Friday, February 23, 2007

Birds will come ... an urban habitat garden.

When first beginning to garden the only birds I seemed to see were blackbirds, sparrows and maybe a robin or two.
That has changed dramatically over the years as I have learned to feed the birds.
Not with a typical bird feeder but through the garden itself.
Seeds, berries, nectar, insects and even small mammals draw quite a diverse population of bird species to our Chicago garden.

A small brown creeper seeming to run wildly back and forth over tree bark until it reaches the top, then dropping straight back to the ground to start the climb all over again, is searching for insects under the loose bark.
The thrush running in and out from under shrubs picking through leaf litter is also looking for a meal.
We never deadhead so as to leave plenty of seed, for the American Goldfinch that sings so loud to its mate while stuffing in a load for the babies back at the nest and the Mourning doves which forage the seed on bare ground after it falls.
A flicker chases ants,Hummingbirds sip nectar from flowering vines,Robins eat worms and the berries from Red twig dogwood and blackberries.
American kestral sit high on a tower looking down over the garden and a sharp shinned hawk watches from the tallest tree for a chance to nab a young mourning dove or baby rabbit.
Food is plentiful in this wildlife habitat garden.

Living within the migration flight path of millions of birds along Lake Michigan makes for a huge number of species that might be coaxed into stopping. I have seen many at parks and beaches, woods and ponds that have never ventured into my own backyard.But so many have visited and some stay awhile.

The mature trees [very tall with branches spread wide] a few needle type evergreens, a thorny tangle of brambles, ground covers and organic mulches, even a wood pile, gives the birds options. They forage food, build nest to raise young, shelter from wind and storms and hide from predators.
Water in a small shallow pond, a bird bath, a saucer on the ground here and there provide various depths,access and surface texture.
Different birds have differing needs.

Birds make up the most visible wildlife in the garden if you spend time looking.They pay their own way by keeping insect populations under control and singing with abandon.
Only the mourning doves leave behind enough evidence of their presence to be annoying.Many a morning is spent power washing every surface under the trees and placement of seating to avoid splatter is an ongoing concern. Thankfully no big pigeons have been drawn in, maybe fearing the hawks.

Here is a list of birds I have seen in my own backyard over the years...
Wrens,Junco,rose breasted grosbeak,rufous sided towhee,brown thrasher,mourning doves,robins,cardinals,brown creeper,common yellow throat, ruby crowned kinglet,common flicker,Hairy,downy,and red headed woodpeckers,American Goldfinch,indigo bunting,hummingbird,ovenbird,hermit thrush,white throated sparrow,white crowned sparrow,chipping sparrow,house sparrow,lark bunting,house finch,common nighthawk,Blue Jays,grey catbirds,chimmney swift,sharp shinned hawk,American kestral,and assorted unidentified warblers.

There are many reasons to spend time in the garden...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Masanobu Fukuoka
"do-nothing method of natural farming".

I have recently read that there are those that like to disclaim being "a granola crunching, Silent Spring toting, environmentalist whacko" when talking about the earth and growing things. Understandable when such labels dredge up preconcieved notions that can undermine the validity of what one has to say.

But I am not afraid and will wear the tag proudly and aspire to actually living up to such an indictment.
Instead of 'Silent Spring' the book I tote tends to vary but most often is 'The One Straw Revolution' by Mansanobu Fukuoka. A philosophy of life as well as the garden, interests me more than the scientific verification of mankinds mistakes. I have read what Rachel Carson had to say and am grateful for her work but I have never used such chemicals and as Bill Mollison has said " choose your friends from people who you like what they do - even though you mightn't like what they say" So I chose those writers that have lived their words...

The writings of this wise old farmer, Mansanobu Fukuoka, helped me to understand what to do and how to do it in my own garden. He helped me understand how to watch, to learn from the earth and the plants and the creatures figure out where we fit and what we should do or not do.
I have learned that weeds and insects have a part to play and that there is a balance that will develope in time if our intrusion does not cause upset .

In a later writing of Fukuoka's he talks about using seed balls. Mixing many kinds of seeds in mud balls to reclaim waste land. I wondered if these could be made with native plants and tossed into neglected urban lots. Such musing brought to light this site.

Seed Balls

I am so tempted!!!

FUKUOKA: First of all, I operate under four firm principles.
The first is NO TILLING . . . that is, no turning or plowing of the soil. Instead, I let the earth cultivate itself by means of the penetration of plant roots and the digging activity of micro-organisms, earthworms, and small animals.

I've found that you can actually drain the soil of essential nutrients by careless use of such dressings! Left alone, the earth maintains its own fertility, in accordance with the orderly cycle of plant and animal life.

The third guideline I follow is NO WEEDING, either by cultivation or by herbicides. Weeds play an important part in building soil fertility and in balancing the biological community . . . so I make it a practice to control—rather than eliminate—the weeds in my fields. Straw mulch, a ground cover of white clover interplanted with the crops, and temporary flooding all provide effective weed control in my fields.

The final principle of natural farming is NO PESTICIDES. As I've emphasized before, nature is in perfect balance when left alone. Of course, harmful insects and diseases are always present, but normally not to such an extent that poisonous chemicals are required to correct the situation. The only sensible approach to disease and insect control, I think, is to grow sturdy crops in a healthy environment.
To read more in the old man's own words...
The Plowboy Interview



Friday, February 16, 2007


A spring bulb that looks great in the meadow.

Blue or white starry flowers on tall spires above the emerging grasses and wildflowers. Camas is native to north america with about six species.

Camassia scilloides - Atlantic Camas, Bear grass (Eastern United States in North America) The habitat extends along the Atlantic states from Maryland to Georgia and eastward to Texas. The upper midwest states of Michigan and Wisconsin are also included in the range.

Camassia angusta - Prairie Camas

Camassia cusickii - Cusick's Camas (occurs in Eastern Oregon)

Camassia howellii - Howell's Camas

Camassia leichtlinii - Large Camas, Great Camas (occurs west of the Cascade Mountains from British Columbia to the Sierra Nevada).

Camassia leichtlinii ssp. leichtlinii : Large Camas Camassia leichtlinii ssp. suksdorfii : Suksdorf's Large Camas Camassia quamash - Quamash, Indian Camas, Small Camas.

Drought tolerant throughout most of the year camassia needs plenty of soil moisture in spring and can tolerate winter wet.
As with most spring blooming bulbs camassia is planted in the fall. While the bulbs do not spread much camassia will naturalize over time as the seeds self sow easily.

goggle images
Using Catalogs to Plan New Garden Spaces.

Sometimes it is hard to figure out what to plant where. Part of this is the huge selection. I find myself wanting to add so much that it is impossible to know where to start.
One of the places that I check every year for ideas is the Website of

Here the staff has put together a few plans to get you started. You can see what grows well together and where. Even if these prepackaged plans do not appeal you can use the ideas as a starting point and then acquire only what you like. The ideas for size you can increase or decrease by adding or subtracting plants. You may find you have many of the plants already or would like to start some from seed. Anyway you customize it's nice to have somewhere to start.

Like this Shade garden...

Woodland Shade Garden (25 plant)
Covers 41 square feet. Approx. 9' x 4.5'
Comes Complete with Planting Layout
Each Garden Contains:

Wildflowers ...
2 Virginia Bluebells,
2 Jack-in-the-Pulpit,
2 Jacob's Ladder,
1 Solomon's Seal,
1 Columbine,
1 Red Baneberry,
2 Wild Bleeding Heart,
2 Culver's Root,
2 White Woodland Aster,
1 Maple Leaved Alum Root,
2 Calico Aster
2 Northern Sea Oats,
5 Palm Sedge
Designed by Jennifer Baker, Prairie Nursery Ecologist

or this Butterfly/pollinator Garden...

For well-drained garden soil in full sun or partial shade.
Comes with Complete Planting Layout and Instructions.
Covers 67 square feet. Approx. 12.75' x 5.25'.

2 Downy Phlox,
2 Columbine,
2 Butterflyweed for Clay,
3 Sullivant's Milkweed,
2 Prairie Blazingstar,
2 Bergamot,
1 Ironweed,
2 Dense Blazingstar,
1 Ohio Goldenrod,
1 Tall Joe Pye Weed,
1 Sweet Joe Pye Weed,
4 Crooked Stem Aster
9 Prairie Dropseed

How about one for Birds...
Comes with Complete Planting Layout and Instructions
Covers 77 square feet. Approx. 12.75’ x 6'.

2 Smooth Aster,
1 New England Aster,
1 Blue False Indigo,
2 Downy Phlox,
1 Purple Coneflower,
2 Columbine,
2 Dense Blazingstar,
3 Smooth Penstemon,
1 Yellow Coneflower,
1 Sweet Black Eyed Susan,
1 Cupplant,
1 Stiff Goldenrod,
2 Bergamot
4 Little Bluestem,
4 Indiangrass,
4 Prairie Dropseed

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Teaming with Microbes A Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web

Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis

January's book club selection over at May Dreams Garden
Yes, I know that it is already mid-February.
Life outside the web demanded attention for
a couple of weeks so I missed the club meeting.
But I read the book while traveling and was taken
with all the information and decided late was
better than never.
Most interesting is this idea of bacteria and fungi
as life to be nurtured instead of eliminated.
Seems advances in science gadgetry has given us a real
good look at what is taking place in the soil.
Wouldn't you love to get a look at your soil through an
electron microscope? Not just have someone tell you what
is there but see it for yourself.It is enough to send you
back to the classroom.
The picture of fungal mycelia activated by adding
fungal nutrients into the compost so as to
increase fungal biomass before making compost tea
gives hope to those of us reluctant to use even
recommended organic sprays. Feeding rather than killing
in a garden is a much appreciated distinction.

This book is a useful tool for learning how to
remediate compacted soil and bring back the decomposers.
I doubt that I will be making compost tea, but the
information about how different plants grow best
in soils dominated by fungi or bacteria can be heeded.
Our local library had this book on the shelf already
so I did not have to buy a copy. After reading
I have decided it will make an excellent addition
to the home library.

Anyone that did not get a chance to read Teaming with Microbes
might want to try again. It is well worth the effort.
It could be the best thing you do for your garden this year.


In addition, after reading a few of the reviews by other book club members
I would like to add a few links to check out on no-till agriculture which has been
around long enough to be accepted by many farmers.

Also master gardener soil classes through
the university agricultural extention service are beginning to include the
advances made in understanding
soil microbiology.

The authors of this book have done a good job of explaining
soil science as it is understood and taught today.