Feathered friends and winter wildlife

Somewhere online I read an article on feeding birds throughout winter, and the ornithologist suggested it’s more beneficial to us (humans) than it is for the birds.

That’s likely true!

Like many people, I don’t offer food to wildlife spring through fall, (well, except for hummingbirds & the local fox kits), but it does feel wonderful to witness a few feathered friends during the dark depths of winter, when most others have migrated to warmer climes.

Perhaps it just feels good to think we’re nurturing wildlife in some small way. 🙂

Along with birdseed, seed heads from perennial plants left uncut in the fall will provide food and shelter for all kinds of birds and small creatures during winter.

A few examples of these plants include echinacea, asters, rudbeckia, and ornamental grasses.

Not only is this uncut fodder great for wildlife, it’s nice to have some structure in the garden over the winter when everything else is hiding out until spring. Ornamental grasses look especially lovely covered in fresh fallen snow.

The temperature has now dipped well below zero, (currently -14 Celsius).

Combine that with a blanket of snow, (not quite as much in that photo below -> last winter), I do think it’s time to make some suet for the hardy wee birds who choose to stick around all year, so I can enjoy watching them gather outside my window.

 

 

How to best grow Basil, and some Folklore, too

Basil – Arguably one of the most popular kitchen herbs today, it adds just the right flavour to so many recipes. But, did you know there is folklore surrounding this tasty plant?!

Inspired by #FolkloreThursday on Twitter for some time now, I began researching my favourite plants and flowers to learn their history, and what connections if any, they may have to ancient lore, superstitions, or stories.

In parts of Italy to this day, Basil is considered an herb that inspires love. Its scent is thought to bring about sympathy, and Medieval Italian maidens gave their chosen love a sprig of Basil to ensure their love would be returned in full.

With antibacterial properties, basil is considered to be good insect repellent. Along those lines, it’s good for hornets and wasp stings too, according to Culpeper, “Being applied to the place bitten by the venomous beast, or stung by a wasp or hornet, it speedily draws the poison to it“.

To carry a sprig of Basil in your purse or wallet is supposed to be a way to draw money and abundance to you and your bank account.  <-  I’ve tried with limited success. 😉

In dispute of what I’ve shared above, the Dierbach’s Flora Mythologica der Griechen und Römer, claims Basil represents poverty. In addition, the approved modern English ‘Dictionary of Flowers,’ states that offering Basil is a way to show hate to one’s enemy.

Who are we supposed to believe? Better not chance it, I’ve just removed the sprig of Basil from my wallet. Perhaps that’s why there was limited success.

According to ‘The Expert Gardener’ (1640), a work “faithfully collected from Dutch and French authors”, and a whole chapter devoted to the times and seasons which one should “sow and replant all manner of seeds”, this book offers special reference to the phases of the Moon. Specific to Basil and when to sow, reads: “must be sowne in March, when the Moone is old.”

As it’s still February, we’re not quite there. Another month to go before sowing those seeds. But when you do, here is some practical information on how best to grow it.

Basil will reach a height of 24″and spreads from 12-15″
Germination takes 7-10 days, and they should be sown at a shallow depth of 1/8″

Planting Season, other than the folklore above, I suggest outdoors in containers, 1-2 weeks after the last Spring frost has gone. Basil requires full sun for best success, and well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter.

In any case, with more than 150 varieties of Basil available, my personal favorites include Lemon Basil (Ocimum citrodorium), Purple Basil, less common than its traditional green counterpart, but with an uplifting, punchy flavour and a rich, show stopping colour, and last but not least, the ever popular Italian Large Leaf Basil, that some call Genovese.

All three are perfect for pesto, pasta sauces, and herbal vinegar.

Basil is best used fresh, picked from containers close to your kitchen! Mine are by our dining room door where we have sun all day long.

Thankfully, Basil has very few pests, and you can also use it as a companion plant to repel mites and tomato worms. As the saying goes, ‘Tomatoes loves Basil’.

Basil loves its tips pinched, which will encourage fuller plants, delay flowers, and keep it from going to seed.

I suggest letting one plant go to seed so that you can save them to grow again next year, or share with friends.

Personally, I grow Basil indoors on our sunny windowsill all year long. The seeds can be planted anytime!

Pest Recipe – Wall Flower Studio – Feel free to print and share.

Enjoy!

DIY Seed Balls – Throw and Grow the Love in Your Garden

After reading a LOT of information about genetically modified seeds, and in turn learning about ‘guerrilla gardening’, I was further led to the discovery of ‘seed balls.

Seed balls are sustainable, ecofriendly tools, initially created for ecological urban renewal. On a less serious note, they’re just a whole lot of fun!

Seed balls solve many of the problems loose seeds face before they have the chance to grow.

Wind can blow seeds away, birds or rodents might eat them, the sun can bake out their vitality, and excessive rain can carry them off. Seed balls protect them from all of that.

A seed ball is a little ecosystem that protects the seeds inside before they sprout. Essentially, it’s a ball of soil, clay and seeds, that when thrown, dropped, or placed in the spot where you’d like the seeds to grow, (and after it receives some moisture or rain), the seed ball acts like a micro-garden that slowly starts to break down as the seeds inside begin to emerge.

The seeds are then nurtured in that same pile of clay and nourishing soil. and because of this, seed germination from seed balls is very high!

So enamoured with the concept, I immediately set out to make some. In fact, over the last decade, I’ve made thousands, distributing them across North America, in packages of a dozen to individuals, and bulk quantities to be passed out at all kinds of events.

I also make them just for me.

By customizing the variety of plants every year, depending on what seeds I saved, I make a batch to throw on the steep hill beyond our back yard. It has beautified an underused space with flowers that encourage pollinators!

Anyone can make seedballs! Here’s how:

Before you begin, and I learned this the hard way so you don’t have to, this can be a messy project, especially if kids are involved, so to save time and aggravation, don’t wear your best clothes, and remove your rings! – Now for the recipe!

  1. Mix two parts soil, two parts dry powdered clay, and a whole lot of seeds.
  2. The varieties here include a range of drought tolerant native species harvested from my own garden. However, you can use any flower seed, herbs, fruit or veggie.
  3. Next step is to add water.  Not too much, or too quickly, but enough to make the mixture damp. Stir it in slowly. If the mix is too dry, it won’t hold together so add a bit more. If the soil and clay become overly wet, the seeds will sprout before your finished seedballs get a chance to dry, which means you can’t store them to use at a later date. If the clump holds together, but won’t ooze water if you squeeze it, then that’s the perfect consistency.
  4. Then, roll the small clump in your hands into the size of a meatball and place them on trays to dry. If you’re fortunate enough to have a grow light stand, put them under the lights overnight. They’ll be almost completely dry the next day. If not, it will take a couple of days. Put them next to a heat register if you have room.
  5. Just a note to tie in with step 1 – If you’re using sunflower seeds which are large in size, I’d suggest rolling the balls first, then manually pushing a few seeds inside after.

Once they’re completely dry, they can be packaged and given as gifts to friends and family! This is a great project for kids, too.

If you’re really feeling motivated and want to make more, how about getting creative? Use a candy/soap mold to make different shape seed balls!

I picked up a heart shaped chocolate mold at a local thrift shop and have used it for years to make the heart shaped seed balls. They’ve been a favourite choice for wedding favours and for non-profits to hand out to volunteers at events.

Just to add, they’re really popular this time of year as a Valentine’s Day gift. Enjoy, and grow some love!