House Finch Happenings

The House Finch pair are back. I’m so excited.

Not the best photo, but here they are together on the curtain rail

The female of the pair started a nest on our deck last month. You can catch up here. Mama finch had been building the nest for a while before we noticed. Once we noticed, she disappeared. I’ve since learned that house finches build several nests before deciding where to lay their eggs.

Friday morning, I looked out the kitchen window, and there she was. She had a mouthful of tree twig, which she deposited on the nest before immediately taking flight. Her red-breasted mate remained close. Together they flew to our Magnolia, then back to the neighbor’s tree for more twigs.

Mated pair of house finches in the Magnolia

I captured a few photos from a safe distance, not wanting to disturb the process. Eventually, I had to head downtown.

They’re singing to each other in the afternoons, so I’m hopeful this is a good sign that they’ll stay. If not, it has still been a pleasure watching this simple act play out.

Male House Finch, the object of her affection
A well-protected nest on top of the stacked curtains
Closeup shows how cleverly she’s hidden her nest

In other potential nesting news, I finally saw a bit of stuffing pulled from my squirrel offering cushion. I somewhat belatedly realized that a bird might also dip down for some fluff so I’ve moved the nesting material to the nearby orange tree instead.

I nervously watched a hummingbird either teasing Tessa or warning her off. Tessa likes lounging under the patio table A hummingbird flew from a nearby shrub, dipped toward her, and then flew away. I held my breath through that transaction.

Tessa lounging under the table

Life in the back garden is a balancing act. Squirrels and birds visit by day. At night we see opossums and the occasional raccoon. The kitties come in at dusk and stay inside until 8 or 9 in the morning. At 18, Lindy spends most of her time at rest. Mouse, the cat, is overweight, despite our best efforts, so he’s not much of a threat. I worry about Tessa, though. I want to keep all the garden visitors safe.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day, the anniversary of the start of the environmental movement in 1970. This year’s theme is #RestoreOurEarth.

Drought tolerant Salvia (Mexican Sage)

Over the past five years, we’ve made changes to our garden, adaptions that honor our fragile environment. We replaced our lawn with native and drought-tolerant plants. We installed a rain catchment system that diverts rain from storm drains, making it available for the garden. Unused rainwater can also be released to recharge depleted groundwater.

Rain catchment system (and Tessa)

I’ve always planted species that attract bees, but we make sure to have water available as well. It’s often the smallest things that create a big impact on the ecosystem around you.

I LOVE bees

I don’t have space for a large composting system, but I found a self-contained one that works wonders. Dried leaves and kitchen scraps, aided by billions of microbes and earthworms, compost scraps into rich nutrients for the soil.

Tessa likes to sit on the composter at dusk

By removing our lawn, we increased garden diversity. An expanse of lawn is a monoculture. It’s the use of land by one crop at a time. Monoculture farms can produce food in vast volumes at an affordable price but at great cost to the environment. Monocultures require heavy pesticide use. They degrade the soil, leading to erosion. Monocultures require more water, and they place a lot of stress on our pollinators. Without them, we couldn’t survive.

Bee pollinating wildflower

Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes.

Earthday.org

I grew up embarrassed by my vegetarian mother, only to become a vegetarian myself at 18. I’ve always loved animals, and I no longer wanted to eat them. Dairy stops me from becoming a full-on vegan, but it’s a goal worth striving for. Eating lower on the food chain benefits everyone on the planet.

Growing strawberries in the VegTrug

There is so much more to do. I’m still using more water than I should. It’s a balancing act, one that I’ve yet to perfect. Our reliance on fossil fuels is of huge concern as well. One of the unexpected benefits of this pandemic is the reduction in commutes. I hope that trend continues.

I pledge to continue to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

My garden will remain pesticide-free.

I will continue to attract pollinators and beneficial insects to my garden.

I pledge to continue my education in best gardening practices. A healthy earth begins with me.

A basket of succulents outside my laundry room window

Are you celebrating Earth Day?

Time with Tessa and the Last of the Sweet Peas

Our Tiny Tessa is relaxing and getting used to her new surroundings. She’s sleeping on top of things, rather than hiding under the bed. She met Lindy (who hissed once and left the room) and she met Mouse (who did the same). We’re giving the resident cats lots of TLC, letting them know they’ve not lost their standing.  I haven’t lived with a kitten for nearly thirty years. I’d forgotten how tiny they are and how energetic and curious. She’s a delight.

Tessa on Bob the Cat pillow

Tessa meets Bob the Cat…sort of

My friend Barbara Oertli painted this picture of her ginger cat, Bob, eyeing a squirrel on her deck. Since I’m out of wall space, I ordered a print on a pillow through Fine Prints America.

It took several attempts to get this shot. She’s always in motion. She nearly threw herself off the edge of the bed yesterday, jumping into the air and then backward. She’s keeping us happy and alert.

Outdoors, my beloved sweet pea garden has come to an end for the season. The self-seeded, rain-enhanced jungle, as one of my neighbors called it started folding up shop at the end of May. Sweet peas don’t like the heat so after the temperatures creep, they’re done. Interestingly, I have one more small plant in the back garden, blooming in a raised bed. It’s the only one I actually planted (versus self-seeded), which makes me wonder if staggered planting might extend the crop. I’ll see how much longer this one lasts and I’ll let you know.

It’s taken many hours pulling the dead vines from the ground, while at the same time collecting some of the seed pods. I also tried to save the cornflowers awhile longer, as the flowers are still blooming and attracting the bees. The birds love their seeds as well, so though it looks a little sad and droopy, it continues to provide for the birds and the bees.  Mike helped me tie the plants together to keep them from flopping over. Mouse sat with me while I pulled weeds along the walk way, then went under the cornflowers for a nap. Oh-oh.

I’m working on keeping him indoors when I can or supervising his time in the garden so that the birds have a fighting chance. I also experimented by putting a few of the cut flowers across the limb of a tree. The birds continue to come for the seeds, and surprisingly, the bees are taking nectar as well. There is always something to learn in the garden.

Check out the nectar pouch on that bee

Today was trash/recycle day. I waved at the crew as they took away the piles of spent sweet peas along with some trimmed branches and weeds. The city converts it into compost while at the same time diverting it from landfill.

There is so much happening in the garden all at once. Pumpkins, corn and sad little tomatoes are the main summer crops. I planted a pair of basil plants, too. Last year I planted them at the same time, but the basil bolted before the tomatoes were ready. This year I waited, only to be vastly disappointed in the tomato plants. I bought a six-pack of them before leaving for my trip in early April.  Two months later and they’ve barely grown.  This far into the season, I may go back and find larger plants that are further along so I can hedge my bets.

New clients, the end of the boy’s school years, a tiny kitten and home projects are keeping me a bit busier than I would like, but I’m still managing time in the garden every day.

Here in the northern hemisphere the summer solstice is just two weeks away.  I can almost taste that first red, juicy, vine-ripened tomato.

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