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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Weather, Wildlife & Seed Starting 2017

1st flower of the year: My hellebore bloomed in the unseasonably warm weather!

Weird Weather

What strange weather we have been having! Here in Brighton, MI, it went up into the 60's F (16 C) for almost a week, then dropped back to the 30's F (-1 C).  During the brief burst of premature warmth, it was so tempting to go out to clean all of the garden beds and start planting things... but I resisted!  I am very glad that I did.  The freezing spell that came next would be a lot harder on the plants if it weren't for the protection of autumn leaves and last year's stems.  Any seedlings I might have planted would have been dead instantly.  But that's typical Michigan weather for you.  It can change in a blink!

My temporary leaf bin made of chicken wire & stakes.
I did manage to get some work done, though. I cleaned out the bin where I store my pots and etc.  I cleaned up my potting bench in the garage.  I donated and recycled some items that were wasting space.

I also collected some leaves that blew up around the house.  These are being stored so that I can run them through the shredder in the spring to use as mulch in the garden beds. Leaves make an excellent mulch and soil conditioner.  They protect the ground as with other mulches, but they also feed the worms, add minerals to the soil and enhance the soil biology.  For more on using leaves in the garden, check out Mike McGrath's TED Talk: Click Here.

Seed Starting

I have begun to start seeds this year. (For more on how to start seeds, Click Here.) So far, I have started the following:
  • Peppers: California Wonder, Anaheim, Hungarian Sweet, Scotch, Ancho, Jalapeno, & Cayenne.
  • Eggplant 'Black Beauty
  • Rhubarb 'Victoria'
  • Celeries: leaf celery & celeric
  • Alliums: Leeks 'American Flag', Onion 'Burgundy Red' and Onion 'Golden Globe'
  • Perennials: Pelargoniums (geraniums), Red Valerian, Common Valerian, & Wood Betony.
  • Annuals: Coleus, Stocks, Blue Pimpernel, Chocolate Cosmos & Toothache Plant
These seedlings are making good progress.  I have potted most of them up and placed them on my home made grow shelf.  (For how I built the shelf, Click Here. For how to pot seedlings up, Click Here.)

So far, I am the most excited about the Toothache Plant (Acmella oleracea).  This plant makes small, round, yellow flowers.  When you chew the plant it makes your tongue go slightly numb and tingly.  It is safe to chew, and is used as flavoring for food in many countries including Brazil. Sometimes, it is sold as a spice called "Jambu" or "Szechuan buttons."  When I read about it, I just HAD to try it... and the only way to do that is to grow my own.  For more on this cool plant, and the resource for where I gathered the previously mentioned information about it, see the Wikipedia article about it: Click Here.  If you are interested in growing it yourself, you can purchase the seed from: Johnny's, Baker Creek, or Strictly Medicinal.

This year, I found a very  useful app that has assisted with my garden planning. It is called Garden Plan Pro.   This app is nice because it allows you to plot out the garden.  Based on the garden map, it provides estimates of how many plants you need to fill the area.  It has a guide that tells you when to start seed indoors, outdoors or under glass.  It also tells you when it is safe to plant outdoors.  All of the seed timing estimates are based on your location and/or average first & last frost dates.  A map of my vegetable garden plan for 2017 is shown to the left. 

I plan to continue starting seed right up until May.  I will be especially happy to start tomatoes next month.  But I will talk about that more in my next blog entry. 

Backyard Wildlife Count Update 1/1/17 - 2/26/17

Tufted Titmouse
As mentioned in my previous blog entry, I am tracking the number of species that I can find in my back yard this year.  It is important to consider that a garden is not only a lovely place to grow flowers and vegetables, but also a habitat for the nature around us.  This is one of the reasons that I choose to garden using organic methods, and to avoid killing so-called "pests" unless it is absolutely necessary.  I want to work with and support nature as much as I am able.  So far, I have found 22 separate species living in and/or using my garden... and it's only February!

 I also took part in the Great Backyard Bird Count this month, and plan to continue tracking my bird sightings at  This web site allows you to track bird sightings, and uses the data to help the experts at the Cornell Lab or Ornithology to track wildlife populations and migration patterns.  I believe it to be a very worthy endeavor.  The best part is, ANYONE can do it.  So if you like birds, dear reader, please check it out! 

Blue Jay
Our dog, Snickers.

  1. American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)
  2. Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 
  3. Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
  4. Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
  5. Dark-Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
  6. Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)
  7. Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
  8. European Starling (Sternus vulgaris)
  9. House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)
  10. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 
  11. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
  12. Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
  13. Purple Finch (Haemourhous purpureus)
  14. Red Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
  15. Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
  16. White Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
Birds Also Spotted in the Neighborhood (but not my yard):
  • Canadian Geese (Branta canadensis)
  • Redwinged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
  • Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)
  • Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)


    17. Dog (Canus familiaris)
    18. Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - See pictures & more info. at this link.
    19. Humans (Homo sapien)
    20. Shrew (Biarina brevicauda)
Boxelder Bug



    21. Boxelder bug (Boisea Trivittata)
    22. Pill Bug (Armadillidum vulgare)

For more photos of the creatures that I have found, scroll down to the end of this blog entry.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to photograph every one. Some are just too quick! But that doesn't stop me from trying!

What are you doing this month, reader?  Are you starting seeds?  Have you seen any interesting birds or other animals?   If so, please comment, and tell me which ones!  I would love to hear from you.

As always, happy gardening!

White Breasted Nuthatch

Left: House Finch,  Right: House Sparrow

Downy Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker
Black-Capped Chickadee

Eastern Bluebird

Dark-Eyed Junco

European Starling

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