Sunday, April 28, 2013

Meet Mr and Mrs Red, Our Garden Pest Control Birds.

For years I only saw birds as a garden nuisance but lately I realized that birds are excellent for garden pest control.  If you're an organic gardener like me, attracting birds to your garden is a great way to minimize damage to plants from insects.  I made this discovery unintentionally this year, and I wish I had thought of it earlier as there has been far less evidence of plant destruction caused by those awful creepy-crawly creatures!  With that being said I want to introduce you to our natural pest control team, Mr. and Mrs. Red!

Our Hummingbird feeder attracted a pair of House Finches.
Here Mrs. Red prepares to take a sip of sweetened water.

Back in January, when I first put out our container garden, I decided to fill our hummingbird feeder for two reasons, A) Hummingbirds are great pollinators and B) Ren and I love watching hummingbirds. Well, this year we did not attract hummingbirds, at least not any that stuck around, but we did attract a pair of mating House Finches. I must admit that I was disappointed and even a little annoyed by them at first because I thought they were sparrows. However, when I saw the Male's bright red breast I knew that these were just like the birds that congregate around a feeder near a window at my dentist's office and I remembered how much I enjoy watching their cheerful antics as my teeth were being cleaned. After a little research I was able to identify them as House Finches.  As is typical with most bird species, Mr. Red is much brighter than Mrs. Red.

Mr. Red stands guard at the feeder!

As the days passed by both Ren and I got used to Mr. and Mrs. Red's frequent visits to our feeder.  They so enjoyed our feeder that they built a nest in the rafters of the building directly across from us and began to spend much of their time on the rail of our balcony. We could often find them perched on our feeder sipping at sugar water.  When Mr. Red would show up alone we would soon hear Mrs. Red from the  across the way.  Ren and I joked that Mr. Red was sneaking away for a drink at the neighborhood bar. After a few weeks, Mr. and Mrs. Red had established the feeder as their territory and vigorously kept at bay any other birds who tried to partake; it became their own private watering hole.

One of our resident garden pest control experts keeps the bugs at
bay in this hanging planter.

One day, while they both were on the balcony, I saw Mr. Red do something that caused me to have a revelation.  While Mrs. Red was sipping from the feeder, I watched Mr. Red, who was perched on a nearby hanging planter, reach around and grab a nice juicy bug out of the planter.  It was then I realized that birds are an excellent way to keep bugs out of the garden and that any garden I have in the future must be set up to attract the right kind of birds to our garden.

Mrs. Red Hanging out on one of our planters.

What makes Mr. and Mrs. Red the right kind of birds for our garden is that their diet consists mainly of insects, seeds, berries, and of course, sweet hummingbird nectar.  That means, I don't have to use any expensive organic sprays or even worse, toxic chemical pesticides. Since I don't have any berries in the garden, but I do have plenty of bugs, House Finches are a great fit.  The wrong kind of bird to attract to my garden would be mockingbirds and blackbirds who love tomatoes as much as I do.  But, in their defense, they also love bugs, so in my opinion, it is better to cover the fruits than to chase away the birds.  Of course, that's only my opinion.  All the same, we love watching Mr. and Mrs Red and we know that our garden is in good care when they are on the job. Until the next time, ~Happy Gardening~

For more tips on attracting birds to your garden, visit HGTV's blog at  They have some great tips and links to places that can help you.  we would also love to hear comments from anyone who can share ideas on attracting birds to their garden.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Container Garden Update 3

I am happy to report that my scaled back container garden has done very well this spring. Soon the hot weather will set in and then I'll have to just be content with watching all the garden bloggers from the northern states showcase their gardens. Maybe I can convince my HOA to convert my balcony into a greenhouse.......Nah, that probably won't get the nod. Oh well, I guess I'll just get back in the moment and enjoy what I have right here-and-now.

If you remember, I had only two tomato plants this year, one I bought at Lowe's and the other that volunteered itself in our poinsettia plant. The store-bought plant boasts an ample amount of green leaves thanks’ in part to hybridization and lot's of water and mulch which I created right from our own kitchen. The volunteer tomato is a little spindly and lacks the bounty of leaves that it's store-bought partner has. Thanks to the little pollination trick I mentioned in my last post, both have set fruits. It will be interesting to see if the plant with less vegetation produces bigger tomatoes. My theory is that in Arizona's dry climate, the leaves transpire more water with less going to the fruit. I think because the sparsely leaved volunteer has fewer leaves to do this, that more water will find its way to the fruit which will result in larger tomatoes. Just a side note, I have been trying unsuccessfully to germinate okra and I had one leftover seed which I tossed in one of the tomato containers and wouldn't you know it, it sprouted!

Thanks to a great tip, my tomatoes have set many fruit.

Our little volunteer is all grown up!

The store-bought tomato plant has plenty of leaves and has set an abundance of tomatoes.

 The pepper plant is also doing very well and has many blossoms and even has a few small chilies on. It looks like in two to three weeks we will be eating garden fresh salsa. I just transplanted the plant into a one gallon self-watering container which will provide ample root space for a mature plant. Having a larger pot also cuts back on watering frequency which is very beneficial for forgetful middle-aged men like me and forgetting to water in a container garden can have devastating consequences.

The pepper plant is blooming like crazy and even
has a few chilies on.  Its Salsa Time Soon!


Speaking of forgetting to water, we almost lost the pansies last week during a hot spell. I have them planted in coconut husk planters which dry out quickly. While pansies typically die out in Arizona around the first of May, mine almost didn't make it until the end of March! I came home from work one evening and they were nearly gone. Fortunately I was able to give them a life-saving soak just before they expired so it looks like they will be with us for a few more weeks.

Saving the Pansies.  The best way to water plants in Coconut Husk
planters is to place them in a 5-gallon bucket and soak them.

Ren and I have also introduced natural pest control to our little garden. No, we did not go out and buy a bunch of ladybugs; we simply hung a hummingbird feeder which didn't draw any hummingbirds but did attract a mating pair of House Finches who we named Red and Mrs. Red. Our lovely couple took over the feeder in February and have been our garden guest ever since. Although they can be a bit noisy at times there chatter is a small sacrifice as not only do they frequent the feeder, but they also do a great job of keeping our garden free of bugs. Ren did have me move the feeder out over the edge of the balcony however as she did not like how the Red's were decorating the tiles..hehe. We are also happy to report that the Red's became proud parents to a nest full of little Reds. 
Mr. Red taking a sip at the Hummingbird Feeder.

Introducing our pest control team, "Mr. and Mrs. Red!"

Well, the next time I update of the container garden the tomatoes should be ready to eat and the little birdies ready to fly. Summer will soon be here and the containers will have to be put away and only my poor fichus will remain to face the fierce summer heat of the desert southwest. During the summer downtime I will work on a new planter to give my little garden a very nice upgrade. Until the next time ~Happy Gardening~