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Getting Ready For Spring and Q&A
February 28, 2011

Count Em'.

Three more weeks until Spring.

Late winter storms make it feel like spring may never come, but it is on the way.

(Last week's snow pictured.)

Our prayers go out to all that have lost family members, friends and homes to the storms.

Three short weeks.

Count Em'.

Nature says so.

I'm sure you can keep busy for three weeks.

Can't you?

So much prep work to do, seeds to still plant.

There are pots and trays to prepare and fill with potting mix for transplanting your seedlings.

If you are new to growing your own seeds, wait till at least the second set of leaves to unfold.

To make this simple, the first set is the baby leaves, the second set of leaves are the real ones and most of the time look totally different from the baby leaves.

This extra time also allows for root growth and a stronger seedling.

If you plant in the pots you plan on letting your seedling grow in, you're all set, except to thin them out if needed.

Babies don't require plant food,
but once transplanted, you want to use a Diluted or limited amount of time release food.

Don't over water.

At least 12 to 16 hours of bright light (sun or grow lights) is a must for sturdy plants.

And there is always the 'The Honey Do List' for us guys.

I'm still working on painting the ceilings in the house.

With a metal plate screwed into my neck (3 disks fused 3 plus years ago) that limits tilting my head up, it has become one task that is difficult and time consuming and now I loathe doing.

A real pain in the neck.


The pictures to the right are signs of Spring in Southwest, Michigan.

Last Tuesday was the Red-winged blackbird and Thursday brought a few American robins.

Because I live near a marsh/swamp, Red-winged blackbirds are common for me and the first true harbinger of spring (sometimes in numbers I don't care for).

However, if you don't live near water, you may never see them visiting your yard and feeders.

Robins are ubiquitous and are found
virtually every where at some time.

The quality is poor as pictures were taken through windows.

Step outside and I hear sounds of bird courtship and establishing territories.

Cardinals are in song more and more.

I hear the Black-capped chickadees in song as well as the Tufted titmice, White-breasted nuthatches and of course, the rapid drum beat from the various woodpeckers.

Courtship doesn't mean instant mating, courtship and establishing territories can take weeks.

Yes, even for birds that mate for life.

(I am sharing a few photos of some of my feeding birds..... again.)

I spotted this salmon or pink colored House finch this past Friday.

Not totally unusual, but different to say the least and I thought rather attractive.

House finches can come in yellow, orange and red with shades in between.

Coloration's can be genetic or from diet.

I almost forgot...........................

We're starting a new month this week and that means at least one thing.

It is time to clean and sanitize your bird feeders and water sources.

I'm talking a good cleaning.

Iy is recommended to clean thoughly at least once evry 30 days.

I find the first of a month is a good reminder for me, so I pass it on to you too.

For new readers and those new to feeding birds.................

It is important to keep your feeders and water sources clean.

That means a good scrubbing and sanitizing.

Besides bird pooh stuck to trays and such, birds also pass germs and sickness with saliva and tear ducts.

One sick bird can pass it on to scores of others and now you have a situation where feeders need to be removed for a 4 to 6 week period.

That's no fun.

I need to have birds around me.

You too?

Now if it is too cold, or you are too busy to clean and sanitize, a good spray down with rubbing alcohol will kill of any cooties and
dry totally harmless.

This is a temporary fix, however.

Cleaning and sanitizing is still the right choice.

Sanitize with a 10% mix of water and chlorine bleach and rinse well.

Or, use Oxygen bleach or Hydrogen peroxide (same thing) which is actually healthier for everyone and the environment as this is indeed a natural product.

If you haven't cleaned out your nest boxes yet, it is time to do so.

Same drill as above.

Once they have dried, hang them back up.

As wasp season rolls around, spray your nest boxes liberally with a diluted mint oil concentrate. or straight cider vinegar to deter wasps from nesting.

Wait till the weather has warmed, or you see wasp activity.

Wasps hunt by smell and both smells deter them.

Mint is lethal to wasps (even if they smell too much of it) and if you spray vinegar on them, this kills them too.

(Cardinal feeding during the storm.)

I might add, both are good at
keeping earwigs from nest boxes as well.

There are commercial wasp sprays that are 'Eco' friendly that use Mint oil.

Victor, Safer Products and EcoSmart are a few manufacturers that come to mind.

A bit pricier than chemical sprays , but much healthier all the way around.

Some people will soap up or wax the inside roof to deter wasps, I prefer the lazy way and spray.

Vinegar and mint are food item and wont harm birds plus birds have very poor sniffers and can't smell the mint or vinegar.

I will remind you again as the year goes on.

Put up nest boxes you removed for the winter and place new ones as well.

Many species of birds are checking out locations as you read this.

Yes, even in the 'Great White North'.

This week is Q&A time.

I have a few questions readers have asked me.

I have responded to each one individually, yet some of you may have the same situation.

Hopefully the answers given may help you enough to work with the given situations.

My crack crew of volunteers (Sandy & Harv) are still waiting to pitch in, so make them work.

For this to work, return this letter to me with:

Your Question,

First name (last is optional)

Your location,

State or Province you are in

Pretty simple.

Remember, the only dumb question is the one never asked.

Besides, you force me to keep sharp and learn as well and that is always a good thing.


Joe and Rita in South Carolina:

Are Tulip Bulbs sensitive to soil types ?? I just cannot get any to grow here. (very acid, sandy, soft rock, clay soil here) They will bloom one year and they are done. They don't even poke out of the ground next year. ??? Why?

Here ya go Joe and Rita.

Bulbs prefer to be planted in well draining soil with slight
neutral pH. Although tulip bulbs can stand a variety of soils, they grow best in soil that is rich and fertile and well drained. The ideal soil pH for tulips is 6.0 to 6.5.

Bulbs don't like wet feet, be sure to plant all of your bulbs where water drains quickly or can run off. where water puddles is a big no, no as the bulbs will indeed rot.

Acidic soil registers between 0 and 6 on the pH scale, neutral soil generally registers between 6 to 7.2, and basic (or soil with alkalinity) registers between 8 and 14. Most plants prefer neutral soils.

Soil that is too acidic may cause a calcium or magnesium deficiency in the plant. and cause them to struggle and die.

If soil is too acidic, add lime. Follow package instructions and do not add too much limestone or you may create alkaline soil.

Continue to test your soil.

Too much clay and you need to dig holes deep and fill with a well drained fertile mix.

If your soil is acidic and you do not wish to put additives in the soil, consider planting flowers that prefer acidic soil such as azaleas or hydrangeas

Mark and Randy in Constable, NY on the Canadian border.:

We have a pair of Hairy and a pair of Downy Woodpeckers. For suet, we use just plain Ole' beef fat. For some reason, the males hardly touch it, the females can't seem to get enough! Can you think of a possible reason? We're wondering if maybe they're pregnant?

Some good questions Mark.

I will try to give you a simple answer
here and sometime in April I will do a full letter on bird reproduction.

Birds don't get pregnant as we think of pregnancy, and it is a bit to early for egg laying.

Downy's mate for life and are often seen together, yet even I will have one or the other visit as a single bird and sometimes 2 pair will visit.

Hairy woodpeckers mate for a season, so you really don't have a mated pair just yet as both birds are free to come and go.

You bring up a good point on feeding, there is no counting for taste (birds have little) and some birds have different preferences as you are finding out with your woodpeckers.

Even with peanut suet, my Hairy woodpeckers don't come that often and rarely as a pair (less now that spring is approaching).

The Red-belly seems to have disappeared too, yet I seem to be the only one around here to offer all the goodies (they still prefer nature's food).

Now, if you are hearing rapid drumming in the trees, this is a courtship call, but way to early to mate and nest .

Reproductive parts grow and shrink with birds with the seasons as hormones are dictated by length of day (again, I will talk more on this in April).

Interesting thing about birds..........

When they do mate, the female keeps the Male's fluids alive inside her and fertilizes each individual egg as it passes through (one at a time).

Enjoy your birds.

Faye Bowman in Lancaster, Pennsylvania:

I know that black swans are common to Australia

but are they common to any place in the US? Faye, Black swans, are indeed from Australia and can be found in zoos and other special locations.

If you spot any Black swans in the wild, you should report this to your State or Provincial Parks or Department of Natural Resources.

The regal Mute swan is a on native species and causes problems for our Endangered, Native Trumpeter Swan.

With some public outcry, here in Michigan, the DNRE is looking for ways to control the Mute swan.

Even looking into eliminating at least half of the Mute swan as they are becoming large in numbers and do mess with our endangered native Trumpeter swans and other water fowl.

Rhoda in Brooklyn, Michigan:

I have a question and hope you can give us an answer. We have a very bad case of box elder bugs!!! We usually have them in the spring and then again in the fall on the outside of the house, but this year we have had them all winter long inside the house. We can not find where they are coming in at and believe me we've tried!! Is there anything that you know of short of chopping down our neighbor's trees that will help get rid of them? I don't mind them outside, but can not stand having them in the house like this.

We kill hundreds of them weekly!! I know they must be nesting in the siding (cedar shake) and this spring we are hoping to reside the house, but until then I'm going crazy.

(Boxelder beetle in various stages of growth.)

Throw me a curve Rhoda :-)

Thankfully, I've never had the problem with these bugs, though I have seen them in the masses and in several growth stages at the same time. From tiny red/orange nymphs to the adults.

Though quite harmless, I understand they can be quite the problem inside the home, as they can “spot” interior furnishings with their droppings. They can't bite, they don't eat anything on the inside of your house, including house plants, and they won't harm you, your family or your pets.

Other than vacuuming them up or using organic sprays using Neem oil or pyritherins, just about anything else can be used .

If you are getting the smaller soft shelled nymphs it appears they are messed up and laying eggs and hatching within your house.

When spring rolls around, these bugs lay eggs on the trees that hatch and later on the new bugs will lay eggs that hatch in late summer and the summer/fall bugs start the process all over again.

These flat bugs can find the smallest opening to get in and out of the cold and no doubt are finding openings under the cedar siding and other crevices.

Often the best offense is a good defense, and that requires filling and patching any cracks and crevices around your home.

One more thing,

The beetles are attracted to the scent of the female Boxelder tree (related to our native maples). If a person must have a Boxelder (Acer negundo) go with a male tree.

Judy in Clio, Michigan:

Is there a recommended source for milkweed seeds? I missed harvesting them last fall as people don't understand the importance of the plants and seeds for our Monarch's comeback. Although I did read somewhere that the population is recovering nicely I still want to help out a bit.

Judy, there are several places on the web to check out.

Here is a local site.

Here is an extended list.

Check out USDA for help in your region.

Otherwise, check with Michigan' DNRE, they can send you in the right direction.

Wish I knew this last fall, I could've plucked some for you that grow wild around here.

Monarchs suffered last winter from a bad storm in Mexico, but things are looking up for them right now. Loss of habitat is the main concern and adding milkweed (Host Plants) can only help.

Hope the websites help you.

Well, it is time for me to fly for now.

Before I go, her is your positive thought for the week.

I would have enjoyed knowing this man.

If I don't have wisdom, I can teach you only ignorance.

Leo Buscaglia

Seek wisdom my friend....

Here is what the Good Book has to say.

Turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding indeed, if you
call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 2: 2 - 7 (NIV)

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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