Sunday, September 2, 2018

And, The Migration Begins!!

Are you beginning to see a plethora of hummingbirds at your feeders now? What’s the deal? Below is a video, from Texas Certified Master Gardener Ann Fair-Irby, of the hoard of hummers at one of her feeders.

This is one of Texas’ most amazing avian spectacles. What you are seeing is the start of the hummingbird migration. Beginning around the first week of September, multitudes of hummers show up along the Texas Gulf Coast from points north and east. This historic staging area becomes the stopping place for the nation’s largest concentration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds as they prepare for their southern migratory passage. These little birds fly to the Rockport/Fulton area of Texas to fatten up on nectar and protein before departing for the tropics, flying over or around the Gulf of Mexico to points south, mainly central and southern Mexico. For several weeks, thousands congregate in the area and partake of a feeding frenzy on Turk’s Cap, Salvia and other nectar-producing plants.

Migration is triggered by light and day length. This fact begs the question of how hummingbirds born in northern climes this summer know the way to the Gulf. This is a trip of 500-600 miles over open water. Hummingbirds do not travel in flocks but fly alone. Anyone care to guess?

For a hummer that just hatched, there's no memory of past migrations, only an urge to put on a lot of weight and fly in a particular direction for a certain amount of time, then look for a good place to spend the winter. The initial urge is triggered by the shortening length of sunlight as autumn approaches, and has nothing to do with temperature or the availability of food; in fact, hummingbirds migrate south at the time of greatest food abundance. When the bird is fat enough, it migrates.

Once it learns such a route, a bird may retrace it every year as long as it lives. Banding studies suggest that individual birds may follow a set route year after year, often arriving at the same feeder on the same day. 

Here are some other interesting facts about these flying jewels:

  • A hummingbird’s tongue has grooves on the sides to help it catch insects.
  • A hummingbird must drink almost twice its weight in nectar every day to survive.
  • They have 40 to 60 taste buds. Humans possess about 10,000.
  • Hummers can’t fly until their body temperature reaches 86 degrees.
  • The average hummingbird nest is about 2 inches in diameter.
  • It would take 150 average sized male hummingbirds to equal 1 pound.
  • Hummingbirds have about 1,500 feathers. I wonder who counted them?
  • Even at rest, a hummingbird’s heart rate is eight times faster than that of a human.
  • The oldest hummingbird recorded was 14 years old.
  • Hummingbirds were named for the sound their wings make while they fly.
  • Hummingbirds show they are “on guard” by ruffling their crown feathers.
  • Hummingbirds’ wings move in a figure-eight pattern. This allows the birds to hover and fly in all directions – even upside down!
  • They have weak feed and legs. They use them only for perching and preening.
  • Their eggs are about the size of a jelly bean.
  • Male hummers do not help raise their young. Figures. . .
  • They beat their wings about 50 times a second, so they appear as a blur.
  • While at rest, a hummer takes 250 breaths per minute.
  • The Cuban bee hummingbird is the smallest warm-blooded animal in the world. The male weighs less than a dime.
  • About 25% of their weight is flight muscles.

Garden on!

Ann Reynolds
Texas Certified Master Gardener

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Mosquitoes Got You Itching?

Sheesh! See a mosquito, smack a mosquito. Not even the 100+ degree temperatures are deterring these pesky insects from biting. Since, I’m not a big fan of spraying poison on my skin (hey, makeup doesn’t count), I have been reading up on alternatives. I thought I would checkout the claims that some plants keep mosquitoes away. What a great idea!! Sadly, I found that there is no science to back up that certain plants on their own keep skeeters at bay.

The science is that the botanical compounds in plants do repel those little blood suckers but these oils must be extracted from the plants. Some of these plants include Lemongrass, American Beautyberry, Mexican Mint Marigold, Lemon Verbena, Pennyroyal, Rosemary, Lantana, Lavender, Mint, Basil, Lemon Thyme, Mosquito plant (citronella-scented Geranium) and Lemon Balm to name a few. This makes sense because I remember my grandfather putting American Beautyberry leaves under his plow horse’s harnesses. He claimed it kept the flies away.

Extracting the oil from these plants can be as simple as crushing the leaves and strewing them or burning the plant parts (much like incense) near your patio area. The added bonus is the wonderful aroma of the herbs. You can try crushing the leaves of these plants and spread them on your skin, but please do a patch test first. I have fashioned a big terra cotta pot of many of the above plants and when I garden, I give each one of them a slight “squeeze” to release the oils. It seems to be working.

Just like butterflies and moths, mosquitoes are nectar feeders and pollinate plants.
Only the female feeds on blood to get iron and protein when she is ready to reproduce. Mosquitoes can go from eggs to adults in as little as five days. Yikes! 

Females find their blood meals by following trails of carbon dioxide, body heat, and water vapor that vertebrates exude. So, don’t breathe, get hot or sweat when working in the garden. Tee, hee. They are not attracted to light, so all-purpose bug zappers don’t work (although they kill thousands of beneficial, pollinating insects).

As gardeners we know to be vigilant in emptying containers of standing water. If after dumping standing water and introducing natural predators you still have mosquitoes, you can use a product called Bacillus thuringiensis var israelensis  (Bt-i). Bt-i is a natural occurring, soil-borne bacteria that has been used since the 1950s for natural insect control. Bt-i kills 95-100% of mosquito larvae within 24 hours but is not harmful to birds, mammals, or amphibians.  Holly Ross of Hollyberry Herb Farm in Canton, Texas suggests using the powder form of Bt-i in water to spray on gardens and lawn. Be sure to coat the underside of leaves where eggs occur.

We know mosquitoes pass on disease to humans and domestic animals. But, mosquitoes are more of a nuisance than a health threat in this part of the world. Millions of people are bitten by mosquitoes but only a few get sick. This is not to minimalize those that suffer from one of the mosquito-borne deadly diseases. But, overuse of pesticides leads to poisoning, pollution and the death of beneficial wildlife. I guess it is a catch 22. The key to minimizing the annoyance of bites and the risk of disease is prevention. Avoid going outside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are active (easier said than done for a gardener) and cover exposed skin by wearing long pants and sleeves.
Interesting gardening attire
A better choice in gardening attire

Not good gardening attire

If worse comes to worse, use a fan. Mosquitoes are not strong flyers so a fan is often all you need to keep these biters away while you enjoy an evening in your garden or on your patio.

Garden on!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Ten Reasons You Should NOT Become a Gardener

1.     You buy plants. . .lots of plants. . .and put them in the ground only find that they don’t grow or grow prolifically. You repeat this cycle until one day it dawns on you, that you should do some research. This leads you to take classes and attend seminars.



2.  You sign up for said classes and learn about dirt soil, plant pests and diseases, soil PH, pruning, rainwater harvesting, straw bale and keyhole gardening. This leads to attending every seminar or class within a 90-mile radius of your garden. You are on a first name basis with your local agriculture extension agent. You are accused of stalking him.

3.     You learn about poop. . .cow, chicken and rabbit manure, bat guano, worm castings and frass.

4.     Every morning, you HAVE to go to your garden to inspect your plants for growth, blooms, and pests. This requires you to be out in the fresh air during good or bad weather. This also MAKES you listen to the birds singing.

5.     Your spouse notices your success or failure and decides he will garden too. . . without any knowledge of above referenced plants, soil, pests and poop. Said spouse becomes a know-it-all.

6.     Your grandchildren will want to “help” in the garden. This leads to dirty clothing, skinned knees and an occasional sighting of a bee or bug which then leads to grandchildren screeching at the top of their lungs. This screeching shatters the experience of quiet, peaceful gardening.

7.     The grandchildren will want to pick harvest the fruits of your labors. You will have to supervise because their mom may find out they eat fruit or veggies straight from the garden (without being washed of above referenced poop).

8.     Your success with vegetable gardening may lead to an abundance. This leads to making new friends and talking nice with the neighbors in order to pressure them into taking these unwanted vegetables. When friends and neighbors begin to run away from you when you come toward them with a grocery sack, this leads to depression.

9.     You still have an abundance from your garden. This now requires you to learn a new skill such as freezing, canning, and making herbal oils and vinegars. The neighbors and friends think you have retreated back to the 60s and become a reborn hippie.

10.  You acquire an entire new wardrobe.

Yes, I know I said 10 reasons NOT to grow a garden but I thought of one more!

11.  Growing fresh fruits and vegetables leads to the eating of more fresh fruits and vegetables. This leads to a lower consumption of other delicious foods such as baked goods, desserts, and bacon. Growing a garden leads to searching out others that “make their own” such as farmers markets. You get excited and think you can make your own butter and bread. You begin to think about acquiring chickens. This horrendous cycle of do-it-yourself begins to repeat itself.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Enchanted Garden is Back!!

I'm back! Just a little hiatus from blogging. But, never fear The Enchanted Garden is here with bits of wisdom about gardening, nature and dumb stuff I do. Lets get right to it. Lets talk about feeding the birds.

In the winter, feeding the birds can be a matter of life and death for them. Natural food supplies such as insects and fruits are non-existent so setting out food for the birds provides the ticket to their survival.

If you have started feeding the birds, or if you are frustrated by a lack of success in attracting winter birds to your feeders, the first thing you need to do is determine whether you are feeding the right foods for the birds of the area. If you are not giving the birds what they want, you might not have many birds.

Here are the top ten foods for winter bird feeding:

·       Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds
·       Niger Thistle
·       Peanuts
·       Suet
·       Safflower
·       Cracked Corn
·       Fruit
·       Meal Worms (dead or alive)
·       Good Mixed Seed
·       Homemade treats

    Is there such a thing as BAD mixed seed? Heck ya! Bad mixed seed has lots of filler in it—junk seeds that most birds won’t eat. Bad mixed seed can include dyed seed meant for pet birds, wheat, and some forms of red milo. Good mixed seed has a large amount of sunflower seed, cracked corn and perhaps some peanut hearts or safflower. The really cheap bags of mixed seed sold at grocery stores can contain the least useful seeds. If you want to try different types of seed, may I suggest visiting Lost Creek in Mineola. Sandy Tibbs has a wide variety of seed just for the birds in our area and she is very knowledgeable!

If you are lazy like me, you can try one of my no fail methods. Smear peanut butter on a tree trunk, and poke some peanut bits into it. Try feeding suet and offer it all winter long. Suet attracts many insect-eating birds, such as woodpeckers. But nuthatches, juncos, chickadees, wrens, cardinals, sparrows and jays will also stop at backyard feeders for a high-fat treat. True suet, and especially the kind made with animal fat, provides a good source of energy and builds fat reserves needed during the cold.
Be sure to fill your feeders daily, preferable in the late afternoon to give the birds a boost before they roost at night. A few days of empty feeders means the birds will quickly disappear.

Place your feeders at varying heights and locations especially near trees and shrubs. Trees and shrubs provide protection from predators.

Provide a variety of foods.

Be sure to keep your feeders clean.

Now, lets talk gardening. I am happy to report that I am now taking Master Gardening classes. Hopefully the Enchanted Garden blog will take on more of a garden flavor but will keep nature posts too! We will see. Our first two classes are on soil. What? How long does it take to learn about dirt????

Ann Reynolds