Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Community Chickens Post - Cool Coops!: A Fairy Tale Coop

Click on the image below for the post at CommunityChickens.com...


Mexico Monarch Adventure!

Shortly after we purchased our property in 2002, I "accidentally" became a butterfly gardener. I had unearthed a large neglected garden near our house in which my plans were to create a vegetable or kitchen garden. The first season I planted a variety of perennial herbs and seeded the rest of the garden in zinnia seeds (because they were cheap and easy to grow). I didn't realize it at the time, but I had created the perfect habitat for our native Missouri black swallowtail butterfly.

The herbs - fennel, parsley - were the host plants (or food) of the caterpillars and the zinnias were the nectar (food) of the adult butterflies. This fascinated me and I wanted to attracted as many of our native butterflies to my garden that I could! Today I have 15 different host plants and my garden attracts a variety of butterflies each season. One of my favorite butterflies is without question the monarch. In fact in 2010 - one of the first blog entries I wrote was about this unique - almost magical - insect. The Monarch - in a class by itself


The Monarch is the only insect that migrates south and hibernates.  Each year / season, four generations are born. The first three generations live about two to four weeks, but the 4th generation migrates over 2500 miles to warmer climates in Mexico and California hibernating in eucalyptus trees (California) and on the Oyamel fir tree in the mountains of central Mexico. The same butterfly then returns to North America (another 2500 mile trip) in the spring - living a total of six to eight months and traveling close to 5000 miles!

Several years ago I would usually have a couple of times during the season in which I would see several monarchs in my garden and have 20 or so caterpillars early in the spring and again in the late summer / early fall. In the past few years, I rarely see a monarch. Their numbers have been declining the last few years for a number of reasons: logging of the fir trees in Mexico, recent bouts of severe weather and herbicide-resistant crops in the summer breeding grounds - which has led to the wide use of chemicals that kill milkweed - the only host plant for the caterpillar.

However - this year's reports are more promising! - According to Journey North: The number of monarchs overwintering in Mexico has increased dramatically from the record lows of the past 3 years, although still 30% below historic levels. The clustering butterflies cover 4.01 hectares of forest compared to a peak of 18 hectares in 1996 and an average of 6 hectares. This year's population contains 200 million monarchs compared to a long-term average of 300 million and a peak of 1 billion. Favorable breeding conditions in summer 2015 are credited for the increase.

It's been a dream of mine to visit the over-wintering site of the monarchs in central Mexico - and this year I got to check this unbelievable adventure off my bucket-list! The 2nd week in February we traveled to Mexico to visit friends vacationing in Guanajuato. From this starting point we hired a driver (much cheaper and safer than renting a car and driving) and went to two different butterfly reserves: Sierra Chincua and El Rosario.

Guanajuato Mexico
It was around a six hour drive to the first butterfly reserve or sanctuary that we visited - Sierra Chincua. This was a Sunday and there were only a handful of other visitors at the site. We arrived around 2pm in the afternoon and it was overcast. We rented horses to take us up a short trek of the mountain (around $5.00). At this reserve the horse ride wasn't really that necessary. They only take you a short distance and then you end up hiking the rest of the way. At El Rosario the cost of a horse ride was $10. We opted to hike and this was a mistake! It's a 2 mile steep hike upward at that reserve and we regretted not forking out the money about half way up the mountain!




Sierra Chincua was breath taking...  The views of the surrounding mountains were gorgeous and millions of butterflies roosting on the trees was indescribable.




That night we stayed in the nearby town of Angangueo. Our driver told us this city had been destroyed by floods a few years back. The town still seems to be struggling to recover, but the inn that we stayed in - Hotel Don Bruno - was beautifully restored. It has a quaint restaurant that serves delicious food (the best guacamole). It was Superbowl Sunday and the innkeeper turned the game on for us to watch! It's pretty hard to make reservations at the hotel unless you can speak Spanish. However, there was only one other couple staying there on a Sunday night. It's cold in this area of Mexico in February - down to 30-40°F at night. They will provide you with a space heater for your room if you ask and it's definitely needed! During the day it warms to 70-80°F - so dress in layers.




Monday we set out for our 2nd sanctuary - El Rosario. We arrived around 11am. The day was sunny and I'm not sure if it was the location, the weather or the time of the day - but this reserve was magical! Near the top of the mountain there was an explosion of monarchs! The air was alive with floating / flying butterflies, the ground was covered, the trees were loaded. It was so incredible! Much better than I could have imagined!











 As for the safety of central Mexico. - I never felt threatened or witnessed any violence. I fell in love with the beauty of the landscape and cities, the people were kind, courteous, and hospitable. Even with the crazy fast driving, there wasn't the road rage and foul language I would expect in the states. This isn't the border or Mexico City - it's a part of Mexico that is rich in culture and history. If you have the chance, TAKE THIS TRIP!!


My garden has been certified for several years as a Monarch Waystation through Monarch Watch - an organization dedicated to creating, conserving and protecting milkweed / monarch habitats.
Refer to this link for more information on how you can help protect this unique butterfly:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day!

DIY ♥ Feeder

Small red jars - Target
Mason jar hanger - Michaels

Add a decorative accent, birdseed and watch the love! ♥ 









Monday, December 7, 2015

Christmas at Rebecca's Bird Gardens!

Adding new birdhouses and bird feeders to the Etsy shop daily!
Do your Christmas shopping from home! - Each birdhouse is unique...
Weathered barn tin, vintage hardware, antique doorknob and a skeleton key. ♥



Glass bottle bird feeders and upcycled wine bottle hummingbird feeders!

Visit our Etsy shop today! - Rebecca's Bird Gardens

Friday, December 4, 2015

It's a Rooster...


This chicken was not suppose to be a roo...
He hasn't shown any signs of aggression, but every time he looks at me - I want to scream and run.
Time will tell if he behaves himself and gets to stay a part of the flock.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

DIY Upside Down Tomato

I recently did a presentation on vertical gardens as part of a series of gardening classes offered by my local Master Gardener chapter. While preparing for this class, I researched the history of vertical gardening from grapevines and espalier trees to modern day hydroponic and bio walls. In current day gardening - sustainability, self sufficiency and growing your own food are the top trends. However, there has also been a decreasing size of yards and garden plots. Growing up instead of out - just seems to make sense...

Advantages to vertical gardening:
  • Saves space - A traditional horizontal garden has boundaries and limitations. In a vertical garden - the sky's the limit to potential gardening space! 
  • Easier harvest - Usually at eye level instead of kneeling, bending, etc...
  • Healthier plants / Bigger harvest - Many plants are susceptible to soil borne diseases. Bringing the vines or plants up off the ground, decreases the risk of disease and improves the air circulation which contributes to a healthier plant and a larger bounty.
There are a lot of new vertical systems on the market - walls, stackable containers, hydroponic planters, etc... but I am more interested in the DIY versions.

Growing tomatoes vertically usually refers to using a trellis, arbor, or similiar structure to train or support indeterminate or "vining" tomatoes. Another option in growing tomatoes vertically would be using containers to free up the ground space. A "bush" or determinate variety is a better choice for container tomatoes because of its compact size (3-4' height). Most of the advantages of growing tomatoes in containers have to do with the ability to control of the quality of the soil. - The majority of tomato diseases are derived from a fungus, virus or other contaminant in the existing garden soil. Using a high quality "soil-less" growing medium in the container, will decrease the chance of diseased plants.

The flip-side of a vertical container would be to literally grow the plant upside down! Topsy-Turvy upside down tomato planters have been around since 2005, but I wasn't really interested in trying this container. It just seems a little too small for even a compact tomato variety. I had seen larger versions of this concept using 5 gallon buckets - so that's the option I chose...


I started with a repurposed 5 gallon bucket (mine was a cleaned and rinsed empty liquid laundry container). Using a hole saw, I drilled a 3" hole in the bottom of the bucket. I also drilled additional "drainage" holes using a 1/2" drill bit.

Next I cut a circle out of landscape cloth to fit in the bottom of the bucket. - I cut an X in the cloth and pushed the young tomato plant through the bottom of the bucket's hole. I decided a "roma" tomato would be a good variety for the upside down container. - It's a determinate or compact plant with stronger stems.


I filled the bucket with a high quality "soil-less" growing medium and mixed in a slow release fertilizer. The top of the container was planted with a drought tolerant sedum (Sedum sarmentosum) to act as a living mulch.

The tomato started off great. - It looked healthy and was producing a lot of green fruit. Then around sometime in July - I forgot to water it for a few days and realized just how quickly the container would become completely dry. I thought the plant was beyond help, but with consistent watering it revived and I harvested tomatoes into September.


The upside of this type of vertical gardening:
  • It worked (much to my surprise)...
  • It's a great option for a limited space.
  • If you have poor soil, you might have better luck at growing tomatoes in containers. My property is full of Walnut trees and it's impossible to grow tomatoes. - Black walnut trees produce a toxin, juglone, that is released into the soil and the tomato plants develop "walnut wilt" and die.
The downside:
  • Requires frequent watering.
  • Frequent watering depletes the nutrients in the soil.
  • If you grow vegetables solely for a harvest, it's a great option. If you also want an aesthetically pleasing garden, a 5 gallon bucket container might not appeal to you...

If you like bird watching - as much as gardening - I invite you to follow my Facebook page and visit my Etsy shop!

Rebecca's Bird Gardens - Facebook  
Rebecca's Bird Gardens - Etsy

Check out more garden blogs at:
 GBBD
Simple Saturdays





Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Facebook Giveaway! - Glass Bottle Bird Feeder!

Facebook Giveaway!!  
Over 1000 sales in the Etsy shop! - Head over to our Facebook page: "Like" the page, leave a comment and your email address (here's the link: Rebecca's Bird Gardens - Facebook) and you'll be entered in a giveaway of your choice of a glass bottle birdseed or hummingbird feeder! Leave a comment on this post for an extra chance to win! In one week (9/8/2015) a winner will be randomly chosen. Check out all of the glass bottle feeders in our shop! Rebecca's Bird Gardens - Etsy


Friday, May 8, 2015

DIY Vertical Pallet Garden

I recently did a presentation on vertical gardens as part of a series of gardening classes offered by my local Master Gardener chapter. While preparing for this class, I researched the history of vertical gardening from grapevines and espalier trees to modern day hydroponic and bio walls... In current day gardening - sustainability, self sufficiency and growing your own food are the top trends. However, there has also been a decreasing size of yards and garden plots. Growing up instead of out - just seems to make sense...


Advantages to vertical gardening:
  • Saves space - A traditional horizontal garden has boundaries and limitations. In a vertical garden - the sky's the limit to potential gardening space! 
  • Easier harvest - Usually at eye level instead of kneeling, bending, etc...
  • Healthier plants / Bigger harvest - Many plants are susceptible to soil borne diseases. Bringing the vines or plants up off the ground, decreases the risk of disease and improves the air circulation which contributes to a healthier plant and a larger bounty.
There are a lot of new vertical systems on the market - walls, stackable containers, hydroponic planters, etc... but I am more interested in the DIY versions. If your search this topic on the internet, you're bound to come across a wooden pallet upcycled into a vertical planter. Prior to the class, I constructed a couple of these "pallet gardens" and thought I'd share the steps and my thoughts on this DIY project...

Choosing a Pallet:

If you're using the pallet for edibles, make sure the letters "HT" are included on the pallet's stamp. This stands for "heat treated" instead of using chemicals to preserve the wood. Also pallets come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Make sure the slats are positioned evenly with enough space between to allow for a planting area. The pallets are usually pine or oak. - The oak pallets are extremely heavy after the soil and plants are added. I would opt for a pine pallet for a edible garden, maybe oak for an decorative garden...

Craigslist:  Wooden pallets pine, oak and plywood
Graded prices: $2 - $3 - $($7 to $10 for larger ones) 
Supply List:
  • Landscape cloth - I used Preen Landscape Fabric
  • Staple gun and a lot of staples!
  • High quality potting soil
In the larger pallet, I stapled a double thickness of landscape cloth to the inside of the pallet. I saw this demonstrated on Growing a Greener World. - This step makes it easier to add the soil to the pallet.


Next staple a double thickness of the landscape cloth to the outside back and bottom of the pallet - leaving the top open. 

Stand the pallet upright and position it where you want it to be as a finished garden. - It'll be very difficult to relocate it once the soil and plants are added.

Add moistened potting through the top opening of the pallet. I used a broom to help pack the soil down into all the areas of the pallet.

Lay the pallet down horizontal and cut rectangular slits in the openings between the slats. I planted a variety of cool crop seeds: lettuce, spinach, kale. My intention was to leave the pallet horizontal until I wanted to plant summer crops: tomatoes, peppers, etc... Then I could still harvest salad greens, but free up garden space for additional plants.

Leave the pallet horizontal for 2-4 weeks to allow the roots to become established.

After 3 weeks my seeds had formed plants and roots capable of keeping the soil in place when I brought the pallet into the upright position.

I also made a vertical pallet garden to display the variety of sedums and succulents that I use in the living roofs and vertical planters I sell at our local farmers' market. For this garden I used an oak pallet, but cut in down in size - because of the weight...  I prepared it in the same fashion as my edible pallet, but instead of adding landscape cloth to the inside of the pallet, I screwed a scrape piece of wood to the front of the pallet. - This allowed me to fill the pallet with soil from the top while it was in a vertical position. I also added a board to the bottom of the pallet to make it more of a solid structure. A temporary board screwed to the top of the pallet helped to keep the soil in place until the planter was upright.


After I planted the sedums, I kept the pallet horizontal for 2 weeks to allow the roots to become established. Once the pallet was vertical, I removed the temporary board from the top and added more sedums to this open portion.

I was surprisingly pleased at how well this project turned out. - It's a fast, easy and inexpensive way to make a unique and functional wall garden. I have found that it's somewhat difficult to water. The planter is too heavy and awkward in handling to lay it horizontal and a lot of the water runs off the pallet when watering it in the vertical position. Even with it's downfalls, I'm still in favor of this vertical garden and I'll probably be making more in the future...

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