Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.

Month: July 2012

Finally, the garden grows.

After expecting to blog every week about how my garden grew according to plans, I met with embarrassing failure. Peppers, garlic, dill, mint, pole beans, carrots, chard, beets, and other stuff didn’t grow. My above-ground planter box, 12″ deep, has been good for nothing except the two plantain weeds I put there for my rabbits. Even my transplanted lettuce there – capped with a glass shelf to deter the birds – has failed. All my lettuce sprouts die or get stolen wherever I transplant them, and it is getting really frustrating that this happens.

Consider me discouraged, but not down or out. I do have some lovely photos to share of plants that grew decently this summer in the backyard.

After boxing up and adding new soil to the section intended for salad – all stolen by small birds and animals – the perimeter wasn’t good enough. The sparrows were coming in from the top.


 I replanted cucumbers around the perimeter and Swiss chard near the edges. Lettuce still is failing!


Many tomato seedlings sprung up. After this garden, intended for chard, beets, and spinach failed, I put the tomatoes in. They liked it.


No cavolo to see, but just enough rocket, endive, and volunteer tomato plants.


Some bean seedlings near the wall, but they do not grow (esp. since a rabbit attack)


All that really remains of my many, many bean seedlings


The skunk attacked this lily
Lilies, at least, can be counted upon whatever the weather.


A sad discovery under my deck

Now that I’ve posted a happy outcome for animals living under my deck, I now have to post a sad outcome. 
A couple of weeks ago, I lifted up the most difficult boards of my deck, which I’d previously been unable to unscrew because of limited time and patience. I was having a party, and I wanted to get the deck and garden in spiffy shape. It was time. In the weeks prior to that, I reported on something having died under the deck. And yes, it had. Here is the initial view:
Upon closer inspection, it revealed that the handsome boy rat I’d seen in my garden earlier this spring – and he was handsome! – had made his home under the boards. To the left you can see the collection of paper and plastic scraps he had collected to line his nest. I find this a charming habit. When I had previously lifted the boards above where the skunk has always lived, there is no such collection of “blankets.” Only rats, and perhaps squirrels, do this, as far as I know – birds make nests only when they’re fixing to have young. 

But in the upper corner, you can see he is not lying in state on his bed. No. And I was sad to see the decomposing body, which I buried with a little prayer. (I am, however, grateful that creatures have chosen my property as the best place to die at.)

Instead, you see that he went to the other corner of his cabin under the deck for his final agonies. And agonies they were, because the turquoise staining you see at the tail end of his skeleton is not mouldy fur, as one might assume. It is the stain of a block of poison. And the little fellow ate a lot of it.

I only made the connection when my resident squirrels, unwittingly helpful creatures they are, positioned a block on top of the fence leading to my patio balcony. I wondered where that thing that looks like a rock came from until I picked it up: it was poison. And I’m glad the squirrels only played with or consumed just a little of it, and left it out in the open from wherever they found it. I’ve put it in a container inside, I don’t know what for. Evidence, perhaps. As if I need evidence that someone has decided to “solve” a problem because that is what it has been presented as.

A single rat in the backyard is not a problem. There is lots in nature to take care of “problems.” I used exclusion (a chicken wire fence) to keep the beasts out of my lettuce garden, where I feared losing my harvest, and also hardware cloth under my composter, which otherwise might encourage the rodents to proliferate. I’m the only one really doing this – feeding the birds, composting, gardening, fencing. Maybe more people should try these all and get a sense of perspective, than assume that the presence of a rat is attributable to these nefarious habits, and a problem worth the suffering that poison causes.

Skunks as neighbours

The skunk came back for at least a visit in June 

I mentioned in this blog post that I am quite fond of my skunk. One, or different ones, have taken shelter under my deck for a number of years now, and I accommodate her trips to the back garden year-round by leaving a gap under the fence, with a pile of brush as a welcome mat. The skunk has to pass through two other neighbours – therefore, one other fence – before it can get home; thankfully my immediate neighbours seem to feel the same way, and don’t freak out when their dog gets a little alarmed over the silent black-and-white intruder. There was a minor spray incident in the days surrounding the taking of this photo, on June 15.

I took it early in the morning, around 7:30, when I saw her from my vantage chair by the patio door, trundling in and taking a long, long, looooong drink at the dish there. She then trundled under the deck – yippee! – and then, a minute later, waddled back out – oooh. Was the space already occupied? She was looking rather hour-glass shaped. It seemed to me she had a couple of buns in the oven.

After the smell of skunk spray, I had no further indication my deck’s den was occupied. I had a house party in early July, for which I had to get the decks thoroughly cleaned. I hosed them down, used deck cleaning solution, scrubbed, rinsed, scraped, sanded a bit, and painted. It must have been a terrible ruckus, but I figured the skunk was not around because my activity would have roused any normal being at any time of day. Also, the pond had lilies in it. Relevance? The skunks had always taken them before – as soon as a lily bloomed, it was gone the next day. 

But then, three evenings ago, I heard a rustling in the garden and wondered if I had some late-arriving birds, like grackles or starlings, who sometimes descend for a good public bath in my pond. But no. Instead, I was greeted with this adorable sight:

My garden has a family of four skunk kits, plus Mom! And I would never know it if I hadn’t seen them. That’s how good they are as neighbours. No tearing down my garden wire, just coming and going as silently as thieves to their den under the deck. Now that I know they’re there, and have seen the little ones’ bouncing and scraping, I see more evidence in the garden now. But a garden without a resident creature is impoverished, in my view, and to make up for the meagerness of my vegetable plot, I am rich in hospitality to wildlife. 

Wasp hive observations

Yesterday I hosed down a wasp’s hive that was built in the corner of my garage door, with its attendant seven or eight nurse wasps. Last year, they’d built hives in the corners of the house windows. I started the hose slow, and after a few passes of knocking the nurse wasps off, I turned on the jet and knocked the hive down. 

The “girls” spent the rest of the day recovering, rescuing the larvae they could – I could only presume they were pulling them out of the husk, with the intense, careful work they were doing – and they installed a new hive in the same place, with fewer cells. They’re back to tending it and sealing the larvae in. I think the ants took care of the rest of the non-viable hive, plus at least one wasp that appeared she didn’t make the dowsing.

They have been rather peaceful – no threatening buzzing around humans. With a reduction in size of the brood, I’ll leave the new one alone. They put a lot of work into it, as you can read here: