Sunday, May 27, 2007

Country Recycling and Garbage Sharks

The last weekend in May is large item pick up day in our county. That is the weekend when everyone goes through their attics, garages, and even their homes to find all those large items that will not normally be picked up by the garbage trucks. The unwanted items are placed at the roadside on the weekend before the regularly scheduled pickup and the feeding frenzy begins.

It starts on Saturday. A pickup truck that you don't recognize will cruise slowly through the neighbourhood making sure to visit every road. More often than not the pick up has a trailer in tow. Occasionally, you will see an unfamiliar car, van, or other vehicle doing the same thing. Most people don't put their stuff out until Sunday, but occasionally they will place an item or two out and you'll see the thrifty shoppers critically eyeing these early pieces. Even less often, you'll see one of the early offerings trundle past in one of the strange vehicles.

By Sunday, everyone has picked over their stored items and decided which will be offered to the garbage sharks. Each house will sport their normal household garbage and a pile of miscellaneous items, both large and small, that they have deemed unworthy of keeping themselves. The number of cruising vehicles increases as the afternoon passes and the piles of items gets larger and more numerous. Some will drive slowly by only to circle back around if something caught their eye. Others will drive even slower, stopping at every driveway that has anything on display.

The occupants will climb out of their vehicles and begin rummaging through the piles of items, sorting them to their own needs as they go. Old washers in the trailer, wooden furniture with a broken leg in the truck, scrap metal in the trailer but placed on top of a growing pile. For the most part the items they take make sense, especially scrap iron and appliances that can be stripped for scrap. Sometimes though, the items boggle the mind as it is clear to the casual observer that the item has gone beyond its repairable usefulness.

For the most part, the garbage sharks are silent ghosts who rummage through a pile then neatly re-stack it once they have chosen their prizes. Other times you'll hear a raucous hello as the person who placed the offering sees someone they recognize whether from the local Tm Horton's, church, or even from previous years of visiting the same neighbourhoods looking for items to recycle. Sometimes the pickers will give a friendly wave, and if they see an item that hasn't been placed by the roadside but looks like it might be headed that way, they'll offer you a hand in loading it onto their treasure pile.

By Monday morning the piles of throw away items are far smaller than they had been the previous afternoon. It is obvious that the sharks continued their cruising and sorting far into the night. Insubstantial dreams remind you that you were mildly disturbed during the night by the sound of a truck idling outside your home, or a flash of light as someone with a bright spotlight highlighted each offering pile looking for last minute treasures. By the time you get home from work the piles are gone, as is the household garbage, and you know the garbage trucks have completed their rounds.

Large Item Pickup Day is supposed to be a way for people to get rid of their oversized garbage without having to make a special trip to the dump. Instead it has become a yearly tradition of community bonding and good old fashioned recycling. As the saying goes "One man's trash, is another man's treasure."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Year of the Oriole

Yesterday evening we were enjoying our first outdoor fire of the year when we heard a lovely song coming from the branches of the Apple Tree. Try as we might all we could see was a flash of red and black. The song and the movement amongst the blooms lasted right up until PeterC came out with the bird identification books and his binoculars. Of course, at the moment he arrived back at the fire the bird took off into the thicker tree cover to be heard but not seen.

We narrowed down the choices of the type of bird by his feeding habit and the brief glimpses of colour we saw. Since he was feeding on the apple blossoms but was definitely not a hummingbird, unless this hummingbird got into some serious Godzilla making nuclear waste somewhere, we decided it was some kind of Oriole.

There are two variety of of Oriole that can be found in Ontario. The Baltimore Oriole which is a very common breeder throughout Southern Ontario and into the St Lawrence Valley and Quebec. The Orchard Oriole is a very uncommon breeder and a rare migrant and has only been confirmed in Southern Ontario according to The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario. Based on the colouration we suspected the Orchard Oriole but couldn't confirm it.

Later in the evening, PeterC heard a total of six more birds, one that he was able to positively identify as an Orchard Oriole. He was taking the dogs for their evening walk when he heard the same song we had heard in the yard but coming from different locations around the area. Looking around he spied a Male Orchard Oriole sitting on the bare branches of a tree singing for all he was worth. The bird he could see would sing a few notes and the other, unseen birds, would answer.

I wish we could have gotten some pictures especially considering their rare status in this part of the province. We don't know if these are just migrating through of if, due to current weather conditions they have moved their breeding area further east than previously seen. There are a large number of blooming Crabapple and Apple trees in our neighbourhood so they have plenty of food should they decide to stay for any length of time. Perhaps we will get an oriole feeder and place it amongst the apple branches to encourage them to breed in the area.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bird Watching

We love to watch the birds and if the light is right we take pictures too. Here is a small sample of some of the brighter visitors to Sparrow Haven.

To encourage the birds we have placed several feeders and feeder stations around the yard. In the picture of the goldfinches you can see the niger seed feeder, a favourite of the finches, and the fruit and nut feeder in the background. We've seen all manner of bird and squirrel using the fruit and nut feeder but it is specifically for attracting Chickadees, Nuthatches, and the Downy Woodpecker. The Tufted Titmouse also like to forage from the fruit and nut feeder.

Female Rose Breasted Grosbeak
Here we have one of the platform feeders. This feeder is filled with peanuts in the shell, sunflower seeds, and a mix seed good for most common birds. The Blue Jays love the peanuts while other birds tend to feed off the mixed seed. Here the newest visitor to Sparrow Haven, a female Rose Breasted Grosbeak, picks through the mixed seeds looking for sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. Cardinals are also big fans of the sunflower and safflower seed mix but they prefer a different feeder.

Cardinals prefer the covered platform feeders that we have hanging in the middle of the yard. Here you can see the hanging Barn style platform feeders as well as the new ground feeding station we just built. We use the sunflower and safflower seed mix in the platform feeders and for the most part it is the Grosbeaks and the Cardinals who use them. Occasionally you'll see Grackles, Cowbirds, and Starlings in there as well.

The ground feeder was built for the ground foraging birds we have around, namely the Mourning Dove and the Rock Dove. The Rock Dove looks like the average pigeon and for all I know they may actually be the common pigeon. The day after we built and installed the ground feeder the sparrows were happily scratching around in the millet seed we had place inside on the screen. AS yet, we haven't seen either type of dove use the feeder but they will get used to it.

Behind the ground feeder is the bird bath. We keep the water topped up and fresh and have been rewarded for our diligence by the many variety of birds who drink and bath in it. We also have a circulating fountain near the back door that is a favourite of the smaller birds such as the different species of sparrows and the Chickadees. It is such a favourite that the sparrows all came to inspect it when we brought it out from its winter storage. Just minutes after we hooked it up there was a lineup of birds waiting to visit it.

Hairy Woodpecker
A Hairy Woodpecker scuttles around the branches of the Flowering Crabapple tree where the fruit and nut feeder is hung. These silly birds have been know the hammer away at the television antennas in the area. The sound carries very well and can be quite deafening if the antenna is outside your bedroom window.

We have also seen Downy Woodpeckers and have spotted what we believe was a Pileated Woodpecker from a distance. The Downy is smaller than the Hairy and moves with quick jerks up and down on the tree branches and trunks.

Near the back of the property we have a wild area as well as a couple of feeders, but I'll save that for a different post.

The Return of Spring

The weather has turned cold and wet the last few days. We've been watching the weather closely because May is notorious for last minute frosts, freezes, and even snowstorms. We didn't get caught unaware but we may end up losing a few plants.

The danger of frost is actually very slight considering the wind and rain. There is a slim chance of a freeze either tonight or tomorrow night. I hope not but just in case, most of the plants have been covered with either the greenhouse or with plastic cloches. It's been so windy that I wish we had glass cloches but we have to make do with what we have.

The weather change has also meant that for the first time in two months we have had to build a fire in the wood stove. It isn't freezing inside the house but it is cold enough to be uncomfortable on the hands and feet for extended periods of time. Soon enough, though, the weather will turn again and we are going to wish we had invested in central air.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Garden Journal: May 11 & 12, 2007

Well, I went a little nuts at Canadian Tire this weekend. We went in to get soil but they had a large selection of herbs, many I had never seen seeds for. Needless to say I had to have a sample of each kind, and more than just a sample in some cases. We did remember to buy the soil we needed to fill all the containers and top off the garden bed.

We ended up with tomatoes in the third bed, now shared with the raspberries, as well as in various containers throughout the yard. The tomatoes we planted in the Topsy Turvy system seem to be doing well. They are already turning up toward the sun. I'll be delighted if all my plants do really well this year.

PeterC cut a plastic drum in half to plant potatoes. It is the first time planting potatoes so we are eager to see how it works out. If the potatoes are a bust I can always turn the barrel halves into more gardening space next year.

In the background you can see the peas are doing well, the second bed, and the new compost bin. We turned the soil in the second bed and finally got the carrots, beets, and five more tomatoes planted. I also picked up three Firecracker Peppers while at CT and planted them in the front of the bed.

The herbs were planted together as best we could, matching soil preferences. I ended up with one box as mostly Basil and the other as a mix of other common herbs. My favourite find at the nursery was Curry. I've seen recipes call for curry leaves but have never seen the plant. I find it to be very attractive and I love the smell fresh curry gives off.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Garden Journal: May 6 - 10, 2007

We both work full time so during the week, and occasionally on the weekends, it is really difficult to come home and do chores no matter how badly they need to be done. Yesterday was different. We both got off at a reasonable hour, were home by 5:30pm, and it was a reasonable temperature outside so out came the seeds.

We managed to get all our herbs planted in various beds, as filler for less full flower beds mostly. We also got 10 tomato plants planted into their garden as well as carrots seeded in between. I mulched around the plants which is something I have never done before so I'll see how it works. I still need to plant marigolds around the edges of the raised bed and around the carrots in the centre. Editted to add the photo of the finished bed.

While I was doing the garden bed, Peter was putting 4 of the smaller but healthy plants into the Topsy Turvey plant pots. We got them cheap and I wanted to try them. They are hung on the front porch where they will get a lot of sun but we'll have to control the water. A small rectangular planter also got 3 plants before we ran out of soil.

Tomorrow we plan to go to Canadian Tire and buy a few more bags of garden soil so this weekend we can fill our other containers and get them planted. Any extra soil will be used to top up the third and final raised bed so we can plant more carrots, marigolds, and beets.

Monday, May 07, 2007

New Visitors and a Lost Soul

We try a to create a safe haven for all creatures furred, feathered, and should they venture this far north, scaled. If the visitors turn out to be aggressive, or a danger to ourselves or others, we try to relocate them to a safer place. So far we have only ever had to relocate a stray dog and call the dog catcher on another. Our efforts were rewarded today by the surprise visit of a male Purple Finch, an American Pipit, a possible Pine Siskin, and a wayward young squirrel.

The birds were seen in and around the various feeders we have on the property but in the case of the Purple Finch we were standing less than 2 meters from the feeder when he landed. There can be no doubting his identification. The Siskin we saw from inside the house near sunset so the markings were hard to make out but we are pretty sure of its identification.

The Pipit was the big surprise since they are shore birds. PeterC saw him bobbing about in the side yard as he came in from walking the dogs. Our bird book described their very distinctive movements and colouration which makes PeterC positive of the identification. Since we are only a few blocks from the St Lawrence River, we assume he is from the shoreline there and came inland with the wind over the last few days.

When we arrive home from work we always walk slowly so we disturb as few creatures as possible. We stop walking altogether if a creature is near the walkway be it squirrel, skunk, stray cat, or bird. This has allowed us to observe some of the more charismatic and fearless animals, especially the birds from a closer vantage.

Today, when we stopped to let the young squirrel pass, he stopped and looked back at us. Then very slowly, and with a great deal of caution he walked toward us. We stood our ground and he walked right past and between us, his little bushy tail brushing our jeans. Once he was far enough past, we continued on our way to the house. As we reached the porch, we saw that he had followed us at a small distance and was standing near the base of the tree we feed the squirrels in. The feeders were empty so we decided to fill them up.

When PeterC came out with the peanut bag the young one hopped slowly toward him. PeterC knelt down and offered a peanut. The baby hopped closer but just couldn't overcome his fear of us, which is as it should be in all honesty. The baby hopped onto the base of the tree and watched us fill the feeder. Muffit, our little indoor dog, decided to sneak closer for a good sniff and the baby looked around the tree in time to touch her nose. Both Muffit and the baby started in surprise, the baby doing a neat little back flip.

By this time Dunny was letting us know it was time to let him out of his kennel so we finished filling the feeders and putting out dried corn on the cob. When we let Dunny out he made to go after the baby but we reined him him as we don't want him chasing small furry creatures. Luckily, the little squirrel knew enough to head for the closest tree when Dunny made a move toward him. I think he will be just fine, but we'll have to be careful not to make him completely dependant on us for his food.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Adventures in Home Repair - Siding: Part II

When the job of patching the siding first came up we made the assumption that we could use the plane and shape the wood, like the contractor did last year when he replaced some of the siding. After we had thought about it some more, during the rain induced break from work, we both agreed that neither of us liked the look of the contractor's work. We wanted the siding to look similar to the old siding.

A little research told us that a router table and a panelling bit would give us the closest profile to that of the old siding. Since we plan on building our own kitchen cabinets we decided to purchase the table and bit. We had to wait for the bit to arrive so first thing this morning PeterC set up his new router table so we could get the siding repair done. A few scrap pieces run through just to get the depth of the cuts right and away we went.

While we were routing the siding pieces we both suffered doubts as to whether the profile was close enough. Once it was installed there were no doubts. The siding looks perfect, except it is still raw cedar at this point. The router table may have cost more than, and taken about the same amount of time as, ordering a siding from Home Depot but in the end I think it was a good decision. Once the siding has been painted, only an expert will notice the difference between the old and the new siding pieces.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Garden Journal: April 30 - May 5, 2007

The temperatures have been cooler than anticipated this week. The nursery greenhouse was able to keep the interior temperature high enough for the tomatoes. We took one of the warmer fluorescent lights from the sprouting greenhouse and hung it from the frame of the outdoor greenhouse. The weaker tomatoes have all died but the larger more robust tomato plants have only suffered a little damage to their foliage. All in all I expect to 3/4 of my plants to survive.

The squash, on the other hand, did not fair so well. All 5 plants have died. They were moved out to the nursery bed at the same time as the tomatoes, but they were weak and not very well suited to the cooler evenings. I will be replanting them tomorrow. I'll just drop another seed into the pot right next to the dead, or dieing plant. They will sprout outside and will hopefully be much healthier for the strong sunlight in the day and warm fluorescent light at night.

The bush peas have not only sprouted, they are almost 2 inches high now. Two rows of spinach sprouted but only one of them remains. I don't know of a squirrel got over the fence and ate them, an insect got them, or if some weird frosting pattern killed the one row and not the other. So far none of the Lincoln Homesteader peas have sprouted. I suspect they did not survive the repeated squirrel diggings.

We've put any further planting off for another couple of weeks. It doesn't hurt to stagger plantings so you get a reasonable amount of harvest throughout the summer and fall, rather than a glut early or late. We still have to plant the carrots, rest of the beets, another variety of peas, and replant the squash. The weather reports look good for a Mother's Day planting.