commit to lessening the use of chemicals and products that harm amphibians directly or their breeding grounds indirectly.  Doing so may be the best way to insure that each year we will be greeted by a Spring Frog Chorus.

Leave a comment

Filed under Creatures

Falling out of the doldrums

How does a self-professed gardening nut crack the doldrums of still another bone-chilling, drizzly spring day?  First, by ignoring her long list of gardening to-dos and instead, taking notice of antics of two competing American robin pairs who have daily turf wars on and over the front lawn – one pair busily nest building in a rhododendron adjacent to the front porch and the other defending a longer-established nest in a side-yard mountain laurel.  The front lawn, situated between the two nests, serves as stage for daily red-breast to red-breast – who’s the better/stronger/bigger – male Olympics.  Meanwhile, the females busily collect any remaining strands of ornamental grass and fill their beaks with softer blades of brown lawn grass left over from heavy winter snows … flying back and forth, ground to nest, ignoring the territorial jousts that males only interrupt for worm-catching intermissions.

My doldrums further declined when I caught a brief glimpse of a Ruby-throated hummingbird – the first this season – slowing its fly-by only slightly, as it took stock of a hanging pot of pansies.

But when I headed outside – camera in hand, donning rain coat and my trusty pair of L. L. Bean water-proof slip-ons – the chilly, damp outside world opened its wonders … all I had to do was look.

Nearer the house, a patch of Lady’s Mantle collected raindrops in its leaves.

Lady's Mantle

Lady's Mantle

Newly opened blooms of white lilac caught the lens’ eye.

White lilac blossoms

White lilac blossoms

 Bright white Sweet Woodruff blossoms lit up the base of a red-twig dogwood.

Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff

In the nearby woods, the one and only, but highly prized Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis) had opened … siting, protected, under a long-ago fallen tree, thereby avoiding the trampling hoofs of wandering deer and any unintentional human stomps.
Eastern Red Columbine

Eastern Red Columbine

 Ferns unfurled, reaching fronds skyward.

 

unfurling ferns

unfurling ferns

Tiny May-apple leaves emerged from moss blankets.

 

May-apple and moss

May-apple and moss

I didn’t intend to get caught up in the misty quiet of a wet late afternoon … I actually went outside to grab a few Alpine strawberry photos, but these will hold for a future post.  Today belonged to unanticipated pleasures.

1 Comment

Filed under Creatures, Gardening, General, Seasons

Save the Frogs Day – April 28

Garden bloggers are full of information.  I, for one, had no idea of Save the Frogs Day until I read Susan Harris’ post on Garden Rant.  Simply clicking on the highlighted links will provide you with ample history, information, and wonderfully musical sounds.  I’m fortunate enough to live in the midst of a hardwood forest, and therefore can frequently enjoy similar frog serenades, but my interest in frogs, toads, salamanders and the like grew when my little brother wanted to keep the toad he found in the yard as his pet.  I obliged by helping him build a shoe box home complete with a water dish, moss, and small plants.  We committed to catch live insects for Mr. Toad every day, and to let Mr. Toad go back home in a week.  We learned that toads absorb water by resting in shallow pools.  They sit and wait for prey … if you blink you’ve missed the meal.  We also learned that toads eat many more bugs than we had time to catch.  When we returned Mr. Toad from his/hers –its gender remained a question – forced ‘vacation’ we found toads do not stray too far from home.  We were able to continue our observation of Mr. Toad’s life throughout the summer.

 

To this day I enjoy watching toads in my gardens to see where they rest during the heat of the day and where they hunt for prey.  I do my best to maximize their presence by gardening organically, insuring toads have ample places to hide, and treading carefully to avoid disturbing their homes.  In return, toads – and their cousins – help keep the insect population in check and remind me that gardeners do best when we acknowledge the benefits we gain from sharing our space with other creatures.

 

To see actual photos of adult and non-adult toads, frogs, salamanders, and newts common in Connecticut visit John Himmelman’s Connecticut Amphibians website.  Some photos have links of Connecticut’s frog and toad songs … thanks John.

1 Comment

Filed under Creatures, Gardening

I Hate Moles Because …

Attention all Carl Spackler worshippers, underground varmint haters, and people who live with the antics of those obsessed with ridding their lawn of moles, their gardens of voles, and their life of like creatures.  Here’s your chance to portray your experiences.  That’s right, Sweeney’s, a St. Louis-based company that sells traps, repellants, and poisons aimed to eradicate tunneling creatures from America’s lawns is holding its third annual contest seeking “I Hate Moles Because …” submissions (essay, poem, video, cartoon).

 

If, like Caddyshack’s Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) your montra is “I gotta get into this dude’s pelt and crawl around for a few days,” or you’ve found yourself saying “How about a nice, cool drink, varmints?” as you stuff a hose fully loaded with water down a tunnel that has marred your perfect lawn, this is the contest for you.  And, as the New York Times reports, you can even watch your nemesis on Mole Cam … REALLY!

 

I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with moles in the lawn.  On late summer mornings you’re likely to see me taking baby steps around my front yard in bizarre patterns as I stomp down the previous night’s mole tunnels.  But my larger problem is with voles – the mouse-like creatures that eat vegetation.  What voles left of my crocus they rearranged in a most unkempt manner, and they’ve had some mighty good meals of my perennials (phlox, ornamental grasses, hosta, coneflowers, sedum, daisies, iris) and small shrubs (bayberry, roses, Rose of Sharon).  And last year they fed huge populations of relatives on volumes of my vegetable plants (Thinking outside of the plot).  I’ve tried traps, solar sound deterrents, stinky garlic and egg mixtures, castor oil pellets … all with minimal or no impact.  I may have even emulated Carl now and then in one of my rants over finding an empty hole where a plant used to be.  Still, I’m no match for past winners and runners-up, these people are serious!  Carl would be proud.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Creatures, Gardening, Uncategorized

A gardener’s spring retreat

A sunny, warm early spring day gets a gardener’s juices churning to a point that makes it difficult to hold back from racing out to buy colorful plants to sink into the ground.  But rather than racing out to buy new plants I like to use these days to take stock … to go on spring retreat.  During the last three glorious days I did just that … but never had to leave my southern Connecticut gardens.  I dug weeds from the lawn and planted grass seed; screened compost from one bin set to decompose last fall and topped off another bin I’ll tap into by mid-summer; cleared leaves from planting beds and thinned and transplanted perennials (daylilies, lamb’s ear, campanula, carex, sedum, veronica, hosta, and periwinkle).  In the edible garden I thinned and watered stands of peas, lettuce, and radish; harvested over-wintered cilantro to add to a batch of salsa; and guided raspberry canes to grow within their roped areas.  With each early sprouting weed yanked from the earth, I noted the color, texture, and worm activity of the surrounding soil.  Now I have a clearer view of which areas need an added boost of compost and what spots might benefit from additional color or structure.  I know which perennials succumbed to winter and need replacement and what spots to brighten with long blooming annuals.  This retreat gave my muscles a workout as they soaked up warmth from the sun; it refreshed my brain as I listened to the calls of birds; and it filled my soul with hope as I took in the beauty of blooming bulbs and remembered the colors and scents of the re-emerging perennials.  And while I noted much, much more to do than I’ll ever have time to complete (remember, gardening is never done … thankfully) my new to-do list does not detract from the pleasure and the invigoration I gained on retreat.

 

An aside: for an amusing read on the need for garden fencing read Gerri Hirshey’s article in the New York Times.  I will now forever think of chipmunks as “rats with racing stripes.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Creatures, Gardening, General