Squirrel War

It’s the bane of bird feeder ownership. An inevitable result of dangling delicious food from a branch out in the open for all to see. Without fail, the squirrels will come. They’ll set up residence nearby and treat your feeder like their own personal pantry. And then they’ll wag their little tails and chuckle in glee as they watch you helplessly fume from inside the window.

Sure, there are feeders that claim to close off when squirrels climb on them. I have those. The squirrels have figured out how to beat that system by essentially shaking the feeder from above and knocking seed all over the ground. Sure, there are hot pepper oils that you can spread on your seeds that birds are fine with but squirrels apparently aren’t. I bought those oils, and after getting some in my eye while mixing seed and oil, I watched (through tears) as the squirrels dug in to the hot peppery seeds with seemingly larger than normal appetites. I’ve tried all the methods – keeping the local bird shop in business along the way- and I’m tired of repeatedly getting flipped off by these darn squirrels.

So I thought I was super smart when I thought about greasing the pole they normally climb up to ravage my suet feeder. I couldn’t wait to watch those greedy little punks leap up, only to slide back down in pathetic defeat. All I had lying around the house was some Body Glide (this comes in handy for long bike rides… use your imagination from there), but I figured it would do the trick.

The target and the tool.

The target and the tool.

Greasing up.

Greasing up.

With a fully greased pole, I sat inside and waited. And waited. That afternoon, they decided they were content to scavenge around below – my sweet revenge would not come that day. And then the next day I came out to find a completely empty suet feeder. Total fail. And to rub salt in my wounds, after switching out the empty suet feeder for a bird feeder, this afternoon I had the pleasure of witnessing this…

Back to work.

Back to work.

Apparently squirrels have evolved to withstand Body Glide. And are back to work, nimbly shaking seed out of the feeder. Next attempt: vaseline.

Spring is coming…

Camelia

Camelia

It’s that time of year again, when my senses start to tune in to any sign of the growing season. We’ve had a rather mild winter, and Mother Nature is taking advantage of those few extra degrees of warmth. She’s encouraging the crocuses to peek out from the soil and the camelias to start releasing their blossoms. All around the neighborhood little splashes of pink and red are creeping into view. The lime green color of new leaf growth is everywhere. The browns of winter are certainly still in the majority, but the bare deciduous trees, shrubs, and vines are putting forth countless buds.

A busy day at the landing strip

A busy day at the landing strip

The bird feeders have been busy, with warblers and thrushes fighting over the easy meal now that the seed heads and berries leftover from the summer are gone. The native solitary bees will start to emerge from their woody cavities within the next month. The honeybees are starting to creep out on mild days, collecting much needed pollen to help feed the hive during this time of larvae rearing. The chickens are slowly starting to respond to the minutes of additional daylight each day, laying an egg perhaps every 3-4 days.

Pollen collecting

Pollen collecting

These are all signs that it’s time to start planning for the season ahead. Time to brush off the garden journal and update last year’s records. Time to greedily comb through the seed catalogs and place my orders. Time to figure out how I can squeeze more planting beds into our small city lot. Time to map out a succession plan, and dream about the fresh fruit and veggies we’ll be feasting on in a few months. Time to clean up the greenhouse, stock up on potting soil, and plug in the heat mats. Spring is coming, and I need to be prepared!

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Seeds are ordered!

How to fail at being crafty, Part 1 (of many)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted… [insert excuses here]… sorry… blahblah… moving on…

We’re on a tight budget these days, and I’ve had a little bit of free time on my hands. With the holidays bearing down on us, I thought I might actually try to take on some of the crafty project ideas that I often come across on the internets. They always seem like such a good idea, and as a result I have a decent pinterest collection of DIY crafting suggestions that have long since been forgotten or ignored.

My first attempt was to make sage smudge sticks, as detailed here. Upon examining her method, I thought it looked pretty straight forward, and I definitely had all the materials needed (our two sage plants in the yard have grown like weeds). So on a particularly slow day, I went for it.

Freshly cut sage... sitting around drying out.

Freshly cut sage… sitting around drying out.

Well, maybe I won’t be adding sage smudge sticks to my stocking stuffer repertoire after all… First lesson learned: don’t conduct project in multiple stages. In other words, don’t cut all the sage and then let sit for a day or two. The sage will dry out and become not so easy to work with. This error will pretty much negatively impact every part of the project going forward.

Despite dry, cracking leaves, I carried on. I spent way too long picking the leaves off of the stems (while listening to Serial, of course), and then again left the project alone for a day or two, allowing the leaves to dry out even more.

More drying...

More drying…

I eventually returned to the project to separate the leaves into crackly piles of dryness, and then, you guessed it, left them alone to dry more. And this is where the dryness really takes a toll on the project. You see, the next and final step is to wrap each sage bundle in cotton string to hold the leaves together. If you did this with fresh, bendy leaves, I’d imagine it would work quite well. If you did this with parched, brittle leaves, I can confirm that it works quite poorly.

Rigid bundle of sage leaves about to be obliterated by indelicate man hands.

Rigid bundle of sage leaves about to be obliterated by my indelicate man hands.

I had come so far – I needed to finish. So I took my ugly white cotton string (second lesson: do as the blog post you’re following says and get the nice brown twine and not the cheaper white kitchen string), and began to impatiently and indelicately wrap each bundle, cracking and crumbling the leaves as I went.

Le sigh.

Le sigh.

My finished products look like little mummified owl pellets that I’m sure my friends and family members will be thrilled to find in their stockings.

In more positive news, I did roast a humungous sweet meat squash and roasted the seeds in the Whole Foods salty herb mix that my mom buys by the gallon and shares with me. They were absolutely delicious, and I singlehandedly finished them all in one day.

Yum

Yum

Stay tuned for more embarrassing mishaps.

 

Pesto Ice Cubes

It’s the season of garden abundance, and trying to stay on top of everything that seems to be ready for harvest at the same time is a tricky task. An embarrassment of riches, I know.

We’ve had to let the occasional head of lettuce go to the birds… our chicken ladies who LOVE their green treats. And I’ve been roasting and peeling beets like a mad woman, throwing them in a jar and into the fridge for use on the aforementioned lettuce. But one of my favorite – and more convenient – tricks I’ve come across for prolonging the life of a seasonal veggie is a little something I learned from our friend Sarah Brown, a farm and cooking goddess.

While hanging around her kitchen one day, probably watching in awe as she whipped up an amazing meal, I noticed that the ice cubes in her ice tray were dark green. Noticing my concern, she quickly explained that that was how she froze her pesto. Perfect cube-sized pesto portions. Genius. So whenever I have a lot of basil on hand, I fill up the ice tray like so…

Step one: harvest said basil (terrible photo, I know).

photo 1

 

Pick all the basil leaves off of the stems and gather other ingredients. Some smart people would use a recipe, but I almost certainly never have everything that traditional pesto calls for, so I usually just make it up as I go. In this case, I was lacking pine nuts (or any nuts for that matter), so I substituted flax seeds. They add a bit of grainy flavor and texture, but note that the typical blender doesn’t chop up flax seeds. I actually had the parmesan cheese, and pesto isn’t pesto without lots of garlic.

 

 

photo 2

 

Really good olive oil, flaky salt and strong pepper are also very important additions. I, however, don’t have really good (expensive) olive oil, so please excuse the Napoleon.

 

photo 4

 

All ingredients get shoved into this adorable little Cuisinart, one of the best gifts I’ve ever received (thanks, Simran!). As previously mentioned, some people would follow measurements. I prefer the guessing game/taste as you go method.

 

photo 3

 

When it has reached the perfect blend, into the ice tray it all goes, where it will wait patiently for our next pasta meal. Although you may not guess it from all my unnecessary babbling, this full process took me 7 minutes. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

photo 5

 

Collapse

Yesterday the NYTimes posted this op-ed written by biologist Mark Winston, about bees and Colony Collapse Disorder. Because of my bee fanaticism, four people have already sent this article to me, but if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth the read.

Go ahead, read it. Now. It’s important to have at least a vague awareness of what is happening to our pollinators. It is affecting and will affect all of us from here on out. It has to do with biodiversity and the very food we sustain ourselves with. Put another way, without pollinators great amounts of our food supply will disappear or skyrocket in cost. Kind of a big deal.

I’ve watched bee hives die. Tens of thousands of little creatures wiped out – sometimes from unknown causes, sometimes from predators or disease, sometimes from starvation and pesticide poisoning. It’s a heart-wrenching thing to witness, and it’s happening everywhere at alarming rates (from the very first line of the article: “AROUND the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year…”).

When we first moved into our house a little over a year ago, one of the first things I noticed was a lack of bee and bird noises. Granted, I was coming from a large farm with three hives and a wide diversity of plants and trees, but it struck me that outside of the man-made city noise, it seemed so quiet. Now, as I sit here looking out my window, I see butterflies moving about. I see little bee bodies darting in all directions. I see color and hear birds. I’m noticing more ladybugs in my yard, and the row of cilantro I let go to seed is at any given time absolutely covered with no fewer than 10 different pollinator species.

The other day a photography class for young kids walked by the wildflower patch at the corner of our property. They stopped to look at the flowers and soon realized how many bees and bumblebees were moving about. They stood there for at least 20 minutes taking pictures. I hope those kids understand how important their little photography subjects are.

I’m working on creating a safe and diverse space for wildlife in our yard, but I know our bees are traveling throughout our neighborhood, and in other yards they may be coming in contact with plants and trees that have been treated with one pesticide or another. They will then bring back those chemicals on their little bodies, and contaminate the hive. As Mark Winston notes, “a typical honeybee colony contains residue from more than 120 pesticides. Alone, each represents a benign dose. But together they form a toxic soup of chemicals whose interplay can substantially reduce the effectiveness of bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.”

Let’s hope that more and more people, besides bee and plant nerds like myself, learn about what’s happening in their backyards and across agricultural systems everywhere – for the sake of the bees AND for us.

Preaching session now complete.

Bees and Betty and Honey and Flowers

This is one of the busiest times of the year for our bees. Flowers are in full bloom throughout the neighborhood, and the ladies are taking full advantage. The temperatures have been in the high 80’s and even low 90’s, creating a lot of action right outside the hive entrance. Bees trying to keep the inside of the hive cool set up shop right at the entrance and fan their wings at full speed to create a mini breeze. In the evenings, bees will spill out of the front of the hive, creating what many refer to as “bearding”, in an attempt to stay cool. IMG_6425

Betty has a special affinity for her bee sisters. Here she is shown emerging from the little den she has created under the currant bush. She spends at least half of each day nestled below the hive, lulled to sleep by the hum above.

IMG_6301In late May, half of our hive swarmed. This is a natural process to accommodate for the growth of a hive and eventual overcrowding. About 30-50% of the hive will split off with the original queen and head to a temporary gathering place – like the maple tree shown above on our property. Scouts will then go in search of a new hive cavity and when one is located, the full swarm will move in. I tried to catch this one (why not have two hives instead of one?!), but I was too slow and they took off before I could get set up. Witnessing a swarm on the move is quite a crazy site. Imagine a cloud (literally, a cloud) of bees moving together creating an almost deafening buzz. Not something you see everyday.

In the meantime, the remaining ladies in our hive raised a new queen and are raising new brood and making lots of delicious honey!

honeyDuring a regular hive inspection this week, I noticed the ladies had been building some honeycomb along the inside cover where they shouldn’t be. That means we get an early mini honey harvest to enjoy!

IMG_6407 This brood rearing and honey production is a result of all the foraging our little worker bees have been doing around our garden (and four miles beyond!). The following photos are a brief montage of the pollen gathering and nectar drinking action I’ve noticed around our flowers lately… see if you can spot the bees in each picture (like the bumblebee flitting around the poppy above and below). IMG_6409 IMG_6410 IMG_6412 IMG_6413 IMG_6414 IMG_6418 IMG_6420 IMG_6421
IMG_6426 In the picture above, you can see the little pollen balls that this bee has gathered and stored on her hind legs to bring back to the hive. Here she is visiting a Bachelor’s Button to add to her stash.

IMG_6448 IMG_6449 Above is a shot of our wildflower patch, which is constantly abuzz (hehe) with bumblebees, honeybees, and many other pollinators. For a nerd like me, standing among the flowers and taking in all the action is a great way to spend a few minutes.

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Garden Happenings

This blog post has a dual purpose: a) to somewhat explain why I haven’t posted in so long (because I spend too much time nerding out in our yard), and b) to fulfill your burning desires to see pictures of my garden (obviously). So here is some garden progress for your Friday afternoon:

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