The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Growing Food for Birds at the Jackson Rose Farm

How many pink rose varieties do we need?
This one is Falling in Love, fragrant, the favorite of our friend
who was about to be married.

I really wanted to produce pumpkins for the grandchildren and others this year.Several have good starts in the corn patch. My largest one is in the back corner of the backyard, the wild garden. The size of the leaves suggest large pumpkins will be growing back there.

Pumpkins are heavy feeders and need plenty of water. Like corn, their leaves droop when they need more water. I have some pumpkins started in the corn patch, and one has bloomed already.

I like having vines on the fence, because they are opportunistic and climb up to get more light. Last year the pumpkins and gourds put on quite a display on the fence, but the pumpkins did not have enough time to mature.

Delicate butterflies have their own favorite plants.

Pumpkins and gourds on the fence feature bumble bees pollinating, and the close-up view is that much more interesting. One would imagine the evolutionists converting simply because of bees, their variety, their social classes, and their endless work to make plants fruitful through pollination.

Corn is different from pumpkins in pollinating through the wind. That is why a corn patch has to be fairly large to accomplish this.

Corn and pumpkins fruit only once, while beans and peas continue to produce when picked. Last year, beans were so productive on the fence that I could not keep up with them. We had many pods that were fully mature and full of hardened seeds rather than tender beans. Kids loved opening them and seeing the seeds, which they kept.

God matches up the correct pollinators with the right plants, so a variety of plants and flowers will increase the selection of insects. Many of the beneficial insects are tiny, so small that we overlook their powerful influence. That also means they like the tiny flowers of the dill-carrot family. They also like sunflowers because that giant flower is really a very large compound flower with many individual flowerlets working together to make one big impression. As a result, sunflowers are enormous in size and bountiful in pollen and seed.

Our maturing row of sunflowers is attracting the birds who want to harvest the food, one of the most nutritious in the garden. My first glimpse was a goldfinch glittering in the sunlight, checking out a golden sunflower. Birds have a great sense of balance. The goldfinch maneuvered around the flower and worked on settling down to eat. Likewise I saw a male cardinal perch on a wobbly branch, then move to another branch just as unstable. Birds will take the ride rather than fly away.

The squirrels consider all seed and nuts to be their food rather than any others' meal. Nevertheless, each species gets a turn when there are plenty of stations for them to get their food.

I always feel watched when I am in the gardens, front or back. My work invariably includes watering, re-filling the baths and pools, and turned on the soaker hoses. I finish in the backyard with a mixture of seed in various places, a variety of levels. This is more than a feeling, because the background noise picks up as I work. Starlings keep watch and make their scratchy sounds. Cardinals have a quiet cheep, cheep that conveys their happiness.  Once I leave they come for their food, a few at a time, until about 20 are enjoying the food and baths.

Squirrels often take their place and eat in the midst of the birds.

Robins are justly associated with earthworms. I see them in the roses and under the soaker hoses in the backyard. I make their meals much easier with thousands of earthworms working the wet soil. Robins always look offended when I am near, but they are not frightened away. One hid behind a rose bush once and peeked out. If they are grabbing dry leaves for their nests, they are even bolder, because they do not give up building material easily. Long ago I found one robin playing tug-o-war with string from the pea vines. That bird wanted nesting material.

When I leave pieces of string or twine loosely on a branch or feeder, the birds take them away in no time.

But wait - there's more. Robins also eat insects and berries.

My fruit collection for birds and humans includes:

  • Elderberries - two varieties for increased production
  • Large strawberries in the sunny garden
  • Tiny wild strawberries all over the yard, garden, and grass
  • Gooseberries
  • Beautyberry - a fruit of last resort
  • Blackberries - thornless, and 
  • Raspberries.

There are many ways to feed birds, besides growing rows of sunflowers. The Cow Vetch vine produces seed pods  which are often fed to budgies, so other birds must like them. All seed producing plants will feed birds to some extent, especially those that favor seeds on the ground. Doves are the primary ground seed eaters, but others are just as patient in finding those little bits of food. Starlings feed in flocks and will work the ground for grubs and seeds just as eagerly as they devour suet, but they eat the suet first.

One reader said, "I did not see all the tiny insects
until you wrote about them."
This is the valuable ichneumon wasp.