September-October 2017

Autumn in the Air

by cathym on September 4, 2017

by Cathy Monrad 

IMG_2774Nothing reminds me of fall more than apples and cinnamon. This homemade potpourri will not only make your house smell wonderful, but also makes a nice hostess gift—so make a few batches to set aside for those last minute holiday get-togethers.

1 large orange
1 large apple
2 tsp whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks, 3 inches long
pint jar with vented lid

paring knife
mandolin (optional)
parchment paper
sheet pan

  1. Preheat oven to 250° F.
  2. Using paring knife, peel rind from orange, then cut or rip into 2-inch strips.
  3. Using mandolin or knife, cut apple into ⅛” thick slices.
  4. Place orange rinds and apple slices on sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
  5. Bake for 2 or more hours, flipping each piece every half hour, until fruit and rind are completely dehydrated. Apple slices should be crisp and orange rinds should not emit moisture when squeezed.
  6. Cool completely. Add orange rinds, apple slices, cloves, and cinnamon sticks into desired container. I used a wide mouth mason jar and ring with a round of burlap inserted to provide ventilation.

Potpourri packs an aroma punch when used in a “simmer pot.” Place mixture in a small slow cooker and fill with water. Turn slow cooker on high with lid on until water comes up to a bubble. Remove lid and simmer up to 6 hours, adding water periodically if needed.

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


Birds, Butterflies, and Water

by janem on September 4, 2017

by Liz Magnanti

Blue jay. Photo courtesy Flickr: C Watts

Blue jay. Photo courtesy Flickr: C Watts

One of the easiest ways you can attract birds to your yard is with a resource we have at hand throughout the year—water! When you add water, or a water feature, to your landscape, it attracts birds and wildlife that may not come to feeders or birdhouses. This is particularly true in the hot summer months when shallow

bodies of water are quick to evaporate, and winter, when water easily freezes over. Birds need water to bathe in and drink all year. Some birds, like goldfinches, do not eat berries or insects, which are great sources of water for most animals. Instead they rely on a source of water to flush their digestive system.

Fresh water is also important to birds throughout the year because without it they wouldn’t be able to keep their feathers clean. Clean feathers prevent feather mites and allow for birds to fly unobstructed. In the winter, clean feathers insulate better than dirty ones. Birds will fluff up their feathers to trap in warm air, which heats their body. This is why in the winter it is common to see birds sitting on a branch all fluffed up.

An easy way to add water to your yard is with a birdbath. Most birds only want one to two inches of water, so be careful not to get a birdbath that is too deep. If you get a deep birdbath you will get birds, but it may only be the larger species, such as blue jays and robins, who will sit in the bath and bathe. If you have a deep birdbath, don’t fret. Adding stones or rocks to it will create a shallow reservoir and will give birds something to perch on. Rocks can be added to the entire birdbath, or just a section, giving it multiple layers for different sizes of birds. Adding many layers of rocks, or even sand, to a birdbath is an attractant to butterflies. Layering your birdbath full of sand or rocks and filling it with just enough water to keep them wet creates a butterfly puddler (see our last issue for instructions on making your own). Butterflies will land on the wet sand or rocks and siphon off nutrients such as salts and amino acids.

Moving water is especially attractive to birds. The sound and sight of it draw them in. Solar fountain kits, plug-in fountain pumps, and water wigglers are all great ways to get your water moving. Misters and drippers can be attached to a hose to keep a small steady supply of water running for birds. Hummingbirds especially love misters. They will fly through the mist to clean their feathers. Drippers are little spouts that allow a drop of water to come out one at a time. Goldfinches and chickadees love drinking from drippers! Water wigglers are small plastic domes that sit in a birdbath. They have a little propeller that dips into the water and makes it ripple. Moving water is not only a great way to attract wildlife, but it also makes it impossible for mosquitoes to lay their eggs on it.

In the winter there are several options for providing water to wildlife. Heated birdbaths plug in and operate on a thermostat. They keep the water unfrozen, but don’t make the water hot. The same goes for birdbath heaters. These plug-in thermostatically operated heaters go into an existing birdbath and keep the water from freezing. If you keep a water feature out in the cold make sure it can withstand our winters. When water freezes and thaws, as it does throughout the winter, it can cause birdbaths to crack. Do not keep cement or pottery birdbaths out for this reason. Metal, granite, plastic and new fiber clay birdbaths can be left out all year and are safe to put a heater in.

Keeping a water feature clean is also very important. Non-toxic natural enzymes called “birdbath protectors” or “fountain protectors” will break down some of the stains, sludge and mineral deposits that may occur in a birdbath. Giving a birdbath or fountain a good scrubbing is also important. Use a stiff bristled brush and some elbow grease to get the grime off a few times a year, at least.

My favorite part about putting out water features is I never know what will come to it! Scarlet tanagers and warblers flock in the spring, butterflies and hummingbirds in the summer, and cardinals and blue jays all winter! Keeping wildlife hydrated has never been so much fun.

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



Those Amazing Mason Bees

by janem on September 3, 2017

by Steven Jakobi

A 60-tube commercial mason bee nest kit, partially occupied in June. Photo courtesy Steven Jakobi

A 60-tube commercial mason bee nest kit, partially occupied in June. Photo courtesy Steven Jakobi

Three years ago, I got a mason bee nest kit for a Christmas present. I confess that up to that point I had never heard of mason bees. The kit sat on a shelf for a year or so, but last year I decided to give it a try. I followed the instructions on the insert and I placed the nest in a sheltered area according to recommendations. Nothing happened. The contraption sat there without any insect activity all spring and summer and fall. I would periodically look at it, shrug my shoulders, and move on with my outdoor chores.

All of that changed this year. The mason bees discovered this wonderful nesting place and most of it has been occupied. Now I am excited because I have been reading about these amazing bees and their contribution as pollinators, and I welcome them to my garden.

A non-stinging species, the orchard mason bee is native to North America. It is one of several hundred kinds of bees world wide but, unlike the European honey bee, it is a solitary insect that does not have a queen, workers, soldiers, or other members of a hive. After a female breeds with one or several males, she begins to lay her eggs in tree bark crevices, cracks or channels in rocks, or tubular nesting places. Several eggs are deposited in one nesting site. Eggs that develop into females are laid first in the deepest part of the cavity and those destined to be males are at the outer edge. Then the outermost opening is plugged with mud, which forms a tight, secure cover over the eggs. It is for this reason that this animal is called a “mason bee.”

Mason bee at her future nursery. Photo courtesy Flickr: stanze

Mason bee at her future nursery. Photo courtesy Flickr: stanze

Like other bees and most wasps, mason bees have a complete life cycle that includes larval, pupal, and adult stages. Males emerge first from the nest and wait for the appearance of females. Once mating has taken place the males die, but the gravid female begins to collect large amounts of pollen for her eggs. As each of six to ten eggs is laid, a cache of pollen is deposited as a food source for the emerging larva. Each egg is in its own compartment, separated by a mud barrier from the next, so that there is no competition for food among the newly hatched babies.

It is during the collection of food for her eggs that that mason bee provides invaluable service to agriculture as a pollinator. Some people suggest that this bee is ten times more efficient as an agent of pollination than the honey bee. So it is not the production of honey, which the mason bee does not make, but the cross-pollination of flowers of vegetables, fruits, and other economically important crops that makes the mason bee so useful.

My Christmas present nest kit was a commercially produced tubular structure that probably cost a lot of money. I went to YouTube to look at home-made nest kit ideas and I was not disappointed. There are videos of people constructing nests from paper towel- and toilet paper cardboard rolls, by drilling 5/16 inch diameter drill holes into blocks of scrap wood or fire wood, tubular nests made by rolling cut up shopping bags pieces on a pencil and taping the rolled up sections, and many other methods. I am very happy to have discovered this small, attractive, non-stinging bee and I have many ideas for home-made nests to encourage their presence in my back yard and garden.


Steven Jakobi is a Master Gardener Volunteer for the Allegany County Cornell Cooperative Extension.