Whose Grousing Now?

I am a bit OCD with my bird feeding. Every feeder gets a measured cupful as this seems to be just the right amount. Any less and the birds are hanging around looking hungry, any more and seed gets scattered EVERYWHERE and this drives me to distraction.

It’s not just an aesthetics thing, though it is partly that. I worry about attracting mice, or encouraging birds to spend time on the deck where they might fall prey to the neighbourhood cats that prowl through from time to time.

Darcy accuses me of simply being stingy with the feed. On his days off he fills the feeders to the brim and seeds fly EVERYWHERE.

This morning I looked out at the sunflower seeds all over the deck from Sunday’s exuberant feeding, with much irritation, until I saw this…

A prairie chicken!  The big bird was happily pecking up all the scattered seed like a barnyard hen. Whose grousing now, right?

I am sure the bird is more than capable of perching in one of the large feeders, but somehow he looked far more at ease pecking up seed off the deck.

There will be no stopping Darcy now.

Share Your Nuts. That’s All I Know.



We have six backyard bird feeders, which we fill with an assortment of seed, fruit and nuts.

It amazes me how quickly the birds find it.

At first we just fed the black oiled sunflower seeds and got thousands of sparrows for our effort and a few (too few in my opinion) chickadees. When I put out the peanuts it took about three hours for the first blue jay to show up.

How does that work? Do they talk to sparrows or chickadees?

”Hey bud, the feeder over there has some of those horrid big seeds that you yammer on about all the time.”

”Big seeds? What are you talking about little bird? You mean peanuts? They have peanuts? OMG! SQAWK! SQAWK!”

Or maybe they smell them. Do birds smell things? I suppose they must. For some reason I only associate sniffing abilities with soft flesh covered noses, not hard beaks, which is kind of a weird assumption when you think about it.

Anyway, now we have lots of blue jays, as well as sparrows, chickadees, magpies and the odd raven and woodpecker.

About a month ago a singular Stellar blue jay showed up and she has been a daily customer at the feeders ever since.

I don’t really know if the stellar jay is a she, but I like to call her Stella so it works better that way. When I see her at the feeder I announce it by theatrically yelling (in a stage whisper so as not to scare her away) Stella! Stella! Stella!

You know, like in Streetcar Named Desire.

If I learn more and can figure out the difference and I’m wrong, I guess I will just have to call Stella Stanley instead.

Stella doesn’t care what I call her, so long as I fill the feeders with nuts.

She’s bold and bossy. While other birds fly off when I come outside, Stella flies in. When I go back inside and the other birds return, she tries to chase them away. However, with six feeders that can prove an exhausting undertaking and eventually she just chills out, settles in and eats.

Apparently stellar jays can mimic the sounds of other animals and birds, often parroting (stellar jaying?) birds of prey to scare other birds away from the feeders. Maybe Stella does this as well.

No one chases Stella and this worries me. Why is she the only stellar jay? Did her flock move somewhere for winter and leave her behind? Did her mate dump her or maybe die? Is she grieving and is that the reason she seems indifferent to human stranger danger and is so grouchy and bossy with the other birds? Or did her mate and/or flock dump her BECAUSE she is so grouchy and bossy?

Though generally no one becomes grouchy without someone else inflicting pain, even if that someone is the simply the voice in ones own head.

That certainly can be the way of things in the human world.

A few hard knocks and a person withdraws. A couple more and they become defensive and grouchy. Eventually they are making sure they’re the ones actively doing the rejecting. Get within feeder distance and they will run you off before you can so much as muster up a, “Hey, how ya doing?”

I don’t know what the answer is, but sharing your nuts is always a good place to start. Even if some won’t share them back. Maybe especially if others won’t share them back.

As the saying goes, “Hurting people, hurt people.”

Maybe hurting birds, hurt birds. Or maybe Stella just really, really, likes peanuts.

Short of settling Stella onto our couch while I sit nearby with a pad and pen on my knee, ready to record her fears, tears and anger issues, I will never know. And would it matter if I did?

When all is said and done, what really matters anyway? Heartache, gender, marital status, a beings disposition or the fact I have some seeds to share and we are all sharing a planet together?

What I know for sure is we are currently under a winter storm alert and the snow has been falling for hours and will continue to fall for several more hours to come.

It’s time to throw my coat back on, shovel the deck and share some more nuts.

Because I have some.

And Stella likes them.




*The picture of the stellar jay at the top of this post is a stock photo and not an actual shot of Stella. Here’s a shot of our Stella in the feeder that I snapped a couple of minutes ago…

And now you know why I use stock photos! 







Halloween Night, A Near Miss and A Direct Hit

Well, we woke up to winter as so often happens in the Peace Country on November first.

It always amazes me how that works. Obviously, we expect winter to arrive in November, but how it almost always shows up Halloween night speaks to something regimented and predictable, which is never how I have pegged Mother Nature.

Halloween night started off cold and rainy, before turning to sleet and finally full-on fat flakes of snow. Despite the seasons turn, we still got some brave and hardy treaters, for which I am grateful.

After four Halloweens in an apartment it was thrilling to hear the excited giggles and awkward clumps of costumed feet coming up our steps.

As our first Halloween in our new home, I was anxious to make a good impression on the neighbourhood children. I wanted the kids to be sure to program our house into their route for next year. And the one after that and…well, you get the idea. So with every giggle and clump on the steps, I rushed to the door eager to fill their bags with impressive treats.

Turns out not all treaters giggle or clump.

At one point in the evening I decided to check the sidewalk and steps to make sure they weren’t getting too icy. I was two steps from the door when the doorbell rang. I let out a (thankfully) small yelp and shot three feet in the air.

As I dropped treats into the bags, I thanked the Universe for her timing. Had I reached the door just a second sooner, I would have lost my mind.

To say I startle easy is an understatement. Not only that, I am not quiet about it. There’s a running joke in our family over how easily I am surprised. A family member can simply come around a corner of a room, and it is enough to make me scream. Opening a door to check on the weather only to find a punk rocker and a gorilla six inches from my nose…well, I assure you there would have been plenty of screaming.

And how confusing would that have been?

The poor treaters would have been wondering several things.

One – Why did I open the door prematurely?

Two – Given that I was the one opening the door unexpectedly, why was I the one screaming?

Three – It’s Halloween lady. You should be prepared for scary sights on your doorstep.

And finally, Four – We’re a gorilla and a punk rocker. That’s not so scary.

Fabulous costumes and all of that, but not exactly terror inducing.

Instead of being locked into their GPS for next year, we’d become known as the house with the scary, crazy lady who opens the door before you even knock and then screams so loud your ears ring.

Close call but crisis averted.

As for winter, it’s not looking like a close call at all. It is looking like a direct hit.

And that’s okay. As my sister shared with me this morning, if we don’t get winter how will we ever get to spring?


A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

It’s 6:18 pm and I just finished closing all the blinds to fend off the fishbowl effect. I can’t believe it’s already this dark outside. In the summer there were nights we didn’t even close all the blinds because we went to bed before the sun did. Except, of course, for the bedroom, where we closed the blinds to keep the sun from shining down on us at 10 pm.

And so it begins, this shortening of days.

This afternoon I went out for a neighbourhood walk before the sun went down. I love doing this. The city is always so friendly and busy. People lament how children don’t play outside anymore, but try telling that to the kids in my hometown.

In my short walk I came across a group of kids playing an intense game of soccer in the street, yelling “Car!” whenever a vehicle approached, car or otherwise. They scattered to the lawns on either side of the street and then reconvened as soon as the vehicle passed.

Another group were busy colouring up the sidewalk, selecting big fat pastel pieces of chalk from a bucket. They smiled and said hey, as I skirted my way into the street to avoid trampling their artwork.

What appeared to be a father and son were bicycling around the neighbourhood.

“Want to do the loop one more time?” I heard the father ask as they went by.

”Sure!” said the son.

I came across them again about seven blocks to the east. Big loop!

A mother was out with her two toddlers, sans stroller or wagon. The three were just walking along the sidewalk, hand in hand, taking their time and enjoying their stroll.

Some might say people were outside today because we are having an amazing extended summer at a time of year when it isn’t unusual to already have snow on the ground. You know, making play while the sun shines. That could be part of it, but I have found this same bustling, happy, outdoor crowd, every time I venture out for a walk. Even in the winter. And I don’t believe our city can be that unique.

But hey, if we are, yeah us!

I realize this doesn’t have a lot to do with gardening, except, as always, I was busy doing the gawk and walk as I passed by any houses with gardens. Though what slows my step these days are the yards filled with an enviable bounty of leaves. I have become a tad leaf obsessed.

Speaking of which, I asked NEAT about where to source some more leaves and apparently there is a Yard Waste Drop Off happening on November 03rd and I am welcome to show up and take all the leaves I can cram in my car.

I love this town.

Life is good.


Got Worms? I Know Where You Can Get Some!

Did you know that red wiggler worms for using as compost producing machines in your indoor vermicompost systems are available from NEAT (Northern Environmental Action Team) right here in Fort St. John?

You get a generous amount for a minimum twenty-dollar donation.

This is the kind of vermicompost system I have. It is called The Worm Factory. There are lots of homemade versions you can find ideas for that just use Rubbermaid tubs and such.

Whatever you use, vermicomposting is a great way to dispose of kitchen scraps indoors over the winter when the outdoor compost bins are frozen solid.

Over the course of an average winter my Worm Factory will produce approximately eight gallons of vermicompost aka worm poop. I am sure results vary widely, but you are guaranteed to get a fair amount.

As far as nutrients go, vermicompost is crazy concentrated. Adding just half a cupful to a planting hole during spring transplanting will give you noticeable results and best of all it is organic, recycled, fertilizer at its finest!

At 16 cups per gallon, eight gallons of vermicompost will fertilize roughly 256 transplanting holes come spring!

Plus I find keeping worms fun and entertaining, especially in the winter months.

Part of what I love about gardening is observing all the insects, birds and other wildlife that make their home in the garden. When you do indoor vermicomposting, it is sort of like having a mini garden over the winter.

Even if you’re not interested in getting worms, you should drop by Neat’s new digs at 10003-95th Avenue in Fort St. John, BC. Their thrift store and office are now under one roof making things much more convenient.

With winter lurking around the corner, their thrift store is always a fun place to spend an hour or so on a winter’s afternoon. You can find a lot of great gently worn sweaters for cheap, not to mention limitless ideas for creating art objects for your garden out of all kinds of used, affordably priced, household objects.



Ruth Stout Would Approve Anyway

So the leaves did not all blow away in the wild and windy night, and I think I may have even inherited some more from the neighbour, for which I am very grateful.

The bounty, however, wasn’t as much as I would have liked. I am considering lurking around some parks to see what there is to be gathered in the way of leaves there.

Gone are the days when people would leave bags of leaves on the curb on garbage day. Now we have black garbage cans to wheel out one week and blue recycling cans the next and a few days scattered through the year where you can take yard waste to a gathering place. I have seen the dates advertised but am not sure how it works, since I hoard all my yard waste like Gollum clutching his precious ring. I wonder if they let you take yard waste instead of bringing it?

In Calgary they now have green recycling cans for kitchen scraps and yard waste, but even if Fort St. John follows suit, I would never have the nerve to actually lift lids to peek inside other people’s bins. It is one thing to nab a few exposed bags of leaves off the curb, but quite another to open someone else’s bin to have a look-see at what treasures there may be inside.

I was going to start a new compost pile behind the shed, layering in my freshly harvested leaves, when I suddenly channeled Ruth Stout, The Queen of Mulch and inventor of the No Dig, Permanent Hay Mulch method.

Stop making so much work for yourself! I imagined Ruth saying. Just put the leaves directly on the beds the same way Nature does it. This isn’t rocket science. If it works for Nature, it will work for you.

And so I spread my bounty of leaves on my two raised 4 x 16 vegetable beds and put what was leftover on the perennial beds, and then watered them down so they won’t blow away. When I finished I still needed about three times as many leaves to finish the job.

Which means I need about eight more trees.

Or the neighbour does.




A Bottomless Pit. The Stock Trough Garden Revisited.

Up until now all of the stock trough gardens I’ve seen utilize full on stock troughs like these…

The ones used are no different than the ones sold at stores that sell livestock products…for which they were originally intended. A BIG difference between purchasing a trough at an agricultural supply store and a garden centre is price. You will pay a lot more for your trough at a garden centre.

All that changed when I came across these “troughs” at a garden centre.

I’m not sure if these are new to the market or not. They were certainly new to me.

As you can see in the label shown below, these bottomless wonders are designed by Behlen Country, the same folks who make the bulk of stock troughs you find at feed stores (as you can tell by the note beneath their name on the mass produced label that reads “tighten plug before filling” despite these particular versions having no bottom in them. Or plug!), Obvioulsly, these are specifically designed for the botanical crowd and the growing trend towards using troughs for planters.

I’m not sure what to make of it. They weren’t much – if any – cheaper than their full bottomed versions. Or at least not at the centre I was at. In full disclosure the centre was very targeted towards the upscale garden crowd, so I am sure a person could still approach an ag centre about bringing them in on special order and get them much cheaper.

Having been raised in the country, I could never bring myself to “ruin” a perfectly good water trough by drilling drainage holes in the bottom. Who knows when I might decide to get a couple horses for they backyard instead of a garden, right?  So instead I just remove the plug and add some drainage material to the bottom before topping up with soil.

Our summers are dry, so this has never been a problem for me, but for folks in places that get a lot of summer rain, forgoing the drilling for drainage would be a very bad idea. They would need to drill those holes in the bottom and the more the better.

If you’re going to “ruin” a perfectly good trough, you might as well buy one of these new fangled bottomless ones. The only drawback I can think of is they won’t stop weeds from coming up through the bottom as well as the full bottomed troughs.

That said, they would still be excellent for containing invasive perennials in flower beds and for making raised beds.