Keeping the Ants Out of the Hummingbird Feeder

We have a little community of Black Chinned and Rufus Hummingbirds in our backyard.  After work, Frank and I like to sit under the shade of the elm trees and watch them fight over the feeder.  Recently, a large adult male moved into the neighborhood.  He sits on the electric cable above us, guarding the nectar against the other hummers who might try to eat there too.

When we set up the feeder at the beginning of the summer we had a huge ant problem.  Hundreds of ants would climb up the post and over the hanger and down into the feeder, where they would drown in the sugar water.  The birds turned up their beaks and refused to drink there and told their friends that we were not keeping up the sugar bar.  Then they attempted to drink from our red patio umbrella.

Frank tried spraying ant killer on the pole.  Not only did this not work, but it put pesticide on the buffalo grass we have growing there, disrupting whatever might be living down there minding its own business.

So, I checked google who recommended a water trap for ants.  A quick stop at amazon.com and a little red cup on a hook arrived a few days later.  We hung it from the hook and hung the feeder from the loop on the bottom, filled the cup with water and waited.

We were not disappointed.  The ants climbed up and over and down until they reached the water.  The ant super highway screeched to a stop.  The feeder has remained ant-free ever since.  The birds are back to fighting amongst themselves over the feeder and we get hours of entertainment.

There are several versions of ant traps for hummingbird feeders.  Some, like ours, use a cup of water as a deterrent.  There’s one that is just a copper wire but I’m not really sure how it works.  Here’s the affiliate like to the one that we have (I get a small commission from your purchase, thank you).

Hummingbirds are one of my favorite parts of summer.   Post your hummingbird pictures in the comments!

What’s Up With My Zucchini?

When I was a kid my father, who was never one for moderation, would plant a 20 foot garden row of zucchini.  While the garden was meant to keep a family of 5 in vegetables for a year, this was over the top.  We ate zucchini in one form or another nearly every day during the summer and two entire freezer shelves were dedicated to squash that had been either sliced or grated.  This does not even to begin to count the zucchini we gave away to – well – anyone who wasn’t quick enough to flee.

This is why, along with the humiliation of other people’s Instagram posts of giant, fecund zucchini, it is so aggravating to me that my plants are failing.

It’s not squash bugs.  So far, I’ve been spared the rape and pillage of my curcubits by the mongols of the insect world by some unknown sorcery.   But there is some other dark magic afoot.

So here’s the situation:  the  leaves are big and lush and I am getting both male and female blossoms and they are setting fruit.  The fruit gets to be about 2 inches long, then turns yellow and falls off.

There are two possible reasons that my squash are rotting:

  1.  It’s been hot and even though I’ve been pretty diligent about watering, the heat stress will definitely cause vegetables to fail.  However, my cherry tomatoes are fine.
  2. Calcium deficiency:  Last fall I bought 2 loads of composted horse manure and sawdust and sort of half-assed a lasagna garden (a layer of manure, layer of cardboard, layer of leaves, repeat) and used that for the growing medium in the vegetable beds. Even though the composted manure sat over the winter, I think it may still have been a little high in ammonia.  Elevated ammonia levels can cause a calcium deficiency.  However, I added some bone meal to the garden beds during the first week in July and nothing changed.

So, I’m not sure what is the problem – heat stress or calcium deficiency.  It would be great to get a few more  zucchini this year, but I’m not holding my breath.  We’re planning on an entirely different set up for next years garden, to include wicking beds (more on that later) and a shade structure that doesn’t fall down the first time  the wind blows.  Maybe as the temps drop through late summer and fall, the plants will be happier.

If any of you have an answer, I’d love to hear it!   Post it in the comments.

 

5 Reasons To Create a Certified Wildlife Habitat in Your Garden

We live in downtown Albuquerque, not far from the Rio Grande Bosque State Park.  In about 15 minutes I can walk to a beautiful riparian habitat filled with egrets, herons, song birds, porcupines, beavers and muskrats.  While we can’t get the fabulous water birds in our yard, we can create a wildlife habitat at home that brings in songbirds, lizards and other wild things.

I can practically see your eyebrows raising as you read this.  Why on earth would we want to do that?  Doesn’t wildlife = cat eating coyotes and smelly skunks?  How does this benefit a city dweller?  We’ll start with the five most obvious ways

  1. Year Round Beauty:  a backyard wildlife habitat has a wide range color and texture that changes throughout the year.

2.    Low Maintenance:  If you choose native plants or non-natives that are appropriate to your location, you’ll spend less time watering, mowing, and taking care of it in general

3.  Natural Pest Control: A healthy eco-system isn’t over run by bugs bent on ravaging     your veggies.  The whole circle of life is happening right there in the garden without any interference on your part

4.  Free entertainment:  Watching the hummingbirds battle it out over the feeder like tiny fighter jets is way better than any war movie

5. Helps Protect Our Native Birds and Other Wildlife:  Urban development is happening at ever increasing speed, often with little thought of its effects on the non-human world.  We can help to mitigate some of the damage we cause by using native plants and taking care of our winged and wild neighbors.

To create this little urban oasis, you need 4 things:

Food: put out a bird feeder or plant sunflowers.

Cover: anyplace where critters can hide from predators is good.  We have a butterfly bush, and a huge rosemary where sparrows like to hide.

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Butterfly Bush

Water:  a bird bath or a fountain. Bees and lizards will appreciate it too.  You might also be visited by thirsty mammals.

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Our birdbath under the Desert Willow. The rocks are there so that the bees have a place to land and get a drink.

Places to raise young:  trees or shrubs for nesting, bat boxes, bird houses etc.  Often, the cover and food source will also serve as the place to raise babies.

It doesn’t take much by way of effort or resources.  You may already be doing these things in your garden without any special recognition.  If you really love this process and want to tell the world what you are doing, you can register your backyard habitat with the National Wildlife Federation for $25 and they’ll send you a sign to put in your yard.  This donation will help them in their work to protect wildlife and habitat, advocate for the environment and confront climate change and make you look super-green to your neighbors.

What’s Happening This Week

It’s still crazy hot right now,  97 degrees to be exact.  I tried to walk around the front garden barefoot for about 3 seconds before I scurried into the house to find my flip-flops!  Even with the high temps, we have some blooms and some veggies.

The Desert Willow has been putting out gorgeous blooms for weeks now.  There are always little goldfinches hanging out, eating the seeds.

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Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis); the center piece of the front garden.

Underneath the Desert Willow is a cute little Gazania.  It doesn’t necessarily need to be in the shade but it likes a little more water than the rest of the garden.  Since it’s pretty shaded and heavily mulched, it seems to be happy here.

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Gazania, part of the aster family

The Dahlia’s have been the big surprise.  I really didn’t know if they’d do well but they don’t mind the drier soil and full sun, so YAY!  There will be more of these next summer for sure.

These delicate little things are called Fame Flowers.  They are out in the hellstrip, that area between the sidewalk and the street.  It’s hot and I only irrigate that section once a month.  The Flame Flowers are totally happy there and I’m going to add a lot more next year.  In the background, there is a sad little desert marigold, a baby Banana Yucca, and some Wine Cups that haven’t bloomed since we had that heat wave a few weeks ago.

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Fameflower (Phemeranthus calycinus) will only grow 10 ” wide by 6 inches high. I’m so happy it’s a perennial!

 

In the same bed the Prickly Poppy’s are sending out a bloom every once in a while.  I think they’d be happier with a little more water.  They are natives of Colorado and Wyoming and are used to just a bit more precipitation.  We’ll see if they make it to next year.

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Prickly Poppy (Argemone albiflora)

 

The pink ice plant is also pretty happy.  Frank picked these out because the shiny, hot pink blooms look like plastic and he thought that was hilarious.  They’re low maintenance and don’t seem to mind the low water schedule.

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Pink Ice Plant (Delosperma ashtonii): Drought hardy and cold tolerant. Yes, please.

The Moonbeam Yarrow is having a second bloom.  I just pruned back the spent flowers, which I should have done 2 weeks ago.  Hopefully that will kick it into gear again.

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Yarrow (Achillea moonshine)

In the veggie garden, we’ve got cherry tomatoes.  Those never make it into the house because we eat them like candy.

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Cherry tomatoes, I planted 3 of these and am guarding vigilantly against Tomato Worms!

 

There is this mysterious volunteer squash.  I have no idea what it is, maybe a kobucha?  We’ll have to wait and see.

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Here’s a little sunflower among the chilis.  Sunflowers just seem to pop up everywhere.  I didn’t plant any but I think the birds probably scatter seeds from the feeders all over.

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Flamingo photo bomb

What’s going on at your place?  I’d love to see your pictures in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

DIY Olla

I’m experimenting with different types of ollas.  For those of you who didn’t read part one of this article, you can read about it here Ollas and 3 Reasons to Put Them in Your Garden

Here are instructions for a quick and inexpensive set of ollas

Supply list:

6” terra cotta pot

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The corgi tries to hide behind the flower pot to no avail.

6” terra cotta saucer

silicone caulk or other plumbing caulkIMG_0835

Tin Caps for roofing ($3.50 for 1000 – that’s a lot of ollas)IMG_0836

Instructions:

  1. Remove any burrs or rough edges with sandpaper from around the hole in the bottom of the pot to make sure the tin caps will lie flat.
  2. Give it a quick wipe with a rag to make sure there’s no dust or dirt.
  3. Apply a ring of silicone caulk around the holeIMG_0837
  4. Press the tin cap into the siliconeIMG_0838
  5. Apply a ring of silicone around the edge of the tin Ccap.  This will make certain the seal is tight and that the pot won’t leak.
  6. Let the silicone harden for a minimum of 30 minutes
  7. Bury the pot up to the rim and fill with waterIMG_0843
  8. Top the pot with the saucer to keep out the dirt and prevent mosquitos from breeding in them.IMG_0842

It’s best to set up your ollas in the spring when your plants are still small but if your late getting started like we were, don’t hesitate to put them in.  Just be careful not to damage the roots.

Hi!

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Prickly Pear after the rain

Hey, I forgot to tell you all why I’m here!

Are you interested in growing your own food and flowers?  Do you have a particularly difficult gardening situation?  Are you interested in learning more about plants, bugs, and how to take care of what you’ve got with the resources at hand?

Me too!

Gardening in the high desert is not for the faint of heart.  We have 30 degree temperature swings daily, rock hard, alkaline soil, and often go long stretches without rain.  On the bright side, we get 280 days of sunshine per year and have a blissful 6 months between frosts.

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Hedgehog Cactus

We have a lot of the same problems here that gardeners around the world deal with: how to choose plants that are right for your garden, how to take care of plants once they are started, and what to do with all the beautiful produce when it’s ready to pick and how to deal with pests.  We’re learning something all the time about the best way to use water in our garden, how to prune our apple trees, and what to do about squash bugs (I think the answer to that is bourbon. It doesn’t kill the squash bugs but it can ease the pain of watching all your pampered squash and cucumbers withering away).

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mmm… cherry tomatoes

I also love to see what is going on in other people’s gardens including botanical gardens and public spaces.  The trend towards using native plants in landscapes rather than European imports in a climate that just won’t support them gives us a sense of place.  We can have our romantic cottage garden but need to use plants that will survive in our unique biome.

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Albuquerque Botanic Garden

I hope we can make our journey together.  If you live in the arid west or in a similar climate, I think you’ll find plenty of useful information.  If you live elsewhere, not everything will apply to your situation but I think you’ll still find some pearls to take to your garden.

Thanks for coming!

Ollas and 3 Reasons to Put Them in Your Garden

cropped-dscn0668.jpgAlbuquerque gets about 9 inches of rain per year.  That’s less than Tucson, Arizona.  City ordinances restrict the watering of lawns and gardens to 3 days per week in the summer months.  That is not nearly enough to keep tomatoes and cucumbers happy and producing.  Consequently, we’re always looking for ways to get water to our plants cheaply and efficiently.

When I bought our house it had sprinklers and an attempt at drip irrigation which promptly fell apart during the first spring irrigation.  We’ve been watering by hand every legal day during the long growing season.  Thick layers of mulch keep the moisture from evaporating in our dry heat but during high temps we need a little extra help to keep our veggies happy.

Last winter I read a book called Gardening With Less Water  by David Bainbridge and was introduced to the miracle of ollas (oi-yas).  Ollas are unglazed clay jars which are buried in the ground and filled with water.  Since the clay is porous, the water gradually seeps out into the soil irrigating plants directly at the roots.  This style of irrigation has been used all over the world from China to Mexico for thousands of years to allow increased farm yields during dry years.

So far, we have 16 ollas in our garden.  I bought a fancy one (read $$$) at Plants of the Southwest and made three in my pottery class.  I made a few more on the potters wheel but they are waiting patiently to be fired.  Since we had a week of 100+ degree heat, I decide that our poor little garden couldn’t wait for a full kiln load to get water to their roots.  We purchased a bunch of 6 and 8 inch terra cotta pots at the big box store along with some silicone caulk and tin caps that used for roofing.  I put them together in about an hour and buried them in the garden this morning.IMG_0752

For the first couple of weeks after the ollas are installed, we still need to hand water with the hose.  This gives the roots time to find their new, on demand water sourceIMG_0833.jpg

We’re in USDA zone 7b which means we’ll have the occasional freeze, with lows averaging 5-10 degrees in the winter.  We will need to dig up our ollas in the winter so that they aren’t damaged.  If you live somewhere like Phoenix or Southern New Mexico where you don’t really get a hard freeze, then the ollas can live in your garden year round.

Why should you bury clay pots in your garden?

  1. It is 50-75% more effective than surface watering, even drip irrigation, since the water is going directly to the roots of the plants..

2.  After the plants are established around the ollas the soil surface isn’t getting wet.              Therefore, the weed seeds – and in my case, the millions of elm seeds that end up everywhere – won’t germinate.  Your days of bending over to pull the weeds is over.

3. You can’t overwater!  The water moves out of the pot by means of capillary action, so if the soil is damp the water stays inside the olla. When the soil is dry, the water moves through the walls of the olla into the soil, only giving your plants what they need.

Instead of hand watering 3 days a week, we check our established ollas once or twice a week and top off the water.IMG_0843