To Edge or Not to Edge?

by Donna Lewis

Hello all.

Keeping our gardens looking neat is something most of us do. For years, when I lived in Houston, I would use a weed eater and trim with a pair of scissors.  Yes I was crazy. I thought the garden looked great!

Away with the weed eater!

So, over the years, as I learned more about nature and taking good care of it, I have altered the way I do things.

How many of you have had the awful experience of zipping along with a weed eater and cut a poor little frog in half?  I can hardly write about it. But you know it happens…so what to do?

Our toad friend.

I have found a safer way to edge the garden.  Yes it is a little more work, but my little friends are worth it. Use a sharp-shooter shovel and go slow. You will see the frogs and toads move before you hurt them. Then, you pull all the grass away from the edge, and it actually lasts longer than cutting the tops off the grass. I also find that if you edge after it has rained it’s even easier.

My technique. Doesn’t it look good?

Just a little tip from someone who loves all the critters.

The Fennel Forest

by Donna Lewis

I know you all were wondering earlier this year what I was going to do to this small garden in my front pasture area.  The freeze took every single plant to the ground. Laid  to waste.   

I was not able to weed it, or really do any work in it like I always have for many years. Injuries, a few too many years…it all adds up. I have been 29 several times I think.

So, let’s talk about what the garden is right now.  It looks messy to us humans. But,  I didn’t plant it for us.  I planted it for the wildlife. This garden had lots of native plants in it and a perch I made for birds to rest on.

I planted zinnias, fennel, yarrow, sunflowers, sage, coneflowers, salvia, cowpen daisies, and a host of native things that just blew in. Freebies! And very important, I made a perch for the birds to sit on.

Many gardeners forget to put something for the birds to perch on and get off the ground where they feel safe. I cut a cattle panel in two, then took some hognose clips and made it to where it would open up.  The birds love it.

All those “native plants” I had put in for years came back after the horrible weather. Even the heat and too much water has not deterred them. But all the mess has lots of bugs in it.  Food for hungry birds. So, I may have just given you a reason to get out of all that work, trimming, weeding and other back breaking work.

Remember who we are gardening for…

Donna, the happy bird girl

How’s the Mason Bee Real Estate Doing?

By Carolyn Henderson

It turns out to be true that if you build it, they will come – at least where Mason Bees are concerned. 
Several members of El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalists worked to construct and place “houses” that were thought to attract Mason Bees. Catherine Johnson conceived the idea for the project to be placed at the Birds and Bees Wildscape, which was created and is maintained by volunteers from ECR TMN chapter. Ms. Johnson is getting her Girl Scout troop involved, too. Sam Jolly started making the houses from Eastern Red Cedar trees. Alan Rudd completed that phase, then he and Scott Berger placed them around the wildscape. The additional bee condos were made with Hickory, Black Jack Oak, and Post oak. Rudd gave several  to members to place on their properties in an added project to see where they are best placed for future reference and what wood, if any, they may prefer. 
Approximately 8 of them were placed under a covered sitting area at the wildscape.

Alan and Scott Berger working to hang bee houses.
A bee!

Two that are in the exterior south-facing position are nearly totally occupied. A third there has about a fourth of it’s “condos” filled. The Mason bees were busy taking  possession and laying eggs on the interior houses facing both north and south as I was taking photos. 

I have one in a heavily shaded area facing south at my house. Even it has three places occupied by Mason bees so far. A spider also has taken up one “condo”.  I’m assuming that we will know that the bee eggs have hatched when the dirt plugs are gone. If you took one home, let us know where you placed it, which wood was used, and if it has Mason Bee occupants. If you would like to get involved, there will be a project at the wildscape involving the Girl Scouts and the Mason Bee condos on July 17. Contact Catherine for additional information. 

Checking the Martins after Five Days of Rain

by Donna Lewis

The purple martins at my property had just started laying eggs the last time I checked them. So I knew they should have babies anytime now.

After the f days of rain, I knew I needed to check to see if water had gotten into any of the gourds. A wet nest can be deadly for birds.

Checking the gourds

The first thing I do is gather everything I might need to clean and replace wet nesting material. You should always clean the site and not throw  anything on the ground. All that does is alert snakes that there is food up the pole.

So, nesting material, recording paper, a sack to put debris in, and clean towels to wipe out the gourd should be taken with you as you go to the housing. You don’t want to have to run back to get something. It’s best to not lower their housing for longer than 30 minutes at best, especially when they are feeding young.

All my material is gathered

As I thought, there were eggs in three gourds and young in the other nine gourds.

New life

YEAH!!!!!  How exciting! I love babies. Sadly one of the gourds with eggs had gotten a lot of water in it.  The nest was wet and not fit for the martins. The eggs were cold. I had to remove everything, clean it and put in fresh pine needles.  It is possible that the martin might lay a second set, but not probable. 

I measured one of the oldest healthy babies to be five days old.  Now I will know when I should check on them again.

Babies!

A wonderful day.

Blue Birds Hitting Window Panes

by Donna Lewis

The second week of May brought an issue up at my house that I have not had before.  Blue birds hitting my windows trying to catch insects. I was worried they would hurt their beaks and my window panes.

I tried putting objects in front of the window, placing furniture inside of the house that showed thru, decals made just for this purpose and just waiting outside to scare the birds away. All with no luck.   The pounding went on all day.

Then Linda remembered that we had saved some plastic construction fencing from when our house was built.   Strong and lightweight. So we put some up around the house and it worked.

Bird Proofed!

I don’t know what was different this year that caused the birds to do this, I just hope it doesn’t happen again.

Shutting that one blind helped, too.