Bird brained

♫ Here comes the rain again, falling on my head like a memory♫

And thus, it is time for planting those native plants you’ve been dying to add to your collection and that cool season garden again. I’m amazed at how many Californians ask, “You can garden in the winter?”

The answer is a resounding, “YES!”

In fact, the winter garden here is pretty much like the summer garden in Ireland. I’m looking forward to sugar snap peas, lettuce, beets, Brassicas like arugula, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts – did you know that most of the Brussels sprouts sold in the USA come from California? Now that’s winter crops for ya! And the list of yummy things to plant right now goes on. See the Master Garden website for it warm and cool season charts.

What I have learned over the past couple of years here is to try to get the winter garden sewn in September  – before the rain comes and the slugs can have at it with the seedlings. The next major pests are the birds. You just have to be smarter than them. Though they have brains the size of peas, outwitting them is harder than it seems, but it can be done.

But be careful – I heard an account recently of how crows can memorize peoples faces and retaliate when they’ve been shooed out of someone’s yard. Apparently they dive bomb the person and can even “tell their mates” by conveying this information somehow to other crows. Bottom line – be nice to the crows!

Better still be nice to your humming birds – these aggressive little monsters can actually chase other birds many times bigger than themselves from their territories. 

I was standing, minding my  own business, at my own back door when a humming bird hovered over me – it kind of “buzzed” me. Then it flew to the empty feeder and then flew to within a foot of my face and “buzzed” me again! I just had to drop everything and feed it. It makes you realize just how risky it is to feed the wildlife when a 2 inch long bird can bully you into feeding it.

Birds love to eat newly germinated beet. They may seem smart, but they are not quite smart enough to know that if they let seedlings grow a bit there’ll be more food for everyone!  A mocking bird managed to get under the netting and took out all the seedlings in the middle of my beet patch with the result that I had to reseed that area (after having carefully extracted a very frightened wee bird from the net).

This time I secured the netting better and kept it to the middle so that the established beet leaves don’t get all caught up in it.

What was particularly annoying was that I have been experimenting with spacing, trying to plant my seedlings at the Master Gardener recommend planting distance from each other. This totally screwed up my spacing. I had even cut out a little cardboard gismo that had 4 inches notched in it to help me get it right.

The carrots were even more fun with their 2 inch spacing. I got a piece of card about 1 square foot and  punched a hole every 2 inches. Out in the garden, I placed the card on the soil and then poured the seed packet into my left hand. I carefully picked out each seed and painstakingly put one in each hole. That done, I moved the card for the next section, but as I shuffled up I knocked my left elbow off my knee. Bam! The seeds from my hand lifted up into the air and fell on my carefully plotted area. I broad cast the rest of the carrot patch. Can you tell where the majority of the seeds fell?

It is so much easier to space seedlings than seeds. The lettuce patch looks very promising.

 And the bok choi are already nearly edible after only a week. In the middle of the bed are some arugula (rocket). I have peas in the corner. I’m happy to have them established now, after losing so many last year to the slugs, snails and then birds.
Beet seeds are usually clumped together and so two or even three plants can come up from what seems like one seed. The nice thing about thinning out beets is that you can eat the thinnings.
Byddi Lee

4 replies to Bird brained

  1. Your fall garden looks like it's off to a great start. I use a lot of floating row cover in the fall garden, both to keep things from eating the seedlings, but also to protect the greens as the low temperatures drop overnight.

    I agree, transplants are MUCH easier to space. I sow lettuce, peas and even beets in trays, and then transplant them. I hate sowing carrot seeds though. They're so tiny I can barely pick just one up, and they have to be direct sown, which is somewhat back-breaking. I have purchased pelletized seed for carrots on occasion, and it does make them much easier to see, and plant, but I find germination isn't always as good.

  2. I'm impressed! That will be a nice set of crops in the winter. As for the crows, well, you just have to be firm with them. You really are much bigger than they are…

  3. I'm sorry, but I laughed out loud at the carrot seed mishap. Yup, been there, done that.

    Congrats on getting such great germination with your carrots. I never manage to keep them as evenly watered as they like, so I'm experimenting with transplanting them. Yes, transplanting carrots! It's true that I do get a lot of forked or nubbly roots, but they still taste great. And the carrot seedlings don't seem to mind the transplanting process at all.

    Unfortunately, a raccoon decided to dig for grubs in my painstakingly planted winter carrot bed. Oh well, I'll still get a few.

  4. I should try to dibble out some of the over crowded seedlings – crooked carrots are better than no carrots!

    Looking forward to hearing how your experimenting goes.

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