All the photos in this blog were taken by me. The information is taken from friends, books, magazines, conversations at nurseries, the internet and a few of my own amateur-gardener thoughts. Please feel free to share your own knowledge and experiences in the comment section that follows each posting.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My Science Classes

Carly called me to say they'd hatched. I almost left the swim team banquet set-up to go see them, but I got ahold of myself realizing these were birds, not a grandchild. I'd be lying if I told you they were cute. They're not. Their skin is thin and covered with a mottled layer of fur. Their eyes aren't open and their bones look so brittle its shocking they can support their expanding bodies. Okay, I suppose they are cute simply because they are babies. The amazing thing is how fast they grow. After several days of worrying if they'd still be in the nest each time I go out there, I now confidently peer in and am stunned by their progress. Today, their beaks are wide and yellow and I felt a tinge of a personality emerging when one stretched it's neck and opened its beak. Meanwhile, Mother Bird is frantic wondering what I'm doing poking a black tube so close to the nest. My black tube is having a hard time catching them in action. When I go out without the camera, they are actively opening and closing their mouths like the classic picture you think of in a bird's nest. The one where the Mother Bird is feeding them and they are reaching up towards her with a wide, open mouth. By the time I come back with the camera, they seem to be sound asleep. All my clucking and whistling doesn't do anything but annoy Mother Bird, as well as myself.  My favorite part of this authentic natural exhibit is that its eye level. Its a bird's nest that is perfectly placed for our viewing. It's a science class in my garden.

See the beaks? They're those wide, flat yellow lines at the lower part of the furry head.

Mother Bird

I still don't know what kind of bird they are. I am almost afraid to find out because one of my research attempts ended up identifying them as some kind of sparrow (I didn't commit it to memory) and it said that they are a mean bird harming others in the yard and bullying them away from various food sources. Oh, no. Can my little babies be mean? I've googled (is that word in the dictionary yet?) "California native birds" and the egg coloring, light blue with black speckles. A few things came up. I need to go to the Birdwatcher and ask someone with some bird knowledge. I hope they're not the mean bird. That, and the bad crow energy out there would be troublesome all together. I want my Science Class to be happy and peaceful and safe.

Garden Tip: A yellowing leaf could be the sign of a nitrogen deficiency. If new leaves appear lighter, usually a pale green or you're seeing a true yellowing within the leaf, you may need to add some fertilizer containing Nitrogen. Nitrogen is water soluble and is absorbed rapidly, so it must be replenished regularly. The best organic sources of nitrogen are manure, bloodmeal, fish emulsion, and alfalfa or soybean meal. Compost and grass clippings are also good sources, but they can be too "hot" for the base of a plant meaning they'd actually burn the root system.
When you buy a packaged fertilizer, you will find three numbers on the label that represent the percentage by weight of each of these primary plant nutrients:
N- Nitrogen
P - Phosphorus
K - Potassium
You need to be careful not to add too much nitrogen to a plant. Usually, packaged fertilizers have instructions. It is worse to add too much fertilizer than not enough.
When I took my Sustainable Gardening course (through the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners Program), my teacher loved using alfalfa pellets (found in feed stores) as a source of nitrogen. She said they would be about a 2 in terms of their percentage by weight so its a nice, safe source. She encouraged us to sprinkle the pellets in the vegetable beds and mix them into the soil. Water breaks the pellets down quickly and they soon dissolve right into the soil. I've been doing this since she told me about it. I also sprinkle some around my roses. Lastly, my Podocarpus, an evergreen shrub that grows as a screen in front of the fence by the pool, was very pale green with some yellowing leaves. I watered a hefty amount of alfalfa into their bases and I saw a considerable change in color over some time. Some say, "proof in the pudding". I say, "proof in the Podocarpus". 


Let's get one thing straight: I am not afraid of worms. I'm not afraid of spiders. I don't even mind snakes if I know they are there before they know I'm there. When I was little, when Spring sprung my Mom would ask us to go find worms to feed Weldon, our pet Piranha. (At one point we had six horses, six dogs, six cats, a number of rabbits, probably a gerbil or two, two Parakeets, a Sheep and a Piranha. What, you never had a Piranha?) We loved dropping worms into Weldon's tank and watching him go after them. I also liked poking a pencil eraser in there to see what he'd do. Okay, no, I didn't take that picture, but I had to show you what Weldon looked like so I found an image on-line. That was him. He loved worms, as do I now.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I made this worm box with my friend, Polly and her husband, Rob. They are an awesome team of Worm Box Constructors and they were super kind to ask me to join them.

I put the box outside my kitchen near my compost pail (future blog story), added the shredded newspaper I read about and some kitchen scraps. Polly gave me a few worms from a collection she had and I was underway. I soon realized that if I was going to fully capitalize on the size of my box, my worms were going to have to do a lot of mating. So I fast-forwarded the situation by buying some worms on-line at Redworms 4 Sale.  

One day I came home to this:

I'm Chairing the Casino at Grad Night, I've got 15 people sleeping over all weekend, my son graduates on Friday night and we're having a Graduation Party on Sunday and I am dealing with this?

Have I lost my mind? Does that actually say, "Live Worms"? I admit, I was a little scared to open that box and find a wild, wiggly wad of worms.

As you read, I didn't have much time... not to mention, I had to get the worms out of the box and into a more lively environment within a reasonable amount of time, so I had to prepare my box quickly. It was like another Science Class. Ingredients: Newspaper, water, kitchen scraps, a little dirt and worms.
I started with this:

And then added this:
And topped it off with this. It wasn't a wiggly wad. They were all peacefully settled in some nice loose dirt. It was a much calmer scene than I'd envisioned it would be.

Mixed it all up, closed the top and did one of those swish, swish actions with my hands. All finished. Okay, what's next?

Cousin Judi says my blog relaxes her. Relaxed Judi? 

As I begin this very emotional week, I will keep in the back of my mind that I am now actively engaged in the lives of two more birds and 500 more worms in the world. Somehow, that may help me keep things in perspective while watching my very own little bird spread his wings across the stage and fly into this next adventure of his life. I am soon to be Mother Bird of a high school graduate. 

That's how my garden grew this week. How does your garden grow? 


  1. very clever. but don't birds have feathers vs. fur?

    Also, maybe if you give those baby birds a nice piece of worm they will pose for your camera shot? xoxo

  2. Very clever back at ya, anonymous... ;)

  3. Great episode Whitney! I always look forward to your latest posting.
    What a week we have in store! I'm trying not to cry every day --- I'm a high goal-setter, huh?
    Hang in there with your menagerie of animals and family/friends in town for Jeffrey's graduation. Hugs.

  4. Hi Whitney! I remeber when the Kindergarden teacher at Daves had a worm box for their garden. Great story - enjoy your baby you well know, they grow up SO fast!

  5. What are you talking about. I think they are REALLY cute.

  6. Whit.....I'm still relaxed!!!! My dad loved working in the garden too, and you could often hear him say "see those worms....that means it's great dirt we have here"!!!

    Wish we could be there to celebrate graduation with you all! XO


  7. I'm not relaxed, but here I am reading your blog.
    I want some worms. Not. What I really want is some chickens. Good manure and eggs to boot. We did see 3 good sized snakes this week and I got my little Ells hissing nicely at one of them while her mother freaked out over on the other side of the trail. Laurie reacted the same way (not as Ells but like my DD)
    See you at the poker table.


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