Monday, June 16, 2014

Bird Report - Novato CA, June 16, 2014

Cassin's finch, the Juniper Titmouse and Say's Phoebe are all regulars at my backyard bird feeder and birdbath.  The Phoebes love bathing and it is a joy to see the young finches fluttering their wings and trying to get the adult males to feed them shelled sunflower seeds.

Regarding seed, I recommend Novato Horse & Pet Supply's bird feed - unlike most commericial brands it consists of mostly highly nutritious black sunflower seeds and the birds love it!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Success with Seeds in hot, dry conditions

My backyard faces due South and is baked by the sun, and I also have a severe gopher problem so planting flowers and shrubbery starts has been an abject failure, with the gophers feasting on my tender new plants.

Therefore, I have turned to seed, as a way of starting new plants that would escape the gopher's predlilections.  So far the following seeds have been successful, although often they have only seemed to germinate months or even years after they were sown:

  • Bachelor's Button - a tough wildflower that comes in pinks, blues and purples, very attractive en masse.  I planted these seeds over a year ago and this summer they finally made their appearance.
  • Cosmos - lovely pink and white wildflowers.
  • California poppies - these ubiquitous orange blooms often re-sow themselves the next year.
  • Nasturtium - comes in hues ranging from butter yellow to orange to red to "mahogany" - lovely large seeds grow easily and often volunteer the next year too.
  • Violas - these adorable flowers look like tiny pansies, and are perrenials.
I recommend the "Wildflowers" brand of seed available at Home Deopt as they sell large packets of many hardy flowers including the ones mentioned above:


Monday, June 2, 2014

Tweet tweet, or, Why You Should Get a Bird Feeder

Prosaic as bird feeders are, these simple devices have the ability to reveal the whole drama of life before you...right outside your picture window.  Witness baby finches mobbing their parents for food, birds squabbling, grooming and fluttering about.  I think we love birds so much because they are so different to us.  After all, they are the only living avian dinosaurs, and they are wild and free and can fly with a grace and agility that seem to defy the laws of physics. 

But best of all, by helping to feed the wild bird population in a world where their habitat is being increasingly destroyed, you are helping to save them.  According the the Humane Society, " Experts disagree about whether backyard bird feeding will significantly help bird populations. But feeding certainly can help individual birds in your neighborhood."  Project FeederWatch also promotes wild bird feeders as a way of promoting and maintaining a bird-friendly habitat.

I believe that backyard bird feeders are important, especially considering the number of birds killed by cats each year.  According to Science News, "Domestic cats kill many more wild birds in the United States than scientists thought, according to a new analysis. Cats may rank as the biggest immediate danger that living around people brings to wildlife, researchers say."

"America’s cats, including housecats that adventure outdoors and feral cats, kill between 1.3 billion and 4.0 billion birds in a year, says Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., who led the team that performed the analysis. Previous estimates of bird kills have varied, he says, but “500 million is a number that has been thrown around a lot.”

Sunday, June 1, 2014

What they don't tell you in gardening books...

Ah, gardening of lush lawns, colorful, slug-free flowers and well-designed patio spaces, nary a weed, gopher or algae-infested pond in sight.  It's easy to be seduced, to rush out and buy flower starts, shrubbery, trees, topsoil and fertilizer.  You will be dedicated and devoted.  You will water, fertilize and weed.  Until the next morning until you look out your window and realized there is no longer anything to water or weed.  Overnight, gophers have devoured your fledgling shrubbery from the roots up, and a few sad leaves poking out the spot where the plant once was is all you have to remind you of the happy baby you brought home from the nursery.

The newly planted grasses, succulents and Mexican sage bushes were all eathen by gophers.  The lavender, celery and dahlias have survived to this day.

Gardening is really more like detective work than paint-by-numbers instructional guides would have it.  You have to first get a lay of the land, try a couple of plants first and see what happens before planting a whole bed.  It's important to first reconnoitre your neighbors' yards and interview them about what has worked for them.  What trees, shrubs and flowers are thriving and what are not.  Which hardy flowers, such as California poppies, are poking up through the cracks in the sidewalk?  These plants are your friends.

What are the natural predators in your area?  Again, grilling your neighbors will help.  Also, if you live adjacent to open space (as I do) or woodlands take note of gopher holes or signs or other pests. 

Find out your soil type.  If you're new to the neighborhood and in a new house, read the report on soil type (which is often discussed in the earthquake hazard section of your disclosure paperwork).  Find out what grows well in your specific garden microclimate.  Consider also the amount of sun, drainage and wind patterns.  There are many wonderful publications on all these considerations and everything else that goes into planning a garden.  Just remember that this advice is frequently general and that you will have to read it through the filter of your specific situation

How to Return Plants to Home Depot

Of great importance to the Black Thumb gardener is being able to return the plants that you will inevitably end up killing. Which brings me to Home Depot's famous one year warranty on plants. However, there is nothing on the Home Depot web site that explains the particulars of the dead plant return process.

Here's how my recent plant return experience at Home Depot went down:

(First, you must go to the Customer Service Department, not the plant department.)

Also, for the record, my husband was too embarrassed to be seen with me. He lurked about in the garden hose department while I did the dirty deed.

Me: I'm here to return plants - here's my receipts.

Cust. Service Rep: (casting a desultory eye over the sad, shrivelled and dried up twigs that were once living green things, and after scanning first plant pot) - This doesn't match what is on your receipts.

Me: Well I called ahead to find out what I needed to do and no-one told me I needed to return the plants as well as the pots they originally came in.

Cust. Service Rep: I can't take these back anyway. It's been over 90 days.

Me: But it's a one year warranty. How can you have a one year warranty on plants that have to be returned within 90 days?

Cust. Service Rep: You can't return these because you didn't return the pots.

Me: But where does it say I have to return the pots as well as the plants?

Cust. Service Rep: I'm going to have to get someone from the garden dept. over here to identify that the plants are the same as the ones on your receipt.

Me: OK.

Cust. Service Rep: (over pager) - Miguel - please come to customer service.

Twenty minutes later. Wisely, neither Miguel nor anyone else from the plants department shows up.

Cust Service Rep: (Poring over receips). OK. So which of these plants are you returning?

Finally, she scans them based on my receipts and issues me a refund based on the plants I say I am returning. If only she had done that half an hour ago. But I ended up with a gift card for about 70 bucks and used it to take home some fresh victims - a Japanese Maple and a Douglas Pine.

So: moral of the story. All Black Thumbs need to carefully keep all Home Depot Garden Center receipts and pots so they can get a second and a third and a fourth chance at growing something. It can end up saving you hundreds of dollars. And between the California drought, the gophers, snails, aphids and other blights, you're going to need it! Happy black thumbing!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday in the Park with Charlie

When I first got Charlie, I tried the Caesar Milan approach. Charlie never bought it. Instead, we have now settled into a comfortably neurotic relationship where I kiss my little cuddle-bunny's feet and Charlie luxuriates in the attention like a small tan and chocolate deity. It's just not that easy to take a deity for a walk. Like most princelings, Charlie prefers to be carried. He periodically stops, stubborn as a small mule and refuses to move on. The expression in his eyes is always one of outraged disgust, at being forced to walk along a dusty, dirty path in the park. Even his attempts to chase the squirrels are half-hearted, as if he knows a mere mortal is treating him like a dog, instead of the royalty he actually is. If only I could find a dog park where they have a red carpet. Sometimes I sense Charlie watching me as I drive, his eyes half-closed, no, not watching me. Contemplating me, in a quiet but slightly puzzled way. As if he wishes that he could share just one word of the wisdom he has in one wag of his little tail.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My dog has learned a new trick!

Actually, it's a variation on an old trick. When I'm at my desk working, Charlie will sometimes roll over and look all cute - his way of saying, time to pet me! Except about a year ago he would do this, and then as soon as I got up, he would race off to get a toy and get me to play with him.

Now he has started doing the same thing with wanting to being let out! He will go to the sliding glass door of my apartment, and stand there pawing the glass like he usually does when he needs to use his toilet (in his case a large section of newspapers spread out on my balcony outside). Now he goes to the door, acts like he wants to go out, and as soon as I'm half-way across the room to let him out, he rushed off to grab a toy and runs up to me with his best I'm the cutest dog in the world expression! I must admit his ploy usually works.