Thursday, April 30, 2009

What We Don't Want To See On The Bluebird Trail

There have been a lot of things going on during the past few weeks on the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden Bluebird Trail.  Just in the past week alone we discovered that 19 bluebirds fledged their nests.  We have at least 6 active nests and we have 4 nest boxes that are active with wasps.  We are definitely having more problems with wasps this year than we did last year.

The picture at the right is a picture of what we don't like to see on our bluebird trail.  This is a House Wren nest.  The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects these little native birds that build these big, clunky nests.  The Act makes it illegal to remove active nests or eggs of the House Wren.  It is acceptable to remove House Wren nests without a nest cup or eggs.  You can see from this picture that it would be very difficult to determine whether or not there is a nest cup or eggs in this box.  So, to be on the safe (and legal) side, it is best to let nature take its course at this stage.  This is what makes regular monitoring so important.  Early detection makes it possible to remove the sticks before a nest cup is established and eggs are laid.

We also discovered one nest box being inhabited by a Tufted Titmouse.  This bird is also protected by the same act so she'll be raising her brood without any interference from us.  The Tufted Titmouse makes downy nests of moss, fur, soft plant fibers and occasionally crumpled leaves.  It is easily distinguishable from the pine needle nests that bluebirds build.  It looks extremely soft and comfortable.  If I were a baby bird I think I'd like this nest quite a lot!

We also had one more visitor to a nest box this week that is also protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  I noticed two tree swallows flying around one of the nest boxes.  One of the birds landed on the front of the box and held on and sang away at the entry hole.  So, next week the monitoring could be very interesting.  We may just get the opportunity to see what the Tree Swallow's nest looks like as well.

So, do pay a visit to the garden soon.  Sit a spell and see what else is flying around in the air besides wasps, bees and pollen.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Family Gardening: Planning a Garden with Your Kids

It’s late April, and the spring gardening season is in full swing! The average last frost date (April 18th here in the Charlotte area) has passed. While this doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have another frost, it’s a pretty good bet. So, consider the ribbon cut and get out there and dig!

Planting a garden is one of the best—and most economic—family activities I know. If you want to have a great adventure with your kids this summer, consider planting a garden together. You’d be surprised how many special moments you and your children will have checking on and maintaining your garden together.

Although there are endless ways to enjoy gardening with your children, I’ve accumulated some tips and advice as I’ve worked with kids and families over the years. I’ve listed a few below that relate to garden planning. I’ll post a few more each week for the next couple of weeks on what to grow, and garden maintenance. (It could grow to more... we'll see!)

Shared ownership. We all like a say in what goes on around us, and kids are no exception. The garden is the perfect arena to include them in decision-making; besides, they will wander out to the garden much more often if they feel like they have some ownership in it. Let them in on the decisions about what to grow. Provide a few choices for them to select from, or peruse the garden catalogs or local garden center together. Ask everyone in the family to choose one crop, or perhaps everyone gets to choose one type of tomato and then have a contest to see whose tomato produces the most fruit.

Start small. If you are planning your first garden, start small. You don’t need a half-acre in order to produce a lot of food. In fact, you will be surprised how much produce you can harvest in a small plot. I recommend starting with a 4’ x 4’ plot, or a few containers on the patio or balcony. Better to smart small and have fun with it than to create a large garden that becomes a chore to maintain.

Don’t worry about perfect. Perfect gardens really only exist in books—don’t worry about it! Your rows do not have to be perfectly straight, nor your garden weed-free. Instead, focus on enjoying your garden together. Family gardening time is some of the best family time you’ll get—no TV, and just each other for company. You’ll have actual conversations! The important part in planting is that you do it together and keep it fun—a few minutes at a time a few times a week may be all the time you and your kids have to spend in the garden, and that’s okay. The entire garden doesn’t have to be planted at one time. Let it fit your schedule—you’ll all be happier in the end. You can always add more later or next year.

Be adventurous. Don’t be afraid to try new things together—one of the best lessons you can give your kids is to model being an enthusiastic and curious learner yourself. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you have to know all the answers; instead, teach your kids the joy of trying something new and waiting to see how it will turn out. Remember, all great gardeners have killed a lot of plants as they learn and discover what works in their gardens. If you see a plant that looks interesting, but that you don’t know how to grow, that’s okay—investigate it with your child and then try it if it seems appropriate for your conditions. Gardening is an ongoing investigation, and you never stop learning.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep your garden project interesting and engaging for you and your kids. Have fun with your kids in your garden this summer, and turn them into lifelong gardeners. It’s one of the best things you will ever do as a parent!

Have some feedback, or some additional tips based on your own experience? I would love to hear them—please post a response and help foster family gardening.

Thanks for reading-- now get out there and garden!


Friday, April 17, 2009

"Spring"ing down the Bluebird Trail

There are more things growing in the garden this week than just the beautiful spring flowers, shrubs and trees!  Some of our bluebird chicks that hatched last week are now growing their pinfeathers.  We expect our first fledglings next week so if you visit the garden please be sure and be on the lookout for those immature little bluebirds.  The chicks in my photograph just have their down right now but take a look at how adorable they are.

This week was a very exciting one on the bluebird trail at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. The bluebirds have been busy getting their chicks raised up and ready for their big new world. We noted the same number of nests in the boxes as we had last week but the number of chicks has more than quadrupled.

A visit to the garden this week might have afforded you the opportunity to view the following species of birds which we noted on our regular monitoring of the bluebird trail:  Canada Goose, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Mourning Dove, Eastern Kingbird, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, and the House Finch. We also took note of a Canada Goose on her nest so it's not just the bluebirds and the gardeners who have been busy this week at the garden.  We'd love to hear from you if you have the time to post a comment.  What birds are you seeing in your own backyard?

We are having a problem with wasps in some of the nest boxes so we are investigating our options in dealing with these pests.  And, if you have had success in this area we'd love to hear from you on this topic too.  We can all learn from one another in so many areas.

If you are monitoring a box in your own yard at home you might find that the female doesn't always fly out of the box when you knock on the side.  This happened to us twice during our observations this week.  For one of the boxes we had to circle back around to check it later and in another box the female would simply not budge off her nest.  She may have been busy laying a new egg or maybe birds are a little bit like us.  Maybe they don't want to get out of bed on a chilly morning either!

We hope you'll visit the garden this week.  There is always something new to discover.  Just don't forget to bring your binoculars!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dogwoods in bloom

We were really lucky this morning-it only got down to 32 degrees for a low here, and it didn't stay there long. There was some patches of frost, but no hard freeze like we were afraid of. There shouldn't be much plant damage. It's amazing how just a few degree difference in temperature can make such a huge difference in a plant.

Spring always makes me really excited-so many things coming in to bloom. The dogwoods are lighting up the woods. It is neat how they always come into bloom at Easter, regardless of when it is. They somehow seem to know the right time to bloom.

Dogwood (Cornus florida) is a small tree native to the eastern U. S. and the upper part of Mexico, most often seen in the understory of larger trees like pines and oaks, but I also see them pop up in abandoned fields and other sunny places. The pretty red berries they have in the Winter are good food for birds, which is what spreads them around.

One thing that makes the dogwood interesting is that what most people think is the flower is actually a bract-a leaf-like part of the plant that covers the flower bud until it opens. On most plants, the bracts are small and green, but on dogwoods they are creamy white and the showiest part of the plant. The true flowers are the little yellow parts in the center of the white bracts.

Another neat thing about dogwoods is that the bracts get larger and more white the longer they have been open. And if you take a close look, each bract has a notch at the end, giving them a heart-shaped appearance. They also have a brownish-red blotch at each indention.

Next time you see a dogwood, take a close look at the "flowers" and see how each plant comes with a story.

Friday, April 3, 2009

On the Bluebird Trail at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Yesterday, April 2nd, Susan and I conducted our regular monitoring of the 33 Bluebird nest boxes at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in late afternoon. We are currently beginning the third month of monitoring. We usually monitor the boxes first thing in the morning and this is for a very good reason. In addition to monitoring the boxes, we also take some time to do a little "birding" along the way. The morning is the best time to see different species of birds. However, yesterday we saw on that we would have a small window of opportunity to do our monitoring without the rain so we altered our start time by just a few hours.

Since we monitored a little later in the day than usual we did not see quite as many birds but we did note 11 different families of birds which included 13 unique species: Canada Goose, Eastern Bluebird, House Finch, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Towhee, Pine Warbler, European Starling, Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, Carolina Wren, American Crow, and the Turkey Vulture.

The garden is a wonderful place to visit all throughout the year as you never know what bird you just might see. Every week is different. A couple of weeks ago we spotted a Pileated Woodpecker overhead and in upcoming weeks we fully expect to see the beautiful Ruby-Throated Hummingbird return to the garden. There is really never a bad time to visit the garden.

Spring is typically a great time to move and the birds are following suit. They are picking their choice locations and moving in! We have seen an increase in nest building already over last month. At the end of March we had a total of 13 nests in the boxes and in the first week of April we noted 15 nests in the boxes. The really exciting thing we recorded was the increase in egg production. Just since the last monitoring in March we found that the number of eggs in the boxes has more than doubled.

This is just the second year of monitoring the Bluebirds at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. It will be a very exciting year for everyone at the garden to see what the changes are from last year to this year and also in the years going forward.

If you are a bird fancier and want to start keeping an eye on the birds in your own backyard, be sure and visit the Garden Store at DSBG. They have several of the same nest boxes in the Garden Store that we are monitoring regularly. And, even on a rainy day when there is nothing much to do, you can sit at your window and watch those beautiful flying jewels light up your front yard. I hope to see you in the garden!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Welcome to the Garden Blog

You have arrived at the blog for Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. We are happy to be here where we can share our love of gardening and the outdoors with you.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a young garden, located in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. We're just west of Charlotte near the South Carolina border.

In 1991, Daniel J. Stowe, a retired textile executive, reserved these 380 acres of prime rolling meadows and lakefront woodlands on which to develop a world-class botanical garden. Nature lover and gardening enthusiast, Stowe and his wife, Alene, envisioned a complex, evolving over four decades, to rival internationally-renowned gardens. A 1999 gala celebrated the completion of the Visitor Pavilion and the installation of 10 acres of manicured gardens, 12 sparkling fountains and a woodland trail within 100 acres of green space. In 2008, we added a spectacular 8,000-square-foot glasshouse featuring the regions only display of orchids and tropical plants.

Today the Garden serves more than 100,000 people include tourists, groups, school children, lifelong learners, wedding and event guests and others. Our staff is a dynamic group of individuals with experience at public gardens and similar institutions across the country. We also have a vital group of volunteers who help us execute our mission on a daily basis.

So that's who you'll be hearing from in the blog. You'll learn about our bluebird program and read about the plants that will grow best in your backyard. We'll give you a glimpse of programs like our Garden Adventure Camps and special events such as Something's A-Flutter that opens in September. So check out our list of current bloggers and check back with us often.

Let us know what you think about our work. We'll plan to add contributors and other ideas as time goes on.

Thanks for joining us.