Nesting Material: Do’s and Don’ts

First, a retraction.  For the last few years I’ve been stuffing mesh apple bags with laundry lint, an offering for the neighborhood birds and squirrels.  I’m not sure where I originally found the idea or if I came up with it on my own.

I asked about the lint at a recent birding class, and they said that experts no longer recommend it. The owner of our local birding store said it compacts when wet.  According to this Humane Society article it ” crumbles, and it may contain harmful residues from detergents and fabric softeners.”  I use green products in the wash and don’t use a softener so I thought it was fine.  Now that I know better, I’m spreading the word.

Conversely, the birding store suggested offering animal fur.  This seemed  counter-intuitive to me since birds are cat’s prey, but I decided to give it a go.  Instead of tossing the cat fur collected in the brush, I’ve been tucking it into the trees in our garden. Would we have any takers?

The answer is yes, and today I got photographic proof.

With my camera in hand, I saw a bird lift out of the shrubs with something white in her mouth. Could it be?  I snapped from a distance, but couldn’t be sure till I looked at the picture close up.  Sure enough, this bird has a mouthful of Beijing’s fur.  Yeah!!!!

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

So to recap: Laundry lint is bad for nesting but animal fur is a hot commodity. My apologies for leading anyone astray.



Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse

Last night we got to experience a total lunar eclipse from our back yard.  Good thing, too, since it happened after midnight.  We all went to bed around ten and set an alarm  for 12:00.  My youngest son asked me this morning if he got up to see it or if he had just imagined it.  So much for laying down memories!

Mike took some photos, which I’ve included below.  They’ll make great memories for us, but if you want to see the true majesty of this eclipse, you can check it out at Bad Astronomy.

blood moon

View from the backyard: 9:09 pm

Full moon, 9:09 pm

Full moon, 9:09 pm

Full Blood Moon: 12:50 am

Full Blood Moon: 12:50 am

According to Phil Plait of Slate:

there will be three more total lunar eclipses visible to the United States over the next year and half: in October this year, and in April and September of 2015. While their won’t be any bright stars near the Moon for the eclipse in October, the planet Uranus will be only a degree away! There’s also a partial solar eclipse two weeks later, on Oct. 23, 2014! That’ll be a treat. And if you live in Australia there’s a nice annular solar eclipse on April 29; this is when the Moon is slightly smaller than the Sun and leaves a ring of Sun around the dark Moon.

Do you enjoy watching a lunar or solar eclipse? If so, please share your memories in the comments below.

Reclaimed Fences, Birdhouse Charm

My friend, Michele and her family get together every year and make birdhouses. They reclaim wood from broken fences and other old materials, then craft them into unique designs. I’m the lucky recipient of this charming model, below.

reclaimed fencing birdhouse

Reclaimed fencing

I love their family tradition of gathering and creating together. I’m also a huge fan of reclaiming materials and giving them a new life.

back of birdhouse

Back of birdhouse

They attached the back of the birdhouse  with screws for easy removal and cleaning. Weathered wood blends beautifully into the landscape.

Ceramic "chimney"

Ceramic or porcelain “chimney”

The birdhouse “chimney” is a vintage ceramic or porcelain insulator. Once used as old telephone wire insulation, the markings  indicate manufacturing by WP or Wisconsin Porcelain. The top of the insulator reminds me of a peppermint Lifesaver. I’m never far from my sugar-loving roots. Ha!


Even the rusty nail is re-purposed, artfully bent into a perch.**

Do you have gift-making family traditions?

Related Articles:

**I plan to display this lovely birdhouse as a piece of art. If you want to attract nesting birds to your yard, here are a few safety tips.

DIY Nesting Wreath

I stopped by  Los Gatos Birdwatcher last week and saw the coolest idea: a wreath made from  nesting materials.  They covered the wreath with soft wool, feathers and other natural material.

For a few years I’ve saved my laundry lint, then tied it to a tree in a mesh bag.  Making a wreath looked like way more fun.

I picked up a frame at the craft store for a few dollars and got to work.  I wrapped the entire wreath with soft, oatmeal-colored yarn.  I pulled the yarn taught to prevent entanglement.  It also gave me a base to push bits of lint, string and wool into the frame.

Wire Wreath Frame

Wire Wreath Frame

Wrapping Frame with yarn

Wrapping Frame with yarn

Small pieces of laundry lint

Small pieces of laundry lint

inserting lint

I pushed the lint through the taut yarn with the round end of a small paintbrush

Having nesting material on hand is a great way to attract birds to your yard.  Spring’s coming.  Start making those wreaths and stashing them throughout the yard.


  • Wire wreath frame (any size)  I used a 6 inch frame.
  • Neutral colored yarn or string
  • Laundry lint (neutral)  Birds build nests in subtle colors that blend with the environment
  • Scraps of yarn, or string, cut into short lengths no longer than one or two inches (to avoid bird entanglement.)

I found the cutest hook to hang it from at our local fabric store for just $3.  It’s a bird (of course).  Let me know what you think.

Nesting Wreath

Nesting Wreath

Bird hook

Bird hook

Eggshell Seed Starters: Cracked Eggs, Happy Pumpkins

Pancake Breakfast leads to eggshell planters

While mixing up a batch of pancakes this morning, I remembered a recent post on Facebook suggesting starting seeds in eggshells. I had leftover planting mix on the counter from planting cat grass the night before and a pile of eggshells collecting near the stove.

After rinsing the shells, I placed the rounded end back into the carton and added the mix. I planted several of the remaining pumpkin seeds, making it an even dozen. Next week, I’ll pop the seeds in their eggshell containers directly into the raised beds outdoors. The eggs decompose, adding nutrients to the soil. I crushed the remaining shells into smaller pieces as an offering for the birds. Apparently backyard birds will eat the shell as a source of calcium.

I love the narrative I found inside the egg carton. It says:

“Thank you for choosing our eggs.  These eggs were produced on small Amish/Mennonite, family farms where the traditions of being a good steward of the land are passed on from generation to generation.  In many cases the eggs are gathered by hand and much of the family is involved in the care of the birds and the collection of the eggs.  You can be assured that the eggs you are buying come from chickens that are allowed to roam freely about the hen house are given access to the outdoors and eat only certified organic feed.” – Farmers™ Hen House Organic

Cheaper by the Dozen

Here is a quick tutorial from Apartment Therapy.

City Picker: Grow Tomatoes on your Porch, Patio or Deck

City Picker

A few years back, a friend raved about an Earth Box, a self-contained planting system for vegetables.  I’m not sure if they were hard to come by at the time, but I never stumbled across one in any of the garden centers I frequent, or I simply didn’t take the time to look.

Our raised beads spread out across the back of our house in past years, but they were too close together making it challenging to get around them without getting your foot caught between them.  When we refurbished our back yard this winter, we widened the path in front of the beds, to make room for our summer pumpkin vines.  We added gravel, since part of that area isn’t easily plant-able due to pipes, irrigation shut off valves, the electric box, etc.  It was a great place for a chair in the cooler months, with the sun reflecting heat off the side of the house.  Hoping to capture that trapped heat for our tomatoes this summer, I went looking for an Earth Box.  What I found instead was a City Picker, virtually identical in every way, but almost double in width.

City Picker’s are perfect for urban gardeners, since they are a fully contained system in a portable box.  The planting box comes with casters, a ventilation tray, a watering tube and plastic mulch.  You can roll it around your patio or deck to maximize sun, while at the same time containing the mess.  No need to worry about watering your downstairs neighbor!

Here is our setup:

1.5 CU FT. Organic Potting Mix

Dolomite Lime and Fertilizer

Fully assembled City Picker

Fill with potting mix to about two inches below the top
Add a thin layer of Dolomite

Organic Fertilizer:
Make a two-inch trough in the center of the box
Add three cups of organic fertilizer

Mound Potting Mix:
Cover fertilizer with mix, about one inch above the box

Plastic Mulch:
Cover with the elasticized plastic mulch
Clip in place with the enclosed binder clips

Cut Holes in Plastic Mulch:
Cut a hole for the irrigation pipe
Cut additional holes and plant seeds/seedlings

Ready to Grow

I’ve provided links for the Earth Box and the City Picker for feature comparisons.  Please let me know if you’ve tried one in the past, or if you plan to set one up this season.

True Leaves: Seedlings Ready to Go

Pushing Up Seed Casings

I learned the expression “true leaves” on a gardening forum called I Dig My Garden. True leaves are the second pair of leaves on an emerging plant indicating all systems are go for transplanting outdoors.  I like that expression, and find it far more interesting than my heretofore “second set of leaves” terminology.

Our Burpee Growing System delivered in spades.  We have over 72 pumpkin seedlings ready to go.  I prepped the garden beds a few weeks ago anticipating this day.  The stars have aligned, which is to say dry, warm inviting conditions to launch our pumpkin crop.  Here we go!

“The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies.”
–  Gertrude Jekyll

April 11th: Planted seeds indoors in a Burpee Seed Starting System.

April 18th: Will you look at these adorable sprouts?  What personality!

April 29th:  True Leaves!  So excited…

Kitchen Counter Pumpkin Crops

It’s Arbor Day: Have you Hugged Your Favorite Tree?

Proud Tree Hugger

If you can’t plant a tree somewhere today, arbor day enthusiasts suggest taking stock of your own.  Are they healthy?  In need of a trim?  Perhaps some fertilizer is in order.

Our suburban lot is about 6,000 square feet.  The house occupies a third of that and what’s left includes the garden, a deck, a patio and a few trees.  Three established trees grew in our backyard when we bought the house, but not a single tree out  front.  I started researching approved street trees before escrow even closed, and together my husband and I settled on a Chinese Pistache.  The Pistache grows in the strip between the sidewalk and the street, perfectly situated for viewing from my home office and the kitchen.

After years of broken sidewalks, car damage and probably lawsuits, the city arborist requires well-behaved “street” trees.  No invasive roots, no sticky sap to damage cars and they’ve banned Liquidambar styraciflua which toss down ankle-turning, stroller-jamming hard, dry fruit.  They are lovely trees in the right setting, but not well suited curbside.  No pip-squeaks either, which is to say, 15 gallon trees (at a minimum) when planted for safe traffic visibility.

We love our tree!  In the first few years, we measured its growth, but eventually it grew too tall.  We had boys by then, so all our attentions shifted down, as we measured their height in inches and eventually feet.

Planting Our Tree
September, 2006

In the fall our tree turns multiple shades of amber, then quietly drops a blanket of leaves, so subtle they hardly need raking.  We hang our singing skeleton from the branch to entertain passers-by around Halloween, and by winter the tree strips to its own skeletal form.

Stunning Fall Color

My youngest son loves climbing that tree and when it was dense with foliage, he once hid up there so he could drop down and surprise his unsuspecting friend.  Last summer, he and a friend rigged a series of buckets and tubes and created an impromptu dunk tank, supported by the trees now-strong limbs.

Enjoying Our Tree in the Winter Months

If that tree could talk, it would have a story to tell.  Have you hugged your favorite tree today?

Tree Hugging Spring Days

Newly Planted, September 2006

Arbor Day, 2012

Weeds: Green Isn’t Always a Good Thing

Oxalis, pretending to be ground cover

If you garden, you weed.  The end.

Seriously, every garden has weeds; it’s only a matter of degrees.  I’m an expert weeder myself, probably because pulling weeds falls into the category of garden organization.  I  pull weeds and restore order.  It’s therapeutic clearing out the interlopers, those pervasive plants that sneak into the garden beds when you aren’t looking.  They pretend to be the real deal as they vie for water and nutrients, using clever camouflage and stealth tactics to avoid detection.  I know the regulars around town: oxalis, dandelions and spotted surge. Now and again I spot something new and unfamiliar.  I pause overhead, garden fork in hand, wondering if I should give the newcomer a chance.  I once let a glossy green plant grow in our side yard, only to learn from my friend Doug that it was invasive.  It’s still popping up!  I’ve also yanked out plants, only to realize it was an annual re-seeding from the previous year.  I was amused to discover this week that the plant I left growing next to the Chinese Pistache is a volunteer broccoli plant.  How fun that was!

When you garden you have an intimate knowledge of weeds and their habits; where they’ll grow and when. If you don’t pull them out by the roots early, they’ll flower and drop seeds.  Once they go to seed you’ve extended an open-ended invitation to return year after year.

To Weed, or Not to Weed?

I made my rounds today, fork in hand, with a strong wind kicking up pollen.  We have rain in the forecast, so I figured I would get this first round done before the rain helps plant a new batch.

Do you have a garden “chore” that you secretly love?

Mystery Solved: It’s a Squirrel’s Nest

Peanut Tester

I photographed a nest last month, high up in the orange tree.  There was no sign of activity so I  assumed it belonged to a nocturnal mama, most likely an opossum.  This week, purely by chance, I looked up to see a squirrel enter the nest.  How I wished I had my camera!  I’m fascinated by what looks like a paper bag at the bottom of the nest.  I’ll have to dig out some binoculars so I can get a peek without getting any closer than I already have.  It’s such a compliment when nests appear in your garden.

According to A Squirrel Place, “Squirrels are usually born in the early spring. The average litter consists of four. This varies with climate and location.”

What have you seen nesting this spring?

Squirrel Nest: March 25, 2012

Squirrel Nest: April 19, 2012