Update: The Birds

You guys, I know it’s more than halfway through June and I haven’t really peeped about my June project goals.

Eh, well, things have not gone quite as Snow White as I was hoping. Fresh off my trip to my parents’ houses, where each has created an avian paradise with feeders and a delightful variety of songbirds, I resolved to add some feeders to my front yard garden and create my own chirpy paradise.

My wise mother advised that the key to a variety of birds was a variety of food, so I added this sweet but sturdy shepherd’s hook and two feeders.

feeders

Every few days, I stock one feeder with a songbird blend and the other with pure black oil sunflower seed. I haven’t yet decided what to put on the lowest hook yet, because the birds are like little piggies on the existing feeders. They fling food everywhere. That stuff that looks like grass in front of the bird bath? Sprouted birdseed. Lovely. Fortunately, it’s super easy to pull. I only fill the feeders once or twice a week, which forces the birds to dig around on the ground for scraps and (hopefully) minimize what’s left behind to sprout.

My mom’s significant other always sings the praises of suet. I always reckoned suet as a cold-weather food, but apparently you just have to make sure you get the no-melt kind in summer. I got a cheap little suet holder and hung it from a tiny shepherd’s hook below my crepe myrtle. Inside the branches of that tree, I also have a little nesting ball to encourage some birdies to take up residence in my yard.

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The blue circle is the suet feeder; the orange is the nesting ball.

Most recently, I’ve also added a little hummingbird feeder to my kitchen window. I’ve never successfully attracted hummingbirds, though apparently they’re prolific in my area. I’m also terrible at remember to switch out the nectar, which may be the problem.

So what has this bounty attracted to my yard?

Like 5,000 house sparrows.

For a while, I also has numerous crow visitors, but they seem to be taking a break.

Briefly, I thought I saw a chickadee or two. I love chickadees because they tend to look chubby and cheerful. A few grackles have also visited. I’ve also seen several brown birds with red heads. The internet suggests these are house finches, but elsewhere, it doesn’t look like those little guys are supposed to be in my region this time of year.

But I really wanted some variety – some robins and bluebirds and goldfinches. Some color.

Ask and ye shall receive.

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Pigeons.

Last weekend, the pigeons found my feeders. Oh boy, did they find them. They told all their pigeon friends and they had a pigeon party at Chez Robyn.

Ugh.

But maybe word will eventually get around to the other songbirds and I’ll see a bit more variety in breeds. I might eventually add a peanut feeder and see if that attracts anyone else. On the plus side, unlike my mom, I don’t have to battle a horde of squirrels. I really just have one stubborn little monster who digs up my bulbs. I think the armies of birds around my feeders intimidate the squirrel, as I haven’t really seen it go for the feeder. So yay for the small victories!

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Tiller Mania: How (Not to) Till Your Lawn

As a refresher, we’re in the midst of Operation: Chaos into Beauty, which consists of totally revamping the front of my teeny little city property. Last time, we watched my driveway turn from a narrow, broken strip of concrete and weeds into a spacious, organized set of turfstone pavers. The next step is, “The grass is getting ripped up and/or smothered,” so that’s where we are in this post. My lawn-annihilation tool of choice was the tiller.

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Get ready to go underground, you blades of nuisance.

There are a few different methods for getting rid of a lawn. I’m not keen on herbicide, not just because I have to be careful about what might get into my chickens’ and ducks’ systems (even though they stay in the backyard), but because I didn’t want to kill off the dichondra seedlings in my driveway or the new plants I’d be sowing in the garden. Smothering and decomposition would work, but I would’ve had to start that last fall. Finally, I’ve tried solarization (laying a clear sheet over grass and “cooking” it) in the past with no success. That method also requires several weeks, which I didn’t have. So that leaves . . .

TILLING!

A few days after the driveway demolition and installation, I took a Friday off of work (I was originally planning to work outside all of Saturday, but the forecast called for storms). I’d spent all week researching tillers on the local tool rental website and had found the perfect one.

My requirements:

  • The tiller needed to cut through tough sod and heavy clay soil.
  • I needed to be able to operate it by myself (I run and strength train, but I’m no body builder).
  • The tiller had to fit in the back of my Toyota RAV4 (and I had to be able to lift it in and out by myself).

And of course, when I rolled up to the tool rental counter, the employee informed me that my carefully researched choice – the Mantis XP – would not suit my needs at all. A key factor in selecting the Mantis XP was the claim of heavy-duty power in a lightweight (35-pound) model. Apparently that wasn’t quite true. She suggested the lightest of the heavier duty tillers, the Honda F220.

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Or as I like to call it, “The Tined Terror of Tremors.”

I enjoy trying new things and working outside, but the closest things to a tiller I’ve operated is a lawn mower. I was so anxious about using the tiller that, after picking it up, I decided to run errands for the next hour. When I finally returned to my house, the day was starting to get niiiice and hoooot.

Safety nerds, unite!

If an activity requires a helmet, you bet I’ll have one strapped on. So I dug my old composite-toed boots out of my closet and wore thick jeans, gloves, long sleeves, glasses, and a ball cap to keep the sun off my face. I fancied myself a real landscape pro.

The finally, finally, I wheeled the tiller onto my lawn and started it up. Very little happened. Guys, at 53 pounds, this thing was way too lightweight.

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I might as well have been smacking my lawn with this feather.

Most of my yard sits in direct subtropical sun, so the grass that has survived has grown in thick, tough mats. Combine that with hard clay soil (which I thoroughly wetted leading up to TillerMania), and you have a yard that reeeally doesn’t want to change.

Tiller Trial and Error

I started out by letting the tiller mostly propel itself forward, while I tugged back on the handles to provide some resistance. I figured I’d let the machine do most of the work. Well, in order to do any work, the tiller had to make about 20 passes over a patch of ground. Ugh.

Finally, I figured out that to really get the tiller to dig in, I had to either pull it backwards or dig in my heels and just let it sit in one spot until it chew up that sod. My front yard is, oh, a thousand or so square feet, and I spent about five hours tilling, only stopping for short water breaks. The funny thing is, while I was tilling, I didn’t feel tired at all. It was only when I took a break that I realized my arms hung by my sides like dead lengths of rope. And all that work led to this result:

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Welp, that’s disappointing.

As you can see, I did not end up with the fluffy, luscious soil that the internet said I should have. But at least most of the grass is dead. This is not ideal, but it is workable. My plan already included laying down thick brown paper and several inches of mulch, which should take care of the surviving grass and anything that tries to sprout.

If I ever have to till another yard, I’m getting the next size up in tillers, even though it’s 70 pounds heavier. I will find a daggum way to get it into and out of my car.

Side note:  A few days after tilling, I learned that rotting grass stinks, particularly if you have huge clumps of it all over your yard. Before I realized the source of the smell, I was afraid I’d nicked an unreasonably shallow sewer line. The dead grass does not just pleasantly decompose into the soil to create rich nutrients. Sooo keep that in mind if you plan to annihilate your yard anytime soon.

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< Step 1:  Demolishing & Installing a Driveway

Step 3:  Installing a Fence: the First Step (also, tearing out bushes!) >

Chaos into Beauty: A Vital Operation

If you live in the average American neighborhood, chances are you have a front yard covered in grass. Perhaps you have chaos, and weeds rule. Me? I’ve decided to rip everything up and replace it with a massive, beautiful garden.

chaos and destruction lead to beauty and calm

One of the first major changes I made to my house was adding gardens in the backyard. Moving from an apartment to a house with plenty of green space was so freeing! I even bought a sledgehammer and demolished – bit by jagged bit – a concrete slab that served a long-gone shed to create more space. Recycled concrete rubble formed the sides of raised butterfly gardens. Lumber from the second-hand store and leftover chicken wire became a vegetable garden fence.

But this year, I’ve realized, I need more.

I’ve never been happy with my front lawn. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m happy immediately after I mow and trim, and neat corners and crisp edges replace the jungle. But in subtropical south Louisiana, go in for a glass of lemonade and by the time you come back outside, the grass (who are we kidding, the weeds) is scraggly again.

My front yard is chaos.

Also, my driveway sucks. It’s broken. Huge cracks with woody stems and tiny green leaves creep over the concrete. And it’s only seven feet wide. What? Yes. Seven feet. Interestingly, the internet tells me the standard width for a single-car driveway is ten feet. That explains why the grass on either side of my driveway is usually a muddy rut.

Therefore,  I’m enacting a multi-stage plan for the entire front of my house. All of those problems going away

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The ugly driveway will disappear.

The grass will be ripped up and/or smothered.

Eventually, flowers will grow.

Then a fence will appear to keep the drunk fools and dogs from killing the flowers.

Finally, I’ll have a nice little area to sit where I can drink coffee on the weekends and wine on weeknights.

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Step 1:  Demolishing & Installing a Driveway >

Garden Bathing to Rejuvenate Yourself

While researching the next garden or house project, often a headline will grab my attention and the next hour will slip away. This isn’t all that odd or unusual, but it is how I learned about “forest bathing.” I’ve adapted this concept into “garden bathing.”

literally, a garden bath
Charming, no?

My house is a five minute walk from an expansive city park. On a recent, gloriously balmy spring day, I went for a walk along one of the park’s wooded trails. The path weaves through a forest of only 60 acres, but . . .

Once you step inside the barrier of trees, distance doesn’t matter.

The past 20 years dropped away. Instead of brushing past palms and canna lilies, I was weaving around the rocks and rhododendron of the Appalachian Mountains. My outdoor-enthusiast parents took me on many hikes, and the girl scout camp I attended was nestled in the mountains and webbed with trails. The scent of dirt and pine entrenches my childhood memories.

After some rough patches in the past several years, my life has more or less settled into a peaceful state. On that park path, however, the connection I felt with the earth and my own history felt somehow deeper, stronger, and purer.

Forest bathing isn’t a new concept.

It’s an ancient Japanese idea in which someone spends time among the trees in order to reduce stress and rejuvenate the spirit. Certain tree oils in the air can even increase energy by up to 30%. Two of the trees with the richest oils just so happen to form a bridge between the Appalachian hikes of years ago and my park walks of present:  pine and cypress.

a forest is like a wild, woody garden
Photo credit:  Famartin

As a child, I thought of the mountain hikes as death marches. My little legs struggled to climb over miles and miles of rough landscape. Now, as is often the case, I miss the thing I then loathed.

Admittedly, I usually don’t end up going to the park’s forest all that often. So many other people find the same peace in the same natural location. As someone with social anxiety, I tend to avoid people when I want to connect with nature. So what’s a hermity, anxious gal to do?

Garden.

While wandering among the trees might provide the most significant benefit, being around houseplants or aromatherapy helps ease stress too. But for those of us who crave dirt under our fingernails, why not build a garden?

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I love cosmos – as do the bees, butterflies, and birds – and I try to work it into every garden.

Even better – why not build as big a garden as your space accommodates?

This might mean a charming collection of planters on a patio or windowsill. For me, when I bought my house, I planted backyard vegetable and butterfly gardens.

My front yard, however, lacks some of that natural beauty. It’s just grass (well, and a ton of weeds). I’ve finally decided to do something about it, and in the coming weeks, my little front lawn will become a garden.

I might not always make it out to the forest, but hopefully, I have many days in my future for garden bathing.

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