“The Green File” column
By Mark Cullen
A personal reflection on my experience in my garden this month:
© Mark Cullen
A woodpecker enjoying a feast from the backyard feeder.
It’s autumn and no doubt you are thinking, “Where did the summer go?” I know that I am.
I have had a record tomato crop, picking two or three bushels of them some days from my 200 abundant plants. I can’t say why this is so but I was more diligent than ever at applying Bordo copper spray every two weeks. This seemed to keep the dreaded blight – both the ‘early’ and ‘late’ varieties – at bay.
The apples are a similar story. After last year’s fiasco the trees decided that this was going to be a command performance. God bless them. One Cortland apple tree – the smallest in this particular row – was so overburdened with fruit that its lower branches hung down to the ground as if weeping.
“Pick some apples, you moron!” it seemed to be screaming every time I walked past it. Hard to explain to a tree that the fruit is not much good to me without it ripening first. Pick them I did, eventually. And Mary made the best apple sauce with them.
The hummingbird season has been another success. Like Snoopy and the Red Baron they arrived in such numbers in late August that they were having dog fights over my giant rudbeckias. Together they fly, beak-to-beak, high into the sky only to part at 30 or 40 feet, one chasing the other around the yard. They spar over territory, aggressive little creatures that they are. Like six-year-old schoolboys arguing over who should get the ball next.
Of all of the bird activity around our garden I enjoy the hummingbirds best of all. But the songs of the warblers, wrens, and chickadees can’t be missed. If you need a reason to be in the garden, this is it. Take your cup of coffee with you and just sit and look, alone. Give yourself five minutes and I guarantee that you will see things that previously went unobserved. Maybe nothing that rocks your world, but you never know.
The battling hummingbirds are a powerful memory, especially when you conjure it up in your mind during the first big snowfall this winter.
I have 12 feeding stations around the garden, each is my insurance policy to attract a different variety of birds as each has something different featured in it. The big one, which is squirrel-proof, is full of black oil sunflower seeds, which the squirrels love. They are pretty good at getting their fair share of it, too. Every time I see a black fluffy tail hanging down from the feeding platform I spray some oil on the baffle and enjoy watching them slide down it in their attempts to reach the seed. This works for a week or two at best, when the baffle becomes oil-less and squirrels are once again able to get a purchase with their mucky paws on the baffle.
My ‘marche’ for birds includes my own blend of nyjer seed and husked sunflower seed for the finch, whole peanuts on the shell for the blue jays (salt-free), peanuts out of the shell for the downy woodpeckers and grackles (can’t believe that I admit that grackle thing), and my own blend of Bird Feast birdseed for everyone else.
I even have a blend that includes dried cranberries and sweet walnut chunks which, when the pantry is bare, I serve to my buddies when they come over to watch the game (kidding).
All of this to say that I justify my investment in bird food by telling myself that this is in lieu of a cigarette habit. I believe that it is healthier in the long run, too. While this may be a simple rationale for an expensive hobby, I never did say that sanity was a strong point.
I am careful to keep the feeders loaded up this time of year as wild birds that overwinter here are staking their ground through the autumn months. If they find what they like at my place, then they are more inclined to make this their winter home than elsewhere. This is my theory anyway.
As I contemplate the weeks ahead, I look forward to Thanksgiving and give thanks for the wealth in my garden. There are days this time of year when it is all I really need.
Mark Cullen appears on “Canada AM” every Wednesday morning at 8:40. He is a spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com.