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It seems as if every season in Maine has its odd surprises. We’ve come to expect certain things from spring, summer, fall and winter but it’s the variations that garner the most attention. For example, this spring has been a dry one, with little rain and hardly enough morning dew and fog to moisten things in the normal, natural way. I’ve had to refill my bird bath daily to keep the birds, squirrels and raccoons hydrated, which is quite unusual. It’s been very entertaining these last few weeks, however, to see such a wide variety of critters drinking from the concrete pot, sometimes several at once. As I write this there is a red squirrel, a chipmunk and a gray squirrel taking a sip, each one equidistant from the other, as if they don’t mind drinking together but keep your distance while you do it. These same rodents gather around the sunflower seed pile and grudgingly share the provender, but if any one of them edges a step too close to the others a serious chase ensues.
Perhaps the most interesting gathering at the bird bath occurred one recent morning when I happened to notice that the rim of the bath was crowded with birds. Just about every local species was represented including mourning doves, sparrows, purple finches, indigo buntings, a scarlet tanager, a pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks and several goldfinches. It was quite the colorful display and I was enjoying the show till a raucous, flashy Baltimore oriole flew down and broke up the meeting.
Speaking of orioles, I find it interesting that these colorful, vociferous birds are so clearly attracted to halved oranges set on a rail or post, yet in most of their summer range orange trees do not even exist. What makes them favor orange pulp over the usual sunflower seeds and wildlife mix? They do partake of a suet cake now and then but most of their focus is on the oranges I put on my deck specifically for them – and they are the only ones who seem to be attracted to citrus. In fact, orioles seem almost obsessed with oranges – they dive into them with gusto, nearly burying their entire head into the pulp, and can devour a whole orange (actually two halves set side-by-side on the railing) in a day.
I started my garden early this year by planting peas even before the frost was fully out of the ground, and they are doing well so far, but I have been watering them every day along with my collection of morning glories, marigolds and other favorite blooms. What is surprising to me is how well the weeds are doing all over the yard in spite of the lack of water. The dirt around them seems to be nothing more than dust yet the dandelions, lamb’s quarter and other annoying species seem to thrive in such miserable conditions. In fact, I dig them up, shake off the dirt and toss them into the driveway and by some miracle they re-root themselves and begin to grow again – over dry sand and gravel! If only our fruits and vegetables were as hardy as the average noxious weed. Here I am hovering over my peas, flowers and vegetable sprouts doing all I can to keep them alive while the weeds just grow and grow with no encouragement required.
I have a couple of small beds where I like to grow wildflowers every year, just a nice mix of colorful blooms that last all summer and well into fall. These so-called “wild” flowers require daily watering or they won’t germinate or grow, yet 10 feet away there are true wild flowers, everything from trilliums to thistle, that grow big and strong with nice, big flowers with absolutely no water, mulch, fertilizer or attention required. It seems as though we’ve tamed our domestic plants to the point that they are helpless without us while the wild perennials are bigger, well-established and more aggressive. Botanists need to work on that aspect of gardening: why do weeds do so well on their own while our preferred plants need so much coddling? I know this isn’t a new question, having heard my grandmother voice the same concerns decades ago, but it would be enlightening to know why you can’t just throw a few pepper seeds into the sand, ignore them and watch them grow into hearty, productive plants over the course of the summer. Sometimes even our most favored garden plants fail despite the best of intentions and focused attention they receive (watermelons come to mind). Just one more seasonal mystery to consider, I suppose.
I’m not sure why but this year’s crop of garden raiders have been rather remiss about digging in the garden and bothering my flowers and strawberry plants. A month ago something got into the raised beds and dug a bunch of holes between the strawberry plants but didn’t do any appreciable damage to anything – just a lot of random holes in the potting soil where, as far as I knew, there was nothing for them to dig for in the first place.
I repaired the damage, fortified the plants that were there and have been watering them ever since and, so far at least, there have been no more nighttime excavators to deal with. Perhaps they realized that all that digging was for naught so they moved on to more productive exploits, though I have a feeling they’ll be back to enjoy the harvest the night before I’m ready to start picking, freezing and canning. There’s certainly nothing new about that aspect of gardening.
My small grove of apple trees survived the winter and is now covered with fragrant blossoms, which of course means the tent caterpillars will be on the move, too. I normally just pick them off every day but now that the trees are bigger I have to take more aggressive action. Turns out that the same spray that kills wasps and hornets also works on tent caterpillars. It’s a wonder what you can learn by reading a can of bug spray while sitting on the deck watching the weeds grow!
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