About a week or two ago all of the baby starlings that live in our eavesdrop fell out of the nest — the nest that was built on the severed and torn parts of many of my tomato plants including the ‘Zapotec Pink Pleated’ and the ‘Patio Orange’, two plants that are forever malformed by the trauma — landing in a succession of hard thumps onto the potting table and turning our lives into a minor farcical comedy staring John Lithgow or Chevy Chase as a bumbling family guy forced to take on the ill-prepared responsibility of caring for a tiny, demanding creature (or creatures). Wacky hijinks ensue. Except that we’re pretty much mostly prepared since around here a baby starling or three seem to fall out of the nest every single year. We’ve been through this routine before.
We immediately made a makeshift nest using a cardboard box and dried plant matter. Lucky for us the parent starlings figured out the situation quickly and have been feeding the babies regularly. Despite their attentiveness two babies have since died. The first was probably injured in the fall and died soon after. The second was smaller than the third and less active. The surviving bird seems healthy and has grown from a nestling that looked like this to one that looks like this. We’ve had to bring the box indoors on a few nights that were too cold, have had to keep the cat inside (she hates us for it), and have found it necessary to stay off the deck ourselves to allow the parents freedom to feed. If we are out there when they come by with food they screech and yell at us to get lost. I like the baby bird but I look forward to the day when it is ready to fly the nest and we can have our deck back.
If you find a starling nestling this site has good instructions on how to care for the baby. Starlings actually leave the nest at the fledgling stage and live on the ground for a couple of days learning to catch food and fly. If you find a baby on the ground it might not be orphaned but in its fledgling stage so it’s important to understand the difference.
There are roughly five mint varieties in this bouquet including clockwise from top right: Chocolate mint, Pear mint, Ginger mint, Lemon Mint (with the crazy flowers), and Mojito mint (not seen).
Mint has got to be the most abundant herb in the garden and as this year’s mint harvest picks up speed I’ve been trying to find ways to use up last year’s dried stock. Today I mixed up a batch of Claudia’s Mint Lemonade but added my own zip with a dash of dried lemon verbena and a tiny pinch of dried stevia to sweeten.
Both were brewed in a tea pot (a new Bee House pot purchased at Soko Hardware in San Francisco) along with the mint and added to the lemon juice once cool. I threw in some fresh orange mint clippings and two orange slices before putting the pitcher in the fridge to chill. I’m not a lemonade fan but my spouse Davin says that the addition of mint tea to the lemonade dilutes some of the tartness of the lemons (without adding much sweetener) and makes for a more refreshing, thirst-quenching drink.
A little red and sort-of white for Canada Day courtesy of my rooftop garden. We were hoping the ‘Whippersnapper’ would be ripe and ready for eating by today’s national holiday — some celebrate with a two-four of beer, over-sized sparklers, and things that explode, we get excited about ripening tomatoes — but it looks like the first almost-there tomato could use a day or two more. Based on when I started the seeds and planted out this still qualifies it as the fastest growing heirloom determinate I have ever grown.
I am growing three ‘Whippersnapper’ plants this year: one in an upside-down container (seen in photo), one in an upright container, and one in-ground at my community garden plot. Based only on growing experience and without a taste or texture test, this variety is poised to knock ‘Sunrise III’ out as the reigning cherry-sized, medium-small (the plants are bushing but seem to need a container that is about 1 ft-1.5 ft deep) determinate champion. And it’s not a hybrid which means I can save the seeds!
I’ll let you know how it makes out in the categories of flavor and texture when the time comes.
Over the years, I’ve made a tradition of both putting together a new succulent window box idea every spring, and posting about it here. Since planting up this year’s box a few months ago, I’ve been taking photos as a prelude to a write-up here. But just when I begin to write, something in the box changes and I convince myself the box is even better and requires new photos. Now that I have broken my digital camera and am in gear purgatory I will just have to settle for the last batch of images and write this thing up already.
Sun-loving and exceptionally drought-tolerant succulents are just about the only plants that can survive the growing season slugging it out in a window box on my painfully hot and dry fire escape. I grow sun loving plants in larger containers on the fire escape as well but the succulents are the only plants that can withstand a day or more without attention and a long drink of water. They are hardy too, some like the ‘Goldmoss Stonecrop’ have been living in the same box for four seasons straight surviving straight through our cold, sporadic city winters. Many assume that because succulents are easy that they are also boring yet mine put on a good show, growing, draping, evolving with the seasons, changing colours, and eventually producing wacky alien-like flower forms.
From the Front (Photographed in May):
Clockwise from right front: Goldmoss Stonecrop (Sedum acre), Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, Sedum spurium Probably ‘Red Carpet’ , Sempervivum ‘Pacific Sexy’, Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’, Sedum sieboldii
This is one of those ideas that is insanely simple yet effective. Grow a couple of lettuce varieties with pretty leaf shapes and bright colours. Put them together in a container that sets off their leaf colours or grow them in individual pots of a contrasting colour. In this case I have two leaf lettuce varieties with very curly leaves and contrasting colours (‘Ruby’ and ‘Henderson’s Black-Seeded Simpson’) set off by a black metal container. Hint: Chartreuse and yellowish greens always looks good when paired with deep reds or purple.
The key to keeping lettuce happy on a hot deck is to move the container to a less intense spot when the heat of summer kicks in and make sure to keep the soil moist — they’ll get bitter faster if they experience too much drought. You can cut each leaf off individually (remove from the outside if you want to keep a nice rosette) or just chop the whole thing off about an inch or so from the soil line and set the plant aside (somewhere less visible unless you’re comfortable with the stubby bits on display) until it grows back a second harvest.
By the end of the second round the leaves are usually too bitter to eat. Don’t toss it out into the composter just yet! You can still get some use out of your lettuce by setting the plant into hotter sun (don’t forget to water!) and allowing the plant to bolt. Bolting is when a plant produces flowers and then seeds prematurely in a mad rush to reproduce itself when the growing conditions become too extreme. This is usually caused by the increasing heat of summer and intense sun. The colour will often deepen in hotter sun and some lettuce varieties will grow into crazy, alien towers with pretty flowers perched on top. Don’t bother trying to eat it at this point since it will taste horrible and ooze a gluey substance when cut, but it makes a very cheap and easy bright spot when set amongst boring edibles like tomatoes and potatoes.