Sunday, January 18, 2015

Gardening for Wildlife

Another great gardening year is long past.  There were many accomplishments this year but the best by far was the continued and increased presence of birds and bees amongst the posies.  I judge my garden by the life it encourages.  A thriving garden with healthy plants will naturally support wildlife.

Each year I plant sunflowers.  I love the big nodding faces.

but what I really love is bluejays.

look close, who's up there?
Every fall as the seeds ripen a cloud of blue birds appear overnight and the feast begins.

Bluejays aren't the only birds around here.   We have mature old birch trees that attract woodpeckers and this year we found a nest.

We didn't manage to capture a picture of the little guy inside but I believe he was a downy woodpecker.

There was another photo I wish I could have captured but alas you'll just have to believe me.  I kept going into the garage to get my garden tools and finding a pair of dark eyed juncos.  They were coming in the cat door and flying around in there.  Occasionally birds come in and get confused.  I usher them out the door and I don't see them again.  Not this pair.  I couldn't understand why they kept coming back in until I heard the peeping.  Eventually I walked in one day to see a tiny little ball of fluff run past my feet.  We were harbouring a nest.  I did finally get a good look at him one day and he was full of feathers and then he disappeared.  Success!  Later in the fall while cleaning up the wreckage of another gardening season I accidentally found the nest.  A tiny thing, just scraps of newspaper, it fell to pieces as I lifted a box off the ground. (p.s. the cats haven't been using the garage lately, they prefer the couch, so the birds were quite safe)

There is something about butterflies that just makes me happy.  The intricate patterns, the delicate wings.  To have butterflies you must have flowers and my garden is still new.  Not many flowers to choose from but oregano has really taken a shine to my veggie patch and is attracting butterflies by the dozens.  The Common Wood Nymph has been visiting the oregano for the last couple years but this year they really outdid themselves.

Clouds of these brown spotted beauties flocked to the tiny purple flowers.

do you see them resting on each branch?
I sat so long watching them that Jody took a photo of me photographing butterflies

They aren't the only ones that appreciate oregano.

I thought these were monarchs at first glimpse and got pretty excited.  Then I wondered why monarchs would feed on oregano when I've read milkweed is their preferred food.  With a little research I discovered they were Viceroys.  Monarchs are poisonous to birds and so the Viceroys disguise themselves as Monarchs to appear less tasty.  Smart insects.

I see bumblebees everywhere in the summer.  Our field of weeds makes them very happy.  Big fat bumbles, smaller honey bees, and wee flies and assorted flying critters take advantage of the clover and asters, goldenrod and yarrow.

Purple asters in fall are perfect bee food
This summer we discovered where bumbles nest.  We were mucking about in the shed, moving boxes and whatnot when suddenly a cloud of bees rose up.  RUN!!

A clump of dead grass that had dropped off the lawnmower is all you need apparently.  Inside that clump of grass was a lumpy yellow mass that looked a bit like insulation.  Yet it was clearly a nest as bees were frantically running all over trying to put it back together.

I didn't want to get too close so the picture is a bit fuzzy
Unfortunately the damage was done.  We were able to get a reasonably good look at it.  Bumbles are so gentle that they didn't even attack us.  They were more confused than anything.  We put the nest outside next to the shed in another clump of grass and hoped for the best.  Sadly I think that was the end of it as I didn't see bees around the shed again this summer.

Overall it was a productive year.  We have more birds, bees, insects, and animals joining us in our yard and I can't imagine anything nicer.  Lawns can be pretty but sterile.  Gardens thrive, creating food and beauty for us, as well as food and shelter for the bugs and critters.  What do you do to encourage wildlife in your garden?