Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Garden tool belt

by cathym on May 11, 2020

by Cathy Monrad

Before you throw out that old pair of holey jeans, check this clever tool apron inspired by Jessi at practicallyfunctional.com. This project can be made with minimal sewing, or you can choose to enhance it by adding ribbon or bias tape border.

MATERIALS
Jeans
Heavy duty thread in desired color
Bias tape with matching color thread (optional)

TOOLS
Scissors
Seam ripper or embroidery scissors
Straight pins
Needle
Sewing machine with heavy duty needle (optional)

1. Cut the legs off jeans as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

2. Remove the belt loops from waist band with seam ripper or embroidery scissors.

3. Cut off the front of the jeans along the side seams and waistband as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2

4. Position belt loops horizontally on apron in desired locations as shown in Figure 3. Pin loops in place.

Figure 3

5. Sew loop ends onto apron by hand or with sewing machine.

6. Don your apron, attach tools, and get gardening!

Optional: To add some flair, pin bias tape around raw edges and sew in place. Check out this dolled up version!

Cathy Monrad is the graphic designer and garden crafter for Upstate Gardeners’ Journal.

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by Liz Magnanti

Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly Moth on purple coneflower. Photo courtesy Flickr: C Watts

The past couple of months have been a stressful new challenge for all of us. Navigating the new social norms while keeping ourselves and others safe has been at the forefront of most of our lives. While we all navigate through the new normalcy of life, spring is sneaking up on us! Even though life as we knew it for most of us is on pause, nature is showing us that life goes on! Plants are springing up, birds are singing, insects are beginning to fly. One thing is for sure. Spring is here and thriving! 

I think it’s fair to say that this year is unlike any we have ever experienced. We are facing sobering news stories, job losses, working from home, separation from our friends and family, and so much more. At the same time, we are seeing some beautiful acts of kindness that people are showing one another. This new lifestyle has created a different type of busy, but at the same time has slowed life down. I, personally, have found I have more time to take walks in my neighborhood, and enjoy my little patch of land. Each day, I’ve been able to see the little changes that are happening as spring descends. With that has come a renewed appreciation for the diversity of wildlife that I’ve been able to attract to my yard. Making your yard wildlife-friendly doesn’t have to take a lot of effort. With all of us spending more time in our personal patches of nature, now is a great time to take an overall look at the different types of wildlife that can be attracted, and how to do so.

Let’s start with pollinating and beneficial insects. Butterflies, bees, ladybugs, lacewings … there are so many! To attract butterflies, nothing beats planting a butterfly garden. Keep in mind butterflies require nectar-producing plants for their adult stage, but they also need plants for their caterpillar stage to eat and grow. Blooming flowers like beebalm, joe pye weed, phlox, and goldenrod are great for adult, flying, butterflies. Planting a diversity of plants that bloom early spring through late fall are key. Caterpillar plants are a crucial and often overlooked way to attract butterflies. These are the plants that adult butterflies will lay their eggs on. The eggs hatch, and the caterpillars will eat them in order to grow and reach their adult stage. Each butterfly species has different requirements, but a great start is planting milkweed for monarchs, dill and parsley for black swallowtails, and keeping things like nettle and plantain in the garden; those are larval plants for Angle Wing and Sulphur butterflies. Butterfly feeders provide nectar and rotting fruit that can help attract more of them as well. Butterfly puddlers are the best addition besides plants that you can add to your landscape to attract butterflies. These are reservoirs that provide a place to add some mud, sand, pebbles and water. Butterflies will siphon off the water that contains minerals from these elements. Mason bee houses are a super easy way to attract non-stinging, native pollinators to your garden. They are simple houses constructed of small bamboo, wood or paper tunnels. Female bees will lay their eggs inside these tunnels, fill them with nectar and pollen, and then cap them off. The eggs inside will hatch, the larvae will eat the nectar and pollen packets, and then pupate. The pupa stay in the house all winter and then hatch out in early spring to pollinate your garden. Many mason bee habitats are included in “beneficial insect houses” which also contain pinecones for lacewings to lay their eggs and hollowed out holes for ladybugs to hibernate in.

A variety of birds are easy to attract to your yard. They need the same things every other animal needs to thrive, food, water, shelter and a space to raise their young. Birds are probably the most diverse form of life you can attract to your yard, especially during spring migration. Food can be provided with berry- and seed-producing plants or bird feeders. Putting out a bird feeder that holds sunflower seed, or a mix containing sunflower seed, will give you the best diversity of birds per any seed type. If you expand your food offerings to seed blends that provide peanuts, safflower, or shelled sunflower, you will get even more diversity. Nyjer feeders will attract birds like goldfinches and suet feeders will attract woodpeckers. Birds like orioles eat jelly and hummingbirds drink nectar. Water in the form of a birdbath or moving water feature is key. The sight and sound of moving water brings in more birds. If you have a birdbath, consider adding a solar fountain insert. The birds will love it! Bird houses, shrubs, and trees provide a place for shelter and a space they can raise their young. When selecting a bird house, keep in mind most birds like a house that is secure and doesn’t move around. Attaching a bird house to a pole is your best bet to get birds to inhabit a house. 

Bats, despite their recent bad press, are animals that are not only beneficial but also struggling and should be considered when making you yard wildlife friendly. Bats are a great way to safely control insects, especially mosquitoes, without using pesticides. One bat alone can eat 200 insects every hour! When putting up a bat house make sure that they are mounted high, 10 or 15 feet up, and without any obstructions underneath. In our climate its best to paint the bat house black. That will absorb heat, which the bats prefer in a roosting site. Once occupied, the bat house will be a place for bats to spend the spring and summer and will provide entertainment at dusk when they begin to chatter and leave the house to hunt insects. Bats do not carry rabies any more than other wildlife, and they do not get caught up in people’s hair. Those are two misconceptions that often make people wary about encouraging them to a yard, so fear not!

Throughout the next few weeks, or possibly even months, I’m taking it upon myself to take a step back and enjoy the things I sometimes take for granted or don’t always have the time to appreciate. The lovely songs and sights of spring are rolling in fast and furious. I’ll be looking around my yard and considering how I can make it more wildlife-friendly. Not only will the wildlife appreciate it, but it comes with a sense of joy and entertainment that can’t be taught or bought. Wildlife, as well as the rest of us, will prevail. Instead of thinking of the things or opportunities I have lost during this time, I’ve decided to keep track of all the experiences in which I’ve grown and gained. This is an opportunity to get out, enjoy spring, nature and my garden. It’s chicken soup for the soul.

Liz Magnanti is the manager of the Bird House in Pittsford. 

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Native plants and pollinators

by cathym on May 11, 2020

by Lisa Ballantyne

Native plants are indigenous to a region. They have existed there for a very long time—have adapted perfectly to its conditions and support the local ecosystem, including important pollinators. 

Since the plants, animals and insects have co-existed for many, many years there is often a symbiotic nature. Certain plants attract certain insects. For instance, swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, is a primary host plant for Monarch butterflies. Highbush blueberry is an excellent food source for mining bees, mason bees, and long-tongued bumble bees. 

Monarch caterpillar on swamp milkweed. Photo courtesy Liz Ballantyne

Interest in returning to having native plants in our yards and gardens has certainly been surging. Gardeners are looking for native trees, shrubs and perennials. Fortunately, the availability of these plants is beginning to grow with more and more choices available every year. 

As is well known, many of our native pollinators have been struggling to survive. Some believe that a lack of native plants plays a role. Much land has been cleared for housing, farming and other development. To counter this habitat loss, we are beginning to see farmers leaving wider hedgerows as an increase in pollinators means higher yields. We as homeowners and consumers can do our part by planting more native plants to support pollinators. Reducing or even eliminating lawn areas and replacing with natives can go a long way in providing food and habitat that has long been lacking. 

It is important for our native pollinators to have a food source from early spring to late fall. When adding new plants to your garden or yard try to be conscious of the need for early-, mid- and late-season flowering plants. 

EARLY BLOOMING Pussy willow. Photo courtesy Flickr: Bambe1964
MID-SEASON BLOOMING Spicebush swallowtail on wild bergamot. Photo courtesy Flickr: Candy & Kasey

Early blooming native plants include wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), pussy willow (Salix discolor), and raspberry (Rubus spp.). Mid-season natives would be plants such as wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and American basswood (Tilia americana). Late season flowering native plants might be cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae). 

LATE BLOOMING New England aster. Photo by Jane Milliman

There is no question that the natural world is a complicated balance of plants, animals, insects and environmental factors such as weather. When one goes out of balance, so go the others. Often, we humans can unwittingly have a hand in throwing off that balance. Planting more native plants, can be our way of starting to put things right. 

Lisa Ballantyne is co-owner of Ballantyne Gardens in Liverpool, NY. She and husband Tim have a nursery and landscaping business that promotes organic gardening, gardening for wildlife, and native plantings. 

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