This Week in the Garden – Essay Seven, Max Rogers


Birds are really important in the garden. Many times in the brassica garden, I have been working and noticed chickadees and other small birds perched in the branches of the Brussels sprouts. I think they are hunting in the jungle of plants for the caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly. I have not had much, or any really, noticeable harm from the caterpillars despite seeing a lot of white butterflies in the patch over the course of the growing season.

The beds are densely mulched with the hay we have used as bedding in the various stables and coops. Wolf spiders love a mulch like that and the garden abounds in them. Wolf spiders are agile hunters who do not make webs and they love to pounce on caterpillars. So do the little birds such as chickadees and even juncos who relish extra protein in the breeding season.

I keep food out for the wild birds year round to attract them to my garden. This week, we are building a brush pile near the vegetable garden and as soon as we started the project, some white-crowned sparrows came to inspect the pile as a potential nesting site. I hadn’t expected such interest from then in the autumn but here they are and eating at the feeder too.

If you want these large, handsome sparrows around, the best thing is to build them a nice brush pile as they love to nest in a nice dense tangle. As soon as we built the first brush pile, we had heaps of white-crowns and they are lovely birds. We have also had wrens nesting in our old brush pile but it is too old and decayed now to be attractive to birds. It was a machine-built pile from land clearing and the birds loved it at first but it has settled too much and they must have a new one. This is a simple trick to bringing birds to your land for they are useful creatures and make the heart glad.

A friend was complaining to me that he was trying to plant grass seeds and his hordes of juncos ate all the seed which he had covered with peat moss. I told him I get excellent results when I need to fix a bare patch on my grazing but putting down some sand, lime and fine compost and then the grass seed with about an inch or more of hay to protect the seeds from birds, the sun and to hold in moisture. The grass happily grows up through the hay and we get excellent results every time.

I have heard a lot of people are blue and tense these days and think that is what comes of too much staying inside and watching television. The best cure for the blues is to get outside and work in the garden. If people lack a garden, they can still cheer up by going for a vigorous walk in nature or helping a friend who does have a garden.

The garlic needs to be planted now and there are a number of ways to do this. I will mark out where the beds are to go and add some sand and lime to improve the soil. Then, I will place my bulbs of garlic on the surface of the beds and when they are all lined up on

the surface, I will cover them up with layers of compost, stable waste, shredded leaves from the chicken yard and similar until they are tucked up under a thick layer of the richest mulch I can find. I call this feather bedding as I want to achieve a nice thick quilt over the garlic about 8 to 10 inches deep. This will settle over the course of the winter so it must be thick to protect the garlic from frost.

In the growing season, the thick layer of organic matter will retain moisture in the heat of the summer, if it is hot and if we get a summer. Garlic is a heavy feeder and if you want big, beautiful crowns to show off or Gods willing, to show at the Fall Fair if we get one again some day, you must feed the garlic heavily.